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If we assume that the testimony of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 is veridical, it would seem very counterintuitive (to me) that experiences of heavenly visitations would never happen again. On the contrary, I would expect more of such experiences to happen to people from time to time.

I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
[2 Corinthians 12:1-10 ESV]

Are there modern cases (1900 - present) of heavenly visitations a la Paul (2 Cor 12:1-10) that are recognized and endorsed by a denomination?


Closely related: Are there any documented cases of prophecies, dreams or visions (Joel 2) in modern times (1900 - present) that are endorsed by a denomination?

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    "it would seem very counterintuitive (to me) that experiences of heavenly visitations would never happen again" It wouldn't if we realize that, after Paul, there has never been another person inspired by God. That is considering, of course, that the reason Paul received "visions and revelations from the Lord" was that he was inspired by the Lord. If that is true(I can't prove it though), it would explain why no one else has received visions and revelations from God. Once again, I can't prove that, but at least it wouldn't be "counterintuitive"(as you say) if it was true.
    – Rajesh
    Feb 10 at 17:28
  • @Rajesh: it would explain why no one else has received visions and revelations from God - is this true though? Feb 10 at 17:30
  • I have no idea. I merely responding to your claim that it would be counterintuitive if other people didn't also receive visions and revelations. But I shouldn't have stated that as fact. My bad. Let me rephrase: If that is true, it wouldn't be counterintuitive at all if no one else ever received visions and revelations from God.
    – Rajesh
    Feb 10 at 17:32
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    Most of the cases of which I am aware are not broadly shared publicly, because they are considered sacred. Paul himself shared very few details of the referenced experiences: and he heard things that cannot be told Feb 10 at 19:04
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    Note that most denominations have no formal or official process for "recognizing" such things. Feb 11 at 14:20

4 Answers 4

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About the experience

At the outset, denominations would not automatically say that these experiences have no value to the people who experience them, but that they should be careful on how to interpret them. They would agree with numerous case studies where these near-death or mystical experience have a positive impact on their life journeys, which often turn them around toward God.

So let's say we ourselves or people we trust (like family members) have this "out of body experience". Critical thinking people will ask themselves:

  • Is this my imagination, since it's a given in psychological research how mind can play tricks on us?
  • Based on field reports in cross cultural and cross religion settings, can this experience be contaminated by some projection of existing beliefs that the mind does to make sense of the underlying (potentially stressful) bodily experience (if this happens in hospital / accidents)?
  • Even after ruling out the above, can demons have a role? Why should I assume this experience is facilitated by God?
  • Even if God allows this experience, what is the basis that my experience should be a norm for others, other than the message that God wants to give me personally for my own faith journey? Did God tell me to preach the content of my experience or did God restrict me (as in 2 Cor 12:4) to share my renewed faith by focusing on God as represented in the Bible only?
  • If God wants to give this experience to others, isn't better that God "tailor-made" the images, sensations, insights, specific evoked memories, people I met, etc. to match another person?

About what Paul taught

Note carefully how Paul himself framed this person's experience, who could have been himself speaking in the third person for rhetorical effect / literary convention. Paul intended, and the church agreed, that this letter is doctrinal, not simply a report like what we read in a book by people who on the surface may have similar experience.

Being doctrinal, we need to read Paul's framing in 2 Cor 12:1-10 as follows:

  • Paul said "there is nothing to be gained by it" (v. 1) but he just wanted to do counter-boasting (v. 6) to temper the Corinthian church members' tendency to value this experience higher than they should, either to give them a higher spiritual status, or worse, an additional revelation in addition to Paul's apostolic teaching.
  • Why to Paul this tendency was dangerous? I believe Paul anticipated the later Gnostic heresy which teaches that a person is spiritually more advanced ("enlightened") when the person has more "spiritual" experiences like this, experiences they consider as containing higher authority, or at least on the same level as the NT, by calling these "knowledge" (gnosis) just how for us Bible is "knowledge" since they are certified revelation by God to us.
  • In contrast, Paul said it's foolish to boast about these experiences. He wanted the Corinthians to imitate him (1 Cor 11:1), to do as he did:
    • to boast "of [his] weaknesses" (v. 5)
    • though he desires to boast he would not be a fool by doing so (v. 6a)
    • instead he "would be speaking the truth ... so that no one may think more of [Paul] than [what] he sees in [Paul] or hears from [Paul] (v. 6b) especially since Paul was forbidden to share the content (v. 4)

Answering your question: typical denomination response

Before answering, the immediate counter question is "recognized and endorsed by a denomination for what purpose"?

If your answer is "to give us something authoritative about what heaven looks like or what we can expect in the afterlife" then the answer is NO, because for all 3 mainstream branches, teaching of this sort (matters of salvation) is solely based on what God wants to reveal to the whole church via the Holy Spirit guidance:

  • For Protestants, even in the extremely small chance that a council or a church declares that someone's experience (which I think has to be vetted case by case) can be used as source of theology, they appeal to sola scriptura that this experience has lesser authority than scriptures, which taught what Paul taught as described above: "there is nothing to be gained by it."

  • For Eastern Orthodox, they highly recommend careful investigation as NDE tends to be morphed into New Age teaching which can be "one element of the emerging religion of Antichrist". The standard to be used is "Scripture, the Patristic writings, and Holy Tradition concerning death and the afterlife." (source: 1995 article from Orthodox Life Vol. 45 No. 4 pp. 16-31, The "Near-Death Experience" by David Ritchie).

  • For Catholics, the Church will need to investigate whether the experience/apparition really comes from God and secondly to assess (on a case by case basis) whether it is of value to the church as a whole. If approved by the church, these should be considered as "private revelations":

    ... she declares only that there is nothing in them contrary faith or good morals, and that they may be read without danger or even with profit; no obligation is thereby imposed on the faithful to believe them

    The Wikipedia has a list of private revelations approved by the Catholic Church which since 1900 include:

    Please visit each approval document and the related wikipedia articles above to read the "framing": how each apparition is interpreted by the Church and what messages can be discerned from each.

I believe Tim Challies speaks for how a Protestant denomination would comment about a person's claimed experience of heaven in his 2012 article Heaven Tourism responding to a spate of books by people who reported their out of body experience:

In the first place, we have no reason to believe or expect that God will work in this way–that he will call one of us to the afterlife and then send us back to our old bodies. The Bible says that it is for man to die once and then to experience the resurrection. ...

In the second place, the very idea of God calling a person to heaven and back and then having that person share his experience in order to bolster our faith is the exact opposite of what the Lord desires for us. We have no reason to look to another person’s experience of heaven in order to prove that heaven is real or hell is real. The Bible promises blessings on those who do not see and yet believe. ...

A question remains: How do I respond to a Christian who has read these books and who finds great joy or comfort in them? You point that person to what is true. You will need to be careful with tone and timing, but ultimately, it will be a blessing for any Christian to direct his faith to the worthy object of faith. Faith will be strengthened by reading the Bible and believing it. Faith will be weakened by reading the Bible and believing it only after reading 90 Minutes in Heaven. You can serve any Christian by directing him to the Bible and helping him to see that we are called to believe God on the basis of what he says in his Word, not on the basis of another person’s experience. 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven Is For Real and all the rest are not books that beautify the doctrine of heaven, but books that attack the doctrine of Scripture. The Bible insists that it is enough, that it is sufficient, that we have no need for further special revelation from God; these books insist that it is not.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has several cases of heavenly visitations that are recognized and endorsed, but only one comes to mind that is after 1900 (doesn't explicitly state heavenly visitation):

D&C 138

A vision given to President Joseph F. Smith in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 3, 1918. In his opening address at the 89th Semiannual General Conference of the Church, on October 4, 1918, President Smith declared that he had received several divine communications during the previous months. One of these, concerning the Savior’s visit to the spirits of the dead while His body was in the tomb, President Smith had received the previous day. It was written immediately following the close of the conference. On October 31, 1918, it was submitted to the counselors in the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, and the Patriarch, and it was unanimously accepted by them.

As revelation is a core belief there may future visitations that are officially recognized.

The scriptures tell of different types of revelation, such as visions, dreams, and visitations by angels. Through such channels, the Lord has restored His gospel in the latter days and revealed many truths. However, most revelations to leaders and members of the Church come through the whisperings of the Holy Ghost.

This also means that other revelation received and presented, by the prophet may have been from visitation by angels, but the means by which revelation was received is rarely communicated (from what I have seen/read).

all emphasis mine

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  • Ha, you beat me to the punch, I was going to write an answer about D&C 138 as well =) Feb 10 at 18:50
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    While Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) 138 doesn't recount a heavenly visitation, Joseph F. Smith does see Christ. Perhaps in the sense that he visited heaven? It is certainly "recognized and endorsed," even going through the relatively uncommon process of being added to canon. Feb 11 at 1:48
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The Fatima visionaries had a vision of hell in 1917, but not as far as I remember, of heaven.

You can read about the apparitions in detail here on fatima.org

St. Faustina in 1936 had a vision of Heaven too. https://www.churchpop.com/2016/10/23/the-secrets-of-heaven-revealed-to-st-faustina/

All this should have the regular "private revelation" disclaimer as until the second coming, it's all going to be private revelation. But at least this is not quashed by the Catholic Church. i.e. It's OK, but not mandatory to believe.

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  • Is the wikipedia list of private revelations approved by the Catholic Church complete post 1900 ? Are there any that are under review? Recently, do approved apparitions require that the recipients are canonized? Feb 10 at 19:54
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    @grateful that's a short list, here's a bigger one I believe the apparition and canonization are two sides of the same coin, but the Church doesn't require the person to be dead to approve their apparitions (as was the case at Fatima) and I don't think the case for Medjugorje will be improved by the deaths of the seers.
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 10 at 20:51
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    @GratefulDisciple re: approbation and canonization: I believe it's the other way round: To be canonized, as far as I understand it, your communications in life must generally convey orthodoxy; if you claim apparitions that cannot be approved, i.e. apparitions which contain anything contrary to the faith or morals, that should pretty much disqualify you from canonization.
    – sgf
    Feb 11 at 14:44
  • @sgf Thank you for clarifying and helping me to understand the Catholic process (I grew up Reformed Protestant). Feb 11 at 15:14
  • The Church actually has proclaimed Fatima "worthy of belief," so it is not required, but also not merely allowed. Belief in the Fatima apparition is encouraged.
    – jaredad7
    Feb 11 at 15:59
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If this was an account of Paul's own experience, then he kept quiet about it (at least in epistular form) . . . . for fourteen years.

Presumably, such persons as are suited to such experiences are, likewise, discrete about talking about such things.

And even then, Paul says that what was heard is not to be uttered.

Thus I cannot see that such events, should they recur, would be well publicised.

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