From the website: http://www.pro-gospel.org, by Mike Gendron
Purgatory: Purifying Fire or Fatal Fable
Catholics who believe a purifying fire will purge away their sins are deluded victims of a fatal fabrication. The invention of a place for purification of sins called Purgatory is one of the most seductive attractions of the Roman Catholic religion. Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church described this deceptive hoax brilliantly. He said: “Purgatory is what makes the whole system work. Take out Purgatory and it’s a hard sell to be a Catholic. Purgatory is the safety net, when you die, you don’t go to hell. You go [to Purgatory] and get things sorted out and finally get to heaven if you’ve been a good Catholic. In the Catholic system you can never know you’re going to heaven. You just keep trying and trying…in a long journey toward perfection. Well, it’s pretty discouraging. People in that system are guilt-ridden, fear-ridden and have no knowledge of whether or not they’re going to get into the Kingdom. If there’s no Purgatory, there’s no safety net to catch me and give me some opportunity to get into heaven. It’s a second chance, it’s another chance after death” (from “The Pope and the Papacy”).
There is so much wrong with this paragraph that it’s hard to find a place to start. What Gendron says here, through his quote from “Pastor John MacArthur,” can, at best, be described as incredibly ignorant. First of all, nowhere does Catholic teaching describe Purgatory as a “safety net.” Purgatory is, according to official Church teaching: “A state of final purification after death.” Nor does the Catholic Church ever teach that Purgatory is “a second chance” or “another chance after death.” Since Mr. Gendron is familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and since he claims to have been a Catholic for oh so many years, I can only conclude that he is not being as honest here as he could be. (I’m trying to flex my nice muscles here – instead of saying he’s lying, I’m being nice and simply saying he’s not being as honest as he could be.)
Furthermore, he is implying that all Catholics go to Purgatory and that is where “things get sorted out” and “if you’ve been a good Catholic” you finally get to Heaven. Sorry, nowhere does the Church teach such a thing. Only those Catholics that die in a state of grace – they are “saved” in Mr. Gendron’s parlance – but who are not yet perfect, would ever be in Purgatory. There is no “second chance” in Purgatory. What you do in life, before you die, decides your eternal fate. (See paragraphs 1030-1032 of the Catechism.) Mr. Gendron, as a self-proclaimed Christian, do you or do you not have the responsibility to tell the truth, even if it is in relation to religious teachings that you disagree with? I know you believe that lying will not get you sent to Hell, but do you have no obligation to tell the truth? If you do, please correct your endorsement of Pastor John MacArthur’s gross mis-characterization of Catholic teaching regarding Purgatory as being a “second chance…another chance after death.”
“Take out Purgatory and it’s a hard sell to be Catholic.” This is truly an idiotic statement from Pastor John MacArthur. (Sorry, I meant to say that it is a statement that is not as intelligent as it could be.) Sorry, but most folks – those born Catholic or those who convert to Catholicism – do not have to first be told about Purgatory in order to “sell” them on the Catholic Faith. The whole concept of Purgatory as a “safety net” is simply another example of Gendron having to falsify Catholic teaching in order to sell his poison. The “safety net” of Purgatory plays little to no role in my day-to-day faith life, nor does it in the faith lives of any Catholic I know, because Purgatory is not generally viewed by Catholics as a “safety net.” Maybe it’s thought of in that manner in the faith life of a minimalist Catholic – someone who tries to do just the bare minimum in living the Word of God – but for most folks I know, Purgatory is not the goose that laid the golden Catholic egg. Perhaps a minimalist Catholic thinks to himself, “Well, I really don’t need to be as good as I could be or pray like I should or do the good works that God wants me to do because I’ve always got Purgatory to fall back on,” but I would suggest that a person who thinks like that probably doesn’t have much chance of getting to Purgatory in the first place. (By the way, substitute “once saved always saved” for “Purgatory” in the minimalist Catholic’s statement in the last sentence and see if that couldn’t be any once saved always saved believer. Not much difference in the effects either way, is there?)
Purgatory is not the linchpin that keeps the wheels of the Catholic system from coming off, as Mr. Gendron and Pastor John MacArthur make it out to be. Was the only reason Mr. Gendron stayed Catholic for all those years was because of his belief in Purgatory? Did he walk around his house saying to himself, “Thank God for Purgatory, or I wouldn’t be Catholic?” I doubt it. All this statement does is highlight the fact that neither MacArthur nor Gendron have a clue as to what they are talking about.
“You just keep trying and trying…in a long journey to perfection.” This statement I find quite remarkable. They are actually being dismissive of Catholic teaching that one needs to constantly be striving for perfection. Does Scripture not say, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt 5:48). Scripture tells us to be perfect. They laugh at the concept. Also, Jesus tells the rich young man who asked Him about salvation that, “If you would be perfect…,” (Matt 19:21). It also tells us to “strive” for peace and for holiness (Heb 12:14).
Yet, Mr. Gendron and Pastor MacArthur denigrate the Catholic Church for telling Christians that we need to strive for perfection. They say that striving for perfection is “pretty discouraging.” I guess it would be for them, seeing as how their salvation came at no personal discomfort to them.
They say that the whole process of striving for perfection is “guilt-ridden” and “fear-ridden.” My response to that is: 1) Where is the Bible passage that would concur with their statement? Of course they have to put down the Church that teaches its members to strive to be perfect as the Father is perfect, because in their “churches” they tell their members, “Relax, it’s easy – you don’t have to do a thing.” 2) If we do something that is contrary to the Word of God, to living the life of Christ, should we not feel guilty about it? When we act contrary to God’s will for our lives, should we not feel guilty about it? Apparently not, according to Gendron and MacArthur. Go ahead, sin and sin boldly, and no need to feel guilty about it, because you’ve been saved! 3) Catholics who know and practice their faith do indeed have a “fear-ridden” life – a life filled with the fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7) and which is pure and enduring forever (Psalm 19:9).
In truth, these gentlemen seem to be saying that not only should you not be striving for perfection, in spite of what the Bible says, but you really don’t need to be striving for anything. No striving to follow Christ more perfectly. No striving for holiness. No striving not to sin. No striving to love God more. No striving to love one’s neighbor more. No need to strive for anything, folks, Jesus died on the Cross, so we’re off the hook. Nothing will be held against us. These guys seem to actually believe that striving for anything – perfection, holiness, etc. – is somehow contrary to the Word of God. Where do they get this nonsense?! Certainly not from the Bible.
This is where the concept of cheap grace comes in. Take out cheap grace, and Protestantism “is a hard sell.” Where, in Mr. Gendron’s or Pastor MacArthur’s theological systems, is there room for “denying [yourself]” and “tak[ing] up your cross daily,” (Luke 9:23)? Where in their theological systems is there room for all of us being “changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another,” (2 Cor 3:18). How can we be changed from one degree of glory to another? If Jesus’ work was finished on the Cross, as Mr. Gendron and Pastor MacArthur believe, then why is it a matter of degrees by which we are being transformed…why isn’t it all or nothing? And, wouldn’t having to pick up our cross daily be “pretty discouraging?” Obviously these gentlemen do not believe one needs to pick up their cross daily in order to follow Jesus. That’s just a bunch of works and we all know that Jesus’ finished work on the Cross does not need to be added to, right?
Furthermore, where in their theological systems is there room for Jesus’ statement that the gate to life is narrow and the way is hard (Matt 7:13-14)? Everything for them in regards to salvation is easy. Catholics have this view that the path to salvation is difficult, that you need to constantly be striving to stay on the right path. For Mr. Gendron and Pastor MacArthur, Jesus did it all, they don’t have to do anything. What is so hard about saying a sinner’s prayer and then having your ticket to Heaven irrevocably punched? Jesus says the way to life is hard. Mr. Gendron says the way to life is easy. Who do you believe…Mike Gendron, or Jesus Christ?
I’ll comment on more of his article on Purgatory in the next issue…