I can think of few other doctrines as cruel as the lie of purgatory—a false doctrine used by those in spiritual authority to pray upon the faithful’s fears. The concept of purgatory was rooted in a lack of information regarding life after death. Then over the next four centuries turned into a weapon of control over faithful followers of Christ.
Today untold numbers of believers spend time praying for loved ones who have gone on to the next life. Loved ones whom they feel may have died while their salvation was in question. What could be more pious and worthy of our time than praying to benefit those who have passed on? It sounds beautiful when phrased like that, but it’s nothing more than praying for the dead. Praying for the dead is an ancient heathen ritual practiced by many false religions centuries before the advent of Christianity.
In short, the Roman Catholic Church turned a heathen practice into an acceptable exercise of piety. But color it any way you wish; a heathen practice is still a heathen practice no matter what guise or name you call it. The really insidious part of all of this is the false hope it creates. Lives wasted praying for the unknown.
People who pray for those in purgatory have no idea if their prayers are successful. No matter how much you want your prayers for those in purgatory to be successful, the hard truth is you don’t know. Sadly your efforts are supported by those obligated to tell you the truth. While you may think you are praying for the benefit of those, who have died, let me ask a couple of questions to see if you can justify prayers for those in purgatory.
1. How do you know the person you are praying for is in purgatory? Was there something in their life not Christian enough that made you conclude they would not make it to heaven without spending time in purgatory? Did you think you could create a second chance at salvation after they died, thus paying for their sins in this life?
2. What determines the length of stay in purgatory, and who decides the length of stay? If there are rules for this, what are they? Suppose one has completed their sentence in purgatory. Do you get a notification that you can stop praying for them since they have graduated from such a place, or do you continue just in case?
The answers to these questions do not exist with any accuracy. Yet its cruel practice continues resulting in the waste of innocent lives. It’s a lie fostered by those in a self-created position of spiritual authority to maintain control over the unsuspecting faithful. Let’s take a look at where and how this lie started, and since the Roman Catholic Church holds this doctrine, that is where we will begin.
In a nutshell, the Latin Church’s doctrine of purgatory is this:
“that there is a purgatory, and that the souls there detained are assisted by the suffrage’s of the faithful, but especially by the most acceptable sacrifice of the altar,’ and the Council of Florence which had previously (a. d. 1439) defined, “If men have died penitent in the love of God, and before they have made satisfaction by fruits worthy of penance for sins of omission and of commission, their souls are purified after death by the pains of purgatory; and to the relief of these pains avail the suffrage’s of the faithful, sacrifices of Masses, prayers, alms, and other offices of piety.” (Council of Trent (session. 25).
Here is proof that the Roman Catholic Church leaders have decided they are now judge and jury of those who have died in Christ. They would have you believe they control all of the rules regarding repayment for sins, and they (the priesthood), in conjunction with the efforts of loved ones, are the only ones who can ‘help’ those in purgatory make it into heaven. Yet they are careful not to claim to be the final authority, thereby shrouding their lie in innocence.
“There are three states or places after the separation of the soul from the body at death, and into one or the other of these the soul of every man must go—heaven, hell, or purgatory. Into which he will enter depends entirely upon the state of his soul. Some may go straight to heaven or straight to hell; others may go to purgatory; but which go into which, the church never claims to determine.”
What do you possibly hope to gain from all your prayers if this is the case? This statement is a clear admission by the Roman Catholic church that ‘they don’t know.’ But they claim to know that the more faithful you are and the more you give, the more support you will glean from them, which will undoubtedly help those for whom you are praying. This doctrine is nothing more than salvation by works when the scripture is unambiguous “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;”(Ephesians 2:8). This purgatorial doctrine attempts to make the sacrifice of our Lord incomplete. This doctrine implies that salvation by grace is not enough and works are required.
To claim those saved but in purgatory need our help to make it to heaven is utter blasphemy. How dare you set yourself up as being a necessary part of the salvation of anyone’s soul. Claiming those in purgatory can be granted a second chance at redemption by sinners deems the sacrifice of Christ as insufficient for salvation.
“Strictly speaking, these souls can do naught but suffer; and even their sufferings are not meritorious or satisfactory, in the theological sense of the words. They can merit or satisfy no more; the time for that ended at death. They can do nothing to help themselves; and so they look to us to assist them in discharging their debt, even to the last farthing.”
As I mentioned previously, this false doctrine finds its origin in the unknown. The Bible is not very forthcoming regarding the next life, and this unknown has given birth to the lie of purgatory. The Roman Catholic church has cherry-picked a few verses of scripture out of context to lend credence to this lie of torture. They have even used selected portions of the writings of early Christians to support their lie.
But did you know the word purgatory was unknown until the twelfth century?
If you read the writings of some of the early Christians, you will understand they had questions about the details of the next life. And even today, Christians ponder on these same questions about eternity. Thankfully, there are passages in the scripture that are very matter-of-fact regarding life after death. For example, “we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” (II Corinthians 5:8).
And “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you do not grieve as those who have no hope.” (I Thessalonians 4:13). These verses don’t need interpretation; they are self-explanatory. So why go to great lengths creating a doctrine from verses difficult to comprehend while ignoring verses that are very plain?
The early Christian fathers never intended for their questions and inquiries to be turned into a doctrine. They expressed their thoughts and questions on paper just as we might. It was only after the fifth century when the Roman Catholic Church turned these questions about the afterlife into the weapon of purgatory. A weapon they could and would use to Lord over the faithful for centuries.
They (the Roman Catholic hierarchy)knew -who wouldn’t want to save a loved one from the suffering of purgatory? So why not take advantage of the situation.
Another doctrinal impasse early Christians found difficulty in dealing with was ‘salvation by grace.’ Many Christians, then and now, have a difficult time coping with salvation by grace. They seem to want to try to tie salvation, or at the least, punishment and reward, works. Those best-behaved should be entitled to something for their years of diligent service. Some lifelong church members who considered themselves obedient to the Lord for years have difficulty with other Christians who they consider not as pious and faithful as they are.
The logic of flesh requires we rationalize the length and quality of our service to the Lord against the not-so-pious acts of others. The end result of this reasoning, to them, finds a logical conclusion in the trials of purgatory. It was rational and logical that those who were faithful (self-judged, of course) would either avoid purgatory altogether or would stay but a short time. While those disobedient, rude, and crude Christians would have to pay for their slackness in purgatory where the Lord would put their works to the test.
Do you not see, this is nothing short of salvation by works? Who among the faithful would not be subject to jealousy if they compared their life-long service to the Lord against the thief on the cross who was granted admission to paradise moments before his death? This same type of comparative jealousy is alive and well in the church today.
To accept your own salvation by grace you must also accept “as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;” (Romans 3:10).
The Latin church was quick to seize on this fleshly rationalization of what was fair to secure the lie of purgatory among the faithful. Since purgatory is reserved for disobedient Christians, and they were members of the church, the religious hierarchy claimed the future of these tortured Christians was in their hands. These disobedient Christians belonged to them, they owned their souls outright; even after death.
According to the rules of purgatory, only Roman Catholic clergy and faithful loved ones of the person in purgatory could ease the suffering of those in purgatory.
This position of authority created a way for the Roman Catholic Church to sell salvation. If you wanted the church to help the suffering of loved ones, and who wouldn’t, the faithful need only to solicit the church’s services. Of course the amount of help you requested from the church, an equal amount of penance would be required on your part. The more time you gave, the more assistance you rendered, the more money you provided; would go a long way in securing church leader’s prayers in relieving the suffering of your loved one in purgatory.
This doctrine is the cruel lie of purgatory. It is nothing less than spiritual extortion by clueless Roman Catholic church leaders. How many have wasted their lives in prayers for the unknown? How many have donated all of their time and wealth to save someone from someplace they have absolutely no knowledge of or proof of success?
Now, let us turn our attention to some scripture twisted by the Latin church to support this lie of reward and punishment of the disobedient. One of the primary scriptural references they use to prove the existence of purgatory is the story of the rich man, and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31. We are all familiar with this story. An unnamed rich man dies and wakes up in Hades, while Lazarus goes to a place called Abraham’s bosom.
They are so quick to use this story as proof of purgatorial suffering they entirely overlook this story is a parable. That’s right; it’s a parable, not a historical account. And remember, a parable is a story to illustrate a spiritual truth, and nothing in this parable supports the doctrine of or a place of purgatory. The parable only mentions two places; Hades and Abraham’s bosom.
Now, I will use their own rules of purgatory to refute their use of this parable as proof of the existence of purgatory. Let’s assume that Jesus is describing actual events and a real place. If this is true, it is even more damaging to their false doctrine. The rules of purgatory are that only two parties can remove or reduce the sufferings of those enduring punishments: loved ones and the Roman Catholic priesthood.
The rich man in the parable it seems was unaware of who was qualified to reduce his misery (according to Roman Catholic doctrine). Did you notice when the rich man requested relief from his torment, he didn’t say, ‘ask my brothers to pray for me to reduce my suffering.’ Nor did he say, ‘ask the Temple leaders and the priests to pray for my relief.’ No, he was concerned about the fate of his five living brothers and pleaded with Abraham to send and warn them about their need for salvation to avoid this fate.
“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’” (Luke 16:27-28).
The point of this parable has nothing to do with purgatory. It is about salvation. It is about believing the Law and the prophets that point to Jesus Christ’s coming. And we should heed this parable as such. The essential truth of this parable is that accepting salvation through Christ must be made before death. After death, there is no changing it. All the prayers offered by all of those still alive will not change their destination.
The next portion of scripture we will look at is found in I Corinthians 3:10-15.
“According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
Through the miracle of verbal gymnastics, the Roman Catholic Church interprets this portion of scripture to mean you and the works you do while alive will be subject to fire after you die. And this trial by fire takes place in purgatory. Their misinterpretation seems to center on verse 15: “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
The subject in this verse is a person’s works, not the person himself, they are to be tried by the fire of truth. Somehow they have misconstrued this verse to say ‘you and your works will go through the fire; your bad works will be burned up and you will be burnt as well. And whatever is left will be saved.’ This portion of scripture deals with rewards (verse 14). There is no mention of punishment, but isn’t that what the Latin Church claims that purgatory is for -punishment?
Early theologians (Ironically Roman Catholic theologians) even argued about the definition of what was being tried by fire. Some argued this burning (purgation) was the removal of leftover sins of the flesh in order to purify the souls of those entering the next life. When the discussion turned to works being tried by the fire of truth the items quickly burned up (wood, hay, and straw) represent ‘venial,’ or minor sins, resulting in a short time in purgatory. While the gold, silver, and precious stones would be ‘unforgivable’ sins. There is only one forgivable sin: the rejection of salvation through Jesus Christ, which no amount of prayer for the dead will overcome.
On the other side of the argument; the wood, hay, and straw were works unworthy of reward, and the gold, silver, and precious stones were works worthy of reward. So they couldn’t even agree on what was the purpose of this trial by fire.
The closer you examine this false doctrine, the more you realize what a web of lies they have constructed by the twisting of scriptures for the expressed purpose of lording over the innocent Christian laity. There is nothing crueler than the subjecting of slavery to false hope. Those caught in this lie have wasted years of their lives praying for dead loved ones will be hard to convince they pray in vain.
In short, there is no clear, nor even veiled scripture that supports the punishment of purgatory. They will try to use II Maccabees 12:46 as defense of the doctrine of purgatory, it is lame at best. There are several problems with II Maccabees. One It is rejected by the Jews as being canonical. It’s a rehash of I Maccabees with Talmudical beliefs injected into the text. Then you get to the translations themselves which are rendered differently:
“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”
“Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.”
“Therefore, he had this expiatory sacrifice offered for the dead so that they might be delivered from their sin.”
Have you taken the place of the Lord Jesus that you can lose, absolve, make an atonement, and sacrifice for the sins of others? To believe such is folly. To claim such is heresy. Don’t you think it ironic the only denomination that believes in purgatory is the same denomination that lends credence to II Maccabees?
I can only hope some will realize they have been deceived and will understand we as Christians are called upon to pray for and witness to those living. Hoping they accept the salvation offered through faith in Jesus Christ. For “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), let us not waste time on false hope on things which we do not know for sure and cannot possibly change.
Do not continue to accept this false doctrine simply because of how long the Roman Catholic church has preserved it. Remember, they continue this doctrine to benefit their organization, not your spiritual well-being. Tradition is not a sufficient validation of truth. History is full of untruths believed for long periods of time. The Egyptians worshiped the goddess Isis for thousands of years; should we accept the validity of her worship because of tradition? Certainly not.
I know if you have loved ones who have died and you are uncertain about where they will spend eternity, I understand you are willing to do whatever you can to help that loved one. But throwing your life away on a lie is not what your loved one who has passed on would want. We all have loved ones who have passed on. Some of which had questionable commitments to Christ, but we cannot change their fate. What we can do is ask our Lord, who is faithful to give us grace enough to be at peace with things we cannot change.
This article is not an exhaustive expose on the subject of purgatory. Still, it is complete enough to unmask the lie of this false doctrine that has and does destroy the lives of well-meaning Christians for fifteen hundred years.
All scripture quotes are from the NASB 1995 unless otherwise noted