Does Purgatory Exist? (part 1)

On November 9, 2011, in Doctrines, by july

Introduction

The question of the existence of purgatory has plagued us for centuries.  Ever since the time of the early church fathers, its existence has undoubtedly been plunged into an ocean of reasoning.  During the reformation period, Martin Luther, father of the Protestant revolution initially accepted purgatory as true.  However, in 1530, his position radically changed to agnosticism.

The Doctrine of Purgatory did not become official until the 1600s in which the Catholic Church officiated it being part of God’s divine justice.  It is also important to note that even before the Catholic Church defined purgatory as part of its teachings, evidences show that Jews generally believe in its existence.  For example, in 2 Maccabees 12:46, we read that “It is therefore, a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed of their sins.” 2 Maccabees is written sometime around 4-2 B.C., a time when the teachings of Jesus has not yet been given to the public.   Further, the Jews practice a ritual called ‘Kaddish’ which means ‘prayer for the dead’.

Given the different views people hold, there is thus a need for us to present the arguments by both sides.  This series of blog posts aims to do exactly just that.  It is also necessary for the reader to be aware that he should make sure to check the claims shown in this post.  I encourage the reader to first check and see if my claims add up.  Do not immediately believe a claim to be true unless the claim has been tested.  I want the reader to do the same.

Objective

The objective of us looking into the concept of purgatory is not an attempt to make Catholics and Protestant clash in light of the differences in their beliefs but rather, to give us an understanding on how to dialogue with people of different belief system.  Therefore, we are not here to condemn Catholics for believing in purgatory nor are we here to judge the Protestants for their unbelief.

Some Christians are quick to condemn those who do not share their belief as lost, unbiblical, and deluded.  It is good to know however, that every time one factors in words like those in an inter-faith dialogue, you can be sure that the discussion is over even before it ends.  Always remember that one must never brand people with condescending names.  This goes across the board for all Christians, and all humanity.  As it is written in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” There is always the temptation of only practicing the former, while neglecting the latter.

Basis

In order for us to begin a dialogue, we have to start with a common basis.  We must always remember that Catholics don’t share the groundwork of their belief with Protestants.  Catholics believe in the Bible and Tradition as the source of their doctrine.  Protestants on the other hand, uses only the Bible as the source.  Immediately one can identify the difference.  Therefore, every time we dialogue with people holding a different belief, we must first look at the assumptions.  Different assumptions would of course, lead to different conclusions.

Having said that, it is necessary for us to first find a common ground before further discussions.  What then, shall be the common ground upon which Catholics and Protestants agree?  That would be truth.  Neither Catholics nor Protestants are inclined to believe a lie.  For in both their scriptures, such is written “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me [Jesus]” – John 18:37

It is quite a remarkable thought to realize that people never ask, “Is truth the Bible?” but rather they ask “Is the Bible true?” This shows that truth is the basis by which we judge reality.  If you’re following what I’m discussing, immediately, this thought will come out: “Does it follow then, that the question really is not whether Purgatory is Biblical but rather, is it true that there’s a purgatory?”

Notice the implication of this statement.  There are many things that the Bible falls exceptionally silent about, but Biblical silence does not mean Biblical denial.  If a resource does not have any comment about one thing, it does not immediately imply that it denies it, neither does it imply that the material affirms it.  For example, the Bible never used the word Trinity, yet mainstream Christians believe it to be true.

The question of Purgatory’s existence would then have this question in mind: “Which among the views of the two systems best represent reality?” This blog series does not aim to give an answer for it.  All that I am going to do is to present the claims.  Also be wary, that whether or not you decide to believe or disbelieve in purgatory, this should not in any way damage your relationship with Jesus.

Definition

To define purgatory is perhaps the most important task on this matter.  An inaccurate definition of purgatory would in turn result to an inaccurate medium of conversation.  Purgatory is essentially the state of existence where man, having been saved by grace, would still have to undergo purification by fire to cleanse him from the entailments of his works while he is still alive.  This is a belief that is upheld by the Catholics but is denied by the mainstream Protestants.  For the Catholics, this is necessary for man to undergo for in this world, none of us is completely without sin and since God is Holy, none may enter His kingdom lest they are purified from sins.  Protestants on the other hand suggests that Christ’s atoning sacrifice alone is enough.

On Part 2 (maybe next week), I will present the Catholic and the Protestant View with their defenses.
On Part 3 (maybe a week after part 2), I will present a synthesis and a conclusion.
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