We’re Still Selling Indulgences: The Need for Ongoing Reformation

“As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!” With those words, Johann Tetzel cried out to the living urging them to show compassion for the dead. Claiming the dead were unable to make it to heaven apart from the work of a living person to purchase his or her place, Tetzel was able to prey on the fears of many and in the process raise large amounts of money. While not the only incident, this practice was part of several that drew attention to the unbiblical practices of the day and helped to spark a grand movement that carries an impact into our modern era: the Reformation.
October 31, 2017, marks 500 years since Martin Luther delivered his 95 theses to the church in Wittenberg. 500 years later and the impacts of such an event are not only being discussed but still being felt. The implications are far and wide and despite the movement towards being more biblical as a result of the Reformation, there is still a propensity to migrate away from God and towards self. As such, the practices that were concerning during the Reformation have not ceased but continue on.
In fact, we are still selling indulgences today. The form may look a bit different, but many people are still attempting to buy themselves out of Hell. It comes in the form of the following:
  • Good Works: The most obvious form of obtaining favor with the Lord is the same way we try obtain favor with one another: through good works.
  • Good Money: The second area related to doing deeds is by giving money. Certainly this money is not going directly to pay for ‘indulgences’ but the mindset behind is often the same.
  • Good People: Finally, each of these comes to one overarching principle. Most figure that if they are simply a good person, that’s good enough.
Not only do people have a natural propensity towards this mindset, but others further that notion by affirming it.
In its place, we must look towards the Gospel. Considering that each of us is tainted by sin (Romans 3:23) so are the good deeds that each person attempts to do (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, we must take into account the words of Hebrews 1 &2 the exalt Christ. Specifically, Christ is the propitiation for our sins. It is not a matter of what we can do for God but what God has done for us.
500 years later and the selling of indulgences is still being propagated in our society, even within ‘Christian’ circles. If Christ overcame total, who are we to think that we can overcome Christ? There is a great need for us to rest from the works righteousness and instead rest in the sufficiency of the Son.

Photo “The Globetrotter’s treasure” courtesy of user Daniel Mennerich and Flickr.