It has long struck me how many evangelicals–including some of the most anti-Catholic–actually hold to a Roman Catholic soteriology, though without the sacraments, putting a big emphasis on the role of the will, good works, and moral perfection in salvation. Now some evangelicals are advocating belief in Purgatory. Scott McKnight reviews a book that makes the case for an evangelical doctrine of Purgatory. [Read more…]
Some Protestants, including some evangelicals, are trying to bring back the belief in Purgatory. After the jump, read details and then my thoughts on the matter. [Read more…]
Here is a rather more optimistic assessment of the economy, based on the plans of America’s business executives. I cite it, though, for the figure of speech in the final paragraph:
Washington policymakers are entering a crucial period for the nation’s stalling economy, starting with President Obama’s address to Congress about jobs on Thursday, but the fate of the recovery ultimately depends on decisions being made elsewhere: inside corporate America.
So far, business leaders have been standing firm, with senior executives making few revisions in the plans they had drawn up for expansion and hiring, according to interviews and a review of more than three dozen recent conference calls that executives have held with financial analysts. Even the wild swings on Wall Street during this cruel summer have not knocked executives off track.
But while companies are not undertaking new rounds of layoffs, hiring does not seem poised to take off. Executives speak of the same sluggish but steady job creation that has been underway for months continuing through the end of the year.
The cautious approach taken inside executive suites was also reflected in the grim jobs report from the Labor Department on Friday. While it showed that the nation’s job creation had ground to a halt in August, the private sector continued adding jobs slowly. After adjusting for workers on strike, mostly at Verizon, and employment cuts by government, the report revealed that private employers added the modest net sum of 62,000 jobs.
That result was consistent with the reflections of top executives, such Ronald L. Sargent, the chief executive of office-supply retailer Staples.
“I’m not an economist at all,” Sargent said in a conference call in mid-August with analysts to discuss quarterly earnings. “But from what I see, we have no chance at another recession. I think we’re probably more likely to stay in economic purgatory for a while longer, but I don’t have any worries about a double dip at this point.”
We are in economic purgatory! We are being punished for our sins! But we are still saved, eventually. And government efforts to get us out are nothing but indulgences. We can buy them, if it makes us feel better, but they don’t really work. Can there be free forgiveness in the economics realm, or that just in the spiritual kingdom?
I’ve been reading some Reformation Day reflections by Roman Catholics, some of whom have expressed a little grudging appreciation for Luther, while blaming him for splitting the Church. (You can find some here.)
But Luther was excommunicated. Why? Because he criticized the sale of indulgences. In the case that precipitated his nailing the theses to the door, a salesman named Tetzel was participating in a manifestly corrupt venture–having to do ecclesiastical bribery and simony–that was theologically untenable.
Here is an excerpt from Tetzel’s sermon “On Indulgences” (1517):
Consider that for each and every mortal sin it is necessary to undergo seven years of penitence after confession and contrition, either in this life or in Purgatory. How many mortal sins are committed in a day, how many in a week, how many in a month, how many in a year, how many in the whole extent of life! They are nearly numberless, and those that commit them must suffer endless punishment in the burning pains of Purgatory. (via Primary Sources.)
This was no Purgatory as “taking a shower” before entering Heaven, as in some contemporary Catholic apologetics. Nor was it ascending Dante’s mountain. It was penal fire that people were taught might last hundreds, even thousands of years. (7 years per sin; do the math.) And this was for sins that were forgiven! Sins that were repented, confessed, and absolved STILL had to be punished.
Luther believed this teaching and this practice obscured the Gospel. He just wanted to debate it! His attempts at reform were repudiated.
The Church of Rome, meanwhile, upped the ante. Luther said that these teachings could not be supported by Scripture. The reply was that they rested on the authority of the Church and of the Pope, which, in practice, trumped Scripture. Luther, still thinking of the obvious distortions in the indulgence traffic, could not accept that.
So Luther was cast out of the Church, which refused to even consider his concerns, and things escalated after that. Luther was given a death sentence, and many who agreed with Luther were burned at the stake. Then new ecclesiastical orders were set up, now that Rome cut the ties.
(The Church, in effect, later conceded many of Luther’s points. Exchanging indulgences for money was later forbidden. The duration of Purgatorial punishment has since been softened, saying that no one knows how long it will last and that time doesn’t exist in the afterlife as it does on earth. The number of years each indulgence remits–some were for tens of thousands or even millions of years–has been reinterpreted to mean that it is the equivalent of that period of time devoted to earthly penance.
Still, the doctrine of Purgatory remains, along with the need to be punished for each forgiven transgression, as does the doctrine of Indulgences, including the notion of the Treasury of Merits, that the Church administers all of the surplus good works of the saints, which can be credited to the account of those in Purgatory. Also, much of Roman Catholic devotional practice–such as the repetition of specific prayers, each of which earns an indulgence–is tied to this theology.)
At any rate, isn’t it clear that the Church of Rome at that time, in the way it handled the controversy, split the Church? Not Luther, who never intended such a thing, though his protest was certainly a catalyst for what happened? And since, for Roman Catholics, the church doesn’t err, shouldn’t they consider Protestantism one of its good creations?