The Bible has a lot to say about death, including how to ultimately overcome it. How do Methodists interpret Scripture’s teaching about death? How does it shape their beliefs?
Methodist theology has historically taught that death is the consequence for sin, and because every person has sinned, all will eventually die. However, Jesus Christ enables people to overcome their physical death, and those who do will go to heaven and those who don’t will go to hell.
Why does sin lead to death, according to Methodist teaching? What do Methodists believe about heaven and hell? Do Methodists believe it’s okay to be cremated? Keep reading to learn more.
What do Methodists believe about heaven?
Methodists believe that a person either goes to heaven or hell when they die. In contrast to the Catholic church, Methodists don’t believe in purgatory. Physical and spiritual death is a consequence of sin (e.g. Rom. 6:23), so in order to live forever with God in heaven and other believers, sin must be overcome. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ overcomes sin and death, which enables believers to have eternal life (e.g. John 3:16).
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1703-1791), was profoundly focused on heaven while he lived on earth. Heaven wasn’t simply a destination for Wesley, but it defined his life in that he lived in this world but live for the next world. The reality of heaven led Wesley to evangelize unbelievers, disciple believers, worship God in Spirit and Truth, and immerse himself in Scripture,
I want to know one thing, the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!John Wesley
What do Methodists believe heaven will be like? Historically, Methodists strive to build their doctrine of heaven, and what it will be like, on the teachings of Scripture. While the Bible offers glimpses of heaven, it doesn’t offer readers a holistic, detailed image of what it will be like or look like. Like other Christians, Methodists acknowledge there is some mystery to heaven, but what is unknown will be just as wonderful as what is known.
Methodists’ beliefs about heaven:
- There will be praise: People and angels will worship God for all eternity.
- There will be community: People will be reunited with faithful family and friends.
- There will be healing: God will heal people of diseases and ailments.
- There will be a new dwelling place: People will live forever in a new heavens and new earth
What do Methodists Believe About Hell?
According to traditional Methodist teaching, people who reject the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the atonement he earned them through his death and resurrection remain lost in their sin. Sin, according to the Bible, leads to eternal death. If a person doesn’t have means to overcome sin, which morality and good works alone can’t do, they will die as a result of their sin. Hell is the place of eternal death.
How can a loving God send people to hell? Some Methodists deny that hell is real, but their belief is contrary to the historic teachings of the Methodist tradition. Those who believe in hell don’t relish the doctrine; rather, they believe it’s clearly taught in Scripture and accept as a sad but real truth.
Strictly speaking, God doesn’t “send” someone to hell. Hell is the result of rejecting the eternal, life-saving work of Christ on the cross. God so badly doesn’t want people to go to hell that he sent his only son, Jesus Christ, so sinners can escape that fate and experience eternal life.
John Wesley believed hell was real and that the Bible’s description of it should be interpreted literally. His belief in hell, in part, provided motivation for his evangelistic and discipleship work,
Is it not common to say to a child, ‘Put your finger in that candle, can you bear it even for one minute?’ How then will you bear Hell-fire? Surely it would be torment enough to have the flesh burnt off from only one finger; what then will it be to have the whole body plunged into a lake of fire, burning with brimstone?John Wesley
Methodists’ beliefs about hell:
- Hell is was made for Satan and demons: Unbelievers will not be the only judged and punished in hell.
- Hell is not a paradise for sinners: People in hell won’t have the ability to maximize their sinful cravings through ongoing rebellion. They will be misery, suffering, and isolation forever.
- Hell will experience the fullness of God’s wrath: Hell isn’t necessary God-less in that people are left to do whatever they want. Instead, God’s presence is experienced through the outpouring of his wrath.
What do Methodists believe about cremation?
Some Christians are adamantly opposed to cremation for different reasons, such as (1) burial better expresses a believer’s anticipation of future bodily resurrection, (2) cremation disrespects God’s creation of the person and their body, (3) cremation is the practice of non-Christians religions and churches shouldn’t adopt the practice, and (4) the Bible mentions cremation in a negative light (e.g. Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 20:14; 21:9; Joshua 7:25).
Christians who make this argument don’t believe that if a person is cremated, they risk their salvation. Burial is considered a “best practice” for these Methodists, but repentance and faith in Jesus Christ determines their eternal destination. Sometimes a person doesn’t have the freedom to decide what happens to their body, like someone who dies in a fire, or plane crash, or during warfare.
The largest denomination in the tradition, the United Methodist Church, acknowledges there are two perspectives on this issue,
Some of those opposing cremation argue the body must not be cremated because at some future date the believer’s soul will be reunited with his or her body. Even some who do not hold the soul is separable from the body may express hesitancy to embrace cremation. Still others, whatever their belief about soul and body, conclude that since cremation only does rapidly what nature will do also more slowly, cremation is acceptable.
The UMC has come to the conclusion that since cremation isn’t a sin, then an individual make decide for themselves what will happen to their body at death,
The United Methodist Church does not have a specific official statement that either endorses or condemns cremation. Instead, United Methodists leave this choice to individuals and families and provide resources within the official ritual (Service of Death and Resurrection) that refer to the possible use of an urn and the interment of ashes. 
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