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The Pope has recently spoken about indulgences. How do you understand this? (Part 5)

In the first three parts of this series, we began to discuss the concept taught by the Roman Catholic Church that the “immortal souls” of departed ones may be in hell or purgatory, and that “indulgences” or prayers for the dead can allegedly remove, partially (“plenary”) or completely (“in full”), punishment for sin, so that their souls can be freed from purgatory or even hell to go to heaven. In order to answer the question regarding indulgences, we reviewed, among other questions, related issues such as the fact that we do not have an immortal soul; that we neither go to heaven (where we, as immortal saints in heaven, could allegedly receive prayers from the living and intervene on their behalf), nor do we go to hell or purgatory when we die.

We also discussed the spirit in man and showed that it is not just another concept for an immortal soul; but that the spirit in man has no consciousness when a person dies. Rather, upon death, the entire human being—spirit, body and soul (1 Thessalonians 5:23)—ceases to “live” or have any conscious “life” in any manner, shape or form.

In part 4, we began to review the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory, and we will continue to show in this part why this concept is wrong.

We again quote from the website of https://www.catholic.com/tract/purgatory in regard to this Catholic teaching, falsely attempting to “prove” that the early Christian Church believed in it:

“Why No Protests?

“A study of the history of doctrines indicates that Christians in the first centuries were up in arms if anyone suggested the least change in beliefs. They were extremely conservative people who tested a doctrine’s truth by asking, Was this believed by our ancestors? Was it handed on from the apostles? Surely belief in purgatory would be considered a great change, if it had not been believed from the first—so where are the records of protests?

“They don’t exist. There is no hint at all, in the oldest writings available to us (or in later ones, for that matter), that ‘true believers’ in the immediate post-apostolic years spoke of purgatory as a novel doctrine. They must have understood that the oral teaching of the apostles, what Catholics call tradition, and the Bible not only failed to contradict the doctrine, but, in fact, confirmed it.

“It is no wonder, then, that those who deny the existence of purgatory tend to touch upon only briefly the history of the belief. They prefer to claim that the Bible speaks only of heaven and hell. Wrong. It speaks plainly of a third condition, commonly called the limbo of the Fathers, where the just who had died before the redemption were waiting for heaven to be opened to them. After his death and before his resurrection, Christ visited those experiencing the limbo of the Fathers and preached to them the good news that heaven would now be opened to them (1 Pet. 3:19). These people thus were not in heaven, but neither were they experiencing the torments of hell.”

There are several matters to address in the above statements.

The following assertion is patently wrong: “A study of the history of doctrines indicates that Christians in the first centuries were up in arms if anyone suggested the least change in beliefs.”   The Catholic Church brought in the change of Sunday worship instead of the weekly seventh-day Sabbath and we don’t read of protests at all at that time.

In an old Global Church of God booklet from 1995, we read about what happened to the Church.

“When we look at the story of the mainstream, professing Christian church throughout the centuries, it appears to be a vastly different church from the one described in the pages of your New Testament. In the book of Acts we find that God’s church celebrated ‘Jewish’ holy days (Acts 2:1; 13-14, 42, 44; 18:21), talked about the return of Jesus Christ to judge the world (Acts 3:20-21; 17:31) and believed in the literal establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth (Acts 1:3, 6; 28:23).

“Yet, less than 300 years later, we find a church claiming apostolic origination, but observing the ‘venerable day of the Sun’ instead of the seventh-day Sabbath. When that church assembled its bishops to discuss doctrinal matters at the council of Nicea, the meeting was presided over by, of all people, a Roman Emperor – Constantine! How could such an amazing transformation have taken place? What happened?

“Protestant author Jesse Lyman Hurlbut acknowledged the dramatic change that took place in his book, The Story of the Christian Church. He wrote, ‘For fifty years after St Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when it at last rises, about 120 A.D. with the writings of the earliest church-fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the day of St Peter and St Paul” (page 41).

“The story of the Christian church between Pentecost of 31 A.D. and the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., almost 300 years later, is an amazing story. It is the story of how yesterday’s orthodoxy became today’s heresy and how old heresies came to be considered orthodox Christian doctrine. It is the story of how church tradition and the teaching of the bishops came to supersede the Word of God as a source of doctrine. It is a story that is stranger than fiction, yet it is very much historically verifiable.”

That explains why this heretical church changed the weekly Sabbath day to the first day of the week and why there were no protests. The fact of the matter is, the true Church became persecuted and had to go into hiding, while the false church produced and published a narrative to its liking. Dissenting viewpoints were systematically suppressed and dissenters declared to be “anathema” and killed. However, the true Church of God remained intact keeping the doctrines that had been given to it and has remained faithful down through the ages. Although small, apostolic Christianity is today taught by the Church of God which is comprised of those who have the Holy Spirit after repentance and baptism (compare Acts 2:38).

We also need to address the assertion that “After his death and before his resurrection, Christ visited those experiencing the limbo of the Fathers and preached to them the good news that heaven would now be opened to them (1 Pet. 3:19).” This is in error. This cannot be a reference to dead human beings as Jesus went to preach to the spirits in prison who were the angels who sinned. In 2 Peter 2:4 we read: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment.”

We say in our Q&A, “Does the Bible teach character development in angels?”:

“We are told in 1 Peter 3:19–20: ‘… by which [the Spirit] also he [Christ] went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water’ (Authorized Version).

“The correct understanding of this passage is that Jesus Christ preached to the spirits in prison—the demons—at the time of Noah, when God was about to protect Noah from destruction. Christ used this example to show that the demons who had sinned ‘sometime’—before the creation of man—were still awaiting their judgment.”

This was not after Christ’s resurrection but more than 2,000 years earlier and it is talking about “in the days of Noah”. As we explained in previous instalments, when Christ died, He was in the grave for three days and three nights without any consciousness. He—or His “soul”—did not keep on living. Christ could not have gone anywhere after His death and before His resurrection. He could not have gone to “spirits” to preach to them about the past or the good news that “heaven was open to them” or the coming judgment—because we read that those who are dead know NOTHING. To try and say that this describes the limbo of the Fathers AND that heaven would now be opened to them is a blatant twisting of Scripture. As we proved earlier, no one ascends to heaven after death.

There is also no hint that any “oral teachings of the Apostles” and the Bible confirm the concept of purgatory and/or limbo. As we have seen, the Bible totally rejects the concept of limbo and purgatory. And God’s true apostles would not have preached something which is so diametrically opposite to foundational biblical teachings. The “tradition” of the Catholic Church is just that—human ideas which deny the Truth of God. These traditions, as so many others, have been adopted, as we saw, from paganism and are strongly condemned by God. Compare Matthew 15:3, 6; Colossians 2:8.

Again, returning to the website: https://www.catholic.com/tract/purgatory and reading the explanationPurgatory Not in Scripture”:

“Some Fundamentalists also charge, ‘The word purgatory is nowhere found in Scripture. This is true, and yet it does not disprove the existence of purgatory or the fact that belief in it has always been part of Church teaching. The words Trinity and Incarnation aren’t in Scripture either, yet those doctrines are clearly taught in it. Likewise, Scripture teaches that purgatory exists, even if it doesn’t use that word and even if 1 Peter 3:19 refers to a place other than purgatory.”

The existence of purgatory has never been a part of the teaching of the true Church of God and is not mentioned in Scripture, although the great false church has adopted this as they have in many other areas. The trinity is not mentioned in Scripture either as they rightly say because it has never been a doctrine of the true Church of God. For a thorough explanation on this subject, please see our booklet: “Is God a Trinity?” 

The third area they mention that is a teaching but not mentioned in Scripture is Incarnation. Wikipedia gives this explanation of the word Incarnation: “Incarnation refers to the act of a pre-existent divine person, the Son of God, in becoming a human being.” Also, in the incarnation, as traditionally defined by those Churches that adhere to the Council of Chalcedon, the divine nature of the Son was united but not mixed with human nature in one divine Person, Jesus Christ, who was both ‘truly God and truly man’. This is central to the traditional faith held by most Christians.”

The concept of the TRUE incarnation is indeed taught in Scripture, but not the concept of the false incarnation, as erroneously taught by the Catholic church and most Protestant churches. We have already addressed the impossibility that Jesus was fully God and fully man.  It is impossible to be both at the same time, when both concepts are in opposition, in spite of mainstream Christianity’s belief that it is so.

The Truth is that Christ was fully man. He became fully flesh and blood. This is explained in our Q&A, titled, “Who was Jesus Christ when He was here on earth about 2,000 years ago?”. We also explain there what the biblical concept of the Incarnation means. Simply put, it teaches that God became Man:

“Jesus Christ was God before He came to this earth…  He was and had to be God–the ‘Immanuel’ or ‘God with us’–when He came to this earth during His First Coming. God clearly tells us that the Word—Jesus Christ—who was God before His human birth, BECAME flesh. Christ came in the flesh by BECOMING flesh. This means that He became totally and fully flesh and blood, like you and I! This is CRUCIAL for you to understand! When Christ BECAME flesh, He was no longer Spirit. He was no longer fully God, because He had become fully man!…

“When Mary became pregnant with Jesus, how did that happen? We read that the Holy Spirit of God, the Father, came upon her—that the power of God overshadowed her (Luke 1:35). From this we can understand that through the Holy Spirit, God, the Father, changed the all-powerful Spirit being, Jesus Christ, into a tiny physical human sperm, fertilizing the egg in the womb of Mary, thus impregnating her. The fetus grew within Mary’s womb like any other human fetus. Jesus was born as a little baby like every other human baby. He was fully flesh, just like you and I are fully flesh…

“The Bible teaches clearly that Jesus Christ–the God of the Old Testament–‘emptied’ Himself and became a human being… It was absolutely NECESSARY for Christ to become FULLY MAN, because only in that way could He become the Savior of man… The only way that Christ—who had been GOD since all eternity—could die, was to become flesh. When He became flesh, He was totally human!… When Christ became flesh, He gave up all of His divine attributes and powers. Simply put, He became a man so that He could die! He was no longer a Spirit being, He was no longer God as we think of God, since God, a Spirit being, cannot die (compare Luke 20:35–36; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 Timothy 1:17)…

“Christ became flesh so that He could overcome sin in the flesh. He had to prove that it is possible for man, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit within him, to overcome sin!… Christ was tempted in all points, as we are, but He stayed sinless (Hebrews 4:15, ‘[He] was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.’). He overcame sin in the flesh, resisting temptation (Revelation 3:21). God, a powerful perfect Spirit being—cannot be tempted (compare James 1:13). But we read that Christ WAS tempted. This proves that He was not the all-powerful perfect Spirit being when He was here on this earth that He HAD been prior to His birth as a human being…

“Christ had been an immortal God being. He was changed into a human being, but He was still the same personage He had been since all eternity. Christ, who became human, was still the personage He had always been. He was still the one who had previously met with Abraham, the one who created Adam and Eve, and the one who spoke to Moses face-to-face. He lived as a human being—growing as children do, developing into a young man, and then becoming a rabbi, or teacher, in Judah. But He was still the same individual that He had always been. He had been an immortal God being and He knew that He would become an immortal God being again, subject to qualifying by being and remaining sinless… Christ, when He was here on earth, was, quite literally, Immanuel, or, ‘God with us.’…”

Discussing the concept of purgatory, we read the following on the website https://www.equip.org/article/is-purgatory-a-biblical-concept/ :

“The interpretation of Scripture (called hermeneutics) is built on three preliminary laws. The first is this: Scripture interprets Scripture, called ‘the rule of analogy.’ The second law of hermeneutics is this: The plain meaning of Scripture is usually the true meaning. The third rule is this: Simple passages of Scripture help explain complex passages of Scripture—the simple informs the complicated. Roman Catholic hermeneutics concerning supposed proof texts for purgatory violate all of these laws of hermeneutics. There is no clear, plain, and simple text about purgatory, as there is about both heaven and hell. The Apocrypha cannot be placed equal to inspired Scripture. The Bible plainly speaks about life, death, and judgment: ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment’ (Heb. 9:27)… There is no mention of postmortem purgation at all. Purgatory is an extrabiblical idea, imported into the church in the Middle Ages—a product of tradition but not Scripture. And the Catholic efforts at grasping for hermeneutical straws to support this false belief—‘fire,’ ‘the age to come,’ ‘souls in prison’—betray a lack of clear, precise, and biblical evidence for that place called purgatory.”

With this extensive background, we will now begin to show the connection between the erroneous concept of purgatory and the erroneous concept of indulgences. We will address this connection in much detail in the next instalment. To conclude this part, let us quote from Wikipedia, as follows:

“Catholic doctrine on purgatory is presented as composed of the same two points in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, first published in 2005, which is a summary in dialogue form of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It deals with purgatory in the following exchange:

“‘210. What is purgatory?

“‘Purgatory is the state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter into the happiness of heaven.

“‘211. How can we help the souls being purified in purgatory?

“‘Because of the communion of the saints, the faithful who are still pilgrims on earth are able to help the souls in purgatory by offering prayers in suffrage for them, especially the Eucharistic sacrifice. They also help them by almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance.’”

Wikipedia also states the following under their comments on “the history of purgatory”:

“The idea of Purgatory as a physical place (like heaven and hell) became Roman Catholic teaching in the late 11th century. Medieval theologians concluded that the purgatorial punishments consisted of material fire. The Western formulation of purgatory proved to be a sticking point in the Great Schism between East and West.  The Roman Catholic Church believes that the living can help those whose purification from their sins is not yet completed not only by praying for them but also by gaining indulgences for them as an act of intercession.”

If there is no purgatory, there is no need for indulgences. In fact, indulgences would be worthless and a waste of time (and money). This will become much clearer in the next instalment.

(To be continued)

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link