Saturday, February 4, 2017

If I am a Christian, when I die, will I still need to pass through purgatory before entering heaven?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”  (The Profession of Faith, Section Two, III The Final Purification, or Purgatory, 1030)  To reduce one’s time in purgatory – or the time spent by someone already there – we can do certain works.  The Catholic Encyclopedia states that we can reduce our time by three years by making the sign of the cross and seven years by doing this with “blessed water”.  Of course the big question one might ask is, “How many years do I need to knock off?”  No one can know that and every sin adds more time. 

Where did the idea of purgatory begin?
The notion of purgatory was not found in the Christian church until the Council of Trent (1545-1563) established it as a doctrine.  Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) first mentioned the idea that, “for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire.” (Dialogues)  The word purgatory is not used in the Bible, but that does not necessarily invalidate the concept.  For example, the word trinity is not used in the Bible, but the concept is clearly contained therein.  Justification for the doctrine of purgatory derives from the second century BC account found in the book of Second Maccabees.  Jewish military leader Judas Maccabeus, at one point, offered prayers and pieces of silver (12,000 drachma) to Jerusalem, to be offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the dead.  This account is found in the book of 2nd Maccabees 12:42-46.  However, it is important to note that neither the book of 1st nor 2nd Maccabees was considered holy scripture by Jesus Christ or any of the apostles.  Though Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and other writers of the New Testament quoted the Old Testament hundreds of times, never once did they quote any verse from Maccabees. 

Is purgatory mentioned in the Bible?
Two primary Biblical passages are used as evidence for purgatory, including 1st Corinthians 3:15, which states, “If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”  However, these verses do not state the person will be burned, rather his or her works.  If our deeds in this life were of no eternal good, they will burn up.  Another New Testament reference used as evidence for purgatory is Matthew 12:32, in which Jesus says “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”  The idea here is that some sins may be absolved after death, or “in the age to come”.  But, this says nothing of any additional punishment after death that could eliminate this sin.  It is an untenable stretch to make this fit the concept of purgatory.  The plain meaning of this verse is that the age to come refers to believers entering into eternal life with God, or heaven, and unbelievers entering into eternal punishment apart from God, or hell.  (See Matthew 25 and Revelation 20)

It is finished 
In John 17:4, Jesus spoke of His impending death on the cross by saying to God He had “the work you gave me to do.”  Then, in John 19:30, just before He died, Jesus said in a loud voice, “It is finished.”  Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about suffering in purgatory.  The Bible clearly states that we can do nothing to earn acceptance by God.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “it is by God’s unmerited favor you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  We can do nothing to merit or deserve God’s favor.  Someone who believes in purgatory may agree that we are admitted to heaven by belief in Jesus, but we still need to work off some sins.  If that’s true, then Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was not enough to pay the penalty for all of our sins.  But, Romans 8:1 states, “there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  This does not say there is still a little condemnation to work off. 

Once for all

Hebrews 10:10 informs that, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  And, 1 Peter 3:18 states, “Christ died for sins once for all”  Hebrews 9:27,28 goes on to state,  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people”.  In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, the word of God states that we are either in the body in this life or “at home with the Lord”, with no mention of an intervening time of purging.  The Bible clearly states that, when we leave this life, we will go to be with God or away from God in hell.  There is no third option mentioned in the Bible.

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