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The Charge Against Swedenborg
as a False Prophet:
Is There Any Substance to it?

by Kent Junge  

It is said in Deuteronomy, chapter 13: "if there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams and he gives you a sign or a wonder, saying, 'Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us serve them,' and if the sign of which he spoke to you happens, you shall not listen to the words of that false prophet or that dreamer of dreams."

 It's really not surprising that many devout Christians react to Swedenborg with suspicion. They're supposed to. Christ's warning to us is clear: "Take heed that no one deceives you . . . Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many" (Matt. 24:4, 11). He has explicitly told us of His Second Coming "in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:27). At the end of the book of Revelation we are forbidden to add anything to what has been revealed as the Word of God: ". . . I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: 'If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book, God shall take away his part from the book of life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book' "(Rev. 22:18-19).

Swedenborg claims to be a prophet; He freely interprets the Lord's description of His Second Coming. Many Swedenborgians have included extensive parts of Swedenborg's writings in their religious canon. They see these new works as additional revelation-as the Word of God.

This should make any Christian sit up and take notice. If we regard Christ's words as authoritative, then we also should look at what Swedenborg says with a very critical eye.

It's worth noting, however, that many of the warnings against false prophets and additions to the Word are to be found in the Old Testament before the coming of the Lord. The law of the Old Testament was rigorously used to judge false prophets when the Lord was on earth. Frequently Jesus did not pass the test. The Jews saw clearly that Jesus was a blasphemer in claiming to fulfill the prophecy. Because of this He was driven from the synagogue, threatened with stoning and eventually crucified.

The prophecies of the Old Testament led the Jews to expect the establishment of a physical kingdom here on earth. It had been predicted that David would return and throw off their captivity. Jesus did none of these things. Instead, in clear contradiction to Old Testament prophecy, He insisted that His kingdom was internal. "The kingdom of God does not come with observation. Nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21).

The Jews loved the teachings of Moses and the law. This was their authority. Jesus claimed only to infill the law. Yet His new interpretations went directly contrary to the plain statements of the law. "You have heard that it was said to those of old . . . But I say to you . . ." (Matt. 5).

A devout Jew who believed in his scriptures could come to but one conclusion. Jesus was of the devil.

We have no intention, here, of calling Christianity into question. As New Churchmen we share with our fellow Christians a belief in Christ's authority. Nor do we mean to equate Swedenborg with Christ. We are not even trying to defend Swedenborg's claims. We merely wish to point out that all religious men are in the same boat when it comes to figuring out who God is and how we are to find out about Him. No book or set of religious beliefs is authoritative simply because it says it is. Ezekiel, Matthew, Joseph Smith and the carnival fortune teller all claim authority. The Bible which we revere was not handed down to us from heaven neatly bound with a Divine stamp of approval. As with the canons of all churches, the books of the Bible have been collected, translated, organized and interpreted over the years by many earnest but fallible human beings. We believe, of course, that God guided their efforts but there is no way to prove this. Nor is there any way to prove whether the latest prophet is influenced by God or the devil.

Since the Muslim, Jew, and Christian all believe they have an authoritative basis for their faith we might ask ourselves what criteria should be used in judging the claims of a would-be revelator.

It is not enough for us to say, "whatever makes sense" or "whatever works" (although the alternative of a senseless revelation which doesn't work is not very appealing). Human reason is tricky and we can fool ourselves into falsity by taking the "common sense" approach.

It is also not enough for us to pray for signs from our God. Prayer is important in opening our minds and hearts to God. But can we count on signs from God to authenticate someone's religious writings? The signs themselves are open to interpretation. The Swedenborgian who reads of Swedenborg's visions and the Pentacostal speaking in tongues both are looking to spiritual "signs" (and may accuse each other of being deluded by dangerous spiritual influence).

In the long run something is true because it is good. Whatever set of teachings we claim to believe, we actually use those teachings which help us get closer to our God and help us treat other people the way they ought to be treated. Most revelations promise a place in some kind of heaven if we behave. Many have intricate doctrinal points to make. Religious books are full of teachings about which churches are right and which are wrong. But unless these teachings make us better people, they can't really qualify as revelation for us. Simplistically put, we use those teachings which help us to be good.

Can the Writings of Swedenborg help a sincere Christian become a better person? If our fellow Christians are offended by such a question it is too bad. If God is offended by such a question we are all in trouble. For surely this question has been asked about one religious teaching or another for centuries. It is a question which sincere people in every faith should continue to ask. It is only by asking how to become better that we can be turned toward God through His Word.

If the teachings of Swedenborg are worthy they will make us better people. They will help us grow in our faith and reassure us in our lives. Like the Old and New Testaments and all previous revelations they will become living' for us because truth from God is living: "The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63).



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A False Prophet?

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