I recently came across a New York Times article that floored me. The article described how the Catholic church has reinstituted the distribution of indulgences. I learned about indulgences in high school history (when we covered the middle ages and the Reformation), but I never thought I’d see them in my lifetime.
Before their sale was forbidden in 1563 (and perhaps covertly sold afterward), indulgences were marketed by the Catholic church. Purchasers were promised that, for a set amount of money, they could pre-absolve sins they were planning to commit in the coming days. The Sisteen Chapel was actually constructed using money largely collected through indulgence sales.
One of the earliest voices to gain attention as he preached against this unbiblical practice was John Huss. I well remember standing in the home of Huss in Constance, Germany, a few years ago. There, I thanked the Lord for this courageous man who was willing to preach the truth in a time of great darkness. Huss was burned at the stake in 1415 for his “heresy” against the Catholic church.
The indulgences offered today (reintroduced in 2000 by Pope John Paul II) are little different than those Huss (and many others) preached against. You cannot outright “buy” an indulgence today, but you can obtain them by good deeds—such as donating money to the church. The way they absolve sin is reportedly adjusted from the 1500s, but the similarity is obvious—obvious enough that they bear the same name.
When questioned as to why the church is bringing back indulgences, Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn answered, “Because there is sin in the world.” Considering the Sisteen Chapel as well as some tremendous legal fees faced by the Catholic church, I can conceive there may be another reason indulgences are once again being offered.
But regardless of the motives behind this move, the Roman Catholic church is promoting a doctrine that takes away from the efficacy of Christ’s blood. First Peter 1:18–19 plainly teaches that forgiveness can never be purchased with silver and gold; our sin was already paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
Of course, it’s not just the Catholic church that teaches a works salvation. It is embedded in the hearts of men to want to earn salvation. Religious groups all around the world capitalize on this pride and, frankly, profit from it—but to the spiritual and eternal demise of human souls.
May God raise up more men like John Huss who will preach the powerful Gospel of Christ—regardless of the current political or religious trends.
And may God enable us to reach the lost with the precious message of salvation. Their sins are already paid for; eternal life is already purchased and offered as a free gift.