Did a church fund-raising scheme lead to the Protestant Reformation?

Money can distort Kingdom values and priorities

An atmosphere of commercialism

"He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." -- John 1:11

Week 17 (April/May)

One of the most magnificent Christian church buildings in the world is St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The sanctuary is more than two football fields long. It has about 140,000 square feet of floor space.

The church's enormous size is not the only thing impressive about the building. Illustrious architects and artists associated with it, Michelangelo among them. St. Peter's is noted for its fabulous works of art ranging from the brass central altar by Bernini to the marble Pieta by Michelangelo.

Unfortunately, in his zeal to complete the huge basilica, Pope Leo X relied on the sale of indulgences to raise a good deal of the needed money.

He had some salesmen who were really good at it, including John Tetzel in Saxony (part of Germany). Tetzel had indulgence-selling down to an art. Included in his promotional schemes was a little jingle:

When a coin in the coffer rings,
A soul from purgatory springs.

Tetzel's methods -- and, in fact, the whole practice of indulgence-selling itself -- would have brought down the wrath of Jesus as much as did the atmosphere of commercialism He encountered in the Jerusalem Temple.

As it was, these excesses of St. Peter's building committee so aroused the ire of a monk named Martin Luther that it brought on the Protestant Reformation. [ PowerPoint on Luther ]

Profiteering and commercialism can never be justified in the church just because they seem to be bringing about good ends. The laudable end of constructing a church building or of helping provide worshipers obtain the proper sacrificial animals does not, and cannot, justify questionable means to reach that end.

Jesus knew, of course, that the merchandisers in the Temple would probably be back. But at least he does manage in this dramatic episode to point out to the people in Jerusalem the need for restoring purity to their worship.

Not long after His cleansing of the Temple, Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees. He responded by telling a story about some vineyard workers. These wicked men eventually killed the son of the vineyard's owner in an effort to grab the vineyard for themselves.

The vineyard workers represented religious leaders who wanted to take, take, take, and never give. Those religious leaders viewed the Temple almost as their own personal possession.

When Jesus began to challenge that view, He knew how they would react. When Jesus' claim to Sonship became clear to the religious leaders, they would react by putting Him to death.

In the story of the vineyard, Jesus points out that man's response to the Son is the critical issue. It's not how well the vineyard is kept, but the response to the Owner's son that counts.

That same kind of challenge faces us today. Men still grasp after religious and materialistic security, forgetting that they are merely the workers in the vineyard and not its owners.

Let's be good stewards of those things God has temporarily placed in our hands. Let's also remember that we are only stewards. We are to be prepared at any moment to turn everything over to the Owner as an expression of His Lordship in our lives.

The author wrote these devotional thoughts while serving as a missionary in Italy. They originally appeared in Standard, a weekly take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by what is now called The Foundry.

    -- Howard Culbertson

Other devotional articles:    Year-long series in Standard     Reflections using illustrations from ham radio    Are you ready for Christmas?    Come Ye Apart     Devotionals about pastors

Rookie Notebook: Our first nine months as missionaries in Italy   10/40 Window map and explanation     Seeking God's will?     African martyr's commitment     Missions trip fundraising     Ten ways to ruin mission trips    Nazarene Missions International resources