Thoughts to Ponder

Protestant Purgatory?

As you know, I call these articles Thoughts to Ponder. I am not trying to tell anyone what to think but rather to think. All too often I notice that people don't seem to think through what they believe, they just believe it. Either they heard it preached by someone, or they read it somewhere, or they have always just believed it.

This article will probably go against what 90% of you believe. If you read this article and don't change your mind on what you believe, fine, but I want you to at least think about why you believe what you do.

Purgatory is one of those Catholic doctrines that Protestants feel smug about. We tend to feel smug about it because we think we have the answers. The doctrine of purgatory is this: even though a person is saved, they still have some sins which they will have to pay for before being allowed into heaven. It is somewhat more complicated than that, but that is the basic idea.

The idea is that the person will spend some time in purgatory paying (suffering) for those sins. We as Protestants are quick to yell "heresy" because if Jesus paid for our sins on the cross then it is wrong to claim a person still has to pay for those same sins. We believe that when He said "it is finished" He meant the payment for our sins.

Now all Protestants believe that the payment is not credited to our account until we place faith in Jesus Christ. Beyond that is where the differences in doctrine start to come into play. All Protestants believe that once your sins are forgiven you will not have to answer for any of them again, or do they?

Let's step back and see if the Bible will support the idea that once our sins are forgiven they are gone and will not be remembered by God and therefore we will never have to pay for them in the future:

(Hebrews 8:12 NIV) "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

(Hebrews 10:17 NIV) Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more."

(Psalm 103:11-12 NIV) [11] For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; [12] as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Looks pretty clear, I think we are on solid ground. So when God forgives us of our sins, He will not bring them back up to us, He chooses not to remember them again. That is wonderful news. We may beat ourselves up over those past sins, but God won't. The price has been paid in full by His Son and He will no longer remember those sins.

To this point we are on ground that most denominations will agree with. From this point on, several different doctrines emerge. I want to address one of them, the doctrine of eternal security, or sometimes called once saved always saved (OSAS). This doctrine might be expressed in different ways, but the basic idea is this; a person is forgiven of their sins, past, present and future, the moment the person places faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing that happens after that instant of faith will ever cause this person to be lost again. If they quit following Jesus, lose their faith completely, and fall into a life of grievous sin, it does not matter, because all those sins have already been forgiven.

I want to look at the consequences of this teaching from a biblical stand point. I won't address the human aspect of it. What I mean by that is, I won't be addressing whether or not this doctrine might influence a person's actions, just what the teaching itself implies.

Here are a couple quotes from a popular teacher:

By now you shouldn't be surprised to know that God sometimes has to resort to putting a sinning believer to death to keep that person from embarrassing the kingdom. Death is a very severe consequence of persistent spiritual disobedience and unrepented sin. (Emphasis added)

We don't see this kind of judgment carried out very often, because God is gracious and it brings Him no pleasure to have to judge His erring children.

This may appear to be sound doctrine to start with, but you need to think about it carefully and judge its merits against the rest of the Bible. What is being said is that a believer who decides to go back to being a sinner and lives an evil life will eventually be taken from this earth by God due to his sinning. This is considered judgment by OSAS (eternal security). Let's see if that is how the death of a believer is portrayed in Scripture:

(Isaiah 57:1-2 NIV) [1] The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. [2] Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.

Does that sound like punishment for sinning? Does that sound like God is going to take a sinning believer out of the world to punish them, or as it states He takes the righteous out of the world to protect them from evil?

Not to mention that if this "sinning believer's" sins have already been forgiven and therefore forgotten, why is he in danger of punishment for them? You can't have it both ways, either the sins have already been paid for and there will never be any further payment (consequence)  required because Christ's death was sufficient or His death was not sufficient and we must pay for our own sins. That is what I call the doctrine of Protestant Purgatory. It is the idea that Christ paid for our sins, but yet there is something that we must suffer or endure ourselves because of some or all of those same sins.

I am talking about something that God does to punish the person, not the normal consequences of our earthly sin. For example if a girl is forgiven for her pre-marital sexual immorality, that does not mean that the forgiveness will make the pregnancy go away. The pregnancy in this situation is a direct consequence of the person's actions, not punishment merited out by God after the sin was forgiven.

Let me show you another passage of Scripture:

(Psalm 116:15 NIV) Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

A lot of people seem to struggle with this passage. How can our death be precious to the Lord? I think the answer is simple and aligns with the first passage I quoted. God knows what kind of struggles we have on this earth, He knows that we don't really understand Him or know Him. But when we die, we are taken immediately into His presence where He can comfort us and where we can truly know Him and His love for us. We view death as a horrible thing, yet God knows that after death we will never suffer again and we will be with Him.

Now does this sound like punishment for a "sinning believer," or a reward? Let me quote a couple more things from eternal security teachings:

A third consequence of spiritual failure is disinheritance in the coming kingdom of heaven. Jesus said in Matthew 8:12 that the sons of the kingdom are cast in outer darkness at the start of the kingdom banquet. That is, they were not admitted to the banquet to enjoy this thousand-year party called the kingdom. They're still saved people, but they are the ones whose works burned up at the judgment seat of Christ and so they have nothing to present to Him from their time on earth. Their judgment is to be put outside, not of heaven, but of the kingdom banquet.

Jesus said this judgment would cause "weeping and gnashing of teeth." This isn't the suffering of hell, but the anguish of those how miss the greatest party of all time and eternity.

Here again we see people being punished for sins they committed after being saved. So again eternal security is teaching "Protestant Purgatory" but that is not all it is teaching. Notice that the outer darkness that Jesus talked about is said to be in Heaven? Does that bother you? It sure does me. Let me show you why via God's word:

(1 John 1:5 NIV) This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

(Revelation 22:4-5 NIV) [4] They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. [5] There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

There can be no darkness where God is because He is light. When we are with Him, we will need no sun or moon because He is light. So how is it that in Heaven there can be outer darkness? There can't be anymore than there can be punishment for sins Jesus Christ's blood has already covered!

I am purposely not going to give you any other view in this article. My point is not to make you believe something else but to show you the full impact of this teaching and get you to go to God's word for yourself and see if you can truly believe this or if there is a problem with it.

I won't quote a bunch of them here, but there are some really strange interpretations of Scripture in the teaching of OSAS. Just one example is the outer darkness teaching. Why would these teachers interpret the Scripture this way? They have no choice, but to do so. See if you teach and believe that once a person is saved they need not follow Christ, and that they will be in heaven no matter what, then you have to deal with the idea that son's of the kingdom are thrown into the outer darkness. Now if outer darkness is in hell you have a doctrinal problem, but if you can claim it is still in Heaven then the security of the believer has been preserved.

It does not matter how many well known people with college degrees teach a doctrine; you should still investigate it yourself and see if it makes sense when held up to the word of God.

There are many more aspects of the doctrine of OSAS that I could address, but this should be enough to get you to thinking and digging in God's word.

Please don't jump to conclusions from this article. I purposely am not telling you what I believe in this matter, although you can easily find those belief's on my page. But what I don't want you to do is see the problems with this doctrine and therefore jump on the band wagon of some other doctrine, without also checking it against God's word. You should not believe anything that you can't check out for yourself in God's word.

Pray for knowledge, wisdom and discernment. Those are all things God wants you to have and will gladly give you if you will ask Him.

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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August 2003