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Protestant beliefs

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Protestant beliefs:

The term "Protestant" has many different definitions. In this essay, we include fundamentalist, other evangelical, mainline, liberal and progressive Christian denominations and the Anglican Communion.

Much Protestant theology is based on the belief that Jesus paid for the sins of all believers -- past, present and future -- on the cross, circa 30 CE. Thus it makes no sense to expect a believer to have to make an additional payment before being admitted into Heaven.

They base these beliefs partly on a series of biblical passages:

  • Psalms 103:11-12:
  • Hebrews 8:12
  • Hebrews 10:17

However, individual denominations have different interpretations of the Bible:

  • Conservative Protestant denominations: Protestant churches reject the concept of any intermediate destination after life, like Purgatory. They have traditionally taught that persons who have been saved during their lifetime will eventually pass to heaven at death. The vast majority of individuals - (those who have heard the Gospel but rejected it) will go to Hell for eternal torture without any hope of cessation or mercy. Some Protestants also believe that people who have never trusted Jesus because they never heard of the Gospel, Jesus or Christianity will also go to Hell..

    1 Corinthians 3:13-15 is the key passage that has been used by Catholics in support of Purgatory:

    "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." (KJV)

    Fundamentalist and other Evangelicals typically interpret the verse as referring to rewards given to previously saved individuals. A person is saved, purely on the basis of having repented of their sins and trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior. (Some faith groups deny that repentance is required). But once saved, they may receive a reward on the basis of their balance of good and bad works. The greatest reward is a crown of life (James 1:12); those who have a smaller accumulation of good works might receive a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8). Other passages referring to rewards given to the saved are: Matthew 5:12; Matthew 6:1-6; Matthew 10:40-42; Matthew 13:23; Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Corinthians 15:40-41; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Galatians 6:7; Ephesians 6:8; 1 Timothy 6:19; Hebrews 10:35; 2 John 8; Revelation 11:18.

    Christians who have done little while on earth would receive little or nothing in addition to their salvation. The phrase translated "he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" in the KJV means that they would only be barely saved. The NIV Bible used by many conservative Christians translates the final phrase "but only as one escaping through the flames." i.e. like a person who barely escaped a burning house - he almost didn't make it.

  • Liberal Protestant denominations: Liberal Protestant faith groups have long abandoned the idea of Hell as a place of eternal punishment. The concept of Hell is seen as being incompatible with a loving, understanding, caring God. They reject Purgatory for the same reason. They feel that God is not in the business of torturing people with such techniques as extreme thirst, perpetual darkness, flogging, flesh eating worms, fire, etc .

    Caring humans, such as members of Amnesty International, condemn those countries which torture prisoners. Most liberal Protestants cannot conceive that God would establish systems of imprisonment and the infliction of pain which are worse than humanity at its most vicious and cruel.

    Even if Purgatory existed, many liberal Protestants would reject the concept that prayers by the living would influence the severity or duration of the torture being inflicted on the inmates. They might argue that If the prayers of the living influenced the punishment of the souls in Purgatory, then two individuals being punished for the same sins, would suffer different sentences in Purgatory, depending upon how many living friends and relatives each had. This would be fundamentally unjust. Orphans, only-children, and Protestants would be treated harsher than Roman Catholics from large families, even though they had committed the same sins while alive.

  • Anglican Communion: This wing of Christianity is a broad tent, containing members whose beliefs range from fundamentalism to progressive Christianity. Most reject the concept of Purgatory. However, the Anglo-Catholics -- a part of Anglicanism that is particularly close to Roman Catholicism -- are uncertain about the existence and nature of Purgatory. Darwell Stone writes:

    "Anglo-Catholic theology, then, regards the moment of death as the time of the particular judgment, that is, the judgment of God on the individual soul. After death is the waiting state. About it we know little. Our understanding of its nature and its conditions is necessarily limited. Of it experience can tell us nothing. We can form no idea what the life of a bodiless soul is like. We believe that the departed are living; for our Lord has told us so. We believe that they can be helped by our prayers; for otherwise the whole historic witness of Christian worship would mislead us. We can understand that, as in this life, progress may require some kind of pain; that a clearer discernment of what the events of this life have meant may deepen sorrow for past sin; and that the preparation for the Beatific Vision of the All-Holy God may need a discipline no less real because it is wholly spiritual. Such discipline may be called penal, since all suffering borne by a soul which once has sinned is part of the punishment for sin. It may be said to be purifying, since all chastening rightly endured has cleansing power. If any have gone further, and have used images of material things, such language can be justified only as the metaphorical speech which may suggest realities which it fails to describe. 1

See also an essay on Rick Warren's beliefs concerning Purgatory

Statements on Purgatory:

  • Protestant statements:
    • Martin Luther in Question No. 211 implied the non-existence of Purgatory in his expanded Small Catechism wrote: "We should pray for ourselves and for all other people, even for our enemies, but not for the souls of the dead." 2
    • The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church states that: "The Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory...is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God." 3
  • An exception: C.S. Lewis, whose writings are very much admired by Protestants, wrote:
    "Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him?"

    "I believe in Purgatory." 4


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Darwell Stone, "The faith of an Englis Catholic," at: http://anglicanhistory.org/
  2. Martin Luther, "Small Catechism," Question 211.
  3. The "Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church,," Article 22.
  4. C.S. Lewis, "Letters To Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer --I believe in Purgatory," , Chapter 20, Paragraphs 7-10, pages 108-109. Online at: http://praiseofglory.com/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2008-DEC-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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