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In the Pentecostal tradition, speaking in tongues is supremely important—but it’s often debated in other churches. In this episode, hosts Chelsea Odhner and Jonathan Rose look at what eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about receiving the Holy Spirit.
Jonathan mentions that since the Lord cannot directly benefit us, we should make our own efforts to understand what loving is and how we can practice it toward others. Chelsea likes to practice meditation to connect to something larger than herself, which helps her realize how to live as part of that larger being. This can be both acting in God in the world and acting on behalf of God in herself.
The Pentecostal tradition follows after the story of the Pentecost festival described in the second chapter of Acts. This biblical event took place during a celebration of the day Moses received the Commandments on Mt. Sinai. In this story, early Christians became filled with the Holy Spirit and were able to speak in every listener’s language at once (also called “speaking in tongues”).
In the Epistles, Paul talks about speaking in tongues as being a kind of language that none can understand since it’s a communication with God alone about the mysteries of the spirit. He sees a value in this, but he sees much more value in speaking so that others can understand: “I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:19).
According to Swedenborg:
When ministers preach with passion they believe they are inspired, just like the Lord’s disciples on whom the Lord breathed and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. . . . Some ministers even maintain that they have felt an inflow. Ministers have to be very careful, though, not to convince themselves that the passion that comes over many of them when they preach is God at work in their hearts. The same level of passion and an even more ardent one is found in fanatics who believe they are divinely inspired, in people who have the falsest teachings. . . . Passion in preaching is just an intensity in the earthly self. If passion has a love for truth inside it, then it is like the sacred fire that flowed into the apostles, about which it says in Acts: “There appeared to them divided tongues as of fire, and one rested on each one of them. As a result they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”. . . . If, on the other hand, there is a love for falsity inside that passion or intensity, then it is like fire smoldering inside a piece of wood that bursts into flame and burns the house down. . . . For many [corrupt preachers] that passion comes from a hellish love. They raise their voices more vehemently and draw sighs from their chests more deeply than those whose passion comes from a heavenly love. (True Christianity §146)
Just because someone feels like they’re receiving the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean that they actually are. So what does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit?
“Tongues” can be taken to mean speech, and “speech” means both assertion and religion, since our tongue speaks and affirms our religious values. “Lip,” “mouth” and “tongue” are often mentioned in the Word. “Lip” means religious teaching, “mouth” means thought, and “tongue” means assertion. The symbolism of these words is due to the fact that these outer parts of us convey to others our inner concepts, and these inner concepts are what is meant in the inner, spiritual sense. The letter of the Word is made up of outward things—things that can be seen by the eye and felt by the senses; so the Word in its literal meaning is on the earthly plane, which makes it possible for the Divine Truth it contains to be there on the outermost level, in its fullness. Those external, tangible things root and embrace the inner aspects within them. These internal matters are spiritual, and are what the external things symbolize. . . . After the Lord’s resurrection, the fact that the disciples and others “spoke in new tongues” meant taking a stand for the Lord and for the truths of the church then at its beginning. This issue is dealt with in Mark: “Jesus said ‘The signs of believers are as follows: they will cast out demons in my name, and speak in new tongues’” (16:17). To “cast out demons” means to reject and remove the false ideas that come from evil. “Speaking in new tongues” means to assert the Lord and the truth that comes from Him through the church. So, “The apostles saw what seemed like little tongues of fire, alighting among them. They were then filled with the holy spirit, and began to speak in other tongues” (Acts 2:3, 4). “Fire” means a love for truth. “Being filled with the holy spirit” means accepting Divine Truth from the Lord. “New tongues” means affirmation motivated by a love for truth, which is zeal. As said above, all divine miracles (and therefore all miracles described in the Word) involved and symbolized spiritual and heavenly matters, that is, matters that have to do with the church and with heaven. This is how Divine miracles differ from non-divine miracles. (Apocalypse Explained §455:1–2, 22)
These divine miracles represented universal things about how God interacts with us. We talk more about this in our episode “How Did Jesus Do His Healing Miracles?“
But to return to our question at the end of the previous section, what does it really mean to receive the Holy Spirit?
Since the Lord is absolute truth, everything that radiates from him is truth. All this truth is known as the Comforter, which is also called the Spirit of Truth and the Holy Spirit. . . . The Lord breathed on his disciples and said “receive the Holy Spirit” because breathing on someone is an outward representation of divine inspiration. To be inspired is in fact to be inserted into angelic communities. . . . Generally speaking, the divine actions and powerful effects meant by the Holy Spirit are the acts of reforming and regenerating us. Depending on the outcome of this reformation and regeneration, the divine actions and powerful effects also include the acts of renewing us, bringing us to life, sanctifying us, and making us just; and depending on the outcome of these in turn, the divine actions and powerful effects also include the acts of purifying us from evils, forgiving our sins, and ultimately saving us. These are the powerful effects, one after the other, that the Lord has on people who believe in him and who adapt and modify themselves in order to welcome him and invite him to stay. Divine truth has these effects. . . . It is important to take this to mean the divine truth in connection with goodness, which is the same as faith in connection with goodwill. . . . Believing in the Lord is not only acknowledging him but also doing what he commands. (True Christianity §§139–142, 151)
Receiving the Holy Spirit is the same as acting from truth and love. And this doesn’t happen by accident—we have to choose to work with the divine design, to allow the Lord to operate within us. And according to Swedenborg, the outcome for each of us is a little different.
We all know that after the Lord bestowed the Holy Spirit on the apostles, they preached the good news across much of the world and publicized it through speaking and writing. They did this on their own initiative on behalf of the Lord. Peter wrote and taught one way, James another way, John a third, and Paul a fourth. Each of them used their own intelligence. The Lord filled them all with his spirit, but they each took a portion of it that depended on the quality of their perception, and they each exercised that portion depending on the quality of their own ability. All the angels in the heavens are filled with the Lord—they are in the Lord and the Lord is in them. Yet for each of them, the speech and action depends on the quality of the mind. Some speak and act simply, and some wisely, with infinite variety. They all speak on their own initiative on behalf of the Lord. The same goes for all ministers in the church—those with false beliefs as well as those with true beliefs. They each have their own voice and their own intelligence. They each speak on the basis of their own mind, meaning the spirit inside them. . . . The same point can be illustrated by the following parallels as well. The evil we get from our parents, called hereditary evil, acts on us and in us. So does goodness from the Lord. Goodness comes from above or within; evil from below or outside. If evil were to act through us we could not be reformed, but we would not be responsible either. By the same token, if goodness from the Lord acted through us we could not be reformed. Because good and evil are a matter of our free choice we become guilty when we act on our own initiative on behalf of evil, and innocent when we act on our own initiative on behalf of goodness. Because evil is the Devil and goodness is the Lord, we become guilty if we act on behalf of the Devil, and innocent if we act on behalf of the Lord. The free choice that we all have makes it possible for us to be reformed. (True Christianity §154:1–4)
While we may not all find ourselves speaking in tongues, helping other people can translate into any language.
Having planted those three seeds in our minds, let’s take a moment to meditate on these ideas.
The Holy Spirit in action doesn’t need to be tongues of fire or outright miracles—it can just be people doing good in the world around them. We’re never told how to physically speak in tongues, but its correspondence to doing good for others indicates to us the necessary process to create heaven on earth.
In this segment, Chelsea and Jonathan explain Swedenborgian concepts in just one minute or less.
Chelsea: The Mind
Jonathan: Divine Justice and Judgment
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!