A man called me this morning who is friends with several of our members. He grew up Catholic while his wife grew up Lutheran. Neither have been active worshipers as adults. She passed away 3 weeks ago. Worried about her salvation, he was told by a Catholic friend that he could pray her way out of purgatory and into heaven. He called me to ask if that was possible according to Lutheran theology.
It took a little time, but a synopsis of the 16th century reformation during which Luther proclaimed there is no biblical basis for purgatory helped him rethink what he believed. As a priest and monk, Luther pointed out that the church was telling people they could buy and pray their dead relatives out of purgatory and into heaven through a nice donation to help build St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. You received a nice certificate called an “indulgence” which made it so.
I assured him that both St. Paul in his New Testament letters and Luther struggled with not being good enough. They both realized they could never be good enough to climb the ladder to heaven. That’s when they came to believe that “we are saved by God’s grace through our faith in Christ.”
He thought that salvation through faith in Christ was too easy and so asked questions about personal confession with the priest and other requirements he had grown up with. I assured him that Lutherans confess our sins during every worship service, on our own, and sometimes with the pastor. I explained our only having two sacraments because Christ specifically instituted baptism and communion.
It was a good conversation with a grieving husband. I assured him that even though it may appear to him that being Lutheran is too easy, his wife most assuredly through her faith in Christ is awaiting him in heaven. He seemed relieved.
This month we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of eternal life when Christ conquers death and the grave on Easter morning. There is no purgatory. There is no holding cell. There is no stopping off place to wait and see if relatives and friends pray enough or give enough to the church to get us on to heaven. Thanks be to God!
On the direct flight with no stopovers – Pastor Doug