Today, I want to address the afterlife. The Roman Catholic Church believes in something called Purgatory. Here is what the Romans Catholic Church declares:
“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 Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire.” (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm)
To be honest, I am somewhat hesitant to talk much about this, for it seems as if this teaching by the Catholic Church is one that is in process. I say that because I have never heard it taught at a Roman Catholic funeral. Instead what I hear preached is that the person is with God in Heaven. This teaching is in direct conflict with their own teaching, therefore I wonder if the doctrine is being de-formulated over time, just as it was formulated over time.
Protestants, on the other hand reject purgatory. Why? Because of the Bible. And as I have stated over and over again, Protestants see the Bible as the ultimate authority, and therefore all teaching must match Scripture. Protestants do not believe Purgatory matches Scripture. So what does the Bible say?
Purgatory is not in the Bible
First, we must recognize that the word purgatory is nowhere to be found in the Bible. You can find the word Heaven and a description of it. You can find the word Hell and a description of it. You CANNOT find the word Purgatory and a description of it. Jesus, nor the apostles, ever mentions such a place. In fact, the opposite is true; they teach explicitly and implicitly that no place exists.
As the Roman Catholic Catechism above states, Purgatory was “formulated…at the Council of Florence and Trent.” If you recall, the Council of Trent was a council that was convened in response to the Protestant Reformation. The Council of Trent was a doubling down, if you will, on the false teachings that caused thousands and thousands of people to leave the Roman Catholic Church. And once again because they have declared themselves equal to God in authority, whatever they declare becomes the Word of God.
Jesus Paid it All
Second, and most importantly, the heart of the issue regarding purgatory is the sufficiency of Christ on the cross. If there is a purgatory then this means that Jesus’ blood was not powerful enough to pay the penalty for your sins. But is that what the Bible says?
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” (Ephesians 1:7). His blood is what redeems and this redemption is present tense, not future.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). How are we redeemed, by Christ becoming a curse. Once again this redemption is past tense.
“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14). The sacrifice of Christ perfects us. There is nothing to purge. One and only one sacrifice.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Because of Christ death, God sees us as not guilty. When? Now. Nothing left for us to do to please God.
If we say that we must go to Purgatory and cleanse ourselves further, then we are saying that Jesus’s sacrifice was not enough to pay for all of our sins. Purgatory undermines the power of Christ on the cross, which is an undermining of the Glory of Christ and sacrifice that He made.
Absent from the Body
Lastly, the Scriptures tell that when believers die we go straight into God’s presence.
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8) To be away from the body (dead) means that we are with the Lord, not some mysterious in-between where we are being tortured. The reason why Paul says these words are to encourage them that death is not something to be feared but something to welcome. Purgatory is far from welcoming; it is a place of purging by fire.
“I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:23). In this text, to depart means to die. For Paul dyeing means that he will be with Christ. There is no middle dimension of torment. If there was, Paul’s entire argument would lose its persuasion.
Does it Matter?
Does all of this matter? Yes. For to say there is a purgatory is to doubt the power of Christ to save. To doubt Christ is to remain under the curse and destined for Hell. So as I close out this brief series regarding the difference between Roman Catholics and Protestantism, I hope that everyone recognizes that this is not an intellectual exercise. What you believe determines what your eternity will look like. So do not take these questions lightly, and come to your own conclusion based upon what the Word of God teaches, not the words of man.