c. 2000 Religion News Service

LONDON -- The reality of hell, and the teaching that it is "occupied to some degree," has been reaffirmed in a 140-page report soon to be published by the Evangelical Alliance of the United Kingdom, the body linking evangelicals in the Church of England and the Free Churches.

The report, by a five-member working group, was prompted by the increasing number of those inside and outside the church who regard the doctrine of hell as "indefensible and obsolete," as well as an ongoing argument among evangelical theologians as to whether the "damned" are subjected 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 of reincarnation and the humanist rejection of any idea of life after death as reasons making it necessary to reaffirm the traditional Christian view of hell.

The report, which is being widely circulated even though it has not been formally published, accepts as legitimate both the traditional interpretation of hell as "eternal conscious punishment" and the more minority position of so-called "conditional immortality"--that only the saved have eternal life. It said a "significant minority" of evangelicals held the latter view.

But the report emphasized that 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."

This report is more emphatic on its insistence of hell as a place than was the report by the Church of England's doctrine commission published four years ago.

That report, while decisively reaffirming the existence of hell, suggested that "annihilation might be a truer picture of damnation than any of the traditional images of the hell of eternal torment" and underlined that "only God knows" if there were any whose final choice was damnation.

The evangelical report urged church leaders to present biblical teaching on hell to their congregations and urged evangelicals involved in religious education to ensure that teaching on Christianity included presentations on death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

But they also commended "sensitivity and discernment" in presenting the message of hell, "particularly to those for whom commitment to Christ 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 with it," it said.

And because redemption is guaranteed only by Jesus, "it is inadvisable for us to pronounce unequivocally that a specific person is in hell."

This was re-emphasized in the recommendation dealing with the pastoral care of the bereaved: "Where the relationship of a deceased person to God has been unclear, or even apparently hostile, we would caution against explicit pronouncement on that person's eternal destiny."

Finally, the report encouraged the two schools of thought among evangelicals to pursue agreement on the matter of hell, "rather than merely acquiescing in their disagreement."

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