Theology

Uh oh. What do we do now? Someone just discovered a Bible verse that destroys the Catholic view of salvation. Here is the previously “undiscovered verse” which Catholics seem to have missed somehow! Ephesians 2:8–9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Actually, humor aside, this passage from Ephesians is the groundwork for a correct understanding of the Catholic teaching of salvation. A friend wrote to inquire about his passage so I took a few minutes to help explain it and how it fits into the whole picture.

Dear Richard:
 
Glad to hear my humble efforts have had a positive influence in your life. Very personally gratifying but the glory goes to God who has blessed us, made it all possible and continues to grant his grace.
 
Regarding Ephesians 2:8-9, people forget to keep reading on through verse 10:  “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”  Protestants are great with “sound bites” and “marketing slogans” and are very good at pulling a verse or two out of its context to misrepresent the understanding of the cultural and historical context of Scripture. They love to extract a verse or two out of context and to absolutize it.
 
So let’s look at this passage in context and in the whole of Scripture.
 
downloadBut let’s back up a bit to Square #1.  You are a sinner, there is an insurmountable chasm between you and a holy God. What can you do to get across? What good works or efforts can you perform to bridge the gap and make you acceptable to that holy God on the other side? Is there any way sinful and condemned “you” will be successfully able to stand before that holy God and say, “You owe me eternal life since I did so many good works for you!”
 
Now take another scenario. You are a sinner, there is an insurmountable chasm between you and a holy God. You have no way to get across or to appease that holy God because if you’re condemning sin and disobedience. But that God in his great mercy decides to have pity on you and by a free gift of undeserved grace builds a bridge across the chasm which is the cross and the death of his Son (Jn 1:51) who took your penalty of sin upon himself and now by his grace opens the bridge across for you to freely be accepted as part of God’s heavenly family.
 
download (1)Now take another scenario.  God extends a bridge across that chasm which only requires one to accept the gift of the bridge through faith and baptism (Jn 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21; Rom 6:3-4). You take those first steps to cross the bridge of grace given freely by faith. It is not your works that put that bridge there or enabled you to cross. But now, you have been given the grace to be holy and live the life required by God. You are leaving the sin and old way of life behind. Now, are now required to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matt 5:48). You are required to work out your salvation, notice the word work
           Philippians 2:12–13  “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
              Yes, we are INITIALLY saved by the simple grace of God received by faith. But when I believe, I DO something. Even in the act of believing I am doing something—a spiritual good work. Even when I receive the grace of God I am DOING something. Receive is a verb. The initial work was accomplished by God through Jesus Christ, but now it requires a response on our part enabled by the Holy Spirit.
 
download (1)Now take another scenario. You have accepted and received that initial free gift of salvation earned for you by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are “saved,” correct? But what about Abraham who had already believed (Gen 15:6)? Would Abraham have been “saved” or justified before God if he had believed in God but refused to leave his homeland and refused to renounce the pagan gods? What pleased God? Faith alone or the obedience of faith? Would Abraham have been the Friend of God without good works? What if he said, “I’ll believe in you but I won’t do everything you ask?”
 
We are required to become holy (Heb. 12:14). We are to do the works God now requires of us as his children. They are necessary for our salvation. Consider Colossians 1:22–23  “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, [the gift, the grace, the ladder of the cross to heaven] if indeed you continue in the faith [good works, obedience, works of righteousness], stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.”
 
download (2)James 2:20–25  Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called “the friend of God.” See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route?
 
Protestants of course have “fifty ways to leave their lover” when it comes to this passage. They do all kinds of gyrations and twisting in their effort to fit this round peg into their square “faith alone” hole. But its message is quite clear if you just read it and let it speak for itself.
 
As a Baptist I believed in “cheap grace” in which I only accepted the gift of God but nothing was really required of me. My sins were forgiven past, present and future. I have eternal security; once saved, always saved. I now know that it is not only unbiblical, but a harmful and heretical position. Much is required of us! But how can I do good works acceptable and meritorious to God?
 
download (3)Consider my grandson Dominic wants to buy me a Christmas present but he has no money. He comes to me and asks for $100 so that he can buy me a nice Christmas present. On Christmas morning he proudly presents me with the present. Let me ask you a question. Who bought that gift? Dominic did? No I did? Wait, it was Dominic! No, it was me!

God gives us the free gift of grace and the assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit and requires us to live a holy life, to be sanctified…. We are required to do the good works in accordance with our new status and goal of holiness and heaven. It is God that gives us that grace—like I gave the $100 to Dominic. When God rewards our good works, he is simply rewarding his own good works achieved through his grace.
 
Catechism 2023 Sanctifying grace is the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.
 
2024 Sanctifying grace makes us “pleasing to God.” Charisms, special graces of the Holy Spirit, are oriented to sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. God also acts through many actual graces, to be distinguished from habitual grace which is permanent in us.
 
2025 We can have merit in God’s sight only because of God’s free plan to associate man with the work of his grace. Merit is to be ascribed in the first place to the grace of God, and secondly to man’s collaboration. Man’s merit is due to God
 
2026 The grace of the Holy Spirit can confer true merit on us, by virtue of our adoptive filiation, and in accordance with God’s gratuitous justice. Charity is the principal source of merit in us before God.
 
2027 No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.
 
download (4)John 5:28–29  “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
 
Hope that helps. God bless you!

 

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Nine Truths about Purgatory: What Catholics need to know about the ‘anteroom of heaven’

By Emily Stimpson – OSV Newsweekly, 9/29/2013

(Steve Ray’s article on Purgatory HERE)

Some fear it. Others hope for it. Some see it as proof of God’s mercy; others as testimony to God’s wrath. Many don’t know anything about it, while many more have forgotten what they once knew.

The “it” is purgatory, and when it comes to Catholic beliefs about the afterlife, the Church’s teachings on purgatory have long been among its most contested and misunderstood.

Yet, despite all the confusion, the teachings themselves aren’t that complicated. At their most basic, they can be boiled down to nine essential truths — truths that not only illuminate the Church’s doctrine, but also reveal the eternal significance of those teachings for us and those we’ve lost.

So, what are those essentials?

1. Purgatory exists.

That may seem like stating the obvious, but for some Catholics, purgatory has become what pastor, author and blogger Father Dwight Longenecker called “the forgotten doctrine.”

“Many modern Catholics don’t know what purgatory is anymore,” said Father Longenecker, who blogs at Standing On My Head. “They’ve bought into the idea that sin has no consequences, that everyone goes to heaven because God is too nice to send anyone anywhere else.”

The Church’s doctrine on purgatory, however, proclaims the opposite. It reminds us that sin does have consequences — eternal ones — and that while God is Love, he still honors the free choices made by men and women.

“That’s the terrifying compliment God pays the creature,” said Dr. Regis Martin, professor of theology at Franciscan University and author of “Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Love of God” (Ave Maria, $11.95). “He takes seriously the freedom we exercise, even if it carries us straight into hell.”

That being said, he continued, “While hopefully few of us are so wicked that we would choose to be wretched forever without God, not many of us are so pure that we can be catapulted straight into the arms of God. Most of us are somewhere in between.”

Hence the need for purgatory — the final purification of those who die in friendship with God but who haven’t fully broken their attachment to sin or atoned for wrongs done in this life.

“When we stand before Christ the Judge, all the compromises we’ve made, all the gray areas into which our choices led us, have to be accounted for,” said Martin. “We’ve got to square accounts with the Judge.”

2. Purgatory isn’t merely a punishment.

It’s a merciful gift and a testimony to God’s love.

“Sometimes, people hear about the sufferings of the souls in purgatory and they think suffering is the desire of a vindictive God, a God who wants his pound of flesh,” said Robert Corzine, vice president for Programs and Development at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

“But that’s not the case at all,” he continued. “God forgives us immediately when we ask. The role of suffering is to undo the damage we’ve done. It’s God the Healer applying the remedy to make us perfect images of Christ.”

And perfect images of Christ is exactly what God calls each of us to become.

According to the Catholic doctrine of salvation, God doesn’t simply desire to save us from hell — from a state of eternal separation from him. More fundamentally, he desires to save us from sin, from being anything less than the men and women he created us to be.

“God is like a great heart surgeon, trying to give us the new hearts we need,” Corzine said. “But we keep flopping around on the table, moving away from the knife. Death then is like the anesthetic. In purgatory, we’re no longer able to resist the healing we need, and he can finish the task he began during our lifetime.”

3. The suffering endured by souls in purgatory isn’t physical pain.

Through the centuries, artists striving to convey the sufferings of purgatory have depicted men and women tormented by a burning fire. But those illustrations aren’t a literal representation of the goings-on in the purgative state. They can’t be. In purgatory, the soul remains separated from its body, so it can only suffer spiritually, not physically.

That’s not to say, however, that the flames of purgatory aren’t real. They are.

“The fire by which we’re purified is an interior burning for the love of God,” explained Susan Tassone, author of seven books on purgatory, including “Prayers, Promises, and Devotions for Holy Souls in Purgatory” (OSV, $9.95). “Immediately after their death, the souls in purgatory saw God in all his glory. They saw his love, his goodness, and the plans he had for us. And they yearn for that. They burn for it, with a yearning that surpasses the heat of any earthly fire.”

In other words, the primary pain endured by those in purgatory is the loss of the sight of God. They suffer from what Tassone called, “a spiritual fever.”

As that fever rages, it separates the soul from sin, a process almost equally painful.

“To the extent we’re attached to our sin, becoming detached from it hurts,” said Corzine. “Seeing it in all its horror — how it wounded us and wounded others, how it led us away from God’s perfect plan — no physical flames could be as painful as that.”

4. The souls in purgatory experience joy, as well as pain.

In the “Divine Comedy,” as Dante makes his way through purgatory, the souls he encounters suffer, but unlike the souls he met in hell, they suffer willingly and gladly, with no self-pity and always eager to return to their sufferings when Dante’s questions cease.

Visit a loved one’s grave and say a brief prayer for them. Thinkstock

In their eagerness, those fictional souls testify to the enduring Catholic teaching that purgatory isn’t the outermost room of hell, but rather the anteroom of heaven. Every soul in purgatory is bound for glory. Their fate has been sealed, and ultimately it’s a blessed fate. Therefore, the time they spend in purgatory, whether short or long, is a time marked not only by suffering, but also by joy.

“Anything worthwhile requires pain to make progress, but it’s pain with a reward at the end,” said Father Longenecker. “Sometimes, it helps to think of purgatory like the process of getting physically fit. There’s pain, but it’s a sign of progress. It means you’re on the road to where you eventually want to be. That makes it a joyful pain.”

5. Our prayers for the dead matter eternally.

The souls in purgatory may be bound for glory, but the process of purgation still can be long and painful. Save for humbly submitting to the purifying fire of Christ’s love, there’s nothing those souls can do to speed up the process or mitigate the pain.

That’s where we come in.

“We need to be greedy for graces for the souls in purgatory,” said Tassone. “When the soul leaves the body, the time for merit is up. The soul is helpless. That’s why they need our prayers — the Rosary, adoration, the Way of the Cross and, most of all, the Mass. The Masses we have offered for the souls in purgatory are the best thing we can do for our beloved dead. That’s because the Mass is the highest form of worship, the highest form of prayer.”

“It really is one of the most consoling doctrines of the Church,” added Martin. “None of us stands alone. We stand on the shoulders of giants, the foremost giant being Christ. Our sufferings and sacrifices can be parlayed into actual assistance for the holy souls because of his suffering and sacrifice.”

In many ways, he continued, our relationship to those in purgatory is simply an extension of “the logic of love,” where “You extend yourself so that another might have an easier time of it. And that principle isn’t bound by death.”

It’s also not bound by time. The Church teaches that purgatory operates outside of space and time as we on earth experience it. Which means we should never stop praying for those we’ve lost.

“No prayer is ever wasted,” Tassone said. “The prayers we pray for our loved ones throughout the entirety of our lives play a part in helping them enter into heaven.”

6. The holy souls intercede for us.

The souls in purgatory can’t do anything for themselves, but the Church has long believed that they can do something for us: They can pray for us, helping obtain for us the graces we need to follow Christ more perfectly.

“We have such great intercessors in the holy souls,” said Tassone. “They’re interested in our salvation. They want to help ensure that we understand the malice of sin and the importance of conforming our lives to God’s will, so that we can go straight to heaven when we die.”

The same is doubly true, she continued, of the souls now in heaven, whom our prayers helped.

“Those souls become like our second guardian angels, taking us under their wing,” she explained. “That’s because the gift we helped give them was the Beatific Vision, which is the greatest gift of all.”

7. The Church’s teachings on purgatory are rooted in Scripture.

If you’re looking for scriptural evidence for purgatory, start in the Second Book of Maccabees (12:45), where Judas Maccabee orders prayers and sacrifices for fallen soldiers who committed idolatry shortly before their death.

“Their beseeching implies there is hope even beyond the grave for those who defiled themselves,” Martin said.

In the New Testament, St. Paul likewise hints at the cleansing fires of purgatory when he writes, “If any man’s work is burned up he will suffer loss though he himself will be saved” (1 Cor 3:12-15). He also seemingly prays for the soul of Onesiphorus in 2 Timothy 1:18.

Moreover, according to Corzine, the existence of purgatory is the only way to make sense of scriptural assertions such as, “No unclean thing will enter [heaven]” (Rv 21:27), as well as commands like “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

“Logic demands purgatory,” Corzine said. “Without some process of purification after death, the population of heaven would be infinitesimally small, comprised of only the few who allow God to perfect them in this life.”

8. Purgatory wasn’t an invention of the medieval Church.

Have 30 days of Gregorian Masses celebrated for loved ones through the Pious Union of St. Joseph (piousunionofstjoseph.org) or other missionary orders that offer this ministry. Thinkstock

Although the Church didn’t begin to officially define the doctrine of purgatory until the high Middle Ages (starting at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274), the belief in a purgative state after death is as old as the Church itself.

“The uninterrupted witness of Church history tells us that Christians have always prayed for their dead,” said Corzine. “Even before people used the word ‘purgatory,’ they recognized the need to offer up prayers and have Masses said for those who’ve left this life.”

That uninterrupted witness includes the writings of Church Fathers and Doctors from the first century onward. It also includes records of Catholics commemorating the anniversaries of departed loved ones with Masses and prayers, the inclusion of burying the dead among the spiritual works of mercy, and centuries of Christians who left money in their wills for Masses to be said for their souls.

Said Corzine, “Since the damned cannot benefit by our prayers and the blessed in heaven have no need for our prayers, that enduring witness implies another place or state where souls exist who can benefit from them.”

9. Purgatory is like spiritual summer school.

How’s that?

To start with, just as sitting in a classroom during January is easier than sitting in a classroom during July, doing the suffering and sacrificing it takes to grow in holiness is easier on earth than it is in purgatory.

In part, that’s because “on earth we still have our physical bodies,” Father Longenecker said.

“Our task is to become conformed to Christ,” Father Longenecker told OSV. “That’s a task we’re supposed to do here, and it’s a task for which we’re supposed to use our bodies. It has a physical dimension to it.”

Which is to say, with our bodies we can do good works that break us of attachments to sin and self. We can take a meal to the new mom across the street, buy a coffee for the homeless guy downtown, fast from chocolate for all of Lent, and go on pilgrimages to holy places. Without a body, all those corporal works of mercy — all those ways of loving and serving others, as well as atoning for sin — are impossible.

Even more fundamentally, purgatory is like summer school because, just like summer school, no one has to go there.

“Purgatory is not supposed to be the norm,” concluded Corzine. “God gives each and every one of us all the graces we need in this life to become saints. We can do all the work necessary to become holy here. We just need to make use of the graces he gives us now.”

Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributor. If you like this article, you can sign up for future articles.

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Dialog: Saved by Faith Alone or Faith & Works

by Steve Ray on April 28, 2020

I am responding to a polite gentleman named David who posted a comment on my blog. He was responding as a kind Protestant who was reacting to my article “Response to a Southern Baptist.” He is kind and well-spoken and I wish we could sit and have a cup of coffee together to discuss this more personally. I have responded only briefly and with a few random thoughts while on the run. I would suggest he and others read a new book by Steve Wood entitled, Grace & Justification: An Evangelical’s Guide to Catholic Beliefs.

David’s words are italicized and in blue; my words are in regular text and in black:

Steve’s opening thoughts in preparation to respond:

I would like to make two opening comments which are touched on only briefly below. First, the argument about “faith vs. works” has been twisted by Luther and subsequent Protestants into a Protestant vs. Catholic debate. However, Paul never intended that in his letters. There was no Protestant vs. Catholic debate — it was rather a Jew vs. Gentile. Works of the law were not required of Gentiles to become followers of the Jewish Messiah. Only faith like that of Abraham was required.

Second, Catholics are often accused of believing works is what saves us. This is not the case. It is the grace of God through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus that saves us, though we believe we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to bring that justification-sanctification to its heavenly fulfillment. Jesus does not say those with faith alone will be resurrected and saved, rather he says, John 5:28–29 “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” I am always amazed how the words of Jesus are set aside in preference to a poor interpretation of the words of St Paul.

David starts:
I believe that Evangelicals rightly emphasize that we are saved by grace through faith alone. We are saved by trusting in what Jesus did on the cross and not by earning our salvation by doing a list of required good works. This is taught throughout the New Testament and is especially clear in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” This clearly says that we are saved by faith in God’s grace, not by our works. We don’t earn our salvation. Grace is a free gift; but we must receive it by faith. Faith is a combination of believing and trusting in what Jesus did.

Click here for the full discussion.

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Did God Die on the Cross? How Can God Die?

April 10, 2020

Almost every day I get questions. I always try to answer, even if briefly. Today I received a question from Raymund in the Philippines. He is part of a apologetics group and they got very hung up on whether God died on the cross. Here is his e-mail: Greetings Mr. Stephen:  I am a great follower […]

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The Dark Side of Luther – by Steve Wood

March 25, 2020

The Dark Side of Luther  (View online version at Steve Woods site here)     This is the last of my newsletters responding to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I’m sending you some of the overlooked statements of Luther revealing his thoughts on Catholics, his claim to infallibility, and his hatred of the […]

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Evangelicals Guide To Catholic View of Justification

March 24, 2020

Steve Wood was a Protestant pastor before converting to Catholicism and starting Dads.org. He has published an excellent book “Grace & Justification: An Evangelicals Guide to Catholics Beliefs.” Steve’s latest newsletter summarizes some of his book and gives good insights — especially in this 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Revolt. This would be a good […]

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How to be Saved: Catholic vs. Protestant

February 4, 2020

Written by Mike Cousineau… Protestant & Catholic theology differ regarding salvation: The Catholic Church’s teaching regarding salvation has not changed one iota for nearly 2,000 years. Among the now over 40,000 Protestant denominations, their salvation theology has changed substantially from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, starting in 1517. Can anyone identify some of the […]

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This is the Faith! Thank you Cardinal Müller!

January 21, 2020

Speaking into the confusion of our modern world, and unfortunately the Vatican. Bravo Cardinal Müller!

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Ironic Twist to a Devastating Story; Why Did God Allow Sin?

December 30, 2019

I just finished writing my book on Genesis to be published by Ignatius Press. This section I wrote was so exciting and ironic I had to share it, especially since this is Christmas when God became Man. Here is a small section of what I wrote: But why didn’t God prevent Adam and Eve from sinning? […]

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Steve Ray at Israel Museum Shows How The Temple Demonstrates Our Salvation in Christ

December 6, 2019

While visiting the Temple Model in the Israel Museum, few people understand what they are looking at. The Temple tells the whole story of our salvation and the relationship between the Old Testament and New. In this 5-minute video I talk about Jew and Gentile, circumcision and faith. I hope this helps you understand the […]

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Pope Francis Fired Theologian Muller Who Now Explains the Faith – Excellent!

November 30, 2019

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who was recently fired by Pope Francis, recently wrote a magnificent “Manifesto of the Faith.” This video was written and produced as a response to the unfortunate confusion in the Vatican today. It is an excellent audio-visual presentation of the […]

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At Israel Museum Steve Uses Temple Model to Illustrate How the Temple Demonstrates Our Salvation

November 28, 2019

While visiting the Temple Model in the Israel Museum, few people understand what they are looking at. The Temple tells the whole story of our salvation and the relationship between the Old Testament and New. In this 5-minute video I talk about Jew and Gentile, circumcision and faith. I hope this helps you understand the […]

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A Baptist Friend Asks: The Bible Says “All have sinned” so how can Mary be Immaculate?

September 25, 2019

A Southern Baptist writes: I am a Southern  Baptist who has a lot of respect for the Catholic faith. The Immaculate Conception is a hard concept for me. Does it also include the belief that Mary never sinned? How does that pass muster with Rom. 3:23 “For all have sinned and come short of the […]

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What Do We Mean by “Unanimous Consent of the Fathers”

September 24, 2019

Unanimous Consent of the Fathers By Steve Ray The Unanimous Consent of the Fathers (unanimem consensum Patrum) refers to the morally unanimous teaching of the Church Fathers on certain doctrines as revealed by God and interpretations of Scripture as received by the universal Church. The individual Fathers are not personally infallible, and a discrepancy by […]

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Purgatory? Doesn’t that Deny the Work of Christ?

September 18, 2019

What’s the Deal with Purgatory? by Steve Ray Isn’t the finished work of Christ sufficient? Didn’t he pay for all my sins? Why the heck do Catholics teach that we have to suffer in Purgatory for our sins? Plus, the Bible never mentions purgatory so it must be an unbiblical doctrine, right. Wow! Sounds like […]

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Was Abraham Saved by Faith Alone? Are the Protestants Right?

August 25, 2019

Today (Monday) I will be on the radio with Gary Michuta at 1 PM at https://virginmostpowerfulradio.org/. Hope you can listen in. Our topic will be Abraham, Father of Faith & Works. I am looking forward to this live show. In honor of this event today I am posting this article on Abraham, a critique I made of […]

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