The term "Protestant" has many different definitions. In this essay, we
include fundamentalist, other evangelical, mainline, liberal and
progressive Christian denominations and the Anglican
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
- 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
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
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."
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
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
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."
- 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."
- An exception: C.S. Lewis, whose writings are very much admired by
"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
"I believe in Purgatory."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Darwell Stone, "The faith of an Englis Catholic," at:
- Martin Luther, "Small Catechism," Question 211.
- The "Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church,," Article 22.
- C.S. Lewis, "Letters To Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer --I believe in
Purgatory," , Chapter 20, Paragraphs 7-10, pages 108-109. Online at:
Copyright © 1998 to 2008 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2008-DEC-07
Author: B.A. Robinson