There’s No Shortcut to Heaven: Buying Full Indulgences Won’t Help
Martin Luther worried that buying full indulgences served to hinder salvation
What most raised the ire of the Church against Martin Luther and his ninety-five theses, however, was not his claim of salvation through Jesus alone or the pope having no power over purgatory, but his bold statement that indulgences served to hinder salvation.
Martin realized indulgences instilled a false sense of spiritual security in those who bought them. It was as if they had purchased a pass to enter heaven; they were good to go. Then they could live their life as they wanted, without regard for what God wanted. Instead, the people’s complete trust in papal indulgences to secure their salvation removed the requirement of repentance and damned them for eternity.
With their certificate of indulgence in hand, a full indulgence, the people no longer felt a need to repent, Mark 1:15, or to work out their salvation by doing good and helping the poor, Philippians 2:12.
Jesus, however, commends those who clothe the naked and care for the sick, Matthew 25:34-40. Yet all the attention given to buying indulgences removed the focus from those in need. Jesus didn’t say, “Sell your cloak and buy an indulgence.” (He said to “sell your cloak and buy a sword,” Luke 22:36.)
Martin noted that when people paid for their indulgences, they in effect diverted money from the poor and even the needs of their own family. Instead, they redirected it to the Church. Full indulgences had the direct impact of producing less charity for those who needed it most.
Instead it provided more money to those in power who already had too much. The Church wanted the people’s money. They had already downplayed helping the poor so they could receive more. The sale of indulgences advanced their unethical quest to get more of their followers’ cash.
Full indulgences were also dangerous because they encouraged complacency.
God’s work in the lives of his creation unfolds in a strange way. Only when a person feels completely lost can the light of God provide the needed illumination. Yet the crutch of indulgences kept people from ever feeling utterly lost and in need of God. True peace comes from faith in Jesus, not by receiving absolution through the purchase of an indulgence.
As a response to placing faith in Jesus comes the need to carry our cross to follow him as his disciple, Luke 14:27. We die to self to live for God. We deny our wishes and become crucified with Jesus, just like Paul, Galatians 2:20. The cross of Jesus, not an indulgence from a pope, provides the way to cover our wrongs.In response to placing faith in Jesus, we need to carry our cross to follow him as his disciple. Click To Tweet
The German people had long lived under the financial tyranny of the Church. They sought relief. Martin’s theses demanded financial liberation and resonated with them. They understood it. It became their manifesto against the Church’s corrupt money grab.
What most of the German people didn’t grasp, however, was Martin’s call to be crucified with Jesus. The people rallied around a vision of financial release from the Church’s practices, thanks to some of Martin’s theses.
As a result, the other theses accompanied them. This pushed the group of ninety-five theses forward, even if the people didn’t understand them all.
Though Martin understood his theses, he had no idea of the problems they would cause.
Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book 95 Tweets: Celebrating Martin Luther in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.