Sunday, April 28, 2002


Do I go to be with the Lord or not?

There used to be a general consensus amongst Catholics and Protestants that while the human being is one person, a unity of being, he is nevertheless one person with a body and a soul. So both groups spoke of saving souls. And they spoke of the soul (the inner self) departing from the body at death and being separated from the body until the general resurrection of the dead when the soul (the perfected inner self) would be reunited with its immortalized, supernaturalized and glorified body (a body like unto that of the Resurrected Lord Jesus) to be again one redeemed person amongst the saints and angels of heaven.

Both Protestants and Catholics thus referred to "the intermediate state" between physical death and the resurrection and they thought of it as a period for baptized Christians of either resting peacefully in the presence of the Lord, or passing through a time of purgation before the Lord to bring them to perfect sanctification, in anticipation of the fullness of redemption at the Second Coming of Christ and the general Resurrection of the dead.

This consensus has been lost in recent times because of the Monism-Dualism debate and the emphasis from both biblical theologians and philosophers [monists] upon the unity of the human person and the denial that man can be described as truly having both a soul and a body. This ancient [dualistic] view, developed by the early Fathers of the Church, is said to be too dependent upon the Greek view of the immortality of the soul. And the soul is said to be either as aspect of the body or essentially correlated with the body and thus not a separable and potentially independent substance.

The loss of the soul as a basic component of the human person has meant the setting forth of basically two alternatives to the traditional doctrine of the intermediate state.

That at death the human being ceases to be and has no existence until he is raised from the dead at the Second Coming of Christ. That at death, the baptized human being is provided immediately with his resurrection body of glory (even though the old material body is still on the earth) and thus effectively the Last Judgment occurs for each of us at death.

It will be noted that in both of these positions the Christian hope of life in a new body in a new heaven and earth within the new creation, in the presence of the Lord, the saints and angels is preserved.

Yet No 2 does not do justice to the great emphasis in the Bible on the Last Judgment as a future, universal event involving all persons without exception. And No.1 does not do justice to the conviction, seen in the New Testament, that even when the physical body dies the believer is not separated from his Lord - "Today thou shalt be with me in paradise."

Further, neither of these alternatives does justice to the fact that while the early Fathers, medieval scholastics (e.g. St Thomas Aquinas) and Protestant Reformers used the word "soul" they filled it with meaning taken from the Jewish and Christian inheritance of teaching about the human person, death and life after death. So they were not reproducing Greek views of the immortality of the soul but creating a new Christian doctrine and synthesis.

Of course, Catholics seem to have the most to lose and the most to change if the doctrine of the intermediate state is dropped. With the loss of the doctrine of purgatory their offering of prayers, spiritual gifts and the sacrifice of the Mass for the dead in Christ are redundant and so also are many ceremonies (e.g., the lighting of candles for the deceased) and some feast days. However, Protestants who adopt No 1 above because of their great emphasis upon the unity of the human person, cannot (as have evangelists in their preaching and funeral services in their contents over the years) promise with conviction that being born again means that at death we go to be with the Lord!

Finally, I would say the classic Book of Common Prayer is, within the terms of the present debate, committed to Dualism, for it assumes that at death the believer is consciously and meaningfully with the Lord in anticipation of the resurrection of the dead at the Last Day.

For those who wish to be fortified in the traditional Christian doctrine of the soul and of the intermediate state I commend --- John W. Cooper, Body, Soul and Life, Eerdmans; Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, Catholic Univ Press of America; & A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Eerdmans.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America

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