According to Bitter Winter, an organization dedicated to promoting religious liberty, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has just ordered churches that are part of the government-approved self-patriot movement to pray for the communist soldiers who died during World War II fighting the invading Japanese army.
There are two self patriotic movements in China, one for Catholic churches and one for protestants, and what is unusual is that the CCP is demanding that the protestant churches pray for the dead.
Prayer for the dead is not found in the Bible and is solely a Roman Catholic practice and yet, the CCP is determined to force protestant churches to violate their theological beliefs and pray for fallen communist soldiers as well.
According to the Christian Post, the CCP is also ordering churches to “organize peace prayer worship activities” to commemorate the defeat of the Japanese invaders that took place on Sept 3. And as well, churches are required to submit evidence that they actually held this event.
Though there is no Biblical text supporting prayer for the dead, it is found in the Apocrypha, several books that are considered scripture by the Roman Catholic Church, but not by protestant churches.
The passage often cited to support prayer for the dead, purgatory and paying indulgences is found in the Apocryphal book 2 Maccabees:
43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Maccabees 12:43-45) (see also Tobit 4:7-11 and Tobit 12:8-10)
What are the apocryphal books?
The Apocrypha involves a series of books/letters written between the end of the Old Testament and the start of the New Testament, basically in that 400-year period between the book of Malachi and the book of Matthew.
The Roman Catholic Bible includes the following writings from this period as scripture:
- Book of Esther (addendum)
- Bel and the Dragon
- Ecclesiasticus (or Ben Sira)
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- Prayer of Azariah
- Psalm 151
- Wisdom of Solomon
Though these books fall into the Old Testament period, along with the protestants, the Jews don’t include these apocryphal books as part of their canon as well.
And the Jewish rejection of these books shows up in the New Testament, as we do not find any direct quotes from these apocryphal books by the New Testament writers.
However, some have suggested the New Testament writers may have alluded to them in a few instances, but sharing of similar thoughts that are accurate should not be construed as endorsing them to be scripture. It was not uncommon for writers in both Old and New Testament to quote from non-biblical books, including secular ones.
Why did the Roman Catholic Church include the Apocrypha in its Bible?
So when and why did the Roman Catholic Church officially include the Apocrypha as part of the Roman Catholic Bible?
It was in response to the protestant reformation that started in 1517, when Martin Luther pounded his 95 theses on the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther stated that a person could only be saved by faith, and that a person could not buy their way into heaven through purchasing indulgences.
At the time, the Pope Leo X was selling indulgences in order to raise money for major renovations of St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
In response to the protestants’ claims that this practise was unBiblical, at the Council of Trent in 1546, the Roman Catholic Church officially accepted the Apocrypha as part of its Bible.
Out of this developed the theory of the Treasury of Merit, where the church argues that some like Jesus and Mary, plus several saints (i.e. Apostles Paul and Peter) have built up more good works than what they need to get into heaven and believers who are still alive can borrow from this bank of good works, if they find themselves running short.
And of course, one immediately wonders how can you get access to this bank of good works, well one way is to purchase them through indulgences.
NOTE: The Council of Trent did not recognize all the Old Testament Apocryphal books as being scripture, several were excluded from the Roman Catholic Bible, including:
- 1 Esdras
- 2 Esdras
- Letter of Jeremiah
- Prayer of Manasseh
- 3 Maccabees
- 4 Maccabees