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Free Will? Liberal Christianity. Punished for Sins We Commit After We Become Christians? Tertullian and the Montanists, Part 4

by Karl Kemp  
4/24/2015 / Bible Studies

We continue the discussion begun in Part 3 of this paper here in Part 4.

I'll quote part of what the Complete and Updated "Catechism of the Catholic Church" ([Doubleday, 1995], pages 411-412) says under "Indulgences." Under the subheading "What is an indulgence?" it says, " 'An indulgence is a remission before God of the TEMPORAL PUNISHMENT DUE TO SINS WHOSE GUILT HAS ALREADY BEEN FORGIVEN [my emphasis], which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints [treasury of merit].' ([footnote] Paul VI, apostolic constitution, "Indulgentiarum doctrina," Norm 1.)

'An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the TEMPORAL PUNISHMENT DUE TO SIN [my emphasis].' ([footnote] "Indulgentiarum doctrina," Norm 2; cf. Norm 3. *CIC, can. 944.) The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.*'

[And I'll quote part of what is said under the sub-heading "The punishments of sin."] ... ...every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which may be purified here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the 'TEMPORAL PUNISHMENT' OF SIN [my emphasis]. ...

The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but TEMPORAL PUNISHMENT OF SIN REMAINS [my emphasis]. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds, and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept THIS TEMPORAL PUNISHMENT OF SIN [my emphasis] as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the 'old man' and to put on the 'new man' ([footnote] Eph. 4:22, 24.)." In Eph. 4:22, 24 the apostle Paul was speaking of the fact that Christians are called, enabled, and required - in the Christian ideal - to NOW once for all and completely put off sin and put on the righteousness of God (by grace through faith) and sin no more. Ephesians chapter 4 is discussed verse-by-verse in a paper on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching).

I should mention that although punishment for sin (or a substitute for punishment for sin) is emphasized with the idea of penance, whether before the Christian dies or in purgatory after death, the purifying of the sinner is often mentioned too.

I'll quote several sentences from "Penance, Sacramental" in the "New Catholic Encyclopedia," Volume 10 (McGraw-Hill, 1967), pages 83, 84. (The payment required is milder here than in most of the articles in this paper dealing with this topic.): "Satisfaction in general is satisfaction for injury inflicted [on God and His honor]; as a part of the Sacrament IT IS COMPENSATION FOR TEMPORAL PUNISHMENT DUE TO SIN [my emphasis], since eternal punishment is compensated for by the merits of Christ in virtue of the Redemption and is remitted by absolution. SACRAMENTAL SATISFACTION HAS ITS FOUNDATION IN THE DOCTRINE THAT, AFTER SIN ITSELF IS FORGIVEN, FURTHER REPARATION IS REQUIRED [my emphasis] for the removal of certain of the effects of sin that may remain. [Other articles in this paper from Roman Catholic encyclopedias and catechisms speak of the fact that God's justice requires the "payment of temporal punishment," or the equivalent, not "compensation for temporal punishment" for sin, in that injury has been done to the honor of God.] This is effected by penitential works freely performed in a spirit of genuine contrition. These works are a reminder that sin is the greatest of evils and deserving of punishment [Sin is deserving of punishment, which the Lamb of God bore for us.]; they promote vigilance against future relapses to which there is a tendency from evil habit; and lastly they make man conformable to Christ who suffered for sin.

Satisfaction can be achieved by works that honor God, whom sin has offended, and by the avoidance of future sins. Hence prayer and other acts of worship are eminently suitable as reparation. Acts of mortification such as fasting, are salutary for a penitent guilty of sins of the flesh; alms and works of mercy are appropriately imposed for sins of avarice and contempt of neighbor."

A powerful example that demonstrates how far into serious error such practices as indulgences can lead is provided by John Tetzel, a Dominican monk, who was appointed by Pope Leo X (AD1475-1521) to go throughout Germany collecting offerings to build St. Peters Basilica in Rome. I don't believe any Roman Catholics will try to defend what happened there.

In seminary I had heard one of the key sentences that Tetzel used in his appeal to offer indulgences from the pope for those who would make offerings (money), but I hadn't read the entire appeal until the past week. It is shocking! It is no wonder that Martin Luther objected so strongly. This precipitated the Protestant reformation. I'll quote an abbreviated version of Tetzel's typical appeal. (I'm taking this quotation from the article "Purgatory, Indulgences, the Treasury of Merits and the Gospel of Jesus Christ" on the internet, posted by John Samson in 2013, at This article doesn't give the source for the excerpt from Tetzel, but there is another article on the internet, "Johann Tetzel - Grace for Sale through Indulgences," at, that gives a longer version of a typical Tetzel sermon where he is selling indulgences, and that article lists the book from which that excerpt was taken.):

"By Luther's time, the early 16th century, indulgences had become one of the most lucrative money raising schemes within the Roman Church. It was on the basis of the sales of indulgences that St. Peter's Basilica was built in Rome.

... When John Tetzel, a Dominican monk, came into Germany selling indulgences, he so incensed Martin Luther, a devout Roman Catholic monk [and professor of theology], that Luther lifted his voice in protest. When Tetzel would enter a town, he would erect a cross bearing the Pope's own insignia, enter into the pulpit, and begin to harangue the congregation concerning indulgences. Here is a portion of the speech he would customarily make:

'Indulgences are the most precious and sublime of God's gifts. The cross (pointing to the emblem) has as much efficacy as the cross of Jesus Christ. Draw near and I will give you letters duly sealed by which even the sins which you shall hereafter desire to commit shall all be forgiven. I would not exchange my privileges for those of St. Peter. I have saved more souls with my indulgences than he has with his servants. There is no sin so great that indulgences cannot remit. And even if one should, which is doubtless impossible, ravish (rape) the holy Virgin, Mother of God, let him pay, only let him pay well for an indulgence, and all shall be forgiven him! Ye priests, ye nobles, ye wives, ye maidens, and you young men, hearken to your departed parents and friends who cry to you from the bottomless depths. "We are enduring a horrible torment," they scream, "a small alms from you would deliver us. You can give it now if you will." Thus they cry to you from purgatory. The very moment that the money clinks against the bottom of the chest, the soul escapes from purgatory [I had heard the statement, "When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."] and flies free to heaven. Now just pay off, O senseless people! Almost like the beasts who do not comprehend the grace so richly offered. This day heaven is on all sides of you. Do you refuse to enter? When do you intend to come in? This day you may redeem many souls.' " Surely all the people who took him seriously, and I assume large numbers of the people did take him seriously (for one thing, he had been sent by the pope), would have given everything they possibly could give, including some people borrowing everything they could possibly borrow.

I'll quote part of what the "Catholic Encyclopedia" (on the internet) says under the sub-heading "Purgatorial fire" in the article on purgatory. "At the Council of Florence [which started in 1431], Bessarion argued against the existence of real purgatorial fire, and the Greeks were assured that the Roman Church had never issued any dogmatic decree on this subject. In the West the belief in the existence of real fire is common. Augustine...speaks on the pain which purgatorial fire causes as more severe than anything a man can suffer in this life.... Gregory the Great [who was the pope from AD590-604 is highly respected by Roman Catholics; many consider him one of the four great doctors of their church, along with Augustine, Jerome, and Thomas Aquinas] speaks of those who after this life 'WILL EXPIATE [atone for, suffer for] THEIR FAULTS BY PURGATORIAL FLAMES [my emphasis],' and he adds 'that the pain be more intolerable than anyone can suffer in this life'.... ...."

I was involved in a leadership role in the Roman Catholic charismatic renewal (especially in the late 60s and early 70s), and I saw much Bible-centered Christian reality. I got to know hundreds of Roman Catholics (including priests and nuns) whose hearts were wide open to the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit to live for God in His truth, righteousness, and holiness. At least in those early days of the Catholic charismatic renewal, controversial Roman Catholic teachings/traditions were for the most part excluded, but I did come across some liberal Christian teachings on occasion (Very often these were things they had learned from liberal Protestant scholars, which they shouldn't have learned.) I never was a Roman Catholic, but many of my friends were, and I went to St. Louis University, a Roman Catholic (Jesuit) university. A Roman Catholic friend of mine in Cincinnati (where I grew up) wanted to go to St. Louis University to study engineering and I went with him. I received BS and MS degrees in engineering there.

The ante-Nicene Fathers did not teach purgatory, but some things that some of them taught helped set the stage for purgatory. I have commented on this topic, and I'll say more as we continue. I'll quote a small part of what Philip Schaff says on this topic (Vol. 2 of his "History of the Christian Church" [Eerdmans 1973 reprint of the 1910 edition], page 604, 605): "... ...there is, after all, a considerable difference [between the ante-Nicene (before AD 325) teaching]" and "the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, which afterwards came to prevail in the West through the great weight of St. Augustin and Pope Gregory I. The ante-Nicene idea of the middle state of the pious [the state between death and the resurrection, which Schaff had been discussing for several pages] excludes, or at all events ignores, the idea of penal suffering, which is an essential part of the Catholic conception of purgatory. [The ante-Nicene idea of the middle state of the pious] represents the condition of the pious as one of comparative happiness, inferior only to the perfect happiness after the resurrection. ... Yet alongside with this prevailing belief, there are traces of the purgatorial idea of suffering the temporal consequences of sin, and a painful struggle after holiness. ...." I'll demonstrate before we finish that Tertullian made several comments that include the idea of (some) Christians paying a recompense for sin in the intermediate state (after death and before the resurrection).

Some of the ante-Nicene Fathers taught that Christians go to Abraham's bosom, or the equivalent, at death, instead of heaven. I haven't fully researched this topic, but I have verified that the three writers I'll list here did teach that error: Irenaeus, about AD130-200 ("Irenaeus Against Heresies," Vol. 1, chapter 31, pages 560, 561 of the "Ante-Nicene Fathers"). Bercot (in his "Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs") dated this writing about AD 180. I haven't found any evidence that Irenaeus taught that there would be any punishment for true Christians after death.; Tertullian, about AD160-230 (see below), and Hippolytus, about AD170-236 (see the next paragraph in this paper). I believe true Christians go to heaven at death. It is true, however, that it won't be heaven in the full and final sense until we are resurrected and glorified when the Lord Jesus returns.

I'll quote part of what Hippolytus said regarding the state of the righteous dead; it is all quite positive, even though he didn't believe that they go to heaven at death ("Against Plato, on the Cause of the Universe," Vol. 5 of the "Ante-Nicene Fathers," pages 221, 222; Bercot dated this writing about AD 205): "...but the righteous...are brought to a locality full of light. And there the righteous from the beginning [including those of Old Testament days] dwell...enjoying always the contemplation of the blessings which are in their view, and delighting themselves with the expectation of others ever new, and deeming those ever better than these. And that place brings no toils to them. There, there is neither fierce heat, nor cold, nor thorn; but the face of the fathers and the righteous is seen to be always smiling, as they wait for the rest and eternal revival in heaven which succeed this location. And we call it by the name 'Abraham's bosom.' "

As I mentioned, Tertullian didn't teach purgatory, but his teaching helped prepare the way for that doctrine. For one thing, as we have discussed, even in the days before he became a Montanist he emphasized the point that Christians who commit sins like apostasy must be severely punished ("exomologesis") before they can be reconciled to God and the church because they have offended the honor of God. He also denied that true Christians (except for the martyrs) go to heaven at death; and, although he spoke of the blessed state of the righteous in Abraham's bosom (I'll give an example in the next paragraph), he also spoke (after he became a Montanist) of SOME COMPENSATORY DISCIPLINE/REPARATION for Christians, as required, after death. (See chapters 35 and 58 [it takes both chapters to get the full picture] in his "A Treatise on the Soul," Vol. 3 of "Ante-Nicene Fathers," pages 216, 234, 235; Bercot dated this writing about AD 210.) It is significant that Tertullian mentioned (on page 235) that "this point the Paraclete [the Holy Spirit] has also pressed home on our attention in most frequent admonitions...." The "admonitions" undoubtedly dealt with the need for the Montanists (and all Christians) to make it a top priority to stay away from all sin, which in itself would be good. However, I don't believe that there were any genuine manifestations of the Spirit that spoke of compensatory discipline/reparation for the sin of true Christians in Hades after death. I have to assume that that idea (that supposed revelation from God, that admixture of error) came from the flesh or demons.

Tertullian said that Christians do not go to heaven at death, but to Abraham's bosom (cf. Luke 16:19-31): "Although [Abraham's bosom] is not in heaven, it is...appointed to afford an interval of rest to the souls of the righteous until the consummation of all things shall complete the resurrection of all men with the 'full recompense of their reward' " ("Tertullian Against Marcion," Vol. 2, chapter 34, page 406 of the "Ante-Nicene Fathers." Bercot dated this writing about AD 207).

The Montanists, including Tertullian, prided themselves on their spiritual gifts, very much including revelation/prophecy. I'll cite a reference later to document the important point that Tertullian either did not know about (or rejected without mentioning that he rejected) some of the earlier erroneous prophecies of Montanus and the two prophetesses (including their teaching that New Jerusalem was going to come down to Pepuza, not Jerusalem, in the very near future, not at the end of the millennium).

It is clear that Tertullian was influenced by the Montanists regarding the need for Christians to keep a lot of strict rules regarding things like extensive fasting, not trying to escape martyrdom (in fact they taught that martyrs go straight to heaven, unlike the rest of the Christians), no second marriages, virgins had to be veiled (with a prophecy even giving some details about the veil), etc. The Montanists, very much including Tertullian, judged and insulted the other Christians for not being spiritual, not having the charismatic gifts, and for not being as strict as they were.

The Montanists had many things right. I assume that God considers many of them to be true Christians. Most agree that Tertullian was a true Christian, but he didn't join the Montanists until some fifty years after that movement started with Montanus, and he didn't hold to some of their obvious errors. It is good to be as generous as we can be in judging others (cf., e.g., Matt. 7:2; many Christians find it very easy to write off other Christians as being non-Christians based on their particular tests for genuiness; as a young Christian I did a lot of this), but it is clear, for one thing, that Montanus and the two prophetesses (Maximilla and Priscilla) gave some revelations/prophecies that did not come from God. I have to assume that some of those revelations/prophecies came from demons. I believe that demons have been active and influential in the affairs of many Christians (some of them genuine Christians), including influencing what they believe, as active and influential as they could be. The victory over demons and the devil's kingdom of darkness isn't automatic. We must understand their tactics, walk by the Spirit in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God, by grace through faith, and resist them in the name of Jesus.

Sincere Christians, very much including in our day, can be deceived through demonic influences, including demonic revelations/prophetic utterances. I believe that demons have often introduced false teachings into segments of the Body of Christ and that much of that deception has taken place through hidden influences, not through obvious revelations or prophecies. Demons can definitely influence Christians who don't believe in revelations/prophecies. These things ought not be, of course, and we (not God) are responsible for allowing these things to happen. It is hard to believe, for an illustration, how many of the "prophets" in Old Testament days were false prophets.

I believe the charismatic gifts are for today and that we need them. For one thing we need the gifts of the Spirit in our warfare against Satan and his kingdom. I don't know of any passages in the New Testament that teach that they were to be withdrawn this side of glory. ((1 Corinthians 13:10 certainly doesn't teach that. ("The perfect" of 1 Cor. 13:10 refers to the perfection of the age to come, after we are glorified. Then, as 1 Cor. 13:12 says, we will see God "face to face" and we will "know fully just as [we] also have been fully known [by Him].") 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 are discussed verse-by-verse on my internet site.)) And I don't believe we have the authority to delete the charismatic gifts or to say that we don't need them in our day - God set them in the church. However, I have been disappointed with much that I have seen the last forty-five years that is called "revelation" and "prophecy" and other charismatic gifts. I believe I have seen quite a bit of admixture of the flesh and, much worse, I believe that there has been quite a bit of demonic input to some revelations and prophesying and other charismatic gifts. Typically the Christians or pseudo-Christians don't realize that they are yielding to demonic spirits. They are sure it is God.

Quite often new and or wrong interpretations of the Bible come with revelations and prophesying that didn't come from God; pride is part of the problem, but sincere, humble Christians can be deceived too. We desperately need to be humble, teachable, and aware of the dangers when we move in the realm of the supernatural, very much including spiritual gifts. For one thing, we must understand that the devil is active in the supernatural realm and has counterfeits for the charismatic gifts. Many Christians make the mistake of thinking that all the supernatural things that take place among Christians are necessarily all of God. We are not automatically protected. Of course we can tell the difference between God's supernatural manifestations and those that come from the devil (to say otherwise would be to insult God; He loves us), but it isn't always obvious, quite the contrary. (We need all the grace that God makes available to us.) Like I said, we must be humble, teachable, careful, and aware of the serious dangers in receiving revelations and prophecies and test all things against the Bible. I should also mention that the foundational doctrines that we need have already been given to us in the Bible. Those foundational doctrines are not subject to change, but the Bible doesn't answer every question or take the place of God interacting with His people, directing us, correcting us, protecting us, providing for us, healing us, etc.

I want to understand Montanism, and we will be discussing Montanism in this paper, including many excerpts that deal with this topic. I have already mentioned the errors of the Montanists that I am concerned with in this paper. The thing that made these beliefs/teachings all the more serious was the fact they were being presented as beliefs/teachings that all Christians must accept because they all (supposedly) came by revelation from God. I'll quote a sentence from the article on Montanism in the "New Catholic Encyclopedia," "The claim that the utterances of the new prophets add to or supersede the revelation delivered to the Apostles and handed down in the apostolic churches remained a basic point at issue between Montanists and Catholics."

I appreciate the zeal of the Montanists, but zeal doesn't always work for good, and it can do a lot of damage if it is not accompanied, by faith, with the balanced truth of what God's Word teaches and with humbly walking by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God. I have already mentioned that I have to assume there was some demonic input among the Montanists. (One primary tactic of demons is to try to keep Christians from the truth of God's Word; another tactic is to push Christians to extreme views and excesses, and they are experts at appealing to the pride of Christians; we all have the potential to be motivated by pride and to have wrong ideas like "God will not let me be deceived; I am automatically protected.") I believe we need to see that there has been a lot of demonic input throughout much of the history of the Christian church, and it is still happening, and at an accelerated rate, in these last days. If we are not aware of this very serious problem, we are all the more liable to be hurt by it. It seems that most Christians (at least in our part of the world) don't have much insight regarding how active demons have been and are (especially in these end times) in their warfare against Christians, very much including trying to influence what we believe, including misinterpretations of the Bible, in trying to keep us in sin, and in trying to keep true Christians separated from one another. God's saving, sanctifying, protective grace is available to us, but we are not automatically protected.

Apparently there was a rather strong component of genuine Christianity with the Montanists (and especially when you leave out some of their erroneous revelations/prophecies like Tertullian did). Whether God considers them true Christians, or not, we need to be careful that we do not repeat their errors. It seems clear to me that much of the Christianity of our day has quite a bit of admixture of error, very much including errors dealing with the end times; we clearly have a problem with sin. Errors amplify the sin problem.

All of us need to stay humble before God (I'm emphasizing this point) and ask Him to show us any errors in what we believe or how we are living, with a heart open to what He would show us. (In general, God isn't going to show people things when He knows that they will not rightly respond.) For one thing, everybody can't be right when they are holding doctrines that differ. Based on what I have observed, most Christians assume that they have everything right, and they are not, therefore, open to being corrected. This is a serious problem!

Demons can be subtle, clever, and persistent, and they have a lot to gain by introducing erroneous ideas among true Christians and/or to keep us from walking in the righteousness and holiness of God. It is easy to accept doctrines of demons if we are not grounded in what the Bible teaches, and this is a serious problem in our day. ((As I mentioned, I am not suggesting that all errors come through demonic activity [humans, including born-again Christians can come up with sin and errors on their own], but demons are very often directly involved, and I am confident that they are doing a lot more than most Christians think they are. I believe most Christians would be totally shocked to learn how often Christians have received revelations/prophecies (and other supernatural things) from demons throughout the history of the church, and they are extremely active in these end times, as Jesus warned us they would be.)) For one thing, as I mentioned, demons know how to flatter and appeal to pride, and they often back up their revelations with supernatural "confirmations." If we aren't humble and careful, we can be deceived, and we must be very careful to put all the emphasis on the Bible, while avoiding new and unusual interpretations of the Bible. Many "doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1) have come to (and through) Christians who don't believe in spiritual gifts like prophecy.

Notice that the "doctrines of demons" that the apostle Paul specifically mentioned in 1 Tim. 4:1-5 didn't deal with gigantic theological errors ("men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth"), but every error hurts, and some "doctrines of demons" are far more serious, including some of the errors taught by the Montanists. Of course it never is the will of God for His people to be deceived through demonic revelations (or any other way), but we must stay humble (because pride is such a problem; pride with unbelief is at the root of the sin problem, and it isn't always easy to recognize when we are being motivated by pride) and cooperate with God's protective, saving, sanctifying grace through faith on a continuous basis. The victory over sin and demons (and the world, and the old man that wants to continue to sin) is far from being automatic.

God can accept with favor when Christians do things (in an attempt to please Him) that they are not required to do, but it clearly doesn't work for good when we accept "doctrines of demons" or if we judge other Christians for not doing these things (cf., e.g., Rom. 14:1-13) while dogmatically stating that God has commanded all Christians to accept our interpretations of the Bible or the revelations we have received; or we start thinking that God owes us something because of our works. Demons often take things that are good but push them to excesses which do not work for good (listening to, or receiving anything, from demons, will never work for good), and the more we miss the Biblical balance, the more we are open to further deception. For one thing, there is a big difference between Christians choosing a path of self denial that they believe will enable them to walk closer to God and do more for Him and their setting rules that all Christians are supposedly required to follow.

The devil does some of his most successful work through getting Christians to accept his "revelations, prophecies, teachings" as coming from God. Even in the days of the twelve apostles, they had problems with false prophecies and other doctrines of demons (cf. 1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:19-22; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 Tim. 2:14-28). Many Christians haven't been careful in this area; it could never happen to them, they think. For one thing, demons have the ability to give us thoughts (ideas), thoughts (ideas) that we must reject. We must be aware of the fact that many things that are supernatural do not come from God, and many things that come from the evil one are very carefully packaged in an attempt to deceive (including demonic healings and other supernatural "help"). Also, the spokesmen the devil chooses typically come across as believable (cf., e.g., 2 Cor. 11:13-15).

We will continue this study in Part 5.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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