Chances are you've never heard of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist whose spiritual experiences brought him to renounce science and to write his interpretations of the Bible.
Swedenborg, who was born in 1688 and died in 1772, said Scripture has a literal, historical meaning and a deeper, spiritual meaning, rather than just the literal interpretation most people of his time applied.
He also wrote of a New Church, which would be partnered with the New Earth of the Bible book Revelation. Swedenborg penned more than 30 volumes that influenced many movements, including transcendentalism, spiritualism and theosophy.
People he influenced include Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Helen Keller and Mary Baker Eddy. John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, was a Swedenborgian missionary. Thomas Jefferson asked a Swedenborgian minister to preach to Congress.
Swedenborg did not establish a church. But, in 1787, a group studying his writings formed the Church of the New Jerusalem in England.
In 1792, the movement came to America. The oldest Swedenborgian group in the United States is the General Convention of the New Jerusalem formed in 1817.
Swedenborgians congregations can be found in the Northeast, west and parts of the Midwest.
On June 19, Swedenborgian Christians celebrate New Church Day, the only holiday Swedenborgians add to traditional Christian holidays.
Among the beliefs of this group are:
- That there will be a universal church on Earth where people strive for peace, freedom and justice.
- That religion touches all areas of daily life and should be put into practice every day.
- That people are spirits clothed with material bodies. At death, they continue living in the spiritual world without a physical body. Their lives are determined by how they lived on earth.
- That the Trinity is three principles: Father, inexhaustible love; Son, divine wisdom; and Holy Spirit, divine energy that sanctifies human beings. These principles are embodied in the one and only God who is Jesus.
SOURCES: britannica.com/topic/New-Church, The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions; The Harper-Collins Dictionary of Religion, Jonathan Z. Smith; newchurch.org; swedenborg.org; interfaithcalendar.org