The Surprising Admissions Converts Make

David Mills tries to defend being casual about sin, though he rebrands it as familiarity:

In the Protestant world of my youth, nearly everything was a matter of life or death. The Evangelicals made your salvation a drama that depended on you making a decisive commitment. They loved the drama of a sobbing sinner stumbling forward at the altar call.

The mainliners didn’t sweat salvation the same way, but they made your social conscience almost as crucial. God expected you to respect picket lines, protest the war, protect the environments, eat union-grown grapes.

But the Catholics. Gosh, they didn’t seem to sweat anything. The few Catholics I knew — my college town had more Wiccans than Catholics — didn’t seem vexed by human sins, personal or social. They might like devotion and care about social causes, but they didn’t pursue them as intensely as the Protestants I knew.

Older people told me that Catholics had confession. They could axe-murder an entire middle school, go to confession, and Whoosh! they were okay. God was happy with them again. The axe murder? No big deal. Confession magically wiped the slate clean no matter what you did.

Except that the whoosh only got you as far as purgatory if you went to confession.

But now Mills sees the benefits of Rome’s lack of rigor:

After being a Catholic for a few years, I can understand why people think the Church is too casual about sin. I can be too casual about it. It’s easy to use confession as a forgiveness machine and the Mass as a medicine that cures you without your having to do anything. I know how easily you can presume on God’s love.

But that’s just the risk God chose to take when he gave us the Church and her sacraments. Our Protestant friends are not wrong in their criticism, but they miss what God Himself is doing through the Church. He flings his grace around, as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel reading. He lets some fall on rocky or thorny ground, so that some will fall on fertile ground. He gives us gifts we can abuse, because he wants to give us life.

What Mills fails to add (aside from the punishment for mortal sins) is that Protestants exalt Christ. To be hard on sin is to take seriously the cross. Christ died to save sinners from the penalty of sin. That shows that God was not very casual about sin. It also means Christ didn’t die to give sinners a second chance — in purgatory.

12 thoughts on “The Surprising Admissions Converts Make

  1. if it’s casualness about sin he’s looking for he should check out Old Life aayyyyyyyyyy…

    I figured somebody oughta say it before greg or vv


  2. “Except that the whoosh only got you as far as purgatory if you went to confession.”

    Grudem: “Because there is sin that still remains in our hearts even though we have become Christians (Rom. 6:12-13; 1 John 1:8), our sanctification will never be completed in this life (see below). But once we die and go to be with the Lord, then our sanctification is completed in one sense, for our souls are set free from indwelling sin and are made perfect.”

    WCF: “This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.”

    WSC: “Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
    A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united in Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.”

    So Calvinists still undergo final purification after death.

    “Christ died to save sinners from the penalty of sin. That shows that God was not very casual about sin. It also means Christ didn’t die to give sinners a second chance — in purgatory. ”

    The penalty of sin includes alienation from God. Those in purgatory are not alienated from God by definition; they would be in Hell if they were. There’s only one chance to attain friendship with God and die in a state of grace – one’s life. There’s no do-over after death. Further, not all in heaven were required to undergo purgatory – it’s avoidable.

    “It is necessary to stress both aspects, the past historical and the experiential in their distinctness, on the one hand, and in their inter-dependence, on the other. The experiential must not be allowed to obscure the once-for-all historical, nor the once-for-all historical so to overshadow our thinking that we fail to give proper emphasis to the way in which its meaning and efficacy come to realization in the practical life of the believer. In other words, due emphasis must fall upon the objective and subjective in our dying and rising again with Christ in his death to sin and living again to God. It is only in this way that we can avoid the tendency to deny the vicarious significance of that which Christ wrought once for all in the realm of history as concrete and real as any other historical event…
    “Christ expiated the sins of his people in the offering of himself once for all — he purged our sins and sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high (cf. Heb. 1:3). But sins are not actually forgiven until there is repentance and faith. Christ propitiated the wrath of God once for all when he died on the tree. But until we are savingly united to Christ, we are children of wrath even as others. We are reconciled to God by the death of Christ, and reconciliation is an accomplished work, but we are not at peace with God until we are justified. Admittedly, it is difficult to define the precise relations of the past historical to the continuously operative in these cases. To put it more accurately, it is difficult to determine how the finished action of Christ in the past relates itself to those who are contemplated in that action prior to the time when that past action takes effect in their life history. But this difficulty in no way interferes with the distinction between the finished work and its actual application.”


  3. Cletus,

    Whence then the indulgence? If purgatory is equivalent to the Calvinist final purification, then it ought to be instantaneous.

    And if purgatory *is* instantaneous, then the grace offered in an indulgence is literally of no effect.


  4. Jeff,

    Indulgences are part of sanctification. They are also one way to avoid purgatory entirely.

    If each Calvinist is progressively sanctified and imperfect to differing degrees, and all undergo final purification after death, do you consider the subjective experience of that final purification will differ according to the degree of sanctification one has undergone this life?


  5. JRC: if purgatory *is* instantaneous, then the grace offered in an indulgence is literally of no effect.

    CVD: Indulgences are part of sanctification. They are also one way to avoid purgatory entirely.

    That’s not responsive. We both know that in RC teaching, indulgences remit the temporal punishment for sin (CCC 1471), and that indulgences can be partial or plenary.

    If the final purification is instantaneous, partial indulgences are not possible; in an instantaneous event whose outcome is a transition from “owing satisfaction for temporal punishment” to “purified from all owed punishments”, there is no intermediate.

    CVD: …do you consider the subjective experience of that final purification will differ according to the degree of sanctification one has undergone this life?

    The Bible doesn’t give much food for speculation on that topic. One thing is clear: that the guilt for sin is forgiven for those who belong to Christ, so that no punishment remains for them. God is not unjust.

    So the differences in doctrine are clear: for the Protestant, the final purification from sin — called glorification — is instantaneous and non-punitive. It is a removal of the sin nature from the person already accepted and viewed as righteous in Christ.

    For the Catholic, purgatory is non-instantaneous (generally regarded), and consists of satisfaction made by the person for the temporal punishments due them because of sin. The person entering purgatory is a friend of God and forgiven of the guilt of their sin; yet at the same time has sins yet to be forgiven, and owes temporal punishment for sins already forgiven.

    These two concepts are not equivalent.

    But as to the reasonableness of the doctrine of Purgatory, consider the arguments made in its defense:

    There are several passages in the New Testament that point to a process of purification after death. Thus, Jesus Christ declares (Matthew 12:32): “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.” According to St. Isidore of Seville (Deord. creatur., c. xiv, n. 6) these words prove that in the next life “some sins will be forgiven and purged away by a certain purifying fire.” St. Augustine also argues “that some sinners are not forgiven either in this world or in the next would not be truly said unless there were other [sinners] who, though not forgiven in this world, are forgiven in the world to come” (City of God XXI.24). The same interpretation is given by Gregory the Great (Dial., IV, xxxix); St. Bede (commentary on this text); St. Bernard (Sermo lxvi in Cantic., n. 11) and other eminent theological writers.

    A further argument is supplied by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:

    “For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble: Every man’s work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in 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 burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.”

    While this passage presents considerable difficulty, it is regarded by many of the Fathers and theologians as evidence for the existence of an intermediate state in which the dross of lighter transgressions will be burnt away, and the soul thus purified will be saved. This, according to Bellarmine (De Purg., I, 5), is the interpretation commonly given by the Fathers and theologians …

    Cath Enc Purgatory.

    Two arguments are adduced (and an additional one from the deuterocanonical 2 Maccabees):

    (1) That “blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come” implies (proves) that some sins might be not forgiven in this world, but then forgiven in the world to come.

    (2) That many Fathers and theologians regard the difficult 1 Cor 5 as evidence for an intermediate state.

    Clearly there are a number of missing terms in the arguments. How would you propose to fill them in?


  6. James Young, what about “immediately pass into glory” don’t you understand? Now you’re telling us purgatory is glory?

    Why doesn’t the righteousness of Christ cover the penalty for temporal sins? He does for mortal but not temporal? That makes a lot of sense.

    But if you read texts the way you do apparently, I guess it does make sense. You quote authors who deny purgatory as saying the same thing as affirming purgatory.

    So why not just be a Protestant? You could be a saint — tuh-day — and you’d save your family and bishop a lot of money. Jesus paid it all, you know.


  7. D.G. Hart says Jesus paid it all, you know.


    -“In Scripture, there is only the unfathomable and infinite value of Christ’s atonement…period.”
    -“there is not a single scriptural example of, or teaching about, an apostle or church leader doling out an “indulgence” to a fellow believer. Not one!”
    -“It is our prayer that all those who claim the name of Christ would turn to the simplicity of trusting Christ alone and desire to live for Him out of gratitude for all He has done for them (Romans 3-12).”


  8. On Purgatory, the new Catholic idea is it is a catch all for pretty much everyone, Christian or no? Benedict XVI: “For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur?” His answer: purgatory. Quasi-universalism. Old school Catholics think only their fraternity gets in, and Purgatory is the dressing room for the good guys. Modern ones think it is the von Balthasarian wink/answer to judgment. Both ideas are screwy. I know CS Lewis flirted with it, but it just isn’t in Scripture. Nor is confession they way it’s practiced. Catholics now make it like a Mormon temple rite. No?


  9. Joe M, and the idea of treasury of merits (and beatification and canonization that accompanies the bank of good works) makes Mormons look like pikers.


  10. Joe M and DGH – the RCC has major errors in belief and practice, but comparing it to Mormonism is too much. Penance is not a sacrament, but there is nothing wrong with the practice of official church forgiveness/reconciliation itself, which has been done from the earliest days of the church. Canonization of saints and beatification and all that nonsense is extra-biblical and borderline idolatrous, but at the end of the day the RCC follows Christ and relies on His grace for salvation. That’s not to say they don’t have problems, but neither are they a ridiculous cult like the LDS.

    However, you are correct that the RCC has a weird mix of universalism and legalism. On the one hand, they call Muslims “brothers” because they ostensibly worship the same God, and they make statements like Pope Benedict’s in your comment above. On the other hand, they teach salvation is only possible through baptism into the RCC itself, and that even orthodox, practicing Catholics can lose their salvation for committing an unconfessed mortal sin, which might be as egregious as murder or as innocuous as masturbation. So an otherwise pious Catholic has less assurance than a devout Muslim – very convoluted theology indeed.


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