Why a New Church?
As we have seen, Emanuel Swedenborg was commissioned by God to reveal that the Christian church, as founded by the Apostles in the first century A.D., had come to an end during Swedenborg's own lifetime (that is to say, during the latter half of the 18th century). A new church was then being formed in the spiritual world to replace it, which Swedenborg called "The New Church." Not many people in New Testament times were ready for deep spiritual teachings. The church that Jesus envisaged as arising from the efforts of his immediate followers was to be of a temporary nature, to endure until "the end of the age." (Matthew 28: 20, New International Version, New Living Translation, etc., wrongly translated in the King James version as "end of the world.") A time would come, said Jesus, when there would no longer be faith on earth: the sun would be darkened and the stars would fall from Heaven (Matthew 24:29) and the trumpet would sound. A new Heaven and a new earth would be created. The New Jerusalem would descend from God out of Heaven and settle on the earth, and a new era would begin. Spiritually understood, all this has actually come about, and a new church has taken the place of the old.
The old church came to an end because the priests and ministers had ceased to teach the truth, and the people had lost all charity. Falsity and evil reigned in men's hearts. Spiritually, it was dark as night, cold as winter. To explain the situation in another way, the human race, by education, had developed rationally (in 18th-century Europe) to such a degree that the kind of teachings and manner of worship that had been adequate in the past were no longer serving people's needs. The Lord therefore liquidated the old church (a temporary one at best) by making certain drastic changes in the spiritual realm, which were, in fact, the long awaited "Last Judgment." The full effects of this did not show themselves immediately. It could be compared with cutting through the main stem of an ivy creeper covering the walls of a house. Only gradually will the leaves and tendrils die and lose their grip on the brickwork; it may be a long time before the whole ivy growth can be pulled down and burned.
But in our present time, especially, especially in the half century or so, the "deadness" of the old church has become apparent. In fact, belief in doctrine itself (any kind of doctrine) has gone quite out of style. Even the distinctions between the various denominations are apparently on their way out, with what is called the ecumenical movement. The "first Heaven and the first earth are passed away." (Revelation 21:1; Apocalypse Revealed 877) On the other hand, there is probably more genuine spiritual life in the world today than there has been for centuries. It is showing itself in a hundred different forms, often altogether outside any church organization. One feels that a great cloud, which came between earth and Heaven, has been removed and a new light and warmth from the Lord are reaching us, like the dawn after a dark night, or spring after a hard winter. A new era is beginning, which is, in fact, the New Church.
Taken in this broad sense, everybody in the whole world who believes in God and tries to live a good life belongs to the New Church, whether they know it or not, because, spiritually speaking, there is no other church! The old church died more than 200 years ago. (See The Last Judgment.) "It shall not be remembered nor come into mind." (Isaiah 65: 17)
As we have seen, the Lord gave a new revelation of the truth through a specially chosen revelator—Emanuel Swedenborg. After preparing him during his whole lifetime and opening his spiritual eyes and enlightening him, the Lord commissioned him to write the teachings down in books that could be printed and distributed throughout the world. (How else could the Lord have done it? There had to be a human instrument!) We have in our review in Chapters 1 and 2 seen something of Swedenborg's extraordinary life, which bore fruit in the publishing of 32 (in the Rotch translation) wonderful volumes of spiritual teaching. Not since the New Testament has so much information on spiritual matters been given to humanity. When Jesus was on earth, he said: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when the Spirit of Truth is come, he will guide you into all truth." (John 16: 12) We believe that the Spirit of Truth has now come, and that we can be guided by it into all truth! That is to say, all the truth our finite minds can hold.
When children are young, their parents do not tell them everything, and what they do tell their children is often necessarily based on appearances only. When eventually the children grow up and become mature, their parents take them into their confidence and explain to them all they need to know to become responsible men and women. The human race is at last reaching the adult state, and our heavenly Father has taken us into his confidence and is telling us openly of the way that leads to his kingdom.
It is unfortunately true that, as yet, relatively few people know about Emanuel Swedenborg and the world at large is not particularly interested in the teachings revealed through him. This may be due to the pendulum swinging away from any kind of specific "belief" or "dogma" in the religious field, as a reaction against the false beliefs of the past. Nevertheless, New Church doctrines have already penetrated far and wide without anyone being aware of it. This is because many influential thinkers and writers have been readers of Swedenborg, and allowed their own teachings to be colored by his. (See Wikipedia biography for examples.) It is noticeable that whenever a positive new belief has taken the place of a discredited one, that new belief is almost always in the direction of the New Church position. For example, here are some statements taken at random from various writers that contradict the established dogmas of two centuries ago, but that are in harmony with Swedenborg's teachings: "The future life is a continuation of life in this world." "Where are the dead? There are no dead." "Eternity is now!" "Man is primarily a spirit with a physical body added." "Faith without good works is valueless." "Religion must be brought down into everyday life." "Jesus is God in focus in human life." "Jesus was God in a carpenter's overall." Even the "God is dead" campaign was a step in the right direction, since it claimed only that God-the-Father, as a separate being, was dead, whereas "Jesus Christ is still alive, working redemptively in society." (Dr. Altizer) In many cases people employ the old established wordings that imply three persons in the Trinity ("Through Jesus Christ our Lord," or some such phrase) as a kind of ritual signing off, rather as we sing "Amen" at the end of a hymn without thinking of its meaning. If you go into the matter with them, you will often find they are actually addressing themselves to One God whom they equate with the glorified Jesus Christ.
Obviously there are plenty of people who still cling to the old
dogmas, but that is not the point. Swedenborgians should try to find the
agreements that exist between modern religious teachings and their own
position; this is much healthier than taking the negative attitude and
searching out the disagreements! It will be found that, almost
imperceptibly, many of the New Church beliefs are slipping into the
current of contemporary thought. This process is bound to continue, and
we can welcome it most heartily, even though Swedenborg's name is not
used. Swedenborg himself published most of his books anonymously. He did
not want any influence to be exerted towards the acceptance of his
teachings except the authority of the truth itself. Swedenborg did not invent the doctrines! He found
them in Heaven, and we shall all find them there one day, if we get to
Heaven. He actually entitled some of his books: "Angelic Wisdom
Concerning ...," e.g.
Wisdom Concerning the Divine Love and Wisdom.