Christianity on the Afterlife
Christian beliefs about the afterlife vary between denominations and individual Christians, but the vast majority of Christians believe in some kind of heaven, in which the deceased enjoy the presence of God and loved ones for eternity. Views differ as to what is required to get to heaven, and conceptions of heaven differ as well.
A slightly smaller majority of Christians believe in hell, a place of suffering where unbelievers or sinners are punished. Views differ as to whether hell is eternal and whether its punishment is spiritual or physical. Some Christians reject the notion altogether.
Catholic Christians also believe in purgatory, a temporary place of punishment for Christians who have died with unconfessed sins.
Afterlife Beliefs by Christian Denomination
To illustrate the differences and commonalities on Christian beliefs about the afterlife, following is a selection of doctrinal statements from several different denominations and organizations.
Assemblies of God:
There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Christianity Today Magazine:
At the end of the age, the bodies of the dead shall be raised. The righteous shall enter into full possession of eternal bliss in the presence of God, and the wicked shall be condemned to eternal death.
Evangelical Free Church of America:
We believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead; of the believer to everlasting blessedness and joy with the Lord; of the unbeliever to judgment and everlasting conscious punishment.
Friends United Meeting (Quaker):
We believe, according to the Scriptures, that there shall be a resurrection from the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.... We sincerely believe, not only a resurrection in Christ from the fallen and sinful state here, but a rising and ascending into glory with Him hereafter; that when He at last appears we may appear with Him in glory. But that all the wicked, who live in rebellion against the light of grace, and die finally impenitent, shall come forth to the resurrection of condemnation. And that the soul of every man and woman shall be reserved, in its own distinct and proper being, and shall have its proper body as God is pleased to give it. ... We believe that the punishment of the wicked and the blessedness of the righteousness shall be everlasting.
Lutheran Church (Augsburg Confession, 1530):
Also they [Lutheran churches] teach that at the Consummation of the World Christ will appear for judgment, and will raise up all the dead; He will give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but ungodly men and the devils He will condemn to be tormented without end. They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils. They condemn also others who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.
Mennonite Church in the USA:
We believe that, just as God raised Jesus from the dead, we also will be raised from the dead. At Christ's glorious coming again for judgment, the dead will come out of their graves"--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." The righteous will rise to eternal life with God, and the unrighteous to hell and separation from God. Thus, God will bring justice to the persecuted and will confirm the victory over sin, evil, and death itself. We look forward to the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, and a new Jerusalem, where the people of God will no longer hunger, thirst, or cry, but will sing praises: "To the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! Amen!
Presbyterian Church in the USA:
If there is a Presbyterian narrative about life after death, this is it: When you die, your soul goes to be with God, where it enjoys God's glory and waits for the final judgment. At the final judgment bodies are reunited with souls, and eternal rewards and punishments are handed out. As the Scots Confession notes, final judgment is also "the time of refreshing and restitution of all things."And it is clearly the case that both the Scots Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith want to orient the present-day life of believers around this future. But the Bible spends more time focusing on new life here than on life after death. So do all our more recent confessions. Although the Confession of 1967 mentions life after death, it does so only briefly. Its focus is on new life now and on the church's ministry of reconciliation.
Southern Baptist Convention:
God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.
United Church of Christ:
God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace,the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.
United Methodist Church (on purgatory):
The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.