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Life after death: the afterlife

The diversity of beliefs
among Christian denominations

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Beliefs include: Heaven, Hell, Limbo, Purgatory, Reincarnation, etc.

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Groups covered in this essay:

Many of the following faith groups consider themselves to be the one true Christian church. Most believe that their beliefs precisely follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. However, they promote very different beliefs about the afterlife. As a maximum, only one can be correct; perhaps all are wrong.

bullet Christadelphians: Only those who have heard the Gospel will be resurrected from the grave and be judged. The rest will remain dead, without consciousness, forever.
bullet Christian Science: Hell is mental anguish, not a place of separation from God. Heaven is harmony and bliss, not a place of reward.
bullet Jehovah's Witnesses: Hell does not exist; the unsaved simply die and are no more. The earth will become a paradise after Jesus returns.
bullet Mormons: There are 3 levels to Heaven. Hell exists, but very few go there.
bullet Seventh Day Adventists: Heaven exists. Hell is not a place of eternal torment; it is a place where annihilation occurs; people who go there cease to exist.
bullet Twelve Tribes Communities (a.k.a. the Messianic Communities): There are three possible destinations after death: eternal death, God's eternal kingdom or the Holy City, New Jerusalem. One's destination depends upon one's behavior while alive on earth.
bullet Unity School of Christianity: Heaven and hell do not exist as places, but as states of consciousness while we are alive on earth.

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The Christadelphians

Their name is taken from the Greek in Hebrews 2:11 which translates to "brethren of Christ." They believe that individuals who have died without hearing the Gospel will remain dead, without consciousness forever. They are to be annihilated at death. There is a division within the group:

bullet The Amended Group of Christadelphians believe that the dead who are "in Christ" will be resurrected and judged at the time of the Second Coming of Christ. Those who have tried to pattern their lives after Christ's example will be granted immortality. They will live on Earth, restored to its Eden-like state. The wicked will consigned to the "second death." They will be annihilated and cease to exist.
bullet The Unamended group believe that all of the dead who had been saved will be resurrected and automatically have eternal life in a restored Earth.

Belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, repentance and baptism are all required to be saved.

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Jehovah's Witnesses

Members of The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (WTS) believe that Hell does not exist. They interpret Hell symbolically as the "common grave of mankind." Most people simply cease to exist at death; they are annihilated, and do not continue to exist in any form.

The Heavenly Kingdom was established in 1914 CE. A "little flock" or "Anointed Class" of about 135,400 people currently inhabits Heaven. Another 8,600 are still alive at the present time; will also spend eternity with God at a later date. The battle of Armageddon will start soon. Jesus, under Jehovah's divine rage, will execute vengeance upon the rest of Christendom and followers of "Babylon the Great" (other religions). After the world is purified, a theocracy "God's Kingdom" will be established on earth for 1000 years. Those who survive Armageddon, the "other sheep," will live in peace in the newly created utopia -- a paradise on earth. They will be joined by the worthy dead who have been resurrected. After 1000 years of God's Kingdom, Satan, his demon forces and all those rebellious ones who turn against God will be finally destroyed.

In order to be saved, a person should:

bullet accept the doctrines formulated by the WTS Governing Body,
bullet be baptized as a Jehovah's Witness, and
bullet follow the program of works as laid out by the Governing Body. 6,7,8

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Mormons

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that not one, but three heavens exist:

bullet

The highest levels of the Celestial Kingdom are reserved for Mormon couples who have:

  • Been sealed for all eternity in a Mormon temple marriage ceremony.
  • Lead a righteous life, and
  • Met all of the ordanenances during their life on earth.

The couples can eventually become a God and Goddess; the husband will then be in control of an entire universe. Christians who are non-Mormons and have led truly exceptional lives will also spend eternity in the Celestial Kingdom.


bullet The Terrestrial Kingdom, is the destination for most individuals.
bullet The Telestial Kingdom is for "liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers" (D&C 76:102).

Individuals will learn and progress within the Kingdom to which they are assigned at death. However, with the exception of those in Hell, they are not allowed to transfer to the next higher level. (D&C 76:70-107) Couples who are not sealed (married in a Mormon temple) will be automatically divorced at death and spend eternity as single individuals.

Hell exists, but very few people will stay there forever. Most will eventually "pass into the telestial kingdom; the balance, cursed as 'sons of perdition', will be consigned to partake of endless wo [sic] with the devil and his [fallen] angels." (Doctrines and Covenants", 76:84). Sons of perdition have been defined as once devout Mormons who have become apostates by rejecting God's truth and have left the LDS church. This appears to be the official teaching of the church. Other Mormons have a broader definition and include persons who have knowingly committed a very serious sins and have not repented and sought God's forgiveness -- sins like murder and pre-marital sex.

All will be resurrected. Their belief in Universal Resurrection states that "the unbeliever, the heathen and the child who dies before reaching the years of discretion" will all be brought back to life. (Articles of Faith, Page 85). Additional benefits beyond simple resurrection will be gained by those who do good works.

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Seventh Day Adventists:

The Seventy-Day Adventists believe in the traditional concept of Heaven and Hell. However, they do not believe that Hell is a place of eternal punishment "with sinners screaming in agony without end." They view Hell as a place where the unsaved will be burned up, reduced to ashes, and annihilated.

They cite Biblical verses to show that the "'everlasting' in 'everlasting hell' means 'as long as there is something to burn in hell.' Our God is a loving God and to portray sinners as screaming in agony forever and ever does not portray God in such light." 1

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Twelve Tribes Communities:

The Twelve Tribes live in in communities, largely on the east coast of North America. They have been a favorite target of the Anti-Cult Movement in the past. Their beliefs about life-after-death, which they call the "Three Eternal Destinies of Man," are based on two fundamental beliefs: 

bullet That God gave all humanity a conscience so that they would have an instinctive knowledge of good and evil. 
bullet That God would judge people fairly and impartially according to how each person obeyed their conscience.

Their view of divine judgment divides humanity into three groups, each with their own unique destiny in accordance with their behavior while on earth. Their beliefs are based on Revelation 22:11, as well as Matthew 25:31-46, John 5:25-29, and Romans 2:6-16.

bullet The first group consist of the Unjust (those who "take advantage of others for their own selfish gain") and the Filthy (those who "ruin the lives of others with their own moral corruption.")  After death, they will go to the place prepared for Satan and his angels where they they will experience the second death in the eternal lake of fire. According to Revelation 14:11, they will be tormented or tortured for all time without any hope of relief or cessation of the torment.
bullet The second category is the Righteous (those who are "good people" who follow their own conscience, fear God and respect others). After death, they will atone for their sins by suffering punishment. When they are resurrected, they will go to a place where they will enjoy a second life "in the Nations of God's Eternal Kingdom." They will live forever on a new earth. Since babies will continue to be born and adults never die, their population will increase continually. They will spread out and inhabit other worlds prepared for them throughout the universe. 
bullet The third group are made up of the Holy, the "set apart." These live entirely for Jesus while on earth. When they die, they will bypass the final judgment and go to be with God. Together, the Holy literally form the Holy City -- New Jerusalem. They will travel throughout the universe as ambassadors representing the Messiah, Yahshua. They will rule with Yahshua over the Righteous. 2

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Unity School of Christianity:

Unity is an unusually inclusive faith group and welcomes diversity of belief.

Rather than looking upon heaven as a place "up there" to be experienced as a reward after death, Unity conceives of heaven as expressed by Jesus: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand", and "The kingdom of God is in the midst of (within) you". Their founder, Charles Fillmore, defined it as "a state of consciousness in which the soul and the body are in harmony with Divine Mind". One does not have to wait until they die. Heaven can thus be enjoyed at any time through prayer. Through proper technique, attitude and receptivity one can elevate our personal consciousness to a heavenly state.

The Unity Church does not conceive hell to be a place of eternal torment in which people are eternally punished with fire because of their beliefs and/or actions during life. It is not a place to go to after death. Rather it is a state of consciousness to be suffered here on earth. Charles Fillmore wrote: "One does not have to die in order to go to hell, any more than one has to die to get to heaven. Both are states of mind and conditions, which people experience as a direct outworking of their thoughts, beliefs, words, and acts. If one's mental processes are out of harmony with the law of man's [sic] being, they result in trouble and sorrow; mental as well as bodily anguish overtakes one, and this is hell".

Some members believe in a form of reincarnation called "transmigration of the soul." After death the soul is believed to leave the body, and to live again in another human body. This is/was a common belief among:
present day Eastern religions, and in the early Christian Church prior to the Council of Constantinople in 533 CE, and among the Essenes, one of the three major Jewish sects in existence while Jesus was alive. They cite references from the Christian Scriptures which show that the concept of reincarnation was common
during Jesus' time. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark , John the Baptist is referred to as the reincarnation of Elija. In Matthew, some of the populace guessed that Jesus was a reincarnation of John the Baptist; others guessed Elija; still others guessed Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Jesus neither criticized the people for their beliefs, nor declared reincarnation to be heresy.

Among believers in reincarnation, each lifetime is viewed as a time of preparation for the next life, leading towards eventual perfection.

Others within the Unity Church believe that one's personality does not survive death, but that we become spiritual beings after we die.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Adventist Christian Club describes the Seventh-Day Adventist's position on heaven and hell at: http://www.findjesus.com/adventist/Question57.html 
  2. "The three eternal destinies of Man: Proving that God is fair to everyone," at: http://www.twelvetribes.com/
  3. A.K. Turner, "The History of Hell", Harcourt Brace, New York, NY, (1993), Page 40-45.
  4. "Contemporary preachers not so hot about Hell?" Charisma News Service, 2000-FEB-25, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000225e.htm 
  5. "What the Hell is Hell?" is a website that delves into the intricacies of Hell. See: http://what-the-hell-is-hell.com
  6. "What has happened to Hellfire?" Jehovah's Witnesses, at: http://www.watchtower.org/
  7. "Is there LIFE after death?" Jehovah's Witnesses, at: http://www.watchtower.org/
  8. David Reed, "After death -- what?....according to Jesus," Comments from the Friends, an anti-cult group at: http://www.cftf.com/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Latest update: 2010-FEB-20

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