This summer the newly-elected Pope Francis granted plenary indulgences during the World Youth Day 2013 event held in Brazil. These plenary indulgences were made available not only to the millions who attended the event in Brazil, but also to the 7.5 million people who follow the pope on Twitter, an online social networking service. Many major news outlets reported this story. Here is a short report from USA Today:
The Vatican has embraced Twitter, especially these last few months with the arrival of Pope Francis. The pontiff will soon start using social media for a longstanding Catholic tradition.
The Guardian reports Pope Francis will start sharing indulgences with followers of his Twitter feed.
Indulgences are granted to Catholics to reduce the time they believe they might spend in purgatory after confessing their sins.
As the Guardian notes, indulgences are earned through tasks such as attending Catholic World Youth Day next week, or even following it live through the Web.
Of course, Vatican officials warn the path to salvation can’t be earned by Twitter alone. “You can’t obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine,” says Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli.
The Archbishop’s words indicate that obtaining an indulgence these days is apparently not as easy as it was in the past. In the 1500s a plenary indulgence could actually be acquired much in the same way one buys coffee or pop from a vending machine today. Peddlers, such as Johann Tetzel, who worked in Martin Luther’s Germany, crassly sold indulgences to those who were willing to pay the price in order to fund the pope’s building projects in Rome. But in today’s RCC, indulgences are not for sale. Obtaining an indulgence now requires meeting certain criteria.
According to the Roman Catholic Church’s Catechism, obtaining an indulgence requires membership in the Roman Catholic Church. Any non-Roman Catholic
conference attendees or Twitter followers did not receive an indulgence. And receiving an indulgence requires participation in the Roman Catholic ceremonies of the confession of sin to a priest and communion. One must be a “faithful” or “practicing” Roman Catholic to receive an indulgence.
Is an indulgence worth the work? It is if an indulgence is what Rome says it is. The Catechism of Rome states, “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” This official teaching of Rome is quite complicated. It involves fine (and unbiblical) distinctions and complicated reasoning. But what Rome believes and teaches is really quite simple.
An indulgence grants the forgiveness of sins. Rome attempts to distinguish between different kinds of sins. But that distinction is bogus. So it is legitimate to think of an indulgence simply as the forgiveness of sins.
Does an indulgence grant the forgiveness of sins in order to save a person from hell? No, not according to Rome. Rome believes that if a person is going to hell, an indulgence won’t help him. For Rome there are two kinds of forgiveness. One kind forgives sins and delivers a person from hell. An indulgence does not grant that kind of forgiveness.
The other kind of forgiveness delivers a person from purgatory. That is the kind of forgiveness indulgences supposedly grant. Thus, indulgences are for those who are saved from hell and bound for heaven but doomed to suffer for a while in purgatory. An indulgence frees people from purgatory or shortens the length of their stay. A living person can use an indulgence for himself or choose to apply it to a dead relative to help that relative escape purgatory (if he is still there, which as far as I can tell is impossible to know according Roman Catholic theology—meaning that it may be possible to waste indulgences on people who do not need them because they are already in heaven!).
The Roman Catholic Church grants partial and plenary indulgences. The partial indulgence does not grant full forgiveness of sins. But plenary means all. Thus, a plenary indulgence is the forgiveness of all sins. Well, not really all sins. In Luther’s day Tetzel advertised the forgiveness of all sins past, present, and future. Tetzel’s indulgences were like guaranteed get-out-of-purgatory-immediately cards. But the official position of Rome (then and now) is that a plenary indulgence is only forgiveness of all sins past and present. Future sins will still count and have to be paid for in purgatory. To cut down the duration of purgatory as much as possible it is necessary to remain faithful to the Roman Catholic Church and to follow her prescriptions for doing good works (make confession of sin, partaking of the mass, etc.) and to keep seeking plenary indulgences.
All of this is of interest to us because it demonstrates that nothing has changed in the Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation, when our spiritual fathers broke from her because she was a false church. She is still a false church. She is still corrupt in doctrine and in life.
Rome is still the church that robs the people of God of the comfort of salvation through Jesus Christ. There is no comfort in Rome! The plenary indulgence does not give the comfort of the full forgiveness of sins and the guarantee of eternal life through plenary indulgences. In Rome there is no assurance of the full forgiveness of sins. Not through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Not through good works. And not through the indulgence. Rome makes sure her adherents never escape the fear of purgatory as long as they live. The indulgences Rome offers are as worthless as three-dollar bills to those who try to obtain them. But that does not mean they are of no value to Rome. Indulgences are part of the theology of Rome that coerces people to live all their lives in dependence on the pope and the Roman Catholic system of works in order to try to obtain salvation. But since salvation is not found through the pope or by good works or through indulgences, Rome does not save people from hell, much less purgatory.
This means that the Reformation that led us from Rome was truly a wonderful work of God! Thank God for the Reformation. Thank God for the comfort we have in salvation by faith alone. In this life we are assured of full forgiveness through the death of Jesus Christ, which was sufficient to pay for all our sins. And we have, let us rejoice, certainty that after this life we will immediately be taken by God to heaven.