In this post, I have a couple of challenges to Roman Catholic doctrine. The point of this post is not to piss off my Roman Catholic readers, it’s more to explain why I’m not Roman Catholic. And maybe to explain how Protestants like me think about religion.
Here’s the first article from Cold Case Christianity, by the Master of the Evidence J. Warner Wallace. He writes about the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, and his experience with studying and then rejecting it.
Here is his introduction:
The notion of purgatory assumes many of us die with unforgiven sins that need to be purged from our account; some of us are not good enough to go to heaven, but not bad enough to go to hell. Purgatory, therefore, is a temporary, intermediate place (or state of being) where good deeds and works can be performed in order to purge our impurity prior to our final destiny with God. Although millions of Catholics believe purgatory to be a reality, the idea needs to be tested in light of the Scripture. Is purgatory something we, as Bible believing Christians, should accept as true?
He’s got a stack of Bible verses to make two points against Purgatory: first, that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to atone for all our rebellion against God, and we don’t need to endure any suffering or punishment to supplement it. And second, the teaching about the afterlife in the Bible says that believers are immediately ushered into the presence of God after they die (without resurrection bodies, yet), while unbelievers are separated away from God.
Here’s what he says about the first point:
Our Salvation Isn’t Based On Our Good Works
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, forgiveness is not based on the good works of the believer. For this reason, deeds or works performed for those in purgatory are both unnecessary and ineffectual:
Romans 3:21-24, 27-28
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus… Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
Our Salvation Is Based On Jesus’ Work on the Cross
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, Jesus’ work on the cross (His blood) purifies us from allsin. For this reason, there isn’t a lingering sin problem requiring the existence of a place like purgatory:
…we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
…the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
…he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Our Salvation Has, Therefore, Already Been Guaranteed
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, Jesus has already purified and purged believers of sin based on our faith in Him. For this reason, there is no need for a place like Purgatory where additional purging must be performed…
[…]The Biblical doctrine of Salvation clearly eliminates the need for purgatory.
I was never able to find anything in the Bible to support purgatory. It’s a very very late doctrine that was unknown to the early church until the late 2nd / early 3rd century, where it is spoken about by a handful of people. But lots of weird doctrines were creeping up on the fringe around that time, so we shouldn’t be surprised… the point is that they have no support from the Bible, and not in the community of believers for the first 150 years after the death of Jesus.
The bodily assumption of Mary
Anyway, my turn now. The Roman Catholic church teaches that Mary was “bodily assumed” into Heaven after her death, i.e. – she didn’t just stay in her grave. Let’s see if that is in the Bible or in the early church.
Here’s what I found:
- To be a Roman Catholic, you need to believe in Papal infallibility in matters of dogma.
- In 1950, the Pope pronounced the assumption of Mary to be infallible dogma.
- This pronouncement was solicited by a petition featuring over 8 million signatures.
- There is no historical record of this doctrine in the Bible.
- No early church father mentions the assumption until 590 AD.
- Documents dated 377 AD state that no one knows how Mary died.
- The assumption appears for the first time in an apocryphal gospel dated about 495 AD.
I only cite Roman Catholic sources for my facts.
6. “But if some think us mistaken, let them search the Scriptures. They will not find Mary’s death; they will not find whether she died or did not die; they will not find whether she was buried or was not buried … Scripture is absolutely silent [on the end of Mary] … For my own part, I do not dare to speak, but I keep my own thoughts and I practice silence … The fact is, Scripture has outstripped the human mind and left [this matter] uncertain … Did she die, we do not know … Either the holy Virgin died and was buried … Or she was killed … Or she remained alive, since nothing is impossible with God and He can do whatever He desires; for her end no-one knows.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 78.10-11, 23. Cited by Juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed.,Mariology, Vol. II (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1957), pp. 139-40).
7. “The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus–narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these are apocryphal they bear witness to the faith of the generation in which they were written despite their legendary clothing. The first Church author to speak of the bodily ascension of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours.” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma(Rockford: Tan, 1974), pp. 209–210).
It should be noted that the apocryphal gospel in which the doctrine of the assumption of Mary first appeared was condemned as heretical by two Popes in the 5th and 6th centuries. However, I was not able to find a CATHOLIC source for this fact, so I deliberately chose not to use it in my case.
The first thing I want to say is that the Bible is not the only place you look to decide these issues. You also look in church history, and you are looking for a clear chain of custody of the doctrine as far back as it can go. Purgatory and the perpetual virginity of Mary have some track record, but the bodily assumption of Mary is just nowhere – not in the Bible, not in the Early Church fathers. So that’s the silver bullet against Roman Catholicism, since they made it “infallible”.
This post is more directed to non-Christians to sort of show you how we do our homework. I am the first Protestant in my family. We have half the family who is Muslim, and the other half mostly Hindu, with some Catholic. I had to debate all these people growing up, and I wiped the floor with them. It was not even close. I simply settled on the beliefs that allowed me to win every argument, every time. That’s how you do religion. If you have to go against your whole family in order to be right, you do it. It’s not good to be wrong about things just because that’s what your family believes. These things were not pushed hard on me by my parents, I studied them on my own in order to win arguments. After a while of winning, I found myself acting consistently with what I was arguing for. Although that might sound really weird to you, that’s probably the right way to do this. Don’t listen to parents and church, find your own way forward by winning arguments, and believing only what the evidence supports.
Although most people think that if I had kids, I’d bully them into my beliefs, I actually would not. Because that’s not what worked on me. What really works is fighting about evidence, welcoming questions, and allowing differences of opinion. Being free to pursue truth is more important in the long run than coercing your kids to act nicely.