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Mitt Robson wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am currently a devoted Southern Baptist. Within the previous year I visited a Catholic Mass with a dear friend of mine.

While there I felt something different. I felt closer to God. I could feel His Presence there. I have seriously considered converting but there are a few differences between our churches.

  • For one, I just can't seem to bring myself to believe in Purgatory.
  • I also don't understand why there is prayer to the saints who have gone on before us.

Finally, I have a problem with Catholic Confession. As a Southern Baptist, I believe in confessing my sins. It is one of the first steps to faith.

When I confess, I confess to God first, then I will confess my struggles with sin to a brother in the faith or maybe a minister. As I look at my Catholic friends, I tend to see them abusing God's grace. They call themselves Catholic but they don't seem to live the full Christian life.

They will say . . .Oh, I'll just confess later. before they intentionally sin and soon this becomes a cycle that never ends.

If you could help address these concerns it would be great!

With love,

Mitt

  { Can you clarify Catholic teachings on Purgatory, the saints, and Confession for a Southern Baptist? }

Bob replied:

Mitt,

Thank you so much for reaching out; the matters you brought up are important.

First, you may have the wrong idea about Purgatory that makes it difficult to buy. There is much liberty when conceptualizing it and certainly medieval notions that have been widely propagated make it difficult.

Something that we would likely agree on is that we won't take any of our baggage into Heaven, for nothing unclean can enter there (Revelation 21:27). This is not merely a covering of our sins like Luther's conception of justification but true complete sanctification brought to its fullness. When God seeks to make us righteous He will accomplish His work, intrinsically as well as extrinsically.

Now most of us don't see the completion of this divine work in our lifetime (even if you consider forensic justification, there is still incomplete sanctification) so in that passage between here and there, there is a cleansing, a purification, to separate us from all our sin and the effects. This is the purgation of our souls, and Purgatory points to the domain, however you understand that domain, where God carries it out.

The difficulty usually enters when there is talk of souls like prisoners who need a Get out of jail card by some sale or acquisition of indulgences. This is the issue that helped sparked the Reformation. Let me start by saying, the charge was right; simony was illicit however not all of the idea was wrong. Let me explain.

First, we do believe that the purgation of someone can be painful, like a kind of punishment, because:

  • the attachment to sin, and
  • the realization of its devastating effects, as seen from the divine viewpoint,

is almost unbearable. Paul alludes to this in 1 Corinthians 3:15. For example, consider the pain and loss a man might feel when he sees the devastating heartbreak his adultery has caused in the heart of his wife — when he can feel it from her side and the mind of God.

Granted, since we are forgiven, we will not suffer Hell and many sins have been erased, along with their effects, because of love, which covers a multitude, but here [referring to Purgatory] we are talking about the unhealed scars that still reside in the soul of the saved Christian or one God has saved despite their religious status.

  • Don't you know a lot of Christians that are far from perfect at the time of their passing?

Those souls are our brothers and sisters and we feel a great empathy for their pain and wish to expedite their situation. We pray for that process to hasten — even if the sense of time is irrelevant because in God there is no time but only eternity — because we want them to come quickly and directly into the fullness of glory. This is not a second chance for the unsaved, but a hastening of the complete sanctification of the saved.

Just a brief word about indulgences: It is just another way of expressing the Church's authority to bind and loose, to call on the Holy Spirit to pour out from the treasury of Grace that Christ has merited through his body the Church, their hands and feet, which are really His, to hasten that glorious perfection which He brings to all the redeemed.

About Saints:

They are alive in Christ, they are aware of our struggle, inasmuch as God allows them to be
(cf. Hebrews 12) and they feel connected to us by the bond of Love in Christ. James says the prayers of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16) so we ask them to pray for us.

  • Don't you go to the holiest people you know when you need important prayer support?
  • Does that diminish God's power or glory?
  • Does it suggest He doesn't want you to go directly to Him?

It is just the opposite. What brings God the greatest glory is His family loving each other
— the whole Church — here and there.

We are one body in Christ.

Another point: In the Old Testament, the prohibition on contact with the dead and divination came directly from the danger presented by the demonic and other principalities. In Christ, there is no prohibition or danger for souls that reside in God. They are not unclean spirits. If Christ is Our Model, then consider how He made contact with Moses and Elijah on the mountain when He needed support to face His mission.

While we aren't summoning up contact with spirits (and we certainly prohibit all divination and spiritism), we are letting them [the saints] know through prayer, (that God allows them to hear), that we want their prayer and support, because we are family — more so than even the blood of our relations, but of the blood of The Lamb.

I've got to run now, so maybe a colleague can comment on Confession and the other points.

Peace,

Bob Kirby

Mike replied:

Hi Mitt,

Thanks for touching base with us and thanks for the questions. Let me add to what Bob has said by providing some previous postings/answers that go to the heart of your questions, especially on Purgatory.

On Purgatory:

On confessing your sins to a priest:

You said:
As I look at my Catholic friends I tend to see what I call abusing God's grace. They call themselves Catholic but they don't seem to live the Christian life fully.

This is a problem in some areas of the Church. Some of this is due to poorly catechized parents at the parish level or parents who don't take their faith seriously.

The key is to separate scandalous behavior from divine teachings which will never change.

We have had terrible witnesses in the past, even from popes. At one point in time, we had a pope with several mistresses. Nevertheless, because he was scandalizing the Church so much, he never had time to teach on issues of faith and morals, which is the doctrinal protection Jesus gave to St. Peter when He established His Church. (Matthew 16:13-19)

Some may question whether Catholics are Christians, erroneously based on their behavior,
not doctrine. Check out what St. Pacian of Barcelona said in the fourth century:

You said:
They will say..."Oh, I'll just confess later." before they intentionally sin, and soon this becomes a cycle that never ends.

While it is very good that they are going to Confession on a regular basis, once someone has gone to Confession they should strive not to commit the sins they confessed to the priest again.

Think of the sacraments Mitt like encounters with the Divine Person of Jesus, Himself . . . . because they are!

I call the sacraments of the Church the spiritual dynamite of the Church.

Sure, we will always struggle with sin throughout our earthly pilgrimage but the sacraments, when received properly, will always bring us back to a state of grace and help any, and all, non-Catholic Christians to fulfill the vocation Jesus has called them to.

I hope this helps,

Mike

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