Thursday, September 20, 2007

Protestant Purgatory

“What is done in this life echos in eternity.” That is a line from the movie Gladiator in which Russell Crowe portrays a Roman General. It is a call to for one in his or her duty. It rings true in our ears due to that is how things work here on earth. Common experience will show us that if one disobeys traffic laws eventually one is caught and punished. Shirk responsibility at work and kiss any possible advancement goodbye or even your career. Treat your spouse wrong and your marriage suffers. But does that really echo in eternity?

A Christian doing the aforementioned things will have the same possible consequences. Nothing in the Gospel guarantees escaping temporal consequences. During worship in Lutheran churches we confess that we rightly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment because of who we are and how we fall short. A prayer for mercy is said so we do not get what we so rightly deserve. Then the pastor states that due to the cross of Jesus God has had mercy on us and forgives us all our sins. The eternal consequences are gone due to the bitter suffering and death of Jesus.

Recently something I learned about the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory brought this to mind. Purgatory is for dealing with temporal consequences of a person after death. The mistake is often made teaching that it is to do with eternal consequences. The Roman Catholic Church affirms that the crucifixion deals with eternal consequences. Purgatory teaches that one has to finish suffering consequences for what is done in this life before being welcomed to heaven. Perhaps the person came to faith toward the end of his or her life and was not here to do this paying. This of course is a slap in the face of Jesus that what He did on earth was not sufficient as a robe of righteousness for us.

One of the teachings which is old and has gained in popularity is that we have mandated activities as Christians. This teaching says when we meet Jesus we will spend some time answering for what we have done or not done while on earth. This contains a not too veiled threat that our first bit of time with Jesus after our resurrection will not be a joyful one. Rick Warren alludes to that in his book the Purpose Driven life. However, many who have spurned that book have that idea due to the pastor in his or her pastor teaches that in sermons and bible studies. Several times Christians have stated that they are apprehensive about meeting Jesus because of failure to evangelize or some other activity they have led to believe God requires of them. This is false teaching for when we leave this life our temporal consequences have ended and eternal consequences have begun.

What good work can we do that God needs done which He has not already completed? Are there mandated activities for a Christian to do which will make a difference in what happens at the resurrection? Is another person’s eternity really at stake if we do not witness to them? Are we held accountable for missing church or not giving enough money? One of the verses which is referred to in teaching this suffering or shame is the following:

1 Corinthians 3: 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 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. ESV

At first blush that it does look as if what we do will have some bearing on the hereafter. The fact that we will be in heaven is not referred to in the doctrine of purgatory in Roman Catholic teaching, from Rick Warren or the other preachers of this idea. Our destiny and what we have in eternity is based solely on the merits of Jesus. To say otherwise is to lay a burden on other which God has not laid. Rightly distinguishing between law and gospel will keep one from doing this to themselves and others.

Context plays a key role in biblical interpretation which cannot be over emphasized. Earlier in that section of St Paul’s epistle to the church at Corinth he states he could not address those believers as spiritual people due to divisions in the assembly over himself and another teacher. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Jesus is our foundation of faith not a teacher or pastor no matter how good he is. (vv 1-11) It is a call to unity and not to judge one another and imply because you have a favorite teacher or came to faith under another preacher than I did you are lost. Those who are redeemed have one Saviour who is given all judgment authority and who cares how we carry on toward each other. To Him only do we owe allegiance not to men whom He has called to serve us.

Lord, forgive us when we look too much to the gifts you give us in the good bible teachers and ministers. May we keep our eyes on you and strive to care for one another like you care for us. Amen


L P Cruz said...

Some Pentecostal pastor friends of mine are now positing the real possibility of Purgatory. I heard one friend accepted the concept, if not after death, at least in here.

My thoughts are with you on remembering Leah Marie. My wife and I had 2 miscarriages.

Peace of our Lord be with you,


David said...

Yes it is not a huge jump when preachers are using the bible for life principles instead of proclaiming law for the purpose of the gospel. So when an evangelical joins the Roman Church it seems like "The Journey Home."

And with thy spirit.


Climate Patrol said...

Great inspiring devotional. I "stumbled" upon your blog looking for evidence if Russell Crowe has indeed become a Christian, as portrayed in the German speaking
Would you like to confirm this?

David said...


I watch movies but do not follow the lives of the actors and actresses. Russell Crowe is a good actor and it would be a good demonstration of the power and grace of God to save someone in the midst of the hubub of Hollywood.

Just as it was a demonstration of power and grace to save a young boy in the midst of the hubub of rural Michigan.

Thank you for your kind words about my devotional.

God's peace. †