One of the main points of conflict that Martin Luther had with the Catholic Church in 1517 was the sale of indulgences — basically money for grace. In other words, people supposedly could buy their way out of purgatory. They could purchase an indulgence for themselves or a loved one, living or dead. Yesterday, I wrote about penance being one of the 7 Sacraments that a Catholic believer has to go through to be allowed into heaven. However, it never did guarantee a passage into heaven — just shorten their sentence or time spent in purgatory — yet no one ever knew how long it was.
The goal of this series of articles and podcasts is to uncover where these Catholic doctrines, traditions, rites and rituals first started. I’m digging to reveal that they were inventions, ideas and creations by human leaders and completely and totally unbiblical. That is, not found anywhere in the Bible.
Feudalism in the Middle Ages
After the fall of the Roman Empire and before the formation of countries like Spain, France and England, there was feudalism. The feudal lords owned land and in exchange for military protection, the serfs, or peasants, worked the land. The church owned a large amount of land in Europe given to them by “pious and repentant men seeking to atone for a life of sin.”1
So, that started the concept that a wealthy person could buy atonement for their sins. This made the church and Pope very powerful and we’ll get into papal authority and infallibility in another post.
The church teaches that indulgences draw on the treasury of merit accumulated by Christ’s superabundantly meritorious sacrifice on the cross and the virtues and penances of the saints. They are granted for specific good works and prayers in proportion to the devotion with which those good works are performed or prayers recited.
By the late Middle Ages indulgences were used to support charities for the public good including hospitals. But the abuse of indulgences, mainly through commercialization, had become a serious problem which the Church recognized but was unable to restrain effectively.Wikipedia
That’s where the Reformation comes in. Pictured above is the “coffer” used by Johann Tetzel to collect indulgences to help rebuild St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome in the early 1500s. That thing is HUGE! What a scam! Imagine being a poor peasant farmer and this guy tells you that for a price, you could guarantee that your dearly departed mother could leave the torture of purgatory and go into heaven. That’s the scam which Martin Luther uncovered.
The sad thing is that the sale of indulgences continued after the Reformation. The Reformation didn’t reform the Catholic Church like Luther had wanted. They just kept doing what they were doing and Luther and the other reformers started their own churches which became known as Protestantism.
So, did the now Roman Catholic Church do away with indulgences once Luther had shed light on their scam? Not exactly.
On 4 December 1563, in its final session, the Council [of Trent] addressed the question of indulgences directly, declaring them “most salutary for the Christian people”, decreeing that “all evil gains for the obtaining of them be wholly abolished”, and instructing bishops to be on the watch for any abuses concerning them.Wikipedia
Other Forms of Indulgences
- Praying for the dead — a little too late
- Saying masses for the dead — also a little too late
- Following the Pope on Twitter — yes, with the first @Pontifex account in 2012, if you followed the Pope on Twitter, you would get a “get out of purgatory” card. Just another scam!
In this video, former Catholic priests and nuns are interviewed and they explain how they discovered the truth that triggered their escaping from Catholicism. One former priest (and the video is queued to his testimony) said, “A parishioner asked, how many masses are needed to be said for her husband before he could enter into heaven?” Listen to what happened next…
I have a friend who’s 10 years older than me and she grew up Catholic all the way — Catholic school and even a Catholic college. She’s now born again and she told me as a little girl she remembers that on All Souls Day, Nov. 1st, one of the nuns would walk her class to the church where they would say prayers for the dead. They’d walk out of the church and back in again. She told me that she and her friends would compete to see how many “souls” they could save.
The Gospel Truth
This is what all Christians — both Catholic and Born Again people agree in…
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.Romans 3:23 NLT
However, where we differ is in WHY JESUS DIED…
24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.Romans 3:24-28 NLT
Get that? “Not by obeying the law,” or the man-made dogma of the Catholic Church!
If you’re not sure if you’re saved or not, if you truly want to be born again and have the assurance of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, and get a 1-way, non-stop ticket to Heaven and that you won’t be left behind at the Rapture, this is what you have to do…
Believe. Repent. Be Baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit.
Pray this prayer humbly and wholeheartedly…
“Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I believe You died for my sins. Please forgive me. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and my life to you. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. I surrender my whole life to you and I will follow you for the rest of my life. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Next Steps in Your New Walk with Jesus…
- Start reading the Bible daily. If you don’t have one, I recommend the YouVersion, Bible.app and Through the Word app — both are free and have a lot of great daily devotionals and Bible studies.
- Pray every day. Talk to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you daily.
- Find and join a Bible-believing church — preferably a non-denominational one and be baptized!
- Part 1: From Catholicism to Prodigal
- Part 2: From Prodigal to a Progressive, Halfway Christian
- Part 3: From a Halfway Christian to a True, Born Again Believer and Follower of Jesus Christ
Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone Be the Glory!
- Christianity Through the Centuries, Earle E. Cairns, 1996, Zondervan, p. 186.