A New Simony?

The Roman Church has a thing about money. She is not alone in this love of worldly things, but she has been chasing riches longer than any other professing Christian church and she has gotten really good at accumulating wealth. I have nothing against expecting believers to contribute to the support of the physical plant and their permanent ministers. After all, that is the biblical thing to do. Levitical Law provides for the care and maintenance of priests, Levites and their families and for the upkeep of the Temple. In the writings of Paul and Luke, we clearly see that provision is to be made for widows, orphans and other needy as well as the preacher of the Gospel. I do not, however, believe that the Lord intended His ministers to live in regal splendor in great palaces or to work in ornate churches while multitudes of the faithful dwelling in the shadows of such episcopal excess live from hand to mouth. Let us examine this concept in a bit more detail.

A well-seasoned Apostle, Paul wrote to young Timothy, who was facing a heavy burden of responsibility in the church at Ephesus. The young pastor needed to eliminate false doctrine, safeguard public worship, and develop mature leadership. Paul doesn't stop with addressing the conduct of the church, he goes on to talk pointedly about the conduct of its shepherd. Timothy must constantly be on guard that his youth not become a liability. He must avoid false teachers and greedy motives, pursuing instead godliness, righteousness, faith, love, perseverance, and the gentleness that befits a man of God. The Apostle wrote:

3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
--1 Timothy 6:3-10

In v. 3, Paul identifies three characteristics of false teachers:

1) they "teach otherwise" – a different doctrine, or any teaching that contradicts God's revelation in Scripture (Gal. 1:6–9);

2) they do "not consent to wholesome words" – they do not agree with sound, healthy teaching, specifically the teaching contained in Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16);

3) they reject "doctrine which accords with godliness" — teaching not based on Scripture will always result in an unholy life. Instead of godliness, false teachers will be marked by sin (2 Pet. 2:10–22; Jude 4,8–16).

In v. 4, the Apostle could have been describing the "apologetics" of RCC spokesmen active on the Internet. Certainly, "disputes and arguments over words" seems to describe the general nature of their interactions. "Disputes" refers to idle speculation; "arguments over words" lit. means "word battles." Because proud, ignorant false teachers do not understand divine truth (2 Cor. 2:14), they obsess over terminology and attack the reliability and authority of Scripture. Every kind of strife is mentioned to indicate that false teachers produce nothing of benefit out of their fleshly, corrupt, and empty minds

In the next verse, Paul tells us that false teachers are in a state of apostasy; that is, although they once knew and seemed to embrace the truth, they came to openly reject it. The Greek word for "destitute" means "to steal," "to rob," or "to deprive" and its form here indicates that someone or something was pulled away from contact with the truth (it does not mean they were ever saved; (see 1:19; 2 Tim. 2:18; 3:7,8; Heb. 6:4–6; 2 Pet. 2:1,4–9). In his reference to "a means of gain," he informs that what often is behind all the efforts of the hypocritical, lying (4:2) false teachers is the driving motivation of monetary gain (Acts 8:18–23; 2 Pet. 2:15). And he warns the young pastor to separate himself from such people.

The Greek word translated "contentment" in v. 6 means "self-sufficiency," and was used by Stoic philosophers to describe a person who was unflappable and unmoved by external circumstances. Christians are to be satisfied and sufficient, and not to seek for more than what God has already given them. He is the source of true contentment (2 Cor. 3:5; 9:8; Phil. 4:11–13,19). In other words, "having food and clothing . . . be content" (v. 6); the basic necessities of life are what ought to make Christians content. Paul does not condemn having possessions, as long as God graciously provides them (v. 17). He does, however, condemn a self-indulgent desire for money, which results from discontentment. ( Matt. 6:33).

Ambition for riches is a snare and those who "desire to be rich fall into temptation." "Desire" refers to a settled wish born of reason, and clearly describes those guilty of greed. The form of the Greek verb for "fall" indicates that those who have such a desire are continually falling into temptation. Greedy people are compulsive—they are continually trapped in sins by their consuming desire to acquire more. Such greed may lead these people to suffer the tragic end of destruction and hell. These terms refer to the eternal punishment of the wicked.

The words in v. 10 likely are known to just about every literate person. The love of money, literally "affection for silver," in the context, applies to false teachers specifically, but the principle is true universally. Money itself is not evil since it is a gift from God (Deut. 8:18); Paul condemns only the love of it (Matt. 6:24) which is so characteristic of false teachers (1 Pet. 5:2; 2 Pet. 2:1–3,15). Those who covet riches often stray from the body of Christian truth. Gold has replaced God for these apostates, who have turned away from pursuing the things of God and instead seek money.

Against the background of this passage, let us examine some of the ways the Roman Church has shown its excess love for the things of this world and how, at times, it appears to equate worldly wealth with godliness. But first, think again who Jesus was. He was born, not in a palace and surrounded by servants and every imaginable luxury, but in a stable and in the company of humble men and women. He lived as the Son of a carpenter (or contractor) and likely labored in His stepfather's shop. In His ministry, He did not travel by chariot or in a litter borne on the shoulders of slaves. He walked, together with His closest associates, who formerly were fishermen, tax collectors and such. Though He is and was Christ the King, in His life and ministry He lived as a simple man. Compare the ways of the King of Kings with those of the popes, cardinals and bishops who wear princely robes, live in luxurious palaces, are attended by a staff of subordinates and servants, and who dine on rich food. Think about it. Did the Roman cChurch lose the path somewhere along the way?

History records how some of the "infallible successor's to Peter's apostolate" have stooped to almost unimaginable depravities in their lust for riches. Shortly after assuming the Triple-tiered Tiara, . Gregory VI (1045-1046) was compelled to resign for simony. John XXII (1316-1334), who permitted priests who paid a tax to keep their mistresses, actually had a set table of fees for the absolution of any crime – from murder to incest to sodomy. Sixtus IV (1471-1484) levied a tax on priests who kept mistresses and was the first to offer indulgences for the dead, thereby establishing a virtually infinite source of revenue. He also was the first to license Roman brothels. Alexander VI (1492-1503), who reportedly, at the tender age of 12, murdered his uncle, Pope Callistus II, was labeled "The Tiberius of Christian Rome" by Gibbons. He freed murderers for a price and appointed cardinals for a flat fee – after which he poisoned them to take possession of their goods and hasten job turn over.

One of the very effective ways the RCC harvested money to build her great temples and palaces and to sustain the extravagant lifestyles of her princes was through the sale of indulgences. In Roman Catholic practice, an indulgence is:

The remission – either partial or full – of temporal punishment for sins and the resulting satisfaction owed to God. Both the Sacrament of Penance and a perfect act of contrition bestow indulgences. They may be gained for oneself or for those in purgatory. (Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ed., Catholic Dictionary, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., (1993), p.265)

In the early days of the Christian church, the local priest or bishop often would impose severe punishments on anyone who committed serious sins. The idea was that the sinner should be punished for those sins, at least in part, in this life. These punishments might be in the form of reparations, fasts, pilgrimages, and floggings. Over time, church authorities substituted lesser works, such as prayers or almsgiving.

Abuses relating to the sale of indulgences during the Middle Ages (5th century to 15 century) played a major part in triggering the Reformation in the 16th Century. The Roman Catholic Church still grants indulgences, but the practice was simplified in 1967. An early day "Get Out Of Jail Free" card, the indulgence generally came in the form of small coupons or slips of paper that were sold by the thousands. The most infamous of the indulgence peddlers, the German monk Johann Tetzel, was an indulgence "broker" who worked on behalf of Albert of Brandenburg (1490-1545), Archbishop of Magdeburg (later a cardinal) and elector of Mainz. To offset the enormous expenses involved in maintaining his plush lifestyle -- and in purchasing high church positions -- Albert "subcontracted" the indulgence businesses.

Another source of revenue was the practice of simony -- the purchase or sale of spiritual things. That simony was and remains a widespread abuse is evidenced by the amount of church legislation against it. Emperor Constantine denounced simony in the Edict of Milan (313 AD). The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), the Third Lateran Council (1179 AD) and the Council of Trent (1545-63 AD) all dealt with the practice. In spite of all this high-level condemnation of the practice, simony remained rampant and corrupted the entire church hierarchy. It eventually became the impetus for the Protestant Reformation

In his Jubilee Year Bull of Indiction, Pope John Paul II called upon Roman Catholics to make a "pious pilgrimage" to Rome, Jeruslam or other designated "holy sites," as well as to pray, confess their sins to a cleric, and perform certain charitable works. The second part of the Bull, labeled Conditions for Gaining the Jubilee Indulgence, outlines how penitents might "commute" sentences of suffering in purgatory for themselves or others. While indulgences granted either generally or by special rescript remained in force during the Great Jubilee, the Jubilee indulgence could also be applied to the benefit of souls of the deceased. Experts anticipated that as many as 20 million Catholic faithful would crowd into Rome and another two million into Jerusalem to participate in the rituals required for obtaining the full Jubilee indulgence. These pilgrims, of course, would constitute a financial windfall for both RCC and secular interests.

Some Roman churches came up with a way for charging "admission" to those who would view or pray to Catholic idols or to body parts of dead "saints" while avoiding the appearance of simony.

Many of the great churches in Rome are of ancient construction. Built before the days of electric lighting, some are quite dark, especially in the alcoves or little chapels where the idols often are kept. Not to worry, for those who would prefer a little added light when praying to these things, or simply to make them clearly visible, the church administration installed coin-operated meters into which one may drop a 100, 200 or 500 lire coin. When the coin hit the meter, on came the lights, just like the shutters on those coin-operated binoculars often seen at observation points near national monuments and the like. I am familiar with Pay-Per-View on cable TV. Do you reckon the RCC refers to this practice as Pay-Per-Pray?

Perhaps Romish authorities might wish to ruminate on Paul's recommendation to the church at Thessalonica:

Abstain from all appearance of evil.--1 Thessalonians 5:22

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