Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 21st, 2015 by Joel Watts

can United Methodists believe in purgatory?

This actually comes from a conversation this morning via wherein I “jokingly” suggested it would be easier for Osteen and Marcion to get out of the netherworld than it would be for Calvin, et al. But, it started a good conversation.

Article XIV reads,

The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.

That is pretty cut and dry, I guess, except it is not that cut and dry. Indeed, this “Romish” adjective is both a descriptor of the doctrine and an insult, held over by Wesley from the Anglican Church. I believe a clear reading of the Reformers will show that when “Romish” was used, more often than not the writer meant to set aside the corrupted doctrine and instead attempt to see the pure doctrine behind it. In other words, using “Romish” would not automatically disqualify purgatory as a doctrine worthy to be explored, only the Romish version.

Early Christian Fresco depicting Christ in Pur...

Early Christian Fresco depicting Christ in Purgatory, Lower Basilica, San Clemente, Rome, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And yes, there are other doctrines of the intermediate state available to us. The East, while not calling it purgatory and in many ways differing from Rome in some regards, has a hope for a final liberation.

Thus the Latins receive both the temporal and the eternal fire, and call the first the purgatorial fire. On the other hand, the Greeks teach of one eternal fire alone, understanding that the temporal punishment of sinful souls consists in that they for a time depart into a place of darkness and sorrow, are punished by being deprived of the Divine light, and are purified—that is, liberated from this place of darkness and woe—by means of prayers, the Holy Eucharist, and deeds of charity, and not by fire. The Greeks also believe, that until the union of the souls to the bodies, as the souls of sinners do not suffer full punishment, so also those of the saints do not enjoy entire bliss. But the Latins, agreeing with the Greeks in the first point, do not allow the last one, affirming that the souls of saints have already received their full heavenly reward.

John Wesley, ever reaching to a more sound theology, was looking to this intermediate state even in his own growth.

John Wesley believed in the intermediate state between death and the final judgment “where believers would share in the ‘bosom of Abraham’ or ‘paradise,’ even continuing to grow in holiness there,” writes Ted Campbell, a professor at Perkins School of Theology, in his 1999 book Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials(Abingdon).

Yes, Wesley did not seem to believe sanctification was finished in this life.

Jerry Walls, a current Wesleyan theologian (yes, we have a few in existence today), writes,

Indeed, I am convinced that when Christians take sanctification seriously, they will find the doctrine of purgatory to be a very reasonable implication. The doctrine of purgatory rightly understood underscores the point that sanctification is essential, not merely an optional matter for the super spiritual, and that we must cooperate in our sanctification. We cannot ignore the call to holiness our whole life and expect that God will zap us and perfect us the instant we die. But again, the demand for holiness is the demand of a loving God who wills our true happiness and flourishing, and he insists on cleaning us up not as act of punishment, but as an act of gracious love.

The question, then, is not “if” or “should” but “can” a United Methodist believe in an intermediate state where, as one FB commentator said, the dross is melted away from all?

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

4 Responses to “can United Methodists believe in purgatory?”
  1. Philip Brooks says

    “Yes, Wesley did not seem to believe sanctification was finished in this life.”
    John Wesley did believe it was possible for one to obtain entire sanctification in this life, though he felt many would not and never claimed to himself.

  2. Joel, We would love to see your great articles on http://www.CollectiveFaith.com. Please join and share with our Christian Social Network.

  3. Keith Caldwell says

    When I only study the scriptures, using reason, tradition and experience and in ignoring the BOD, I am drawn to believe there are 4 states of life and we will always live in one of those states but never in more than one at any one time, they exist as follows:

    (1). Militant the state of living, breathing and making our own decisions. lasting from birth to death.

    (2). A state we have no name for in the UMC in which we are in the grave awaiting judgement during which time the militant can pray for our souls. 3 John 5:16-17, James 5:14-15 and 2 Maccabees 12:38-46.

    (3). Triumphant, those that live in accord with God and walk with Him in harmony as Saints.
    1 Samuel 2:9 He will guard the footsteps of His faithful ones, but the wicked shall perish in the darkness, for not by strength does man prevail.

    2 Kings 2:11
    As they walked on conversing, a flaming chariot and flaming horses came between them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirl wind.

    Matthew 19: 28
    Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on His throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

    Mark 9:4
    Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus.

    (4). Hell,
    1 Samuel 2: 9
    He will guard the footsteps of His faithful ones,
    But the wicked shall perish in darkness.
    For not by strength does man prevail.

    Matthew 13: 40- 43
    Jesus explaining the parable of the weeds, said in reply, “Just as weeds are collected and burned with fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will collect out of His kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

    All four of these states exist in scripture, but in the UMC I am not sure what we can call the second state that of waiting in the grave for judgement. Perhaps assigning a word to it would be “Romish” but then perhaps we United Methodists are a bit “Romish” as we are definitely not Calvinists and far from being followers of Luther.

    If anyone has a word that can be used for state of life #2 let me know as we do not seem to have one in the UMC.
    Thanks,
    Keith

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