Friday, June 27, 2008

Why do Catholics believe in Purgatory?

Catholics believe in both heaven and hell. But they also believe that if your soul is not so bad as to enter into hell, but not purified enough to enter into heaven, you soul goes to purgatory to be purified until it is pure enough to enter into heaven. This cleansing is a painful and fiery process designed to cleanse the soul from sin.

I think it’s important to understand why this belief is necessary to Catholics and why Protestants disagree with them.

A Protestant believes that a when a person is made right with God, they are fully justified at that moment. Justification can be thought of in a legal sense in which a person is guilty and then is declared not-guilty—they have been justified. The process that a believer goes through once they have been justified is called sanctification. That is the process by which a believer, with the help and power of the Holy Spirit, slowly changes their beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, and actions to reflect the character of Jesus in their life.

Catholics do not believe in a justification whereby one moment you are guilty and the next moment you are not guilty. They say the fact remains while you may now be on a new tract with God, all the things that you are guilty for need to be properly recognized, confessed, and repented for—but this happens over time, not immediately as a Protestant believes. In Catholic thinking, justification and sanctification are somewhat tied together. In a sense, a Catholic believes you are justified more and more as you are sanctified. If this does not fully take place in this life, it must in the next before you enter into heaven.

The reason there is such a disagreement here is because Protestants believe that salvation is through faith in Christ alone with absolutely no merit given to our own works…there is no way to “work yourself into heaven.” Protestants would argue that Catholics only have purgatory in their beliefs because Jesus’ death on the cross was not enough for salvation…that it is Jesus’ death, and our “work” in purgatory.

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