Monday, July 12, 2010

Is Purgatory a Biblical Doctrine? Part 1

I have several Catholic friends. They’re good peeps. In fact, I’ve never met a truly devout Catholic who was not sincere and zealous for good works, to my own shame. I share many beliefs with my Catholic friends; things I get excited about like the deity of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and a belief in the bodily return of Christ and the Resurrection to name a few.

I owe this post to a Catholic friend, who agreed to meet and consider some doctrines of Catholicism in light of Scripture. We begin this journey to simply answer the question, “What do the Scriptures say?”

I don’t remember why ‘purgatory’ was the first topic chosen but it is, to me, a good start because a) I feel purgatory is a doctrine grossly lacking in Scriptural evidence, and b) it clearly demonstrates the divide between Roman Catholic (RC) teaching and the Gospel of faith alone.

Introduction/Roman Catholic position on Purgatory

To begin, let us describe what we mean by Purgatory. According to RC teaching:

Purgatory may be defined as “a place or state in which are detained the souls of those who die in grace, in friendship with God, but with the blemish of venial sin or with temporal debt for sin unpaid. Here the soul is purged, cleansed, readied for eternal union with God in Heaven.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us 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 Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory was pronounced as Church dogma in A.D. 1438. (Rhodes, 233)

So to summarize, purgatory is a temporary hell for “saved” Christians who die while they still have not worked off the ‘temporal punishment’ for sins committed after baptism, so that one can enter heaven (sins can be forgiven through penance but still require temporal punishment). My friend told me that ‘very righteous’ people can forgo purgatory; people like saints. Purgatory brings my friend comfort because if she were to die before she had a chance to go to confession for a given mortal sin, this offers hope that she can pay for this sin through purgatory and not be eternally lost. I see no hope in suffering centuries of suffering in hell after the many pains and suffering here on earth. Even worse, this is a denial of the sufficiency of the Cross of Christ, (more on that later).

First, let us consider the Scripture used by the RC church to defend this doctrine. Then we will look at Scriptures that contradict the view.

Scripture in support of Purgatory

There is no clear Scripture supporting the view of Purgatory. Catholic apologists lean to tradition, not Scripture, in defense of the concept of purgatory, because Biblical evidence is lacking. Consider the Catholic Encyclopedia:
"In the final analysis the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is based on tradition not Sacred Scripture." (Sauer)
As Dr Rayburn, who preached a sermon on purgatory at Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA) on March 15, 1998 adds:
Roman Catholic writers have tried to argue for purgatory from a few biblical texts, but those arguments are contrived and even they put little weight on them. The fact is, the entire doctrine is without biblical warrant. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray and what to pray for, he mentioned nothing about prayer for the dead. He said nothing, nor did the prophets and apostles about purgatory, about indulgences, or about the church's authority to remit punishments being suffered by the righteous dead in purgatory. All of this is completely lacking from the Bible and that, surely, is important. For these are not small matters to have been omitted from Holy Scripture. (Rayburn)

Nevertheless, tomorrow we will examine some of the main texts used in favor of a view of purgatory: Matthew 12:31-32, Luke 12:59, Revelation 21:27, and 1 Cor 3:10-15. Go to these passages and look them up along with their contexts. See if you ‘see’ purgatory in them. We will examine them in detail tomorrow.

Below are some of the sources I will use in putting this argument together. Disclaimer: I don't claim this as a scholarly work. I only have one book on the topic besides the Bible, though I have found some helpful sources online (sources below). I trust this look at the Scripture will be profitable nonetheless.

-Rev. Dr. Robert S. Rayburn, Roman Catholicism: Purgatory (Sermon preached at Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA) on March 15, 1998
-Rhodes, Ron; Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics
Sauer, James; Purging a Problem

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