How Most Evangelical Churches and Ministries are Selling Indulgences, Just Like Rome

Galatians 1:6-8 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– (7) not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

My thesis in this article is just as stated in the title: Many if not most evangelical churches, teachers, and counselors are teaching a system that is a false gospel. A system of rules and methods which, it is promised, will “redeem” the soul – both your own soul and the souls of others, even the unrepentant! Let me explain. First, some background.

I am currently re-reading Roland Bainton’s wonderful biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand. Early on, Bainton describes the world Luther grew up in and the “church” he was taught to believe in before Christ opened his eyes. Rome has not changed, by the way nor has she ever repudiated the doctrines taught in the 1500’s. How can she? After all, Rome is infallible, right?

Well, listen to some things Luther was taught:

Luther simply had not the capacity to fulfill the conditions [ie, of the holiness of God]. But if he could not, others might. The Church, while taking an individualistic view of sin, takes a corporate view of goodness. Sins must be accounted for one by one, but goodness can be pooled; and there is something to pool because the saints, the Blessed Virgin, and the Son of God were better than they needed to be for their own salvation. Christ in particular, being both sinless and God, is possessed of an unbounded store. These superfluous merits of the righteous constitute a treasury which is transferable to those whose accounts are in arrears.

The transfer is effected through the Church and, particularly, through the pope, to whom as the successor of St. Peter have been committed the keys to bind and loose. Such a transfer of credit was called an indulgence.

Precisely how much good it would do had not been definitely defined, but the common folk were disposed to believe the most extravagant claims. No one questioned that the pope could draw on the treasury in order to remit penalties for sin imposed by himself on earth. In fact, one would suppose that he could do this by mere fiat without any transfer. The important question was whether or not he could mitigate the pangs of purgatory.

During the decade in which Luther was born a pope had declared that the efficacy of indulgences extended to purgatory for the benefit of the living and the dead alike. In the case of the living there was no assurance of avoiding purgatory entirely because God alone knew the extent of the unexpiated guilt and the consequent length of the sentence, but the Church could tell to the year and the day by how much the term could be reduced, whatever it was. And in the case of those already dead and in purgatory, the sum of whose wickedness was complete and known, an immediate release could be offered.

There were places in which these signal mercies were more accessible than in others. For no theological reason but in the interest of advertising, the Church associated the dispensing of the merits of the saints with visitation upon the relics of the saints. Popes frequently specified precisely how much benefit could be derived from viewing each holy bone. Every relic of the saints in Halle, for example, was endowed by Pope Leo X with an indulgence for the reduction of purgatory by four thousand years. The greatest storehouse for such treasures was Rome. Here in the single crypt of St. Callistus forty popes were buried and 76,000 martyrs. Rome had a piece of Moses’ burning bush and three hundred particles of the Holy Innocents. Rome had the portrait of Christ on the napkin of St. Veronica. Rome had the chains of St. Paul and the scissors with which Emperor Domitian clipped the hair of St. John. The walls of Rome near the Appian gate showed the white spots left by the stones which turned to snowballs when hurled by the mob against St. Peter before his time was come….Another had a coin paid to Judas for betraying our Lord…able to confer an indulgence of 1400 years.

The false Roman gospel, you see. It still stands today. None of these things have ever been pronounced error by Rome.

But the spirit of this same false gospel is alive and well not only in the Vatican, it is thriving in the evangelical churches as well. Indulgences are being announced and sold. How so? Let me show you.

If you could be a fly on the wall in the pastor’s study or counseling room in most evangelical churches today, listening in on what victims of domestic violence are being told (or rather, “commanded”), you would hear over and over again this very scenario:

  • Even if your husband is abusing you, God does not permit you to divorce him
  • If you will become a more “Excellent Wife” [the title of one of the most notorious books promoting this nonsense] then you will be able to redeem your marriage.
  • Read this book that I wrote. It will teach you things that you can do in order to save your husband’s soul, and more importantly, save your marriage. God hates divorce, you know [that’s not in the Bible by the way]

In other words, even though the domestic violence victim is in a hellish purgatory of suffering and perhaps even death, she is a sinner just like her abuser and God has called her to pay for her own sins by humbly accepting this suffering. But there is hope. Through the books and counseling and teaching of this self-proclaimed priesthood, the abuse victim can go on a kind of pilgrimage, visit the fabled relics of saintly women who have suffered before and gone on to their reward. And if she will do all of this, these mini-popes will grant to her an indulgence, pronouncing her justified before God.

As soon as the gold in the coffer rings; the rescued soul to heaven springs

You say that I am exaggerating? I differ with you. These false Christian leaders are setting the price, selling the indulgences, and pronouncing all who drop the coin in by doing their programs to be “redeemed.”  Oh, and for those who will not pay? Off to purgatory with them! Ex-communication! Hand them over to Satan!

These evangelical indulgences are just as worthless as those sold by Rome. Christ alone is our Redeemer. Reject all who tell you that you must “do” and “don’t” to mitigate God’s wrath against you. Jesus really has paid it all. We simply embrace Him by faith alone and His righteousness, full and complete comes to us while our sin, full and complete, goes to Him on the cross to be paid in full once and for all.

Martha Peace. Jim Newheiser. John Piper. Voddie Baucham. Are you people listening? Nope. You will just get angry at what I have said. But then, I didn’t really write this for you anyway.