Do Indulgences Deny The Gospel?
So goes the title of a debate between James White (Reformed Baptist) and Peter D. Williams (Catholic). Below are my notes and quotes from the debate and my comments will be inserted in this font/color.
One point I would like to open with, and White even mentions this fact and that is, indulgences are applied against "time" in Purgatory. Indulgences have absolutely nothing to do with salvation - as those who might receive an indulgence are ALREADY SAVED. It is this latter point which White erroneous equates indulgences with salvation and hence he confuses indulgences with the Gospel. One thing I would like to say up-front - in the terms of THIS debate, White is put at a disadvantage in going first. Williams should have gone first to spell out the terms and definitions as used by Catholics. As you will see below, White (repeatedly) uses wrong terminology and/or applies the terminology wrongly.
Indulgentiarum Doctrina [White cites this numerous times, here's the source:] - https://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-vi_apc_01011967_indulgentiarum-doctrina.html
Temporal punishments due to sins (which have been forgiven) are able to remitted through indulgences.
The treasure made up of merit gained by Jesus Christ and the Saints, excess merit which can be doled out to those on earth,
Norm #1 - White quotes stating the sins are "already forgiven." This is the key point which White quotes, but seems to ignore. You will see below, while he opens with a proper definition (so maybe Williams going first would not have changed things) he continually goes into terminology of justification and salvation - which has nothing to do with indulgences for those who have been justified - those who ARE saved.
You cannot gain indulgences by purchasing them, but they are still available. You can get one simply by attending an upcoming conference in Dublin, Ireland - and not just a partial indulgence, but a plenary - or totally remits all temporal punishment.
This is the concept of indulgences is wholly unbiblical and never taught by any of the Apostles and thus is a later invention of the Catholic Church - "it was a long process to get there," White states. White believes it is built upon a "fundamental misunderstanding of God's Grace and especially the nature of the Gospel" and based "on a long line of unbiblical concepts, including but not limited to:
The unbiblical distinction between mortal and venial sins.
The concept of sacramental penances.
The entire concept of the Roman priesthood and its alleged powers and authorities to levy temporal punishments upon the souls of those already justified in the Righteousness of Christ and who, in their ordination, call themselves an alter christus (another Christ).
Likewise, the concept of excess merit which can somehow be stored, controlled, counted, put into a treasury and then transmitted to other people through the power of the keys given only to Peter.
Then the utterly non-apostolic concept of the treasury of merit combined with the errant belief that the Bishop of Rome possesses the keys of Peter that could control such a treasure when in fact that authority to bind and loose was given to all of the Apostles and not to Peter alone.
- The distinction between mortal and venial sins is most definitely biblically based! 1 John 5:16-17: If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death (venial), he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death (mortal); I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death (venial)[NASB, parenthetical insertions mine]. White is simply wrong here to state this is an unbiblical distinction. Now, he might want to interpret this differently (I don't really see how) but he cannot say mortal v. venial sins is unbiblical when it clearly is biblical. That being said, the distinction between mortal and venial sins is not the topic of this debate - a misdirection by White.
- Sacramental Penances - No such thing. There is the Sacrament of Penance, which is Confession and typically a penance is given but White is mixing terminology here. Confession is based in John 20:22-23 - (Jesus) said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (NASB) This authority is given to the Apostles, and in the previous verse Jesus tells them that as the Father sent Him, He sends them (v. 21). Clearly succession is here and since He gave them this authority to forgive or retain sins, they were to pass this authority on to others.
- "The entire concept of the Roman (Catholic) priesthood" - OK, that's huge, but really - it is based in John 20:21-22 (as above).
- "...and authorities to levy temporal punishments upon the souls of those already justified in the Righteousness of Christ." Priests do not "levy temporal punishments." White is just wrong here (again).
- "...and who, in their ordination, call themselves an alter christus (another Christ)." Well, specifically this refers to when the priest consecrates the Eucharist and he does speak in persona christi - in the person of Christ. When the priest says, "This is My body" he refers to the body of Christ, not his own. This is not a topic for this debate.
- The concept of excess merit... I believe this is a development, but it does not oppose the Gospel.
- "...the power of the keys, given only to Peter." The only time "the keys" are mentioned is in giving those keys to Peter (Matthew 16:18-19). This is not a topic for this debate.
- "the authority to bind and loose was given to all the Apostles and not to Peter alone." We agree! The authority to bind and loose is not the same as the authority of the keys. Yes, all the Apostles together are given the authority to bind and loose in Matthew 18:18. Peter is given that authority alone in Matthew 16:18-19. So, that which Peter can do on his own, the rest of the Apostles (bishops) can do as a group, such as in an ecumenical council. This is not a topic for this debate.
Now, number one:There is nothing in any doctrine of indulgences which mentions "the amount of blood shed," so I do not know where this is coming from. Another misdirection from White.
Indulgences are based upon the Thesaurus Meritorum, from the Treasury of Merit. There is no basis for believing the amount of blood shed is relevant to some concept of merit. The reality is in the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it was the Perfect Life given that saves, not the amount of blood shed. The amount of blood shed does not create some sort of excess merit. God's purpose was specifically to redeem a specific people He does so perfectly, there's nothing left over or accidental and it is in union with Christ that we then receive that benefit, it is not about the amount of blood that is shed. The elect are saved by union with Christ in His death, the idea that a single drop of blood could redeem the world misses the reality of God's purpose of the union of the elect with the God-Man.
Further, the mixture of Mary and the Saints with that of Christ is a blasphemous error. His saving power is utterly unique as the God-Man. Mary was not the god-woman, the Saints are not god-people. The merit He has as the God-Man absolutely unique to Himself and the only reason that Mary and the Saints are in Heaven is due to His merit in the first place. So, how could they have merit which would add to His merit when they are dependent upon Him to get there in the first place? Mixing merit shows a fundamental heresy regarding the ground of our forgiveness with God. The idea of the Church on Earth, in any fashion, controls this mythical treasury or can dispense its fictional benefits is utterly unknown to any apostolic witness of Scripture. Where does an Apostle teach anything like this?And yet another misdirection from White. Again, merits applied from indulgences do NOT "save" anyone, as White has already admitted, they are only applied to those who are already saved.
Indulgences fundamentally deny the purpose of God in conforming believers to the image of Christ in sanctification, (walking through doors, or climbing up stairs on your knees, or attending conferences, in no way mortifies remaining sin or brings one closer to Christ.
Indulgences, again, are only applied to those who are in the state of Sanctifying Grace, they are "saved," and are being tested, as by fire. (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
We do not grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ by attaining mythical merit via indulgences.
There can be definite growth in grace (God's life in us) and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially if the indulgenced act is something like the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross or reading Scripture with devotion due to God's Word for at least a half an hour. Certainly these are means of increasing "God's life in us" and can be bringing us closer to Christ. So again, White is simply wrong on this.
White accepts and acknowledges apostolic succession and then redefines what it means, He does NOT accept the concept of the succession being the OFFICE of the bishop, which IS the apostolic office each of the Apostles held and passed on to successors. White states it is "a succession of truth, that is, you stand in the succession of the Apostles when you teach what the Apostles taught." Yes, that IS a "succession of truth," but it is NOT the historical. It is common for the Protestant to deny REAL apostolic succession in the OFFICE of the bishop - because to acknowledge that not only gives tacit consent to valid succession all the way back to the Apostles, but also would mean this OFFICE would also carry with it apostolic authority.
White jumps from indulgences to justification (yet another misdirection) and brings up Romans and that we have peace in His Grace. None of these things add to our justification, they do not add to our peace with God, but they do conform us to the image of Christ... Christ alone died for us... anything which detracts from Christ, anything which puts the focus on us or anyone else misses the New Testament and apostolic teaching. Much more than being justified... by how? By His blood. He repeats, "By His blood; that is the giving of His life, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him."And I repeat - indulgences is not about being "saved." Those in Purgatory have already escaped God's wrath! This time of purification (since nothing impure can enter into Heaven [Rev. 21:27]). At this point I am not convinced that White is deliberately misdirecting (maybe he is?) but rather he truly does not understand the concepts of purification in Purgatory or the distinction between forgiveness and the removal of temporal punishments. Being saved from God's wrath (Hell) and being set free from Purgatory are NOT the same thing - yet White continually confuses the two, as we see next:
White asks, "What are temporal punishments?" White adds, "I have been justified by His blood and I will be saved from the wrath of God, not just in eternity, but against the wrath of God against sins through Him." "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son. Are we truly reconciled, or is there a necessity of some sort of further reconciliation? We shall be saved by His life, (no one else's) and not only this but we also exalt in God through Jesus Christ through whom we have now received the reconciliation. We do not need to be seeking some sort of reconciliation through indulgences for the forgiveness of temporal punishments of our sins.I hope you can see what I am talking about here! White is confusing justification and salvation with indulgences and the removal of temporal punishments due to sin. I feel I need to keep repeating myself - the removal of temporal punishments is NOT justification! The removal of temporal punishments is NOT salvation! Those for whom indulgences might be applied ARE ALREADY JUSTIFIED! Those for whom indulgences might be applied ARE ALREADY SAVED! So again, this is either deliberate misdirection OR White truly does NOT understand the concepts we are discussing here.
You might say, "But does not God discipline us?" Yes He does, but there is a vast difference between the wrath of God in punishment, temporal punishments for sins and the fatherly chastening of His people. In Hebrews chapter 12, which White then quotes:
"it is for discipline that you endure - not for cleansing so that you can enter into the presence of God. It is for discipline that you endure, God deals with you as with sons, for which son is there which God does not discipline? But if you are without discipline of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers which discipline us and we respected them, shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of Spirits and live? For if they disciplined us for a short time as seen best to them, but He disciplines us for our good so that we might share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."
God chastens us, He chastens us, His people; that is not the same thing as temporal punishments assigned to you by a priest that you must have cleansed from your soul either through your own suffering in Purgatory, your acts of penance on Earth or by the deposit to your account of the foreign mixed merits of Jesus, Mary and the Saints.And again with the erroneous statement that priests assign temporal punishments. That concept is wholly foreign to the Catholic teaching on indulgences. I would also say that the topic of disciplining us is yet another misdirection. Time spent in Purgatory is not for disciplining so that one might learn a lesson and grow in awe and respect - it is simply a time of purification for those who have already been saved, already been forgiven.
White used to use an example (for another reason) of his Cross Medalist pen, let me use that image for a moment. Let's say I stole White's Cross Medalist pen. Later, I'm feeling a bit guilty and/or sorry for doing this so I go to him and say, "James, I'm sorry I stole your pen." White could then say, "Thank you for coming to me and admitting this, I do forgive you... now one more thing... you need to return the pen to me or reimburse me for the cost of the pen." While White may have forgiven me the offense of stealing his pen, I will not really be welcome in his presence if I have not returned the pen and/or paid him for the cost of that pen. "Truly, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny." [Matthew 5:26 and Luke 12:59].
How is the justice of God satisfied in me? Well, what did Paul say in Romans 8:1? "Therefore there is now no condemnation (for whom?) for those who are in Christ Jesus. It is union with Christ. It is His death in my place. It is Him bearing my sins. My receiving His righteousness by God's grace, through faith. That is what satisfies the justice of God.And again, White confuses the terms of "condemnation" and "Purgatory." He does not use the word "Purgatory" here, but it is from there that a person is released once they have no more temporal punishment remaining.
God's justice is not satisfied by someone thinking that they are going to be able to be made right before God, that they are going to have the justice of God satisfied in them by attending a conference in Dublin in a few weeks. That does not satisfy the justice of God... and to say that it does, fundamentally, denies what Lord Jesus Christ went through on the Cross of Calvary.And again, White confuses the satisfaction of God's justice with Purgatory. Those in Purgatory have ALREADY satisfied His justice and ARE saved.
You want to see what satisfies the justice of God, then see what the Son suffers on Calvary itself. (Quoting the Catechism of Pope Pius X...) "And obtain possession of Heaven sooner and more easily." I can't obtain the possession of Heaven. You see the only way that I can believe that I will be in the presence of God is if I am in the ONE who perfectly fulfilled all of God's Law. The ONE in whom is eternal life. The ONE in whom the wrath of God finds no place. The perfect God-Man, Jesus Christ. If I am in Him, I have His life and the wrath of God finds no place in me, only - only because I am in Him and He has born that wrath already in His body upon the tree. So I cannot possess Heaven by anything I do in this life. The Christian message is I flee from all the manmade works and I trust solely in Jesus Christ. That is the only way to possess Heaven.White repeats this error so many times, I have to repeat my answer! Those in Purgatory ARE saved, but until there is no remnant of impurity (temporal punishments due to sin) they cannot enter Heaven [Rev. 21:27]. Purgatory is NOT "God's wrath!" Purgatory is God's love! THAT is the "possession" which Pope Pius X's catechism refers to.
When we're talking about grace. When we're talking about forgiveness... we're talking about salvation. There is a God-centered way... and then there's a way which says, oh, absolutely necessary, gotta have Him... but... but... there's all this other material that you can claim comes from the Apostles - but I'm going to say, "please show us in meaning means of exegesis of Scripture where the Apostles ever taught any of this." Since this has to do with the Gospel, we cannot abandon that, we dare not abandon that. Thank you very much for your attention. (James leaves the podium...)Since we are talking about temporal punishment and indulgences we are NOT talking about forgiveness... we are NOT talking about salvation! White demonstrates here that he either does not know what he's talking about - or he's deliberately deceiving the audience and playing a little shell game - hiding the REAL topic - since he's yet to actually deal with the REAL topic.
34:20 - Then Peter comes to the stand.
Here is the full debate on YouTube provided through James White's Alpha and Omega Ministries:
(2 hours, 42 minutes)
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