A series of articles born out of critically thinking on the works of several Catholic Apologists and comparing their work with Scripture.
Problems with Purgatory and indulgences.
It would appear the whole concept of temporal punishment, as understood by many in the Catholic Church, is quite fleeting and complex. The whole concept of purgatory probably started out with good intentions. For the family of a loved one who lived an obviously sinful life, there was still hope for him to get to heaven someday. If you accidentally commit a venial sin just before you die, you will not be banned from heaven. Unfortunately, herein is the sinner given false hope. Herein is the door open for the less honorable church leader to exercise power over his subordinates or flock. A very serious charge to be sure, but we are dealing with very serious eternal matters. I have heard some make statements like "When we are "perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect"(Mt 5:48), then we are ready for heaven", or statements similar to this. The belief seems to be that Jesus did a lot for us, but we are made perfect (justified) ultimately by our works. It is taught that it is only by our own refining of our own wills that we become perfect…and that can happen either here on earth or in purgatory. It is this doctrine that led to the concept of indulgences. It is this doctrine that allows many nominal Catholics [like I was - I am not talking here about Catholics who take their religion seriously and may Catholics do... I believe them to be in the minority though] to think that they can live just good enough, and slip into purgatory…and from there, it is only a matter of time before I get to Heaven. It is this doctrine that gives the Church its authority over unsuspecting souls in that it is only through the Catholic Church that one receives relief from temporal punishment by "the deposit of merits of the saints" that the Church has stored up…like some kind of spiritual bank. We need to ask about how these ideas compare with Scripture:
Corinthians II 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; so that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether it is good or bad. - Nothing is said about what Saint Joan [or fill in whatever saint you wish] has done.
Some attempts to justify this doctrine come from an incorrect view of Col 1:24 (see below for a more biblical understanding of this passage) which many Catholic apologists lean on as their justification of indulgences. It is this doctrine that has led to (and continues to lead to) to a multitude of rules and regulations that are so hopelessly complicated and contradictory that the Church could invent just about anything and claim that if you do this, then you will receive less time in purgatory for you or a loved one. Several years ago, I sat in amazement when a priest I was listening to tried to explain the Jubilee indulgences. Someone asked if the indulgence counted even if you did it, but didn't realize it was an indulgence at the time you did it. The question was an excellent question. It sets up a whole array of possible answers. No, you have to do it over again. No, you have to tell someone in advance. No, you had to do it last year. Yes, but you only get half the benefit since you didn't realize that it was an indulgence at the time. And on and on... I don't remember the exact answer and the answer is not important, what was important was that the question was so unbelievably open-ended that priest (or the Church) could have said anything and that poor person would not have anything to base an objection to. When one bases their beliefs on the Bible, none of these rules can be added or altered. With teachings like these, the Church gets buried in rule after rule that have to be invented as to how to do things. In reality, it really is not that complicated. The Word of God has a simple solution: look to Jesus and Him alone for salvation and justification. Is it any wonder that this is the issue that started the reformation? When one looks at how complicated the rules are, one sees that the Church has so entangled itself in them that abuses were (and are) destined to happen. And its poor sheep go along with them because the Church says it is so.
Col 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions.
Since this verse is leaned upon so heavily by those who hold to the doctrines of purgatory and indulgences, I wanted to address it.
Let us look at the verse in it's greater context:
Col 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions.
Col 1:25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,
Col 1:26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints,
Col 1:27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Col 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
Col 1:29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
Let us take out some of the modifiers for a more clear understanding of the heart of what Paul was saying here:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
Notice the two words that go together: lacking and complete. What Paul is actually talking about here is his suffering in his work to proclaim the gospel to "the church" (Jesus's body)- those for whom He came. He brought the gospel to those who were becoming "the church" - the assembly of His called out ones. The members of His body (the church) was and is spread out among the Gentile world (Ephesus, Galatia, Rome, Corinth, etc in Paul's day and wherever the church is found through the world, today). Paul is fulfilling the great commission and while doing it, he endures suffering. Why does he do it - so the he may present every man complete in Christ by bringing the gospel to that man (Rom 10:14-17 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.). By fulfilling the great commission, Paul is filling up what is "lacking" in Christ's afflictions. That is, Christ did all of the work for paying for sins on the cross with His suffering: Our job, as He commissioned us, is to bring the gospel to the world. His work "lacked" being propelled to the church within the Gentile world. He left that for us to do. In no way is this verse speaking of any lacking in His atoning work for our sins.
Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this world for His name (Matthew 13:21, John 16:33, Matthew 5:11-12, Luke 21:12 to name a few). He also told us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. This includes the great commission. Crosses certainly are afflictions.
Mortal vs. venial sin, permanent vs. "temporal punishment.
A short discussion of sin is and its consequences here first. The first sin and its effects can be seen in the book of Genesis. It resulted in death as God said:
Genesis 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.
Adam and Eve did not experience immediate physical death, but they experienced the much more tragic spiritual death - death of their souls. We shall explore this a bit more shortly. As a result of this sin, all kinds of bad things happened not only to Adam and Eve, but also to the whole of creation. Sin has its consequences here, but its consequences are infinitely more severe in the next life. It is God that has determined the punishment for sin. Its effects are felt sometimes more severe here in this lifetime (such as David's son's death and the Israelites wandering 40 years in the desert), sometimes it's not (Psalms 73:3)…as Jesus plainly points out for us:
Luke 13:1 There were present at that time some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
Luke 13:2 And Jesus answering said unto them, do you suppose that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
Luke 13:3 I tell you, No: but, unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish.
Luke 13:4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, do you think that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
Luke 13:5 I tell you, No: but, unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish.
It is God that determines the consequences for sin in this life (what some would call "temporal punishment").
Punishment and chastisement in this lifetime is certainly a result of sin, but this consequence for sin on our part cannot by altered by anything that we do to try and amend for it. There is absolutely no evidence in Scripture to support the idea that we can amend for our sins in any way. We are simply not capable of amending for it: the requirement is eternal death which we cannot possibly pay except by spending eternity in Hell. What is certain is that sin always causes spiritual death (eternal death, doomed to hell, where the worm does not die, the unquenchable fire, etc...):
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is the real penalty for sin, the ultimate punishment for sin. Anything we receive in this life is only a faint shadow of what is waiting for us unless we have a Savior that saves us from our eternal punishment.
Mortal and venial sins conflict with God's teaching?
This brings us to another troubling issue. The concept of mortal vs. venial sin is another invention that may have started out with good intentions, but is in conflict with God's Word. Let us see what God says about types of sins:
James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he is guilty of all.
Sin is sin, and God's judgment demands punishment for the breaking of the Law. The Law is a synonym for the complete Word of God as can be seen plainly in Psalm 119 and other places. And "one jot or one letter shall in no way pass from the law" till the end. This means that all sin carries with it the punishment of eternal death…there is no difference in punishment for "lesser" sins.
A most venial of venial sins.
We saw above how Adam and Eve were warned by God that they would face death if they ate from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:17). It doesn't seem like sins can get any more "venial" than eating a piece of fruit off a tree when there was plenty of food around. But the consequences of this sin are arguably the most mortal of any sin ever committed. Mankind and the creation were plunged into decay, death, spiritual death, etc. God, Himself pronounced the penalty for this sin as death. The sin seems as "venial" as any sin, but in God's view it is as "mortal" as any other sin. There is no such distinction between venial and mortal sin with God, they are all mortal.
A sin unto death.
Perhaps now you remembering these verses from Scripture:
John I 5:16 If any man sees his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
John I 5:17 All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
The sin that is not unto death is most sins that we Christians commit throughout our lifetime... and they are covered by the blood of Jesus. In this case we don't experience the eternal death in Hell that is in view here because Jesus has already done that for us at the cross. What is this "sin unto death" then? The sin unto death must be the same sin that Jesus spoke about when He was speaking to some of the Jews:
Mark 3:22 And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He has Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils he casts out devils…
Mark 3:28 Truly I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies by which they blaspheme:
Mark 3:29 But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never receive forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:
Mark 3:30 Because they said, He has an unclean spirit.
Jesus states plainly that there is no forgiveness for this sin (the sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit by believing that Jesus get's His power and glory from Satan (because they believed that He had an unclean spirit). This is even more clear in Matthew 12. If there is no forgiveness for this sin, then it is unto death, eternal death…period. No chance for forgiveness. Since this is a sin that cannot be forgiven, there would be no sense in praying for it…just as John says in his first epistle above.
Purgatory and Luke 12.
I read one Catholic apologist's arguments about Purgatory as he looks at Luke12:42-48 and concludes that three places exist after people die. Let's take a look:
Luke 12:42 And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their ration in due season?
Luke 12:43 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord finds doing so when he comes.
Luke 12:44 Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he has.
Luke 12:45 But if that servant says in his heart, My lord delays his coming; and shall begin to beat the men slaves and women slaves, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken;
Luke 12:46 The lord of that servant will come in a day when he does not look for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him to pieces, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.
Luke 12:47 And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and did not prepared himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
Luke 12:48 But he that did not know, and committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
Three kinds of people but only two destinations.
This parable is obviously talking about 3 kinds of people as the apologist stated…however, there is only 2 places where they end up. The servant who knows and does the will of his Lord goes to Heaven. The servant knows his Lord's will and doesn't do it gets beaten with many stripes is in Hell. The last servant is the one in question by the apologist. This is he who "did not know" the Lord's will. He has never heard the Gospel. He is a heathen. He is NOT a "Christian" nor a Catholic. Both of the previous two knew the Lord's will. This person had never heard of the Bible. It is people like the North American Indian before Christianity reached these shores. It is the people who are living in tribal villages in remote areas in the world even still today. This servant is still in Hell because of his sins, but is suffering much less than the servant who knew the Lord's will. I don't know how God will accomplish these different degrees of punishment in Hell, but He certainly teaches this. Even the heathen (he that did not know) are without excuse:
Romans 1:20 For the invisible things of him are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Purgatory and 1Peter 3.
Let use examine another of the arguments put forth by this same apologist who favored the concept of Purgatory. He examines the following verses:
Peter I 3:17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that you suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
Peter I 3:18 For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
Peter I 3:19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
Peter I 3:20 Which were sometimes disobedient, when once the patience of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, where few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
Peter I 3:21 The corresponding figure where baptism does also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
He strives to argue that the "prison" spoken of here is purgatory. Let us see what God says about prison/prisoners or captives in other verses in the Bible:
Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me [Jesus], because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, and…
Isaiah 42:6 I the LORD have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;
Isaiah 42:7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
The spirits that are in prison spoken of in Peter I 3 are any unsaved person. In his spirit, he is in the prison of sin. Jesus preached to spirits in this prison of sin not only with His preaching while He was on earth to the unsaved, He also "preached" by His actions…more specifically, His action of suffering for sins, the just for the unjust.
The same Catholic apologist pointed to 1Cor3 to show that the concept of purgatory is proved to be found in Scripture. A careful examination of 1Corinthians3 shows that purgatory is nowhere to be found. Please see my article on Purgatory and 1Cor3 for further reading.
In the above discussion, it is concluded that we are not justified by our works at all, but Christ's works. To see what the Scriptures teach about our justification before God, please see my article on Justification.