Ever since before we were married, my wife’s family has been trying to convert me to their faith. They do not like the Catholic Church, and they just can not accept that not only am I Catholic, but I know how to defend it. I will at least give them an A+ for their persistence. My wife’s great-aunt is particularly set on trying to convert me. Whenever I am around her she will make some off-hand comment regarding either the Catholic Faith, or the Church of Christ faith. I do not typically respond, because I am not so easily baited. Normally, when these comments are made, others from my wife’s family will be present. Out of respect for my wife, I usually will keep quiet.
There are many Catholic teachings which seem to bother my wife’s family. Yet, our belief in two judgments really seems to bother my wife’s great-aunt. You see, Catholics believe that the soul, immediately upon death, leaves the body and receives its judgment. This is called the particular judgment. It is called such because each soul receives its own particular judgment which no one else witnesses. At the resurrection of the bodies, however, the body receives the same judgment; but it will be witnessed by every other human that ever lived. it will take place at the same time as the judgment of all the other bodies. This is called the general judgment.
Although most Christians agree with this teaching, we have seen that the Church of Christ does not. They are not the only ones, either. Seventh-Day Adventists do not agree, either. What do these denominations believe?
The Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the soul “sleeps” at death. There it remains until the resurrection. Some of the verses cited for such a belief are: Eccl. 9:5, 10; Ps. 146:4; Ez. 18:4; Acts 13:36; and Rv. 20:5.
The Church of Christ believes a bit differently. They teach that the soul does leave the body at death, but that it goes to an intermediate state (some call it limbo) to await judgment until the resurrection. Their biblical defenses for this belief are roughly similar to the Adventists’.
Both of these beliefs tie into Adventist and Church of Christ denial of the Communion of Saints. Since the soul either “sleeps” or is in limbo (sometimes referred to as Tatarus) at death, it can not hear the prayers of the living. Though the Church of Christ does believe Old Testament patriarchs are now in heaven, they believe that they can not hear us, either. This apparently stems from the fact that souls in heaven are neither omnipresent, nor are they a part of this world. Hence, they can’t hear our prayers.
Let’s first deal with defending the idea of souls receiving their judgment immediately upon death, and entering either heaven or hell. (Catholics also believe in a temporary place for some souls called purgatory. For an explanation and defense of this belief see the previous post.)
First, allow me to say that any biblical defense of the particular judgment must be indirect. There is no direct reference of the particular judgment in Scripture. Many might believe this would disprove belief in the particular judgment, but such would be a rash judgment. (No pun intended.) The belief in the Trinity and in sola scriptura also do not appear in Scripture. Neither does the Church of Christ teaching of “speak where the Bible speaks; and be silent where the Bible is silent”. Yet, those beliefs are held by some. Indirect evidence from Scripture to defend a teaching is legitimate. Every Christian denomination has some beliefs which require this. (I understand that the Church of Christ does not consider itself a denomination; but as a Catholic, I disagree.)
The first bit of evidence for the belief that souls receive a judgment immediately after death, and then go to heaven, hell, or purgatory can be seen in the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross. If you remember, tow thieves were crucified next to Jesus, one on either side. One thief rebuked Jesus. The other expressed his belief in Jesus. To this one Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Lk. 23:43)
Jesus promised the thief he would be in heaven that very day. If a soul does not go to its judgment immediately after death, then how could the thief have gone to heaven that day? You might make the argument that Jesus died that day, and released the souls from Sheol (limbo or Tatarus, as some call it) on that same day. This may be true, but we see that Jesus died before the thief did. By the time the thief died all the souls in Sheol who perished before Jesus would have been in either heaven or hell. The teaching of the Church of Christ says that only the souls of those who died before Jesus did were admitted to heaven, or cast to hell. The thief died after Christ. So shouldn’t he be in limbo?
In 2 Corinthians 5, St. Paul longs to die so that he may be present to Jesus. Why would he wish this, unless souls receive judgment immediately after death? If this was not so, then St. Paul would have said that he longed for death so that he might leave this world of suffering, and enter the realm of the dead to await being present to Jesus.
In Philippians 1:21 St. Paul says, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.”
If one simply goes to a holding place after death, then how would that be gain? The only gain one would receive is that they might not be subject to death and suffering anymore. That’s not much of a gain. Yet, St. Paul is clear that “life is Christ”. In other words, when a just person dies, he will immediately experience the Beatific Vision. He does not have to wait in a holding place.
Acts 1:24-5 insinuates a particular judgment. It is said that Judas betrayed Jesus and “went to his own place”. How could that be if the dead merely go to a holding place?
In Revelation 20 we have a description of events happening before the resurrection of the bodies. Many people are described in heaven who died well after Jesus. Yet, this couldn’t be if the Church of Christ is right. The only logical conclusion is that the Church of Christ is wrong, and the Catholic Church is right. There are two judgments. One immediately after death, and the other at the resurrection.
Revelation 6 gives us further evidence for the Catholic position. This occurs after the four horsemen of the apocalypse are released. This is before the resurrection of the dead. Here is what happens:
“When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. They cried out in a loud voice, ‘How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’ Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to be patient a little while longer until the number was filled of their fellow servants and brothers who were going to be killed as they had been.” (Rev. 6:9-11)
This is, in my opinion, one of the best proofs from the Bible of Catholic teaching regarding the particular judgment. The fact is, the souls of the martyrs who died after Jesus-but before the resurrection of the dead-are depicted in heaven. This could not be if souls went to a holding place until the resurrection of the dead.
So we have seen that souls do not go to some holding place after death. They go immediately to heaven, hell, or purgatory. If this disproves the Church of Christ position, then it also disproves the Seventh-Day Adventist position of “soul sleep”.
Now, can souls in the afterlife hear our prayers? Should we pray to them? Isn’t that forbidden in the Ten Commandments? Is there any biblical proof for the Communion of Saints?
The belief that souls can’t hear us in the afterlife is not a biblical one. Saul had the Witch of Endor summon the soul of the prophet Samuel from the dead in 1 Samuel 28:7-20. During His transfiguration, Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah. (Mt. 17:1-9; Mk. 9:2-8; Lk. 9:28-36) The interesting part of that is that both Moses and Elijah had been dead for centuries before Jesus! So, the belief that the dead can’t hear us is not a biblical one. But what about praying to the saints?
Such is not against the Ten Commandments. God simply warns us against worshiping other gods. Praying to saints does not do that. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pray) defines the word “pray” as making a request “in a humble manner”. That’s all praying is. It is making a humble request. What God forbade in the Commandments was worshiping other gods. To worship something is to attribute divinity to that object. Catholics don’t do that with Mary and the saints.
As for biblical evidence…
Revelation 5 & 8 give us examples of intercessory prayer. Revelation 5:8 talks of the “elders” in heaven presenting bowls of incense to God. What are the bowls of incense supposed to represent? They represent the “prayers of the saints”. In other words, elders in heaven (who can be classified as saints) present the prayers of Christians on earth to God. This is intercessory prayer. Revelation presents an example of Christians praying to saints. How else could they present the prayers of Christians to God? If intercessory prayer was wrong, where would the need be for this? Furthermore, this proves the dead can hear us.
In Revelation 8:3-4, the angels are presented as taking prayers from Christians on earth, and presenting them before God. Here, again, is clear evidence for intercessory prayer! Some accuse the Catholic Church of promoting necromancy, but this is false. We do not conjure up the souls of the dead. We simply ask them to intercede for us.
Necromancy involves calling upon souls to tell us of future events, or to obtain some knowledge we could not otherwise obtain. Catholics do not do this in intercessory prayer. We simply ask the angels and saints to pray to God for a particular intention. We could give many more examples of this from Scripture, but where is the need? I think we have proven our point sufficiently.