It’s déjà vu all over again.
I thought it was a gag at first. Nope. Various Roman Catholic dioceses in America are bringing back indulgences, and I guess that means that Purgatory is back, too. The NY Times reports that many Catholics are confused about what they are. Ironically a lot more Lutherans know about them because they are such an integral part of the story of the birth of the Protestant Reformation.
In traditionalist Catholic teaching, Purgatory is a temporary hell where Christians go to suffer punishment from God until all debts are completely paid. No one knows how long he or she will be there—six years, or sixty, or six thousand. The Church claims the power to reduce people’s sentences or outright release them from this imaginary place. During the time of the Renaissance these papers of sentence reduction or release (“indulgences”) were often sold, and that is what provoked Martin Luther to post his famous 95 Theses of protest. The sale of indulgences was banned in 1567, but today through your contributions to the Church you can earn one (hmmm…sounds like purchase to me).
Granting indulgences for acts of penance persisted until the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, after which they faded away. Now they’re back. Dioceses in Brooklyn, Washington, Tulsa, Portland, Ore., and Pittsburgh are offering them enthusiastically. Pope John Paul II reintroduced them for the Year 2000 millennium celebration, and the traditionalist Pope Benedict has offered them nine times in three years. The Latin Mass and meatless Fridays are also seemingly making a comeback.
To any Biblical Christian this news is distressing. The teachings of Purgatory and indulgences are a knife at the throat of the Gospel. People need to know that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to give complete and full forgiveness to all, and that that blessed forgiveness is theirs through faith. Time for some more Theses—where should we nail them this time?
Straight talk. Real hope.