In its latest attempt to keep up with the times the Vatican has married one of its oldest traditions to the world of social media by offering "indulgences" to followers of Pope Francis' tweets.
The church's granted indulgences reduce the time Catholics believe they will have to spend in purgatory after they have confessed and been absolved of their sins.
The remissions got a bad name in the Middle Ages because unscrupulous churchmen sold them for large sums of money. But now indulgences are being applied to the 21st century.
(Source)In the Middle Ages, the Reformer Martin Luther condemned indulgences and the sale of the same. This denunciation was not simply because indulgences were being sold "for large sums of money," but because the purchase of them promised remission of one's sins, a concept that finds no basis in Scripture.
In his 95 Theses, Martin Luther said of indulgences:
33. We should be most carefully on our guard against those who say that the papal indulgences are an inestimable divine gift, and that a man is reconciled to God by them.The Guardian article continues:
34. For the grace conveyed by these indulgences relates simply to the penalties of the sacramental "satisfactions" decreed merely by man.
35. It is not in accordance with Christian doctrines to preach and teach that those who buy off souls, or purchase confessional licenses, have no need to repent of their own sins.
36. Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt, and this is given him without letters of indulgence.
But a senior Vatican official warned web-surfing Catholics that indulgences still required a dose of old-fashioned faith, and that paradise was not just a few mouse clicks away.
"You can't obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine," Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the pontifical council for social communication, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Indulgences these days are granted to those who carry out certain tasks – such as climbing the Sacred Steps, in Rome (reportedly brought from Pontius Pilate's house after Jesus scaled them before his crucifixion), a feat that earns believers seven years off purgatory.
(Source)Dr. Steve Lawson records Martin Luther's experience with the Sacred Steps in Rome:
Yet worse, it was claimed that the Scala Sancta ("the Holy Stairs"), the very steps that Jesus had descended from Pilate's judgment hall, had been moved to Rome, and that God would forgive the sins of those who crawled up the stairs on their knees, kissing each step. Luther dutifully climbed the stairs in the appointed manner, but when he reached the top, he despaired: "At Rome, I wished to liberate my grandfather from purgatory, and went up the staircase of Pilate, praying a pater noster on each step, for I was convinced that he who prayed thus could redeem his soul. But when I came to the top step, the thought kept coming to me, 'Who knows whether this is true?'" (Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther, [Reformation Trust: 2013], 7–8)"Who knows whether this is true?" Indeed. Such is the problem with all religions that teach that man must work his way to Heaven. Yet, Rome continues to teach that man must do many works in order to obtain salvation. These range from the ritualistic re-sacrifice of the Mass to the ridiculous, such as following the tweets of Pope Francis.
But attendance at events such as the Catholic World Youth Day, in Rio de Janeiro, a week-long event starting on 22 July, can also win an indulgence.
Mindful of the faithful who cannot afford to fly to Brazil, the Vatican's sacred apostolic penitentiary, a court which handles the forgiveness of sins, has also extended the privilege to those following the "rites and pious exercises" of the event on television, radio and through social media.
"That includes following Twitter," said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis' Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. "But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet."
In its decree, the penitentiary said that getting an indulgence would hinge on the beneficiary having previously confessed and being "truly penitent and contrite".
(Source)Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this story is that these indulgences promise a quicker exit from Purgatory, which happens to be a fictional, non-existent place. As Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry explains:
The doctrine of purgatory is not a Scriptural concept. We do, however, see much discussion in God’s Word about the only two destinations for those who have died: Heaven and Hell.The doctrine of Purgatory teaches that some men must undergo additional purification after death before being able to enter the kingdom of Heaven:
Jesus spoke significantly of both, and yet there is never a mention of a third place, an interim location where man undergoes further purification. The concept of purgatory implies that Christ’s work on the cross was incomplete and insufficient to save us from judgement for our sins. We know, however, that the full redemptive work of Christ was accomplished on the cross, just as Christ Himself declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.This concept, however, runs entirely contrary to the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone and denies the full efficacy of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ.
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1030, 1031)
No amount of devotion to the Vatican's social media accounts will save a soul, absolve one's sins or lessen one's time in a place that does not exist. In fact, no amount of devotion to the Roman Catholic Church will aid one in achieving these things either. The only way that a man may find forgiveness for his sins is to recognize his utter inability to save himself, and to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in Him alone for salvation.
It is an exhausting and futile thing to attempt to save oneself, but Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Repent, and believe the Gospel.
Roman Catholicism (Christian Research Network)
To Those Who Would Undermine the Headship of Christ: Fall on Your Faces
Pope Francis Does Not Know God
Affirming Sola Scriptura
Rejecting the Papacy