Frequently Asked Questions The New Church, New York 114 E. 35th St.
What church is this? The New Church (yes, that is the name). More formally, “Church of the New Jerusalem” commonly called “the Swedenborgian church”.
Is that the Swedish Church? No, they are on 48th St. We don’t even have Swedish meatballs.
So who is this Swedenborg? Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was the scientist, scholar and visionary on whose revelations from the Lord and the books describing them our theology is based
How is the New Church different from other churches? When Swedenborg was asked by J.C. Cuno “What is your theology?”, He answered “These are the two principles of it, That God is one and that there is a conjunction of charity and faith. To which he replied, Who denies these? I answered The theology of the present day, when interiorly examined.” Soul-Body Interaction 20
GOD IS ONE Isn’t that what all churches teach? In the writer’s experience, well, they don’t talk like it. What this means is that the Lord Jesus Christ, He who came down from Heaven, is the same God who made Heaven and Earth, and no nonsense about it.
Don’t you believe in the Holy Trinity? Not a trinity of “persons”. God’s divine Person is composed of three “essentials” – like all the other persons made in His image, who are composed of soul, body and activity. (True Christian Religion 168)
There is no true faith without charity Why don’t you say “love”? I thought that was what all modern translations did. Saying “love” alone lets us forget that true love must be expressed in our acts. “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17)
Is that all? There are many other teachings That all are saved who believe in God and follow the true life of charity as best they know. That real marriage love is eternal. That Heaven is a realm of useful occupation That the Second Coming of Christ is here and now.
What is it about the Second Coming? We look on the Lord’s Second Advent as, not some literal descent from a literal sky, but the unveiling of the spiritual sense of his Word, and the inauguration of the New Church. Thus, it began long since. Modernists like to talk about “realized eschatology”; but we go the whole hog.
Is this a Christian church? The New Church worships the Lord Jesus Christ as God of Heaven and Earth. If that does not make us “Christian”, I do not know what would. Note that we are Christian enough for the National Council of Churches, who will not let Mormons and Unitarians in.
Is this a Protestant church? Only if you define “Protestant” as nothing more than “not (Roman) Catholic”--- which makes Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, and numerous others “Protestant”. Indeed, the doctrine of the New Church is largely a repudiation of four centuries of Protestant theology, which is permeated with the concepts of salvation by faith alone and substitutionary atonement. The writer likes to freak dogmatists by retorting to “If you’re not Catholic, you’re Protestant!” with “Then Iran is the center of world Protestantism.”
So what happens here? It doesn’t seem different from other churches. The writer will say that it makes all the difference to him. When you listen, you will here that worship is addressed to Jesus Christ, not to any trinity. Also, when you enter, you will see that this church is not centered on an altar or table, or a single pulpit like those of the Christian Scientists, but on the “tabernacle” which is occupied by the holy Word.
What is the holy book? It is the Holy Bible, in the 66-book canon. Swedenborg’s works are accepted as an authoritative interpretation of Scripture. In New Church terminology, “the Word” has a specialized meaning, referring to those books of the Bible that bear the internal, or “spiritual” sense.
What do you mean, “internal sense”? While the letter of the Scriptures has meaning, we miss a great deal by concentrating solely on that. It also has an internal “spiritual” sense, full of profound meaning for us here and now. The writer thinks this may be the same as what mediaeval commentators used to call the “moral” sense.
What are some of “the Writings?” Some of Swedenborg’s major works are: The Four Doctrines, Divine Love and Wisdom, and Divine Providence. True Christian Religion (True Christianity) may be helpful for those who want to find a systematic presentation of all major points. Perhaps most popular is Heaven and Hell.
Hell! I can’t believe a loving God would send people to Hell! The Lord God does not “send” anyone to Hell. Neither does He force Himself upon those whose desires lead them there. Upon leaving their natural bodies, people are drawn to others who share the same desires (or “ruling love”) as themselves, finally arriving in whatever society of Heaven or Hell to which they truly belong. How could those immersed in evil desires be happy in Heaven? There would be no opportunity to hurt or exploit anyone, or any of the other pursuits they are determined to continue in. “The Lord Does Not Cast Anyone into Hell: Spirits Cast Themselves In” (Heaven and Hell 545) What we are offered is the chance to be ourselves --- forever.
What about people who have not received Christianity? There is not only the visible church (“Church Specific”), but the “Church Universal”, which includes all those who believe in God and live from charity according to what they have been instructed. If they are in need of further knowledge, it will be made available in the spiritual world.
What is Heaven like? The life of Heaven does not mean continually standing around on clouds singing hymns. It is realm of useful activity. Some of these are the work of “those who instruct others, those who lead to good, those who are with men, those who awake the dead, those who protect, and those who are responsible for others.” (Spiritual Experiences 5158).
What are those numbers you keep using? References to Swedenborg’s works avoid the problem of numerous editions by using his own numbered sections. This explains why you may find people here who are fond of “numbers”. No, not “4-8-15-16-23-42”.
Is this some kind of spiritualism? The New Church has a complex and sometimes troubled history of interaction with spiritualist movements…most recently with someone who created a teapot tempest by claiming to channel not only Swedenborg, but “the Lord, the Most High.” The Institute for the Study of American Religion puts us in the “Psychic Family” on the ground that Swedenborg’s experiences were “mediumistic”. But his visions, like St. Paul’s when he was caught up into the third heaven [II Corinthians 12:2], were the opposite of what mediums usually do. In any case, he reminds us that he was under the direct protection of the Lord throughout; and his advice is, essentially, “don’t try this at home.” (Heaven and Hell 249)
How do you regard Swedenborg? Essentially, as a prophet – although the word is never used. His interpretation of the scriptures is seen as authoritative. But I heard you deify your founder! This assertion is so far removed from reality that you can’t even call it a lie.
Is this a cult? The label “cult” is a value judgment masquerading as a description, and conveys no specific information other than “I don’t like them, and consider them fair game.” How can we know whether you like something, especially before knowing anything about it?
What do you teach about the sacraments? Like Protestant churches, we observe two “sacraments”: baptism, and holy communion (The Lord’s Supper).
What does Helen Keller have to do with the church? Helen Keller was introduced to the teachings of Swedenborg, and wrote movingly of their meaning to her in Light in My Darkness. (Formerly titled My Religion). During the last part of our life, she maintained a relationship with the New York church.
What about Johnny Appleseed? It is frequently left unmentioned that John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) was a Swedenborgian missionary, so effective that the official church missions board noted that he had eclipsed their own efforts. Besides planting trees, he spread the Writings of Swedenborg (“good news fresh from Heaven”), which he ordered in bulk so he could leave a chapter in every place where he stayed. Sounds almost like it’s been hushed up, doesn’t it?
Who are other famous Swedenborgians? Howard Pyle the famed writer and illustrator. The naturalistic painter George Inness Sir Isaac Pitman, the inventor of Pitman shorthand, lost his post as a schoolmaster over his Swedenborgian beliefs. Daniel Burnham, the architect, and creator of the Chicago Fair’s “White City”. Samuel Woodworth, who wrote “The Old Oaken Bucket”, was a member of the New York Church.
Al-Anon founder Lois Burnham Wilson, and her husband, AA’s “Bill W”, were members of the Brooklyn church (now dissolved).
The closest we came to having a Swedenborgian president was in 1896, when Arthur Sewall, a shipping magnate of Bath, Maine, was nominated for Vice-President on the Bryan ticket. The “Populist” dissidents who objected to having a “plutocrat” on the ticket bolted to substitute the racist demagogue Tom Watson. For other Swedenborgian politicians, see http://politicalgraveyard.com/group/swedenborgian.html) In 2008 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch railed against McCain for “picking the least qualified running mate since the Swedenborgian shipbuilder Arthur Sewall ran as William Jennings Bryan's No. 2 in 1896.” They have never made it clear whether they consider Swedenborgians or shipbuilders fair game to pick on.