Thursday, November 1, 2007

Indulge Me a Little...

Yesterday marked 490 years since the beginning act that launched the Protestant Reformation against the Roman Catholic church. And what was one of the last straws that prompted Martin Luther to write his 95 Theses against the un-Biblical practices of the Roman church on that day? The selling of indulgences. Good old Roman prelate Tetzel's excessive fixation on the perverted practice of selling indulgences, that were supposed to be a means of lessening a person's time in that fictitious place called Purgatory for the final cleansing of sins. Anyone with even a modicum of Biblical knowledge of the doctrines of salvation should be able to see that this practice is a complete perversion of the truth of the gospel of Christ, and a blatant means of making the Roman church rich while playing on the fears of the faithful.

So here we are in (post) modern America in the 21st century. Far removed from the unenlightened times of the 1500's and the obviously screwy practices of even the Roman church like indulgences, right. Umm, not so much. It seems that at least one Catholic archdiocese, this one in Philadelphia, is offering "plenary indulgences" to parishioners to mark it's 200th anniversary. This from an article in the Philadelphia Enquirer. Now of course these indulgences are not being sold for money, per se. Instead they are being granted on the basis of some sort of meritorious works like making a pilgrimage to a shrine, or praying for the Pope's intentions to be furthered. Here's a few excerpts from the article.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia is honoring its 200th anniversary by offering its members a plenary indulgence, a practice begun in the Middle Ages that remains controversial and often confounding today. An indulgence, according to the church, allows Catholics who perform certain acts to shorten the time after death that their souls will have to spend in purgatory to atone for their sins.

"It adds to the joy of the occasion, it allows each person a participation in the event, and it provides a lasting souvenir," Cardinal Justin Rigali told the archdiocese's 1.5 million members in a recent letter.

Plenary indulgences are relatively rare and typically require a pilgrimage to a shrine. Pope John Paul II granted a worldwide plenary indulgence for the Jubilee Year of 2000. Between now and the final bicentennial Mass of April 13, local Catholics seeking an indulgence must make a pilgrimage to an area shrine or special bicentennial Mass, make an act of sacramental confession and receive communion around the time of a pilgrimage, and pray for the intentions of the pope.

Indulgences do not forgive sin or spring souls from hell, said William Madges, a theologian and the academic dean of St. Joseph's University. "Indulgences kick in for sins that have already been forgiven" by shortening the soul's time in purgatory before reaching heaven, he said.

The Catholic Church teaches that people who have received absolution for their sins from a priest may, through an indulgence, draw on the "treasury of merit" accumulated by Jesus, Mary and the saints to lessen or eliminate the punishment owed to God. Indulgences "are a share in the mystery of the gift of the mercy of Christ," said Thomas, who likened them to "washing the chalk dust from a blackboard after the words - or sins - have been erased." "The general rule of thumb is, finish your penance and get an indulgence," said Robert W. Shaffern, a church historian at the University of Scranton.

Although rooted in early-Christian piety, indulgences became corrupted in the early 16th century when a German monk, Johann Tetzel, began selling them to raise money for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Tetzel not only created a price list for certain sins, but devised a slogan: "As soon as a coin in coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." Tetzel might be long forgotten, however, had not a fellow monk been in endless anguish about his inability to free himself from sin. Luther's outrage at the corruption of indulgences inspired him in 1517 to pen his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, better known as the 95 Theses, which declared damnation on those who believed in them.

Four decades later, the Catholic Church condemned the abuse of indulgences, but also replied with damnation of "those who maintain the uselessness of indulgences." Pope Paul VI reiterated that curse, or anathema, as recently as 1967, but the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation revoked those curses in the 1999 Joint Declaration.

There are many in the so-called evangelical Christian world today who say that the Reformation is over. Their point being that all the differences between Roman theology, doctrine and practice and Biblical Christian theology and doctrine that led to the Reformation by Luther, Zwingli, Huss, Calvin and many others, have been overcome. They say that the Roman Catholic church has changed her ways, that she has come to doctrinal compatiblity with Protestantism, and therefore there's no reason to continue the division. This in fact was a major driver behind the "Evangelicals & Catholics Together" (ECT) document in the mid-90's that was signed off by a number of prominent evangelical and Catholic leaders. But the reality is that the Reformation continues, and will continue as long as the Roman church holds to their corrupted views of justification, their doctrines of penance and purgatory, their worship of Mary and the dead saints, etc. And as we can see here, the practices that these warped doctrines lead to, like indulgences, are still alive and well. Not much has changed in the past 490 years, other that maybe the fact that many of us that are the fruit of the Protestant Reformation have forgotten our roots, have become lax in seeking to understand and defend the Biblical doctrines of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, to God's glory alone. And so we are unable to discern rightly that the Reformation continues still.

God grant us the grace that we would reclaim the fire and truth of the early Reformers, and become modern-day reformers of your Church by your truth.

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