Many followers of the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg believe that he changed the focus of spiritual transformation in Christianity from “faith” to “good works.” In other words, salvation does not consist of mere belief and acknowledgement of the Lord Jesus as savior, but in doing what He asked of us—to love God and the neighbor. Good works are the very life of true faith!
Being a student of human spirituality I have visited many of the (Reformed) Christian churches that profess the doctrine of “faith alone.”
The first thing I noticed is that they all accepted me into their churches with open arms and extended neighborly love to me. There is just as much heartfelt goodness being expressed and shared among the members of these churches as in any Swedenborgian Church. So these religions do not express Christian love any less than Swedenborgians. They all take part in what is “good”!
So what is the Swedenborgian advantage?
The issue is not one of denying spiritual charity and goodness, it is the conviction of many reformed churches that faith and belief is what ultimately saves them—not their actions or works. They believe that proper faith is also what allows God’s love to affect their hearts. Interestingly, this still leads to them to act in goodness. Doctrinally, however, it is seen that putting good works before having acquired such a faith leads to personal merit and only the Lord deserves such merit. This is not altogether an untruth, and, is not a deterrent from reaching heaven.
Swedenborg claimed that if you did what was true and good in life it didn’t matter what technical faith you professed in your noggin. So again, what is the issue?
This made me wonder about what Swedenborg really meant by the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Did he point to something deeper?
Yes! He meant pretense! (Heck, even Swedenborgians can act on pretense—even during outward acts of kindness.)
In other words, you can’t go through life as a schmuck and profess the Lord as your Savior on your deathbed and expect good results. Or, merely use faith as a means of securing reputation, status or power on this earth.
What Swedenborg brought to the theological table was distinctly new and different! He offers a deeper look into the process of personal spiritual change or regeneration.
Salvation goes beyond having faith and doing good works. It goes beyond increasing your acts of kindness in this world. It involves sincerity, humility and innocence—which are only obtained by severe introspection and asking the Lord to help you remove the “crap” that you uncover hiding deep within your heart and mind. This curative action prevents someone from using either faith or good works to deceive others or even themselves about the actual quality of their inner reality!
So, when I attend a Swedenborgian Church, I fully expect its members to be bravely engaged in this often unflattering and painful personal process.