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Purgatory

Arguments by the Catholic Church

by Bruce W. Robida

November 9, 2012

 

There are primarily 2 arguments the Catholic Church uses to justify their teaching about purgatory.

The first argument involves passages found in the apocryphal book, 2 Maccabees 12:38-45. (Read the article, Reasons why the Apocrypha does NOT belong in the Bible).

In 2 Maccabees 12:38-45, Judas Maccabee and his men believed in praying for the dead. After a battle, he and his men prayed for a particular group of men who were found wearing images of false gods, which was forbidden. The writer of Maccabees considers this act of prayer and providing a sin offering (a payment of 4 pounds of silver) to be a noble thing. The Catholic Church adopted the practice of praying for the dead in their masses. On any given Sunday, in any Catholic Church, the names of the dead are recited and the mass is dedicated to them, especially on All Saints day. Family members can pay a small fee to have a mass for their loved ones who have recently died. Many Catholics will pay for several masses so that their loved ones will be freed from purgatory more quickly. The Catholic Church believes that unless you are a saint, you cannot avoid purgatory. (Read my article: What is a Saint?).

After the battle Judas led his men to the town of Adullam. It was the day before the Sabbath, so they purified themselves according to Jewish custom and then observed the holy day. By the following day it was urgent that they gather up the bodies of the men who had been killed in battle and bury them in their family tombs. But on each of the dead, hidden under their clothes, they found small images of the gods worshiped in Jamnia, which the Law forbids Jews to wear. Everyone then knew why these men had been killed. So they praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge, who reveals what is hidden, and they begged him that this sin might be completely blotted out. Then, Judas, that great man, urged the people to keep away from sin, because they had seen for themselves what had happened to those men who had sinned. He also took up a collection from all his men, totaling about four pounds of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. Judas did this noble thing because he believed in the resurrection of the dead. If he had not believed that the dead would be raised, it would have been foolish and useless to pray for them. In his firm and devout conviction that all of God's faithful people would receive a wonderful reward, Judas made provision for a sin offering to set free from their sin those who had died. 2 Maccabees 12:38-45 GNT

Here we see that Catholics confuse rewards for salvation. Rewards and salvation are two different things. Christians can receive salvation without receiving rewards. We will see this a little later.

While my father was still alive, I prayed for mercy on his soul. I prayed that God would forgive Him of all of his sins before he died. I also encouraged my dad to pray the same thing. After he passed away, I prayed again, and often still do, that God would have mercy on him and that he would be in heaven immediately upon his death. Does that make me a bad Christian to pray for the dead? I don’t think so, but it also does not mean that I believe it is anything more than any other prayer requests that I have sent to heaven. I love my father and I hope to see him again someday, so I will continue to pray that God has mercy on him.

The next argument Catholics use comes from the New Testament book 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

These passages illustrate the rewards, or lack of rewards that will be given to those who are saved.  God will look at the work that each of us do in life. If that work is based on shaky foundations (wood, hay or straw), it (the work) will not survive; it (the work) will be burned up. If that work is built on solid foundations (gold, silver and costly stones) that work will survive the flames and will not be burned up. This illustration has nothing to do about judgment and who goes to heaven or who goes to hell. This is all about rewards for those who are already destined for heaven. God will look at what we did in this life and it will all be burned to reveal the quality of that work. After the fire, if there is anything left of our work, we will be rewarded for it. If there is nothing left, we will suffer loss because there will be no reward other than the fact that we will still go to heaven. What are the rewards? The Bible doesn’t say much about what these rewards are, but it does say a lot about certain crowns being rewarded. What work is built on solid foundations? Loving your neighbor as yourself, giving generously to the poor, caring for the widow, the homeless, the fatherless. How we treat each other in this life will determine our rewards in the next. (Read my article, The Work of the Church to have a better understanding).

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