We are repeatedly told by the ecumenical movement that the differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism have largely disappeared, and that by insisting otherwise, we are living in the past. However, the announcement that the Pope is to grant a plenary indulgence for those taking part in the World Meeting of Families event in Dublin is a reminder that nothing really has changed. The issue which sparked the Reformation in Luther’s time still resonates today. Some 500 years on, Roman Catholicism is still essentially a religion of works.
In a reported comment that would not look out of place in “Father Ted”, the editor of the Irish Catholic has said that very few Catholics today would take indulgences seriously and that “most people would file it in the same theological drawer as things like exorcism”. Why then does Rome still continue to believe in and promote indulgences? Why not abandon them altogether? Pope Francis is hailed as a humble pontiff, but by this offer of a plenary indulgence, he is clearly just as arrogant and pompous as his predecessors.
Fr Patrick McCafferty said that indulgences are firmly based on scripture. “Purgatory is simply cleansing and healing after death and it is effected by the grace of God and the Blood of Jesus Christ,” he said. God is “indulgent” towards His children’s weaknesses and the teaching on indulgences is “simply an illustration of His providential care”.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland responded that “the only mediator” between God and men is Christ and that “in Him alone is to be found forgiveness of sin through his finished work on the cross”. It added: “There is no need for indulgences, or anything similar, to know the liberating forgiveness of our great and gracious God.”
Retired Free Presbyterian Minister. Rev David McIlveen, said, “This cynical exploitation of the eternal souls of men and women is a direct contradiction to the gospel … this announcement might well open the door for another Protestant Reformation.”
The whole concept of indulgences, however marketed and promoted, is unbiblical. It runs contrary to the Gospel message of salvation by faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. It is that glorious message of hope and peace that all people, Protestant and Roman Catholic need to hear in these dark days.