A Question I Was Asked:

What About Purgatory?

What About Purgatory? C.S. Lewis, whom you greatly admire, was open on it, he seems to have been undecided. What do you honestly think?

UK Apologetics Reply:

The big problem is this: if you say that you need a 'purgatory' to fully cleanse certain sins, what about the strongly Protestant teaching that the blood of Christ forgives all sin. Also, what about the teaching that Christ's very righteousness becomes imputed to the repentant believer who, thereafter, lives under grace? We can only live under grace because God's justice has now been satisfied! In such a state of grace why would a place of purgatory (presumably for further refining through suffering) still be needed?

Essentially the Catholic Church states this:

"The truth has been divinely revealed that sins are followed by punishments. God's holiness and justice inflict them. Sins must be expiated. This may be done on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and trials of this life and, above all, through death. Otherwise the expiation must be made in the next life through fire and torments or purifying punishments."

No account is made of justification through Christ in the above statement because the Catholic view of justification is very different anyway. Roman Catholic justification equals: justification by faith, plus works, including due acceptance and appropriation of the role of the sacraments. So these things are never separated. In contrast, the Protestant view is Justification by Faith - That's it - end of story! With due respect to Catholics, it seems to me that the Protestant view is the most biblical - at least as far as this part goes.

But There Might Be Another Aspect To This...

However, and this is a very big 'however,' so far we have only been discussing converted Christians. But we must realize that thousands die every year who never had any contact with Christianity! If the Lord chooses to have mercy on such people how will He then deal with a people who will have had no exposure to the great Christian truths? Sure, we believe they will go forward to judgment but their judgment is obviously going to be very different to a Christian's judgment. They will need to learn, they will also need to un-learn. If and when such a situation arises who can say that our God may not use some form of purgatory in a hades situation? None of us - we just don't know.

So let us all just hesitate here and realize there could be a scenario in which our God might employ some sort of purgatorial situation. Why, when considering this, do we proceed as though the matter is only of concern to converted Christians?

Roman Catholics might well quote 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 as a reference to purgatory. Let's look at that:

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their 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 person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved - even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, NIV).

For the Protestant however, this simply refers to whether our works upon earth eventually pass a test of fire as to their authenticity, but it is not about condemnation, simply a matter of deciding our future position in God's Eternal kingdom. We are saved - and that is not by works - but what position will we occupy in God's kingdom? For most Protestants, these words certainly refer to a real situation, but to a philosophical situation in which works are assessed, yet the individual believer might otherwise not be directly involved. Roman Catholic theology would disagree, seeing this as a very real warning of purgatory which the individual would certainly very directly experience!

So, to be clear: the New Testament surely indicates that a converted Christian need not worry about purgatory; we are justified by Christ's blood, He has imputed His very own righteousness to us. This does not mean we are perfect, but we can have confidence in our position under God's care; we can only stand under God's spiritual care and grace because His justice has been satisfied in our case. However, thousands die every day who are not in our position, this does not mean they are inferior to us but they have never been exposed to the great truths of the Christian Gospel. Of course, some believe such individuals are immediately banished to Hell but that goes well beyond the Scripture. I reiterate: where God has mercy on such people He will need to teach them many things and some form of purgatory is possible. This comes into the area of things which we just don't know at present but we can have confidence that our God has plans for every possible eventuality.

Robin A. Brace. September 18th, 2015.