When does eternal life start?

Jurisdictional Conference opened, rightly, with a worship service.  The service was “A Celebration of Holy Eucharist and Remembrance.”  Since the main purpose of jurisdictional conference is the election of bishops, at this opening service we remember the lives and ministry of the bishops who have died since the last conference.

Part of the service was a “Litany of Thanksgiving,” for which the words were:

We give thanks for the lives of those who have gone before us.

We praise the God who called these faithful ones to life, and now leads them into life eternal.

Let the rant begin:

This litany presumes an understanding of eternal life as starting with or after death.  From whence cometh such a view?  I don’t find it in scripture.

The clearest teaching we have on eternal life is from Jesus, in John 17:3: And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (NRSV)  Jesus doesn’t mention death in his understanding of eternal life, I don’t think we ought to, either.

We, as a church (The United Methodist Church) have a newly revised mission statement: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” To take this mission seriously, I propose that we stop referring haphazardly to the eternal life to which Jesus calls us as something that becomes available when one dies.

If we believe that we are making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world, then let us invite these disciples-in-the-making to be a part of the Kingdom that began coming into the world nearly two millenia ago.

Here ends the rant for today.

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When does eternal life start?

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