The Protestant Purgatory

Free Grace Theology is the theory that there is not necessarily any correlation between behavior and salvation status. Interpreting the Bible with this presumption in mind has led such theologians to a purgatorial concept along with a number of other misconceptions along the way. (A little leaven leavens the whole lump) Many Free Grace Theologians and other Christians believing such a theology object to attaching the word "purgatory" to their ideas because of its Catholic overtone, but in fact it is quite an accurate and appropriate term.

Many verses I will point out indicate that those who don't behave properly will suffer wrath. However Free Grace theologians interpret such verses as merely speaking of chastisement or discipline rather than of wrath or condemnation.

I want to acknowledge that there is not a consensus in the Free Grace community on some of the details however. On some verses they may disagree with one another as to whether the verse is referring to the "saved" or "unsaved". So also they may disagree as to the nature and degree of the punishment. For some may interpret verses like Mt 24:51 "He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." as simply experiencing a feeling of shame, while others view it as getting thrown into hell fire for a thousand years.
Another presumption of Free Grace theology is that death and resurrection doesn't actually do anything with respect sanctification. By "sanctification" I'm referring to the making a Christian sinlessly perfect. A state of which we all need to attain to enter the presence of God. The come to this conclusion in order to resolve the verses they apply to the saved which advocate an afterlife punishment with their theology that says that such punishments are for the purpose of sanctification and are not judicial in nature. For such afterlife punishments to be a matter of sanctification therefore they must assume that death and resurrection doesn't actually do anything with regards to one's sanctification.

Do we achieve a state of eternally continuous sinless perfection by being tormented in some purgatorial sense, or do we achieve it simply by grace? It is difficult to conceive of such an eternal sinless state being attained by anything but by grace. If death and resurrection doesn't do anything, then we are the same kind of people in the next life as in this life. If tormenting a person brings sinless perfection, then let's set up torture chambers in the churches! (Not unlike the dark ages of Catholicism) And what if sinless perfection could be attained by such torment at one point. What is it that guarantees that such sinless perfection with continue for all eternity? If it was attained by some kind of purgatorial torment, what maintains it?

Free Grace Theology is actually a misnomer. For while it acknowledges that justification is purely of grace, it denies the same of sanctification, which from their point of view many Christian achieve only through purgatorial torment. (Free Grace theology is actually a nice sounding term for what historically has been labeled Antinomianism.)
Rev 21:4 which I will mention below indicates that there will come a time in which there is no more sorrow or pain. This being the case then even those of a Free Grace theology must logically conclude that such people also stop sinning altogether, if indeed all sinning must be purged. But how is this state of perfect and continual sinless state attained and maintained if torment was the mechanism that brought it about?

And furthermore what of those who didn't go to such a purgatory? Had they achieved an eternally continuous state of perfect sinlessness before they died? Well since the free gracers presume death doesn't do anything with respect to sanctification, therefore Free Grace Theology logically leads to the concept that an eternally perpetual state of sinless perfection is achieved in this life by those Christians who end up inheriting the kingdom of God (or who otherwise don't end up in a purgatorial state thrown into the outer darkness). There have been "holiness" groups like the church of the Nazarene which presume that sinless perfection can be achieved in this life, but normally such groups are of Arminian theology and as such believe that such a holy state is not guaranteed to be maintained in this life. Free Grace theology is more of an ultra-holiness theology in comparison.

The Free Grace theologians are led to their position concerning eternal sanctification and the irrelevance of death and resurrection because they cannot imagine any other reason why those whom they reckoned "saved" would be tormented in such a purgatorial fashion in the afterlife. They have traded off their theological presumption that such people were saved to begin with for a graceless purgatorial concept.

They acknowledge, as I do as well, the utility of God disciplining us in this life. But as I see it, and the apostle Paul as well, we are characteristically different in this life than in the next. For in Romans chapter 7 Paul expresses his own struggle with sin which dwells in his flesh, but acknowledges his dual nature characteristic of the regenerate. But at the end alluding to his coming death and resurrection says, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to Godó through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Rom 7:24,25
What is the kind of afterlife that the Free Grace types look forward to? Is it as the Bible says, "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Rev 21:4  Or is it one potential of weeping and gnashing of teeth, of pain and torment as it is written, "In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed." Mat 18:34
Let's take this apparent contradiction. Free Grace Theologians may attempt to resolve this by saying that the time when there is no more sorrow or pain as only occurring some time after a tormenting purgatorial purging has been accomplished.
And finally another aspect of Free Grace Theology is its elitist division within the Christian community between "overcomer" and "non-overcomer" Christians. The problem Free Grace theologians run into when interpreting many verses that speak on afterlife punishment is that such verses indicate a clear either/or distinctiveness. Either one "inherits the kingdom of God" (which to Free Grace Theologians only applies to an elite group of "saved") or one is punished in some fashion. Those who don't produce good fruit or otherwise have not properly prepared for the Lord's return don't simply receive nothing. Rather they are tied up hand and foot and throw into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Or they are tortured until they pay back all they owe. Or they are thrown
into hell fire. All such verses indicate not a sort of gray scale of reward, but rather a very distinct IN or OUT concept. You're either in or your out. You either inherit the kingdom or you don't. You're either an overcomer or you're not.
Other Protestant theologies whether categorized as Calvinism or Arminian, along with myself also acknowledge such verses speaking of such a division. But the division is between true believers versus mere nominal Christians. Or in the case of Arminianism, some verses allude to those who had been saved but lost their salvation, although I don't hold to such a position. But Free Grace Theology has introduced quite a different concept altogether as to what constitutes the status of "saved" and forgiveness, and God's wrath. Much as I hate to use the word "clearly" in an argument, I personally have to say that verses that to me clearly speak of God's wrath, the Free Gracers apply to those who they reckon "saved" and forgiven!
Free Grace Theology while claiming to affirm a salvation from the wrath of God in an eternal sense is by grace, yet logically it also affirms that salvation from a purgatorial experience of that same wrath is of works.

Protestant Purgatorial Authors

Among the Free Grace Theologians who have written explicitly on the subject of afterlife punishments, are Robert Govett, D.M Panton, Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. Actually Lee got his theology from Nee and Nee from guys like Panton and Govett.

D.M. Panton

Quotes from subsection "NOTE ON PURGATORY"

Panton acknowledges his belief in a purgatorial concept, but distinguishes it from the Catholic idea on only three points:

1. He claims Scripture locates it in this life, and at the Judgment Seat after resurrection, but never in Hades.
2. Neither Indulgences or prayers for those in purgatory do any good to get them out.
3. Sufferings in purgatory don't atone for sin, but are rather for sanctification.
Concerning his first point by "Hades" he only means the place of the dead, not "hell-fire", which is the Gehenna of fire. Concerning Gehenna he says, "Some, guilty of the very gravest offences, are temporarily in Gehenna"(Matt. 5:22, John 15:6, Heb. 10:26,27, Rev. 2:11) His reference to Rev 2:11 is "He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death." This second death is also referenced in Revelation 21:8  "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." This he applies to the redeem who have been forgiven and justified by the blood of Christ, but who temporarily are thrown into the lake of fire because they don't measure up. The timing of when such purgatorial suffering starts is rather a minor point. It seems rather extreme to come up with an interpretation whereby the redeemed are cast into the lake of fire. But how else are Free Gracers going to interpret Rev 2:11 which is addressed to a Christian church warning that essentially those who don't overcome will be hurt by the second death, which is the lake of fire?

I would take issue with his third point as well. For the rhetoric being used in such verses as Rev 21:8 speaking of the second death is a rhetoric of condemnation, not sanctification. It says, "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?" Rom 8:33,34 But here these people are not justified. God condemns them to the lake of fire. Again this points out a misconception of what constitutes forgiveness, justification, and salvation from God's wrath. It is a much different gospel altogether. Furthermore if his purgatorial concept is not a judicial matter, if it's not a matter of paying back what is owed, then why does he apply verses like Matt 5:26 and Matt 18:34 to such a condition which state, "I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."Matt 5:26 "In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed." Matt 18:34 If it's about "paying back" stuff, then it's not really about sanctification is it? It's about justification. It's about going to jail for crimes committed.

He also says as I mentioned previously about Free Grace theology, "death produces no magical change, such as converting the sinning into the sinless, and since much less can it cancel unrepented offences during discipleship" But apparently he believes that purgatorial torments do "magically" produce a state of everlasting sinless perfection. And so also I assume he has no problem believing we were "magically" justified by the "magical" blood of Christ.

Watchman Nee and Witness Lee

Concerning Watchman Nee and Witness Lee's theology of purgatory I've written extensively at But here are just a few quotes:
 "If a person has become a Christian but his hands or feet sin all the time, he will suffer the punishment of the eternal fire in the kingdom of the heavens. He will not suffer this punishment eternally, but will suffer it only in the age of the kingdom" Watchman Nee

"If a Christian has any unrepented of and unconfessed sins, which are not forgiven, he will suffer the Gehenna of fire." And he also says "In the coming age, there is still the possibility of forgiveness, but one cannot come out until he pays the last quadrans and clears up everything with his brother." Witness Lee

"This is different than suffering the second death, which is to perish in the lake of fire for eternity. Although believers cannot be lost, they may suffer some dispensational punishment for their faults. This punishment will be worse than that received by those who broke the law of letters." Witness Lee

Their positions are simply a reiteration of Panton's position. Lee in particular goes beyond many Free Gracers in acknowledging explicitly that his theology denies that all the Christians sins are necessarily forgiven and that such remaining sins have only the possibility of being forgiven, but only after suffering in some purgatorial fashion. Thus he ties the forgiveness of sins into his purgatorial scenario, which in fact should be the logical conclusion of Free Grace theology when the attempt is made to resolve that theology with those sections in the Bible that appear to contradict it.

Purgatorial Verses?

Consider these verses and ask yourself as to what the purpose of the punishment serve. Is it a judicial matter or are such punishments meant to make the punished into a better person? Do these verses describe a person whose sins have been forgiven or do they describe sinners suffering the wrath of God?

Matthew 18:9  And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Mark 9:43  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

By denying an inevitable correlation between behavior and salvation status, the Free Gracers are forced to interpret these kind of verses in a purgatorial fashion.
Matt 18:34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
While those of a purgatorial mindset will focus on the word "until" here, I would point out the words "pay back". This verse is judicial in nature. It denies forgiveness has occurred. While they may point out the the master previously forgave, it is clear that such forgiveness was taken back, the true attitude of this servant having been revealed. For if forgiveness is not received with the right attitude then it is not received at all. See also for analysis of this parable.
Matt 8:12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Mt 22:13 Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

Mt 25:30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matt 13:42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Lu 13:28 There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.

Mt 24:51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Luke 12:46  The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

1Cor 3:15

If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss:
but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

This verse is also used to support a purgatorial concept. However this is different than the verses I mentioned above. Here it is speaking of the saved but concerning the fire notice that it is not the person himself which is burned but his works. The idea is that our life is like a book. Many pages represent our sinfulness. Those pages which we wasted our time and energy on sin instead of service to Christ must be burned up and forgotten. For it is written, "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." Heb 10:17 Thus we suffer loss in that sections of our lives are completely forgotten, sections which could have been remembered and rewarded had we used them to serve the Lord. Furthermore if purgatory is a place where sanctification is gained, notice here that it doesn't speak of gain but rather suffering loss.

For more on Free Grace Theology, their concept of "inheriting the kingdom", issues concerning "overcoming", and verses proving the correlation between behavior and salvation status see

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources