Do Lutherans believe in purgatory? (What do Lutherans say about purgatory?)

Once, I attended a Lutheran burial. I watched as the minister pronounced the final blessings over the body. This sparked my curiosity, and I approached him to learn what Lutherans believed about death and if they believed in Purgatory. We had an interesting conversation about this topic. The minister helped me better understand Lutheran Theology and practice. This information proved helpful last week. Toward the end of our lecture on the Reformation, one of my theology students asked if Lutherans believed in Purgatory after I mentioned that Martin Luther retained some Catholic doctrines and traditions during the Reformation. I capitalized on the question to share what I learned through experience and research. We addressed several issues around the topic. So, do Lutherans believe in Purgatory?

The short answer is No. Lutherans follow the teachings of Martin Luther, the 16th-century reformer. Martin Luther taught that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. He emphasized that we cannot merit salvation through works. As such, he believed that Purgatory contradicted these tenets by devaluing God’s grace and making salvation attainable through our actions. Luther also taught that all doctrine must be viewed through the lens of Scripture. He went on to teach that since the Bible doesn’t mention Purgatory, we can reject the doctrine as a Church tradition without a biblical basis. Lutherans today hold to these teachings and don’t believe in Purgatory.

In this article, I’ll delve deeper into this subject, exploring why Lutherans rejected the existence of Purgatory and what Martin Luther had to say about it.

What do Lutherans say about Purgatory?

Lutherans believe that Purgatory contradicts the Scriptures. According to Lutheran theology, we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Therefore, Purgatory devalues Jesus’ atoning work by shifting the burden of our salvation to ourselves and our families. Additionally, Lutherans object to the rituals associated with Purgatory (prayer for the dead and indulgences) since they emphasize works over grace, which contradicts one of their tenets, Sola gratia.

Sola gratia emphasizes that our salvation is a gift from God given to us by grace. Lutherans hold to Sola gratia, believing that Purgatory detracts from this biblical teaching. According to them, if Purgatory exists, Christ’s sacrifice is insufficient, and grace loses its place in salvation.

Did Martin Luther accept or reject the existence of Purgatory?

Did Martin Luther accept or reject the existence of Purgatory? Image source: Pixabay

Martin Luther was an ordained priest; we can therefore assume that he believed in Purgatory early in his life. However, his writings during the Reformation prove that he later rejected this doctrine. Scholars trace the first instance in Luther’s shift to 1517 when he published his 95 theses. This was in response to the preaching of Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar selling indulgences to the congregation. According to Tetzel, these indulgences would earn the forgiveness of sin and release from Purgatory. Tetzel’s actions angered Martin Luther. He went on to challenge this and other Catholic doctrines.

Luther defended his position that salvation was entirely a gift from God given by divine grace. Later, Luther described the doctrine of Purgatory as one that devalues grace. He urged his followers to disregard it, proving that he rejected the existence of Purgatory.

Why do Lutherans deny the existence of Purgatory?

Lutherans deny the existence of Purgatory based on Luther’s teachings and their doctrine of Sola scriptura. This doctrine emphasizes the supremacy of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine. Lutherans uphold the Bible as the standard to measure all doctrine and church tradition. They teach that if a tradition has no basis in Scripture, it has no place in the church. Lutherans argue that Purgatory isn’t explicitly taught in the Bible. The doctrine and associated rituals contradict the teachings of the Bible. As such, they deny that Purgatory exists, terming it the creation of the Roman Catholic Church in the middle ages.

What do Lutherans believe about life after death?

What do Lutherans believe about life after death? Image source: Pixabay

Like other Protestants, Lutherans believe that our souls move into our eternal destiny after death. They believe in heaven and hell as the destinations for the righteous and the unrighteous. Lutherans hold that the unrighteous are imprisoned in hell, and the righteous go to heaven. Additionally, they believe that Jesus will return to judge the world and establish a new heaven and earth. When He returns, all the dead will rise again with new bodies suited for eternity with Him or in hell (Revelation 20:11-15).

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