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Purgatory and the Bible
A Different Gospel
The Bible plainly teaches that salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). It also tells us that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, after living a perfect life on this earth, died on the cross for our sins. Scripture tells us that he who knew no sin, (Jesus), was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (II Corinthians 5:21). And by this one offering Jesus Christ has "perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14). Yet the Catholic Church teaches a doctrine that goes against the plain instruction of the Bible and in effect, teaches a different gospel than that which was given to the Church.
That teaching is the doctrine of Purgatory. And it must be clearly understood by the people of God, and denounced at all costs.
I. The Soul After death
According to Roman Catholic tradition, the soul at death undergoes judgement immediately. In that judgement the soul's eternal destiny is determined. Some eternally go to God to be in Heaven. Others go to Hell. However, they would say that there is a third option. Catholics also believe that some souls aren't sufficiently free from sin and its consequences to enter Heaven right away. But neither are they so sinful that that they are destined for Hell. For these people there is Purgatory. This is a place of purification, or temporary punishment by which those in a state of grace are believed to be made ready for Heaven. In this place of purification, souls achieve the holiness necessary to enter Heaven.
II. Venial and Mortal Sins
In order to understand the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, we have to realize that they make a distinction between what they call venial and mortal sin. Mortal sins are grave violations of God's law. These sins turn man away from God. If they aren't redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, they can cause a person to be excluded from Christ's Kingdom. Those who die with mortal sins will go to eternal death in Hell.
Venial sins, although still constituting a moral disorder don't set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God. They are still bad but they don't deprive the sinner of heaven.
In various ways, such as the sacrament of baptism, or that of penance, pardon for sins can occur during this life. But if that doesn't happen, venial sins can still be purified after death. That is where Purgatory comes in. Purification can also be made, in Purgatory, for the temporal punishment due to remitted mortal sins.
III. The Work of Christ
One of the major problems with purgatory is its teaching about the forgiveness of sins through the work of Christ. They would say that Christ's death only covered the penalty of eternal death. However, the Christian still needs to make satisfaction for the sins committed after baptism. And satisfaction must be made before a person can enter Heaven. If it is not completed during this life, it has to be accomplished after death.
The Bible, however, clearly teaches, in several places, that our Lord died for sin, once for all, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. (I Peter 3:18; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:10; Romans 6:10). There is no place that says that Christ only died for sins before baptism. He rather died for all sins, past, present and future. Also, it certainly doesn't make any distiction between venial and mortal sins. All sin, unless cleansed by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ will merit Hell. And all sin was cleansed for those who have accepted His sacrifice through faith (I John 1:7).
IV. The Mass
Catholics teach that the purification of purgatory can be shortened by the prayers of the saints. This is where the sacrifice of the Mass comes. This is a sacrifice to secure forgiveness from sins committed after baptism. Mass may be said for the soul that is in purgatory. They would say that there is no way to know the duration of a soul's stay in purgatory, so the living are told to indefinitely pay for masses to be said for the dead.
Also, it is believed in the Mass, that the the elements of the bread and the wine are turned into the actual body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, thus, in effect resacrificing Him over and over again. Again, Christ died one time, for all.
V. The Treasury of Merit
The treasury of merit is supposedly the value of all the good works of Christ and all the saints, which were over and above what was required of them. The clergy supposedly can apply these extra merits to those souls which are in purgatory.
VI. The Basis for Purgatory
The Roman Catholic Church has no direct authority for their teaching on purgatory. However, Rome claims that its oral tradition is equal to Scripture, so they don't really need to appeal to the Bible. However, they do appeal to certain things, both in and out of Scripture.
Firstly, the Jews and some of the early church members made prayers for the dead. There is also a passage in II Macabees, found in the Catholic Bible. In this passage Judas Maccabeus sent 2000 drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice. This was to be offered for the sins of the dead.
Even if we were to accept this passage as Scripture, there is still a problem with Rome using this. These dead were actually guilty of idolatry. Roman doctrine says that this is a mortal sin, so these people went to hell. Sacrifice couldn't have rightly been made for them.
There are two Bible verses such as Matthew 5:25,26 and I Corinthians 3:12-15 that they use as well. In Matthew 5:25,26 Jesus tells His disciples to agree with their adversary quickly or they would deliver them to the judge, who would deliver them to the officer to cast them into prison. He said they wouldn't come out of prison until they paid the uttermost farthing.
The problem with this is that Jesus isn't talking about future punishment at all. And if he were, he'd be saying that man can atone for his own sin, and that eventually all will be saved after they pay the uttermost farthing.
I Corinthians 3:12-15 is talking about fire trying every man's work. Paul is actually referring to a person's works being tried, and not the person himself. Fire isn't applied to the person at all. And this is not a judgement to determine salvation but a judgement for rewards. In this passaage, there is the possibility that a person could have all of their works burned up, but still be saved, yet so as by fire (15).
The doctrine of purgatory is a teaching that isn't in Scripture. But it is also one that is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of salvation by grace, through faith. It cheapens the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross and gives man credit for his own salvation.
The only one who went through any kind of purgatory at all was our Lord Jesus, who had by Himself purged our sins on the cross, and then sat down at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1:3). He died for our sins, once for all. Hebrews 10 talks about our Savior sitting down, having perfectly finished the work of sin-bearing (10:10-14).
There are many passages in Scripture which could be used to dispute purgatory. Just read passages such as Romans 3:24; Romans 4:1-8; Romans 5:1-19; Romans 8:1; Romans 8:33-34; and Ephesians 2:8,9. All of these passages tell us that salvation is in no way, shape or form by works. And these are just a few.
Purgatory is really another gospel and therefore cannot co-exist with the good news of salvation found in the Bible. It needs to be abandoned by all who love God, and care about His once for all sacrifice on the cross.