LONDON -- The reality of hell, and the teaching that it is "occupiedto some degree," has been reaffirmed in a 140-page report soon to bepublished by the Evangelical Alliance of the United Kingdom, the bodylinking evangelicals in the Church of England and the Free Churches.
The report, by a five-member working group, was prompted by theincreasing number of those inside and outside the church who regard thedoctrine of hell as "indefensible and obsolete," as well as an ongoingargument among evangelical theologians as to whether the "damned" aresubjected to eternal punishment or eventually annihilated.
|Hell "is more than mere annihilation at the point of death. Rather, death will lead on to resurrection and final judgment to either heaven or hell."|
The report also cited the growing popularity of Eastern doctrines ofreincarnation and the humanist rejection of any idea of life after deathas reasons making it necessary to reaffirm the traditional Christianview of hell.
The report, which is being widely circulated even though it has notbeen formally published, accepts as legitimate both the traditionalinterpretation of hell as "eternal conscious punishment" and the moreminority position of so-called "conditional immortality"--that onlythe saved have eternal life. It said a "significant minority" ofevangelicals held the latter view.
But the report emphasized that hell "is more than mere annihilationat the point of death. Rather, death will lead on to resurrection andfinal judgment to either heaven or hell."
This report is more emphatic on its insistence of hell as a placethan was the report by the Church of England's doctrine commission publishedfour years ago.
That report, while decisively reaffirming the existence of hell,suggested that "annihilation might be a truer picture of damnation thanany of the traditional images of the hell of eternal torment" andunderlined that "only God knows" if there were any whose final choicewas damnation.
The evangelical report urged church leaders to present biblicalteaching on hell to their congregations and urged evangelicals involvedin religious education to ensure that teaching on Christianity includedpresentations on death, judgment, heaven, and hell.
But they also commended "sensitivity and discernment" in presentingthe message of hell, "particularly to those for whom commitment toChrist is uncertain or unrealized."
The report warned that hell is not something to be relished.
"There should be no hint of salaciousness in the way we deal withit," it said.
And because redemption is guaranteed only by Jesus, "it isinadvisable for us to pronounce unequivocally that a specific person isin hell."
This was re-emphasized in the recommendation dealing with thepastoral care of the bereaved: "Where the relationship of a deceasedperson to God has been unclear, or even apparently hostile, we wouldcaution against explicit pronouncement on that person's eternaldestiny."
Finally, the report encouraged the two schools of thought amongevangelicals to pursue agreement on the matter of hell, "rather thanmerely acquiescing in their disagreement."