Indulgences, Abstract Treasures and Fraud

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In a recent homily, Pope Francis said:

We evangelize not with grand words, or complicated concepts, but with ‘the joy of the Gospel,’ which ‘fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. For those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.”

He spoke of the “widespread individualism” that has divided Christians (a veiled reference to Protestantism) and added:

The desire for unity moves the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, the conviction that we have an immense treasure to share...” (Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples, July, 7, 2015).

The warp and woof of Catholic theology is plagued with the very “grand words” and “complicated concepts” the pope speaks of. These are the dried bones in Rome’s cupboard that can hardly be termed as the “treasures we share.”

This is a key reason why we cannot join Roman Catholicism to evangelize to the world: we do not believe the same Gospel.

The doctrine of Indulgence is one of these complicated “ugly family secrets.”

Indulgence is defined as a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sin the guilt of which is already forgiven which a Catholic obtains under certain and definite conditions through the Catholic church.

In other words, when a Catholic sins after baptism (which takes place at infancy), he is forgiven through penance, but there is still a debt of temporal punishment attached to such sins which must be discharged off either here on earth or in purgatory.

Indulgence is the means of discharging that debt on earth. This is believed to be made possible through the treasury of merits that the Catholic church has which consists of the merits of Christ, the virgin Mary and the good works of all the Catholic saints combined (Vatican II Council, 1:67-70).

This leads to the first point i want us to note: Catholicism denies the sufficiency of Christ’s work at the cross.

Since Jesus Christ “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” His blood “purifies us from all sin,” there is no way the merits of Mary or the ‘saints’ can add to His completed work at Calvary (1 John 2:2; 1:7).

“For as one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).

One is not made righteous before God by the good works of Christ + Mary + the “saints.”

Every true Christian has been cleansed, sanctified and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1Cor. 6:11).

In contrast, Rome says indulgence is a kind of pardon that removes both the penalty (poena) and the guilt (culpa) of sin.

Through it, the good works of others is credited to one’s account by the Church when one does certain works. This is a rejection of the Biblical Gospel.

Can Grace be Earned?

There are two types of indulgence – the plenary (full) and partial. They both have their requirements.

In 1300 AD, Pope Boniface gave out indulgence to those who made a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s in Rome. An estimated 2 million people came that year and deposited so much treasure on the so-called tomb of Peter that priests were kept busy all day and night raking them up.

In 1456, recitation of a few prayers before a church crucifix was said to earn a pardon of 20,000 years for everyone who repeats it.

Even today, you can get 7 years of indulgence off purgatory for climbing the Sacred Steps in Rome. The Vatican II Council document on the Revision of Indulgences (Vol 1, 77) stated:

The faithful who use with devotion an object of piety (crucifix, cross, rosary, scapular or medal) after it has been duly blessed by any priest can gain a partial indulgence. But if this object of piety is blessed by the Pope or any bishop, the faithful who use it with devotion can also gain a plenary indulgence on the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, provided they also make a profession of faith using any approved formula…

So a Catholic can reduce his time in purgatory by using a certain object blessed by a certain man on a certain day with a certain formula!

What kind of “God” would bend His justice for such silly contrivances, measuring out “grace” or pardon depending on whether a deed was done on a certain feast day and whether a priest or bishop has “blessed” the so-called sacred object?

During the 700 year anniversary of the Holy Door to the Cathedral of Maria Collegmaggio, indulgence was also offered:

“To receive this ‘perdonanza’ indulgence, it’s necessary to be in the Cathedral between 18:00 (6 P. M.) 28 August and 18:00 (6 P. M.) 29 August, to truly repent of one’s sins, and to confess and go to mass and communion within 8 days of the visit” (Inside the Vatican, April 1994, 55).

In July 2013, Pope Francis extended indulgence to Catholics who follow the “rites and pious exercises” of the Catholic World Youth Day in Brazil through TV, radio and the social media.

So with the click of the mouse, you can shorten your “burning time” in purgatory. This announcement triggered so much criticism from Protestants that Claudio Celli, the Vatican spokesman, had to re-paint the order: “You can’t obtain indulgence like getting a coffee from a vending machine.” Typical Vatican irony.

The whole idea of the Catholic church dishing out “graces necessary for salvation” to people when they perform certain works leads to a second point: you can’t merit grace because grace, by its very nature, cannot be earned.

Biblically, all one must do to receive God’s grace is to believe His offer in the Gospel and accept His free gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

Man is “justified freely by his grace” through the redemption in Christ (Rom. 3:24). Grace is a gift of God that is received “through faith; and that not of yourselves” (Eph. 2:8).

If you are earning a “grace” then its not grace. A man “is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16).

Nowhere does the Bible use the term “grace” in plural because it can’t be funnelled like a magic potion. Grace doesn’t come in pills. It’s received by faith.

Biblical grace comes from God on the basis of what Christ has done, while in Catholicism, “graces” come from God (through Mary) in response to what a devout Catholic does. Big difference.

The origin of indulgence is pagan. Pagan religions believed that the recitation of formulas, infliction of pain, sacrifices to the gods or pilgrimages to shrines are merits than can influence the gods in one’s favour.

In Catholicism also, the saying many Hail Marys, kissing a crucifix, repeating a formula is said to reduce purgatorial sufferings which Christ’s sacrifice on the cross could not reduce, and this indulgence can also be applied to the dead.

Selling Salvation to the Sheep

A Catholic blogger once mocked some televangelists who ask people to send in money to them in exchange for healing oils, aprons, pendants etc.

I would join him to denounce such modern-day Balaams who love “the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Pet. 2:15), but Roman Catholic leaders have done far worse – accumulating great wealth by claiming to sell salvation to people all through the centuries.

Pope Innocent VIII (1484-92) granted a 20 year indulgence. For a sum, people would purchase the privilege of eating favourite dishes during Lent or other times of fasting.

So fasting can be also credited into your account while you indulge yourself in the best of foods. The proceeds from this religious enterprise built the bridge over Elbe.

Under pope Leo X (1513-21) specific prices for sins like murder or adultery were published, to be paid to the Catholic church for absolution from each crime. Once the pardon has been purchased in this way from the Church, the culprits could no longer be prosecuted by civil authorities (Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast, Harvest House, 1994, 185).

In 1450, the Oxford chancellor, Thomas Gascoigne pointed out how indulgences had made more people sinners:

“Sinners say, I care not how many or how great sins I commit before nowadays God, for I shall easily and quickly get plenary remission of any guilt and penalty whatsoever by absolution.”

Ironically, the men offering the indulgence were themselves great sinners. People would obtain remission by offering them a game of tennis, money, beer, a prostitute and sex (Lib. Ver. p. 123).

In Spain, the papal Bull (document) had to be purchased for the indulgence and absolution from sins to be granted. No one could be buried without the current Bull in the coffin.

Will Durant wrote: “Large sums were devoted to this purpose by pious people either to relieve a departed relative or friend, or to shorten or annul their own purgatorial suffering after death” (The Story of Civilization, Simon and Schuster, 1952, 6:24)

In this system, only the rich would inherit the kingdom of heaven. Yet when Simon tried to offer money to Peter to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, he rebuked him: “Thy money perish with thee because thou thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money” (Acts 8:20).

Apostle Peter warned about false teachers who “through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2Pet. 2:3).

This offering of money in exchange for Mass and indulgence still goes on till date in Catholicism, though in more disguised forms.

When Cardinal Cajetan complained about the sale of indulgences and dispensations in the 16th century, Catholic leaders roared, accusing him to trying “to turn Rome into an uninhabited desert, to reduce the Papacy to impotence, to deprive the pope…of the pecuniary resources indispensable for the discharge of his office” (J. H. Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council, London, p. 307-8).

You see, the whole stuff wasn’t about the souls of the people, but about their loyalty to Rome and the money.

It was this grabbing scheme that prompted Martin Luther to nail his 95 theses at the door of the castle church of Wittenburg. Inside the door of this church were relics which were said to offer 2 million years indulgences to those who venerated them according to prescribed rules.

The church which ought to be a place of prayer became a den of thieves; a market for money changers and dove sellers.

Has the Catholic church ever apologized for having led millions of souls astray in this manner?

Has she returned the money she grabbed from desperate people who thought they were buying salvation?

How can they even apologize to the souls now in hell for selling them a bogus ticket out of a mythical purgatory?

When a person is saved, he has “passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24), he doesn’t need to go back to “working off” his time in purgatory which doesn’t exist.

The pope publicly talks of the Gospel bringing freedom from sin, sorrow and emptiness, but the very gospel his religion teaches is a false gospel that has not freed the people from sin or its penalty.

A Balanced View of the End Times

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Some months before year 2000, different “prophets” rushed to the media to declare: “Jesus’ return is near, the world is going to end in Y2K!”

Bill Gates of Microsoft – the richest man at the time – was fingered as the antichrist. The Internet was linked with the Greek word for “image” of the Beast.

Then we had The Omega Code movies distorting the Bible to fit into the political scene.

Prophecy pundits jumped on the band wagon, linking almost every modern technology with end time prophecies.

Digital images, satellite transmissions, implanted computer chips and credit cards were labelled as the “tools of the beast.” The Y2K came and passed and the hype waned.

What many of those promoting the end-of-the-world doomsday messages didn’t realize was that, due to an old calendar error, we had actually entered Y2K few years prior.

Fast forward eleven years. Harold Camping came on the scene for the second time, to predict Jesus’ return on May 21, 2011. Many Christians believed it and the hysteria was re-ignited.

A year later, Obamacare and the microchip issue erupted again in the media. Some Nigerian “Christian” tabloids began to sell altered pictures of Obama wearing the horns of a beast, with Christians swallowing both the sense and nonsense on these pages.

In 2015, we heard the same old scream: “The blood moon is a sign of Jesus’ coming!”

Why do many Christians keep getting caught up in these wild-eyed, last days prophetic speculations? The reason is: there is a kind of “excitement” that comes with it.

There is a heady feeling that an “expert” has when the masses look up to him/her to hear the “latest, end-time mysteries” – which they believe no one else is yet to figure out.

From there, he sees himself as the only one who has access to God’s secrets and his followers feel the need to isolate themselves from all other Christians in order to renew the zeal and faith which other Christians lack. This is how spiritual deception kicks in.

History shows us that date-setting and end-time speculations were the foundations of most cults.

William Miller and the Adventists predicted the return of Christ in 1843 (later changed to 1844). Charles Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witness predicted the return of Christ to establish His kingdom in 1914.

Herbert Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God predicted Christ’s return in 1972.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet, a New Age leader, predicted the Battle of Armageddon in 1990.

Mary Relfe, a self-proclaimed prophet, indicated Jesus’ return before 1990.

Lee Jang Rim of South Korean’s Dami Missionary Church also predicted the rapture would take place on October 28, 1992.

In 1997, the 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide because their leader (Marshall Applewhite) told them this would qualify them for rapture via a comet.

Cults draw their strengths from end-of-the-world panic. Through it, they gain blind obedience and foster isolation. Even within the Christian church, excessive prophetic speculations about the last days can discourage a genuine study of Bible prophecy.

For instance, different personalities have been fingered as the future antichrist at different times – Kaiser, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Kennedy, Reagan, Prince Charles, Obama and the Catholic pope.

Yet, as any serious Bible student agrees, the identity of the antichrist cannot be revealed until after the rapture, when the church is removed and its restraining influence is gone (2Thess. 2:7-12).

A Christian’s obsession with the identity of the antichrist or the mark of the beast not only generates panic, but also alters his focus, such that rather than spreading the Gospel of Christ and contending for the faith, he gets caught up with tabloid sensationalism, conspiracy theories and “bible codes.”

Some folks get so much wrapped up that they hardly read their Bibles outside the book of Daniel and Revelation, and they start to develop a cult-like disposition to reality.

There was a man who used to teach on a TV programme several years ago that all those who have a Yahoo account have received the mark of the beast because “Yahoo” means “beast,” so they will burn in hell. Little wonder that programme went down the drain after a while.

Suggesting or setting dates for Jesus’ return is contrary to Scripture (Matt 24:36). It is this ploy that leads some Christians to stop believing in Bible prophecy altogether.

Everything Jesus listed in Matthew 24 – wars, famine and earthquakes – are to be expected throughout the Church Age until He returns. They do not necessarily prove the end has come.

When preachers say things like “In 7 years’ time, it will be over,” they are speculating, not preaching. No one knows how long we have until Jesus comes.

All the speculations people have made up about dates for Jesus’ return are bound to fade into the sands of time like the others.

Dr. Daniel Mitchell aptly stated that: “Speculating on the date of Christ’s return not only breeds bad theology, but it is the original sin all over again – trying to know as much as God.”

As Christians, how can we avoid falling into this extremism?

1. Interpret current events in light of the Bible prophecy, not Bible prophecy in light of current events.

Randall Price wrote: “This ‘common sense’ principle is a necessary corrective to discourage what has been called ‘newspaper exegesis,’ or interpreting the biblical stories based on stories that appear in the media” (World of the Bible News and Views, 1999, 1)

There is a difference between general prophecies and specific events. General prophetic themes about the last days are: increase in wickedness (Matt. 24:12); rise of false prophets (Matt. 24:4, 24); the return of Israel to their land (Ezk 20:34); the development of a global economy (Rev. 13:16-17); the formation of a world government (Rev. 17:15-18) and a false sense of peace and security (1Thess. 5:2-3).

Specific events, like the Internet, bank codes, credit cards, microchips or epidemics are not directly related to Biblical prophecies.

Time will tell if these things have anything to do with the fulfilment of future events. It may later turn out that the Bible was referring to something else (as the mark of the beast, for instance).

As time goes on and world leaders change, some Bible passages that seem to link with a person or event today will turn out to be different. In the meantime, we need to be careful not to make too many assumptions based on our limited perspectives.

2. Most of the end time prophetic passages revolve around the people and nation of Israel.

For example, the great tribulation (Matt. 24:22), the rise of the antichrist (2Thess 2:3-8), the signing of a peace treaty (Daniel 9:25-27), the invasion of Israel by Gentile forces (Zech. 14:12-13), and the battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:16) – are all related to Israel – and will not take place until the end of the Church Age.

Some have used the crises in the Middle East to speculate that the end is a few years away, but this in itself doesn’t prove the end is near, because Israel has not yet regained its original biblical borders (David’s kingdom included what today exists as Jordan and Syria) and the rebuilding of the temple has not begun.

These key events are yet to happen (2Thess. 2:4). So, we can’t set dates based on current political situations.

3. Check your use of Bible texts.

Some Christians just grab a Bible verse, tie it with a current event and run off with it to create a hype, when the text doesn’t provide enough data to warrant such a conclusion.

In the book, The Islamic Antichrist, the author, riding on the wings of current Islamic resurgence, attempts to prove that the antichrist will be a Muslim.

The problem is that the proof texts he offered have to be astutely wrenched from their contexts to arrive at that conclusion. For example, the description of the antichrist in Daniel 11:36 doesn’t fit that of a Muslim.

A similar error is seen in The Four Horsemen by Alberto Rivera. He claimed that the pope is the antichrist and the Jesuit general is his “false prophet.” But these suggestions are incorrect for the fact that there is no final one world religion which will be dominated by the false prophet yet.

There are still many questions that remain unanswered at this time. Speculations occur when people attempt to view the future with the eyes of the present.

4. Distinguish between the last days of the church and the last days of Israel.

There are some prophecies about the last days of the church: its growth (Mt. 16:18); the gospel being proclaimed to the ends of the earth (Mt. 24:14) and the eventual rapture of the church into heaven (1Thess. 4:16-17).

The major end time prophecies apply to Israel. We must consider these distinctions in interpreting Bible prophecies. What applies to the last days of Israel does not apply to the last days of the church.

Only the Bible gives a clear understanding of the future and it’s all there for all to read and learn. You don’t need to pluck down some money to buy “secret mysteries of the Last Days” DVD or Bible code books.

Why run around with guesswork and suggestions, when the Lord has given us what we need to know in His Word?

We are not to get tossed to and fro with the hypes but “stand firm” and hold to the teachings of Scripture (2Thess. 2:17). We are to watch, stay ready and keep serving until He comes.