As I saw her sitting there on her wheelchair sobbing…both our hearts were breaking.
Hers because she was unable to walk up the Holy Steps to have her sins forgiven. She so desperately wanted to be able to spend less time in purgatory and she couldn’t bear the thought of being so close to the steps where Jesus had walked and unable to go up them like everybody else.
Mine because she had been duped into believing that this ritual of walking up the steps, and saying a few hundred hail Mary’s, would save her from her sin. Her tears were yet another example of the evil that is the Roman Catholic Church.
Of course, a sign not too far from her stated that those who could not crawl up the steps could stay right where they were and still receive pardon for their sin, but she wasn’t buying it. She knew that she was missing out on something, and it was all because of her inability to perform works.
As I gazed around the room, I was overwhelmed by the dozens of people who were partaking in this practice of walking up these “holy steps”. According to Roman Catholic tradition, these were the steps that Jesus walked on in order to go up to Pilate. They even have spots on them which they claim is where Jesus’ blood dropped. Supposedly, Helena the mother of Constantine had them brought from Jerusalem to Rome in the fourth century.
499 years ago Martin Luther, angry over the selling of indulgences of the Roman Catholic Church, nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. Most say that the event that sparked his outrage the most was his visit to Rome. His mentor at the monastery, Von Staupitz, encouraged Luther to go to Rome to be encouraged by the capital of the Roman Catholic Church. But the opposite occurred. Seeing priests solicit prostitutes, looking at what seemed like a circus outside of the churches where thousands of vendors were taking advantage of “church people” by selling them made up relics; all of this only confirmed Luther’s frustrations. Luther became famous over his disdain for relics as he went on to joke that eighteen of the twelve apostles were buried in Spain and that there were enough nails from Jesus’ cross that you could shoe every horse in Saxony. And all those things were conducive to make Luther question the validity of the RCC.
But many historians believe that the final nail in the wall was while he was on the holy steps themselves. As he went up these steps praying to Mary, he started to look around and it dawned on him that there was no way that he could earn forgiveness through these actions.
Luther was famous for being hard on himself over his sin. He knew that there was nothing he could do to stop sinning, but he also started to realize that there was nothing he could do to earn Christ’s forgiveness and that salvation had to come through faith alone.
For years he tried to reform the church but as he grew more in his understanding of salvation he saw more and more how the Roman Catholic Church was antithetical to that. Their whole system was based on tradition, indulgences and works and instead of reforming from within he ultimately realized that he had to break off completely.
Since Luther’s day, nothing has changed. Indulgences are still in effect, the Pope hasn’t changed his name, and tradition and the magistrate still trump the Scripture in importance.
Yet there is a lot of talk about the evangelical church embracing Christ. I have already written about the famous Evangelicals and Catholics together document signed by many prominent evangelicals and why true Christians and Catholics will never be able to be together.
As this blog post is being published the Pope is in Sweden celebrating the mass with thousands of Lutherans, in an attempt to bring the two groups together. But there will is one particular Lutheran who, had he been alive, would not have partaken in this event.
If Luther could have seen the woman in the wheelchair that our team saw this last summer, his heart would have broken as well. He would have wept over the fact that the church carrying his name would embrace the lies he so courageously spoke out against almost five hundred years ago. And ultimately he would be heartbroken over the scores of Christians who think that the Reformation is over and Catholics no longer need to be evangelized.
I get the fact that so many of us have Catholic relatives and friends and we cannot bear the thought that they would spend eternity in hell, but the worst thing we can do is to ignore the truth that is so clearly hitting us in the face. The Roman Catholic Church still teaches a works-based form of religion where people are taught that crawling up some steps, and walking through some special doors, will enable them to have their sins forgiven. We must do the uncomfortable and think about the implications of these things, recognize the importance of being clear with the Gospel and then gently but boldly declare our love for Roman Catholics and share the gospel with them.