ROME — In an effort to modernize one of the oldest practices of the Roman Catholic religion, the Vatican is offering indulgences–a reduction of time spent in purgatory–to those who will follow Pope Francis next Monday on Twitter and other social media during World Youth Day.
Indulgences were one of the key contentions that sparked the Protestant Reformation during the 16th century through the efforts of Martin Luther, a monk who served the Roman Catholic Church in Wittenburg, Germany. As Luther began studying the Scriptures after he was appointed as Chair of Biblical Theology, he became consumed with a passion to discover what it meant to be a Christian. In the Catholic Church, he had seen men trying to earn their way to Heaven, but as he read the Bible, he realized that salvation was through faith in Christ alone.
“I think I’ve found the truth at last,” the classic film Martin Luther depicts Luther as stating to a Church official. “By faith man lives and is righteous, not by what he does for himself, be it adoration of relics, singing of masses, pilgrimages to Rome, purchase of pardon for his sins, but by faith in what God has done for him already through His Son.”
Following the revelation, Luther began to challenge the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, compiling a list of 95 thesis where he asserted that Catholic doctrine contradicted the Scriptures. He was later summoned to appear before a meeting of the Church, and was declared a heretic and excommunicated.
The offering of indulgences has continued throughout the ages, and has evolved in a variety of ways–including the Vatican’s latest addition to the pitch, to grant a reduction of time in purgatory to those who complete the exercises “with due devotion, via the new means of social communication.” The offer is only one of a number of accepted tasks, and the social media proposition was presented to in order to include those who could not attend the pilgrimage event in Brazil in person, as outlined from a document released by the Vatican.
But there is a stipulation.
“[Y]ou must be following the events live,” a representative of the Vatican’s apostolic penitentiary told The Guardian. “It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet.”
The representative also outlined that the seeker would need to be “truly penitent and contrite,” and must have also previously gone to confession.
However, Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries, a former Roman Catholic, told Christian News Network that the entire concept of offering and granting indulgences is unbiblical.
“The Vatican’s plan of salvation is diametrically opposed to the Gospel of grace–the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he stated. “And so, to offer indulgences for being involved or [following the Pope via] a Twitter account is so absurd, because the Bible clearly says without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.”
Gendron also said that the teaching of purgatory is false doctrine and is an insult to the Gospel.
“Purgatory denies the efficacy of the blood of Christ, because we read in 1 John 1:7 that the blood of Jesus Christ purifies us from all sin,” he explained. “We also see in Hebrews 1:3 that when Jesus made purification for our sins, He sat down at the right hand of God in Heaven. So, if Catholics would only trust in the blood of Jesus, they would realize that purgatory is a fraud.”
When asked if it is common for Roman Catholics to seek out indulgences, Gendron advised that for years many have indeed carefully followed instructions from Rome in order to reduce their purported purification time in purgatory.
“At the turn of the millennium, John Paul II offered a plenary indulgence for anybody that would walk through the holy doors in the Vatican,” he outlined. “So, there were all kinds of Catholics getting on airplanes to travel to the Vatican to walk through those doors so that they could have their sins forgiven.”
He said that Catholics should be mindful to “test every man’s teaching” and to “appeal to the word of God” as their final authority instead of looking to man. Gendron also urged Christians to use the matter as an opportunity to reach out to the Catholics around them.
“The best thing that we can do is point Roman Catholics to the Scriptures [and] show them that [the system of purgatory and indulgences] is a fraud,” he explained. “Show them that it’s a false teaching and call upon them to trust in Christ and His blood for the complete forgiveness of sins.”