Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Presbyterian Doctrine of Purgatory?

The funeral yesterday was at St. Andrews, Mount Pleasant. St Andrews was and is an Episcopal Church, although like a great many successful churches they do not publicize the fact. The place was packed and the priests and staff could not have been more gracious at having a sudden event swamp them on a Friday morning. There was a semi private Eucharist at 10 am in the chapel, followed by the public funeral at 11 in the main church.

Part of the latter was a sermon by a Baptist preacher who said many comforting words to the widow and her two children. He was quite eloquent and actually quoted a good deal of poetr, which impressed us all.

However, a Presbyterian minister was supposed to reminisce about my cousin and relate the sort of person he was. He did do some of that, but he also expostulated that my cousin would likely have to wait for admittance to Heaven until the final coming and Jesus passing of judgment upon this sinful planet. There was a great deal of talk on his part along these lines with some removal and rejection of sinful nature thrown in for good measure.

While I think it shocking that this man in some way thought this would comfort the family. And my cynical nature could not help but notice that we got two sermons for the price of one. But the kicker was when my elder brother, the baptist preacher and graduate of Dallas Theological pointed out that the Presby was apparently discussing Purgatory.

Imagine my amazement when I saw this article this morning. The Presbyterian doctrine of Purgatory, who knew?


Anonymous said...

I'm formerly of the OPC, which has a high regard for the Presbyterian doctrinal standards (the creeds, the Westminister Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Chatechisms). There is -no- Presbyterian doctrine of Purgatory.

First, I agree that the Presby pastor did indeed offer strange words of consolation, if we can call it that. If he said them to me, I would take it to mean that he believed that my deceased relative was not bound to Christ. One of the points of the protestant doctrine of Justification by Faith (no, I don't wish to get into a shouting match over this - this is simply informational) is that Christ's Elect are bound to Him the instant they are regenerated. They are judged (righteous) in the -present-, whereas the Wicked have to wait until the Day of Judgment for their own verdict.

Anyhow, as I mentioned, it sounds like that pastor believed the latter about the deceased. I've based that conclusion on an assumption that the pastor is a classical Presbyterian.

Matthew said...

Thank you for your insight. That does explain much. I confess I am not up on my Calvin as perhaps I ought to be.

Hills of the North editor said...

Seems to me he did create a bit of Purgatory, by a clumsy effort to a) hedge on whether your cousin was a believer and b) try to be a nice universalist. In fact, Presbyterian or no, he should have avoided comment on the state of your cousin's soul, because while he might have known he was not a believer at some point (and at some point all of us were not believers), he certainly had no way of knowing your cousin's heart at the moment of his demise, or whether he was or was not among the elect.

Presbyterians believe that baptism creates a covenant relationship, with parents acting as surety, if you will, in confidence and trust in God that the infant is among the elect and will in maturity come to Christ. It makes no sense to me that (assuming your cousin was baptized) the minister did not maintain his faith in God to draw your cousin to him.

Finally, I believe it was J. C. Ryle who made the observation that at a funeral when the clergyman does not know the person's relationship with God, or has doubts about his having committed his life to God, it is nonetheless inappropriate to act as if the person was no Christian. This is because you do not know the heart of the person, you do not know what happened at the end of that person's life, vis-a-vis the Almighty, and your words as clergyman do not alter that state of affairs one way or another. You are there for the family. He advocated acting in charity and hope, and making a presumption that the person did come to Christ.

I think the Presbyterian minister at your cousin's funeral was way off the mark, both in his universalism and in his lack of charity.

Hills of the North editor said...

Found it.

In Knots Untied, Ryle, in arguing that baptism did not equate to regeneration, addressed how one could explain the Burial Office’s presumption of regeneration for the baptized. His answer: “the principle of charitable supposition”:

“This is the only intelligible principle on which the Burial Service can be interpreted. In that Service the person buried is spoken of as a "dear brother or sister." It is said that it hath "pleased God of His great mercy to take to Himself his soul." It is said, "We give Thee hearty thanks that it hath pleased Thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world." It is said that "our hope is, this our brother rests in Christ." Now what does all this mean? Did the compilers of the Prayer-book wish us to believe that all this was strictly and literally applicable to every individual member of the Church over whose body these words were read? Will any one look the Service honestly in the face and dare to say so I cannot think it. The simple explanation of the Service is, that it was drawn up, like the rest, on the presumption that all members of a Church were what they professed to be. The key to the interpretation of it is the same great principle, the principle of charitable supposition.”

This is consistent with Ryle’s earlier comment about being unable to read the Burial Office over the unbaptized: “To suppose that we pronounce any opinion on a man s state of soul and consider him lost, because we read no Service over him, is simply absurd ! We pronounce no opinion at all. He may be in paradise with the penitent thief for anything we know. His soul after death is not affected either by reading a Service or by not reading one.”

Your Presbyterian minister should have read his Calvinist friend Ryle, and opted for the “principle of charitable supposition.”

Anonymous said...

I've never been able to reconcile "Today you will be with me in Paradise" to "He descended into Hell" - perhaps paradise is something different from Heaven, but what? Are there divisions of Hell? Is paradise Purgatory?

Red_Cleric said...

Intersting interview with NT Write in Time Magazine re: heaven that comes to mind when I read about the pastor's comment.

To take exception to my fellow believers Presbyterians at least PC(USA)do believe in purgatory. We call them committee and presbytery meetings. In that way we've paid our penance before death.