The beliefs and theology of the United Methodist Church hew largely along the same lines as other Protestant Christian denominations. The church, however, tends toward a tempered, middle road on most issues -- its belief on what happens after death included. Methodists believe in an afterlife, but they do not forbid the use of technology and medicine to prolong life and forestall temporarily what they believe comes next.
For Methodists, as with most Christian denominations, death is a gateway to eternal life, provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline encourages palliative care for persons at the end of their lives, though it does not put an onus on caretakers to use such treatments if they will only prolong the process of dying. Care for the dying is considered part of Methodism's stewardship for God's gift.
One of the foundational Christian affirmations of Methodism is salvation through Christ's atonement, death and resurrection. Upon death, people face God's judgment. He calls for repentance, pardons them and receives them in heaven because Jesus has paid for their sins. Heavenly acceptance is one of the doctrines emphasized by John Wesley, the father of Methodism.Wesley dismissed the idea of predestination, prominent among Calvinists, which suggested some humans were destined by God for salvation and others for eternal damnation. Instead, he emphasized "Prevenient grace," in which God's grace is delivered to humans before any decision or action made by them. The official doctrines of the church recognize both heaven and hell.In practice, however, many Methodist bodies and individuals de-emphasize hell in teachings and sermons. In keeping with an even-keeled theology, there is little official consensus in church literature on the manner of ascension to heaven after death. The question is open for discussion and interpretation. Methodism repudiates the existence of purgatory because it has no basis in scripture.
The United Methodist Church allows for cremation and organ donation. Methodism does believe in the resurrection of Christ's body after his crucifixion and the resurrection of believers after death. However, acknowledging human biology and history and citing the apostle Paul, the church focuses on a spiritual, rather than bodily, resurrection for believers. Accordingly, the church considers cremation a viable alternative to burial. In its Social Principles, Methodism actively encourages organ donation as an act of charity and selflessness.
Suicide, whether it comes as the result of depression or desire to end physical pain, does not preclude an individual from reaching heaven or being forgiven her sins, Methodists believe. The reasoning is taken from Romans 8:32, which asks if God sacrificed his own son, Jesus, “how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images