As New Apostolic members across the world prepare for Service for Departed this weekend, we take a look at what the NAC Catechism says about the importance of this service.
Catechism 9.4 The beyond
The term “beyond” generally refers to all realms, events, and conditions that exist outside of the material world. In a narrower sense this term refers to the realm of the dead (Hebrew: Sheol; Greek: Hades), and will, in the following, be used with this meaning. Thus, in principle, the beyond and the dead are invisible to living human beings. However, departed souls can, in individual cases, show themselves. To make contact with the dead through necromancy or channelling is prohibited by God and therefore sinful (Deuteronomy 18: 10-11).
The Old Testament describes the realm of the dead as a predominantly dark place (Job 10: 21-22) where the dead find themselves in a condition bereft of joy (Psalm 88: 10-12; 115: 17). Yet there is also a note of hope for redemption from darkness (Psalm 23: 4; 49: 15).
In His parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus, Jesus Christ referred to the bosom of Abraham, an image of security (Luke 16: 19-31). From this parable, further details can be derived:
a. After physical death, the human soul lives on in the realm of the dead. The individuality of the soul remains intact.
b. In the realm of the dead there is a place of security as well as a place of torment, which are separated from one another.
c. The place in which a person’s soul dwells after death depends upon his conduct with regard to God’s will during his lifetime.
d. The departed can become aware of their condition. Those who suffer in agony will hope for help.
Beyond that, the parable refers to Jesus’ resurrection, and thus also to His sacrificial death and the possibility of redemption founded upon it. It figuratively illustrates conditions in the beyond at the time of the old covenant: the gulf between the realm of torment and the realm of security was impossible to bridge in the old covenant.
Through His merit, Christ, the “firstfruits” in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 23), has overcome the Devil and defeated death (1 Corinthians 15: 55; Hebrews 2: 14). For the souls in the beyond He thereby also opened up a hitherto unimaginable proximity with God: the gulf between the realm of torment and the realm of security can now be bridged.
9.5 The condition of souls in the beyond
The condition of souls in the beyond is a direct expression of their proximity to, or remoteness from, God, and therefore varies greatly. Death has not brought about any change to the condition of the souls. Rather, their condition is identical to that which they had during their lifetime.
The term “realm” is sometimes used in connection with proximity to, or remoteness from, God. The realm into which a soul passes in the beyond depends upon how a person has conducted himself with respect to the will of God. In this each individual bears responsibility for himself. For instance, belief or unbelief, forgiveness or irreconcilability, love or hatred not only leave their mark on human beings during earthly life, but also in the beyond.
In 1 Thessalonians 4: 16 we read of the “dead in Christ”. These are souls who were reborn of water and the Spirit, and who sincerely endeavoured to live in accordance with their faith. The fellowship with the Lord, into which they entered during their earthly lives through Holy Baptism with water and Holy Sealing, and which they maintained through Holy Communion, will continue after their death. Together with the faithful on earth, they belong to the congregation of the Lord, and find themselves in a condition of righteousness before God (188.8.131.52 and 4.8.2). For these souls, preparing for the return of Christ was the central element of their earthly lives, and the longing for this moment also fills them in the beyond. They were and remain devoted to the Lord, and will experience security and peace.
The Wisdom of Solomon 3: 1-3 already mentions the possibility of a condition of security: “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery. And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace.”
The dead in Christ have access to the word of God. Through this word as well as through Holy Communion administered to them by Apostles (12.1.9 and 12.1.3) they receive that which they need for attaining eternal life.
There are also reborn souls who pass into the beyond who have not lived according to their faith. In order to rectify their deficiencies they need–as is the case on earth–the grace of God in word and sacrament.
Those souls in the beyond who have never heard of the gospel, never experienced forgiveness of sins, and never received any sacraments, find themselves in a condition of remoteness from God. This can only be overcome by believing in Jesus Christ, accepting His merit, and receiving the sacraments.
- The term “beyond” refers to all realms, events, and conditions that lie outside of the material world. Often the beyond is equated with the realm of the dead. (4)
- Christ, the “firstfruits” in the resurrection, has conquered death and thereby made it possible for the souls in the beyond to enter into the proximity of God. (4)
- The condition of the souls in the beyond is an expression of their proximity to God, or remoteness from Him, and is the same there as it was during their lifetime. Those who are reborn and who followed the Lord will find themselves in a state of righteousness before God. Souls who have never heard of the gospel, never had their sins forgiven, and never received a sacrament, find themselves in a condition of remoteness from God. This can only be overcome by believing in Jesus Christ, accepting His merit, and receiving the sacraments. (5)
What do you think about Service for Departed and our preparation for it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.