Purgatory — Are Catholics Right?

This is a short, but time-sensitive post. I was listening to the Patrick Madrid Show on Immaculate Heart Radio this morning (Friday, June 23rd), and a caller asked about Purgatory. She wanted to know how to respond to a friend who was once Catholic, but now evangelical, and no longer believing in Purgatory.

Madrid quoted the standard apologetic verses such as 1 Corinthians 3:15 which, quite frankly, say nothing about Purgatory. Of course, he would typically answer that the Bible says nothing about the Trinity, either. I sent off an email to Patrick saying:

Brother, it seems to me that Catholics have to apply a forced interpretation of Scripture to make it say what it doesn’t even imply. You suggested that the caller ask her friend if he is perfectly clean to enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27). Thus the argument for Purgatory.

The implication is that we are all unclean; but Paul said some will endure the fire (their works, that is) and receive a reward. The apostle was speaking of crowns — not entry into Heaven. People will enter Heaven by the blood of Jesus though their works may be burned up. This says nothing about a soul being purified in a mythical Purgatory. Context, please.

Again, the faithful have been cleansed by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7). I am clean to enter Heaven — not based on my works, but by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ though you disagree with this interpretation. [End]

For the purpose of context this is what Paul wrote:

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

… and John in Revelation 21:27:

But nothing unclean will ever enter it (Heaven), nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Patrick suggested that his caller ask her friend if he was clean enough to enter Heaven. The prompted response that he hopes to elicit is that no one is clean enough to enter Heaven, but this is a gross mishandling of the Word of God.

Madrid then cautioned his caller that her friend might answer with 1 John 1:7 …

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

… but the friend would be incorrect, said Madrid, since Catholics teach that a saved person might die in an imperfect state thus in need of purifying.

Nowhere is this doctrine taught in Scripture … nowhere.

The following commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:15 reminds us that we can’t take the verse out of context.

Charles Ellicott

These words remind us that the whole passage, and especially the reference to fire, is to be regarded as metaphorical, and not to be understood in a literal and physical sense. Forgetting this, Roman divines have evolved from these words the doctrine of purgatory.

Matthew Poole

For the fire of purgatory, it is a fiction, and mere imaginary thing, and of no further significance than to make the pope’s chimney smoke.

Albert Barnes

Yet so as by fire — ὡς διὰ πυρός hōs dia puros. This passage has greatly perplexed commentators; but probably without any good reason. The apostle does not say that Christians will be doomed to the fires of purgatory; nor that they will pass through fire; nor that they will be exposed to pains and punishment at all.

I closed my email to Patrick saying:

Catholics apply the same meandering logic to most of their unique doctrines such as praying to Mary, and calling the Pope ‘Father’. It just doesn’t work.

I confess that my closing remarks were out-of-context, and unfair. I do not wish to start a fight with my Catholic brothers as readers of this blog know that I am especially kind to Catholics if only for the sake of unity.

My impression of Catholics and Protestants is from the perspective of the Jerusalem assembly 2000 years ago when there wasn’t a single Gentile in the church of Christ.

If you have further interest in this discussion please listen to the rebroadcast of this morning’s show, and try to catch Patrick’s response on Monday when he will address, what he calls, my incorrect interpretation.

Copyright © 2017 Eternal Christ

In Search of the True Church

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you (Romans 16:16).

Before we get started, I wanted to give a shout-out to WordPress blogger Altruistico. He writes that he is a re-born Christian of non-denominational faith. Serving the one true church, that of Christ Jesus, upon whom the true Church is built.

I believe the Holy Spirit crossed our paths for that has been a theme in my current series of articles — what is the true church of Christ? In this anniversary year of the Reformation I’ve been taking a closer look at the institutional church.

In my last post I asked the question:

If the Pope is the Man of Sin, and Martin Luther an anti-Jewish nationalist then where does the disciple of Christ go to worship? Hint: God must be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:19-24).

The church is the bride of Christ. It is not an institution, but a spiritual body of people like you and me who have been saved by grace through faith.

There was no Baptist church in Ephesus, nor Methodist church in Corinth. There were no Presbyterians in Galatia, nor Catholics in Thessalonica. Christians met in their homes to worship God, break bread and fellowship. You might say that the house church is the true church of God. They weren’t even called Christians, but were disciples of Christ – a sect of the Nazarenes — who followed the Way (Acts 9:1-2, Acts 11:26).

In this series of articles I have been rather kindly towards the Catholic Church, and admittedly critical of the Protestant Church. My charge against the Reformation is that it split the Church in two. It unleashed confusion and division — opening the door to a flood of heresy and false teaching. The shortcomings of Roman Catholicism were only magnified in Protestantism. One might conclude that neither represents the true body of Christ.

The New Testament ecclesia was not an institutional church. I think it interesting that Protestants view the Pope as the Man of Sin while Catholics see Martin Luther as the false prophet. Will Jesus spew them both out of his mouth? Consider our Lord’s warning to the church at Sardis:

I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3:1-6).

The Seven Churches in Asia, to whom Jesus speaks in Revelation, are considered to be representative of the various states of the church during this age of grace. However, these were seven literal churches that existed in the first century. To the extent that they are representative of the modern church is that both share the same faults and failures. Notice that Jesus did not condemn all who were in the church at Sardis:

You still have a few who walk with me in white, for they are worthy.

This also answers the question of eternal security. Those who believe in predestination typically hold the doctrine of once saved, always saved. That is false teaching.

Jesus taught:

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (John 15:6).

A Calvinist will suggest that the one who is lost was never saved. Judas Iscariot was saved, but he did not abide. If he had repented he would have been forgiven, but he could not live with the heavy burden of unrepentant guilt. A person can be in Christ, but if they don’t remain they will be cut off.

What if I backslide? I would not want to be in a fallen state when Christ returns, but consider the parable of the Prodigal Son. He fell from grace, but recognized his sin and returned to his father. If you have fallen away, as long as you have breath, God will welcome you back.

Sardis might resemble your church. Not everyone who attends will be saved. Some are like spiritual zombies — their faith dead like a tree that bears no fruit. This is the distinction between justification and sanctification. We are justified by faith, but sanctified by the Spirit. Sanctification is manifested by the fruits of the Spirit, and good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

This was the stumbling block for Martin Luther. He saw himself as a wretched man, lost and hopeless, vainly seeking solace through the many hours of prayer and meditation. In 1510, he journeyed to Rome and crawled on his hands and knees up the 28 stone stairs that Jesus climbed when he faced Pilate’s judgment. (The stairs were moved there from Jerusalem.)

Luther reached the top with bloodied knees and a yearning spirit. He found no comfort in works of the flesh, and returned to Germany downcast and sullen.

Luther was not a Calvinist — if only for the fact that John Calvin wasn’t born until 1509 — but he framed the theology that would later become Calvinism.

Man is totally wretched and depraved. That’s how Luther viewed himself. He discounted good works (including prayer and study) because they left him feeling unjustified. He wrote that good works were as good as sin. Whatever good deeds we do are stained by our inherently evil state.

Paul rang in his ears:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:14-15).

This set Luther at odds with the Catholic Church and Scripture itself (James 2:24). He couldn’t harmonize Paul with James so he simply dismissed what James wrote. This is not rightly dividing the Word of God.

Pastor David Jeremiah said that Christians have to be careful with the doctrine of justification. “Some just let it fly,” he said. “They go on living in sin thinking there’s no work involved.”

I had to walk away from a recent sermon where the pastor was pounding the theme of salvation by faith alone. Orthodox Christians do not disagree in the sense that Jesus did all the work necessary to redeem us, but this is not what he was talking about when he told the church at Sardis that their works were incomplete. We are told to abide in Christ, to manifest the fruit of good works, and to persevere:

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments …

Well, there’s so much more to say, but I have exceeded my 1000 word limit. In closing, I would like to give the last word to Altruistico. They’ve posted some great articles on church history (click on their Church tab). In this article they discuss what is the true church:

The ability to trace one’s church back to the “first church” through apostolic succession is an argument used by a number of different churches to assert that their church is the “one true church.” The Roman Catholic Church makes this claim. The Greek Orthodox Church makes this claim. Some Protestant denominations make this claim. Some of the “Christian” cults make this claim. How do we know which church is correct? The biblical answer is – it does not matter!

The “first church” is the church that is recorded in the New Testament, especially in the Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul. The New Testament church is the “original church” and the “one true church.”

Written by Donnie Skaggs, Leann Hart, Don Poythress • Copyright © Capitol Christian Music Group, BMG Rights Management US, LLC

Copyright © 2017 Eternal Christ

Luther — Sinner or Saint?

In this anniversary year of the Reformation (31 October 1517), I’ve posted several articles examining Roman Catholicism through a somewhat apologetic lens.

Today, I wanted to discuss those obvious traditions that Protestants find so … unfamiliar:

  • Making confession to a priest
  • Calling the Pope, Father
  • Transubstantiation
  • Praying to Mary
  • Purgatory

However, I posted a rather lengthy comment on a previous article discussing some things I was saving for a future post, and feel it appropriate to share those thoughts in blog format. The comments are relevant to this series of articles on the post-Reformation schism that exists between Catholics and Protestants. (Following the reprint I will have some closing thoughts.)

I take no sides here except as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Begin Comments

Of course, my prejudice — for what it’s worth — is that I relate the Holocaust to German nationalism fueled by the anti-Semitic overtones of the Reformation. For me, this is a very sensitive issue not understood by the Protestant laity which holds Martin Luther in high regard.

When Luther went to Rome, ostensibly seeking reform, he initially said nothing about the peculiar traditions of the Catholic Church — many of which were gleaned from the Apocryphal books written during the Intertestamental period. For example, the German church profited handsomely from the indulgences paid by the wealthy aristocracy. Luther wanted to keep that money in Germany, and out of the hands of Rome.

On a related issue, Luther saw the banking system as a threat to German autonomy. The bankers, by chance, happened to be Jews who were profiting (across Europe) as capitalist financiers.

Luther’s mission was this: Liberate Germany from the Catholic Pope and Jewish bankers.

Much has been written about Luther’s anti-Semitic nationalism, but this history is unknown, or not taught in the Protestant Church. We must understand Luther’s motivations in order to judge the righteousness of his movement.

Reviewing Martin Luther’s book, On the Jews and Their Lies, author Jim Walker commented:

Although Luther did not invent anti-Jewishness, he promoted it to a level never before seen in Europe. Luther bore the influence of his upbringing and from anti-Jewish theologians such as Lyra, Burgensis, (and John Chrysostom, before them). But Luther’s 1543 book, “On the Jews and Their Lies” took Jewish hatred to a new level when he proposed to set fire to their synagogues and schools, to take away their homes, forbade them to pray or teach, or even to utter God’s name. Luther wanted to “be rid of them” and requested that the government and ministers deal with the problem. He requested pastors and preachers to follow his example of issuing warnings against the Jews. He goes so far as to claim that “We are at fault in not slaying them” for avenging the death of Jesus Christ.

So vehemently did Luther speak against the Jews, and the fact that Luther represented an honorable and admired Christian to Protestants, that his written words carried the “memetic” seeds of anti-Jewishness up until the 20th century and into the Third Reich. Luther’s Jewish eliminationist rhetoric virtually matches the beliefs held by Hitler and much of the German populace in the 1930s.

Luther unconsciously set the stage for the future of German nationalistic fanaticism.

Walker cited author William L. Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) who wrote that Luther created a new Protestant vision of Christianity by a fervent German nationalism.

Author Eric W. Gritsch (Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment) wrote that the “missionary Luther” was a propagandist for German nationalism — a political reformer whose patriotism should have created a substitute for the rule of Roman Catholicism. He further wrote that German nationalism, unconditional patriotism and conditional theology propelled the Reformation.

Hitler called Martin Luther one of the greatest reformers. Against the historical backdrop one might doubt the righteousness of Luther’s reforms.

Here’s what I think.

First, let me say that the Catholic Church is not without sin. Having said that, I believe that confusion and division are from Satan. Nothing has caused so much confusion and division than the Protestant-Catholic split.

I believe that Luther’s theological differences were intended to conceal his nationalistic intentions. He was politically motivated to break from Rome, and his 95 Theses served as a formal declaration of German independence.

He split the Church in two, and the Church has suffered consequentially.

Luther’s theology, I believe, does rise to the level of heresy. On Sola Fide, alone, he mishandles the word of God (if only to incite disagreement with Rome).

This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness … if this article stands, the Church stands; if it falls, the Church falls. — Martin Luther

Catholics do not disagree that we are saved by faith. The issue, as I pointed out in the article, is the Book of James (see notes). Luther didn’t like what it said so he disputed its canonicity. He also didn’t like Hebrews and Revelation because they were too Jewish.

I look at the fruit of the Reformation and I see the Holocaust, and tens of thousands of Protestant Churches that teach every kind of oddball theology.

End Comments

On that last comment about oddball theology I’m reminded of the Quaker Church that abolished the sacraments of baptism and Communion because the Bible teaches that we are not saved by works.

There are many books and articles that discuss what motivated Martin Luther. Indeed, Luther’s own writings are sufficient to cast doubt on whether he was inspired by God, or his own personal interests. The Reformation must be examined in light of this knowledge. For example, following are excerpts from Luther’s book, Of Jews and Their Lies:

My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire. Second, that all their books — their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible — be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted. Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country. Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it.

He who hears this name [God] from a Jew must inform the authorities, or else throw sow dung at him when he sees him and chase him away.

Burn their synagogues. Forbid them all that I have mentioned above. Force them to work and treat them with every kind of severity, as Moses did in the desert and slew three thousand. If that is no use, we must drive them away like mad dogs, in order that we may not be partakers of their abominable blasphemy and of all their vices, and in order that we may not deserve the anger of God and be damned with them. I have done my duty. Let everyone see how he does his. I am excused.

If I had to baptize a Jew, I would take him to the bridge of the Elbe, hang a stone round his neck and push him over with the words I baptize thee in the name of Abraham.

The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows seven times higher than ordinary thieves.

It is not difficult to understand why a son of Abraham would be suspicious — even afraid — of that kind of Christianity. Compare the writings of Paul with Luther, and ask yourself which man was inspired by God. The greater question is this: What is the Church of Christ?

If the Pope is the Man of Sin, and Martin Luther an anti-Jewish nationalist then where does the disciple of Christ go to worship?

Hint: God must be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:19-24).

Notes:

In context of the previous article (wherein I discussed the doctrine of justification), the following quotes (intended to refute James 2:24) are presented to support my claim that Luther’s theology was heretical.

It is more important to guard against good works than against sin. [1]

Good works are bad and are sin like the rest. [2]

There is no scandal greater, more dangerous, more venomous, than a good outward life, manifested by good works and a pious mode of life. That is the grand portal, the highway that leads to damnation. [3]

1. Trischreden, Wittenberg Edition, Vol. VI., p. 160.
2. Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. III, pg. 47.
3. Ibid, pg. 128.

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