Afterlife and Salvation

Due in part to the great variety of Anglican views on human nature, there are a number of different perspectives on salvation and the afterlife. The traditional Anglican view of human nature is that, resulting from the fall, the natural state of each person is that of separation from God, slavery to sin, and bondage to the devil, a situation that cannot be changed by human efforts. Traditional Anglicanism sees the afterlife for such a one as bleak: because God is just by nature, the wages of sin is death--and by "death" is meant both earthly death as the result of the fall, and eternal death in hell as the punishment for sin.

The exact nature of hell is not known, but it is described in the Bible as the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels, and the place where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Some conceive of hell less geographically and more as a state of being, that of complete separation from God and from all good things. This is unlike the earthly separation that resulted from the fall, in which God still provides good things to fallen people. Others reject the possibility of eternal punishment, suggesting annihilation for those who die without faith.

Traditional Anglicanism continues that, because God is not only just, but merciful, God did not abandon humanity in this desolate condition. God provided a way for people to be reconciled with God, for the wages of sin to be paid by God's self. God's only and eternal Son became flesh and dwelt among us. This is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus lived the sinless life that is commanded of all people but which no one can live because of the fall. Jesus also took on the punishment that each person deserves for his or her sin. Jesus suffered, was nailed to a Roman cross of execution, and truly died. But death could not hold the Son of God, and Jesus was resurrected bodily to new life.

Christ's death and resurrection are thought of variously as the perfect sacrifice for sins that was foreshadowed by the Old Testament, the substitutionary death that atones for sins, and Christ's victory over death. These are by no means mutually exclusive categories, and indeed traditional Anglicans may draw upon all of them. Many Anglicans whose views of human nature differ in one or more particulars from the traditional beliefs, also proclaim Christ's death as a victory, but often on different terms. The victory might be the opening of a new way of living or a victory over oppression. Some also see Christ's death as a moral ideal, the highest example of love.

Because of who Jesus is and what he has done, traditional Anglicanism holds, people no longer need suffer eternal death. Those who believe in Jesus are redeemed and born again, and they shall not perish but have everlasting life. The term "believe in" means to have faith in Jesus as Lord, trusting that one's sins are forgiven because of his sacrifice on the cross. By this faith one is accounted righteous for the sake of Christ--that is, justified--and one shares in the risen life of Christ. Such faith is itself no natural work, but a gift of God's grace through the Holy Spirit. Works that are pleasing to God do not contribute to justification, but rather flow from faith and justification.

Anglicanism teaches that, for those who have faith in Jesus and have become God's children, salvation is both a current, lived reality and a future hope. The current aspect of salvation is a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. The justified walk in newness of life, meaning they are enabled to love God, worship God, and serve God by loving and serving other people. This is called sanctification, which is never lived out perfectly in this life.

The future hope of the saved in Anglican teaching is eternity in perfect relationship with God in heaven. As with hell, the exact nature of heaven is unknown. The Bible often uses geographical imagery for it, but many prefer to consider it as a state of being. Regardless, it is characterized by union with, but distinction from, God. It is a state of continual worship of God, of perfect love, of rest, of the end of tears and pain and labors and death, of perfect fellowship with believers, of bliss.

There will be a final day when Christ returns in triumph, all people are judged, the dead are resurrected bodily--the faithful to eternal life, and the unfaithful to eternal death--and the bodies of the living faithful are changed to resurrection bodies. The continuity between one's earthly body and one's resurrection body is unclear, but for the faithful the resurrection body will be glorified. There will be a new, glorified heaven and earth where all the faithful will dwell with God forever.

The time between one's death and the final resurrection is thought of variously in traditional Anglicanism as a time of peaceful rest for the soul or non-bodily presence with God. A modern view suggests no continuity between the person who dies one day (and is therefore completely dead) and the one raised at the last day, other than in the mind of God. Some Anglicans posit that the atemporality of the afterlife obviates questions of "between" times.

There is, of course, great diversity within Anglicanism regarding salvation and the afterlife, and no view is universally representative. For example, some Anglo-Catholics may adopt one or more aspects of the Catholic geography of the afterlife. There are Evangelical Anglicans who have taken dispensationalist beliefs regarding the millennium, the tribulation, and the rapture. Adherents to a number of Liberal perspectives may emphasize salvation in this life (whether or not also in an afterlife), perhaps in terms of liberation from social or political oppression, or the attainment of genuinely human existence or of relational harmony.

Study Questions:
     1.     What does traditional Anglicanism believe about the afterlife?
     2.     How do Anglicans understand hell? Heaven?
     3.     Why should Jesus be seen as God’s commitment to humanity?
     4.     What does it mean to “believe in” Jesus?

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