Afterlife and Salvation
Written by: Arlene Sanchez WalshPentecostals believe in an afterlife and have traditionally believed that one can reach the afterlife in heaven only through belief in Jesus. There will be an afterlife for everyone, but not everyone will be redeemed. Pentecostals have articulated a complex understanding of the afterlife and salvation, which includes the existence of a literal hell and an elaborate system that attempts to discern how the world will end. In heaven, the soul joins God in heaven and remains there in perpetual worship with angels around the throne of God. There is little discussion in Pentecostalism about what happens after this initial entry into heaven, or what happens to the soul as it waits in heaven for the culmination of time when Jesus comes back.
Most Pentecostals are eschatologically-oriented, meaning that they are awaiting the second coming of Jesus, which will be precipitated by a series of cataclysmic events. Many Pentecostals, like other conservative Christians, await the Rapture when they will be literally taken up in the air by Jesus and spared a time of great trial for those who remain on earth. Others believe that they will remain on earth to endure this interim time, the Tribulation. This refers to a period when Christians will rebel from the rule of the Antichrist and see fierce persecution before the second coming of Jesus. After the Tribulation concludes, Jesus will return to judge those who remain. There will then be a 1000-year reign of Jesus on earth before Jesus and Satan engage in the final battle, after which Satan will be banished forever. The world will then be destroyed and a "new heavens and new earth" created according to Revelation 21:1.
Great diversity exists in Pentecostalism over the minutia of the end times. There are full-fledged ministries dedicated to deciphering when the end times will begin. These ministries spend much time examining current events to see if they correspond to their reading of particular biblical passages. Many disagree over when the Tribulation begins and when it ends. There are many interpretations of key biblical references, such as "man of lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2:3), which is taken to mean the Antichrist. The Antichrist is also a matter of great debate-not the idea, but the identity of the person who will usher in the end times. Since many Pentecostals believe they will be spared the Tribulation and be taken up into heaven as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, they expect to be spared the worst of the end times, the floods, fires, earthquakes, disease, and unspeakable violence, that will occur before the second appearance of Jesus.
There are at least two different ideas about what occurs to a person upon receiving salvation after conversion. In keeping with the Wesleyan holiness roots of the faith, some Pentecostal groups-most prominently the Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee, and the Church of God in Christ-adhere to the theological significance of sanctification as the second blessing after salvation, and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as the third blessing. Other groups, notably the Assemblies of God and Church of the Foursquare Gospel, adhere to William Durham's early theological innovations-namely that salvation and sanctification occur at the same time. What adherents should be preparing for after salvation is Spirit baptism.
For some Oneness groups, who follow early leader G. T. Haywood's theology, salvation is linked to being baptized in the name of Jesus. God works all of salvation through one act, which is means that one can be saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Spirit all at the same time. To be fully saved, in Haywood's theology, one had to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, so that someone who confessed that Jesus was God and had not received Spirit Baptism was not completely saved until they had that experience. Not all Oneness groups adhere to this schema, but many would support variations of Haywood's initial offerings on Oneness salvation, which, of course, is very different from Trinitarian perspectives.
For other Pentecostals, salvation includes more than eternal life; it includes healing. F.F. Bosworth, a Depression-era evangelist, was one of many in the healing ministry who believed that healing was the visible proof of what some have called "spiritual salvation." Healing is the first step in the process of salvation. In other words, salvation is evident in the atoning work of Jesus, therefore, healing is a birthright for adherents. Most importantly then is the idea that some Pentecostals have made the exercise of spiritual gifts a key part of the salvation schema, an idea that places them outside the traditional Protestant idea that salvation is a free gift that requires no action.