“Saving eternal life from certain death”

Death and eternal life … How do other Christian churches see this? And which teaching is behind this religious practice? This was the topic of a conference at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. The initiative came from the New Apostolic Church.

The idea originated in a discussion of the Association of Christian Churches (AGCK) in Switzerland, board member Claudia Haslebache said at the beginning of the conference on 2 November 2017. The New Apostolic Church Switzerland was awarded guest status in the Association of Christian Churches in 2014 and has since “demonstrated its commitment to the ecumenical movement on many occasions”, Barbara Hallensleben writes. She is a professor of dogmatic theology and ecumenical studies at the Institute for Ecumenical Studies of the University of Fribourg.

Two elements of the New Apostolic Creed in particular aroused interest: the Apostle ministry and our conception of the departed, in other words, our practice of administering the sacraments to the dead. “The discussions with the New Apostolic Church have shown that all participating Christian denominations need to revisit their relationship with the dead from a theological perspective and review their religious practice,” the professor pointed out.

Different perspectives

This is how the idea for the conference was developed, at which representatives from different Christian denominations presented their approach to the topic “Hope of eternal life?” At first, the topic was considered from the aspect of everyday religious practice and only then were theological aspects discussed.

More than 70 participants from Christian churches as well as students followed the invitation to informative lectures and practice-oriented workshops, Andreas Grossglauser, the spokesman of the New Apostolic Church Switzerland says, who organised the event together with Claudia Haslebache and Barbara Hallensleben.

Guest speakers were Ralph Kunz, professor for practical theology at the University of Zurich (Swiss Reformed Church), Stefan Schweyer, assistant professor for practical theology at the State-Independent University of Theology in Basle (Free Church), Dr Reinhard Kiefer, head of theological services of the New Apostolic Church, Professor Dr Augustin Sokolovski (Orthodox Church), and Annette Mayer-Gebhard, pastor at the University Hospital of Lausanne (Catholic Church).

Different perspectives

How varied and different the theology and religious practice is in the various denominations became evident. It ranges from a diffuse kind of private eschatology, which is only vaguely formulated in funeral eulogies, to a firm declaration of hope in eternal life and to the conviction that changes and transformation can still occur in the afterlife.

Professor Kunz saw it as a mission to “save eternal life from certain death”, the Catholic Media Centre reports. Once the danger of a selfish notion of salvation is eradicated, a bridge can be built to the religious practice of the New Apostolic Church. Already Paul professed the tradition of people having themselves baptised for the dead (1 Corinthians 15: 29). Even if the Church later banned this practice, God still is a God of the living and not of the dead (Matthew 22: 32). He said that this also means that the dead are to be acknowledged as living in God and that it is important to seek salvation in the common act of deliverance.

Common testimony

In the second half of the conference, the participants had the opportunity to further develop the topic and reflect on it in workshops and discussion groups. A number of speakers gave some insight into their practical experience with this. Jürg Meier, a District Elder in the New Apostolic Church, gave a talk on “Offering comfort in a funeral sermon”. The Reformed pastors Martina Holder-Franz and Karin Kaspers-Elekes invited the participants to discuss the following: “What comforting can achieve” and “Experience with palliative care”.

The day concluded in a moment of silence, of reflection, commemoration and prayer in the university chapel. “Thank you, I have discovered how rich our faith is,” was one of the responses received. The unanimous conclusion: “The conference achieved what it set out to do: it revealed a common testimony of hope, not a selfish and individual notion of salvation.”

Additional reports on this conference can be found here: