For the first two reasons one might want to share the message of Revelation 13, please see the previous blog.
3) A third reason to share this truth at the right time and in the right way is that it is liberating to many people. The truth about the Papacy as a system can bring tremendous freedom to people who have assumed the Papacy was God’s vicar on earth and thus followed every teaching in detail, even those that are disturbing and questionable on the very face of it. Think of the Scala Santa, the holy stairs in Rome. The faithful ascend the stairs on their knees saying an Our Father on every step. Why? Because, as the plaque on the wall says in several languages: “The following indulgences may be received, in accord with the usual conditions: PLENARY INDULGENCE– on all Fridays of Lent, and once more each year on an occasion of one’s choice. PARTIAL INDULGENCE– on all other days of the year, as long as one is sincerely repentant of one’s sins.” This is the very thing that Martin Luther and so many others sought to overthrow 500 years ago. For some this leads to a slavery of righteousness by works. To others it paves the way for a “do whatever you like” permissiveness. What kind of monstrous picture of God requires sinners to evaluate their salvation by the depth of the callouses on their knees? And these specific indulgences were ordered by the direct authority of various popes.
I received a taste of the power of indulgences for myself when I was young. After a visit to the Scala Santa, I went to Vatican Square to hear the Easter address of Pope Paul VI on April 4, 1969. To my surprise I heard him say in English (the message was repeated in several languages) that all those present would receive a complete indulgence for all sins past, present and future. So I guess in some sense I’m covered. While that was a whole lot easier than climbing the Scala Santa on my knees, I have to admit that it involved no heart commitment on my part. So if I had taken it as seriously as some in the square probably did, it would likely have led me to a life of carelessness and self-indulgence. Salvation simply by being in the right place at the right time.
To me it is shocking that in the name of Christ a system that governs the actions of a billion people reduces the gift of the cross to something that can be earned by actions or money. Yet the core teachings of the system they adhere to are seriously flawed. The public face of Catholicism has softened since the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, but it has never changed its fundamental teachings on salvation. Notice the following Papal actions in the last fifteen years: 1) expansion of the ways in which believers can earn indulgences, 2) elaboration on the punishments to be meted out to apostates and heretics (those words could well include you and me), 3) exhortation to believers to make sure that civil legislation respects the duty to keep Sunday, and 4) reaffirmation that priests have the power to forgive sin and to re-create their Creator in the mass. This doesn’t sound all that different from the church of the Middle Ages. I’m sure that the people ascending the Scala Santa include some of the nicest and kindest people on earth. But don’t nice and kind Catholics deserve to experience the freedom of the gospel as much as anyone else?
It remains official teaching that salvation comes only through the Catholic Church and believers can only receive salvation by participating in the sacraments of the church. Those who refuse these sacraments will suffer eternal damnation, no exceptions. It can be such a relief to Catholics to learn for the first time that Jesus died for them personally, that they can go directly to Him without a human intermediary, that they don’t have to earn the love of the Father. As Jesus Himself said, “I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you.” (John 16:26-27) If people are being freed by a message, we cannot let embarrassment prevent us from this sacred work. Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that Vatican II did not make any changes to the historic Catholic doctrine concerning salvation. Ironically, a sizable and growing segment of Catholics now believes that the end-time antichrist will arise from within the Catholic Church, probably a pope.
4) Finally, a good reason to share even unpleasant truth is the fact that Jesus is coming. Oddly enough, since September 11, 2001 many Seventh-day Adventists have lost a sense of the nearness of Christ’s coming. They are losing confidence in prophecy at exactly the time when prophetic events seem closer to fulfillment than ever before. If you want detail on this read my book Armageddon at the Door for a detailed picture of the intersection between Bible prophecy and the kind of events that went down in the context of September 11. What an irony. Losing confidence in prophecy at the very time end-time like events are happening. More and more Adventists today see prophecy as antagonistic rather than liberating. They reason that people have enough fear in their lives already. Why burden them with more by studying scary prophetic beasts?
The best answer I can think of is this: Being prepared for the end of time is better than not being prepared. Jesus is coming back whether we are calm or nervous. The heart of the end-time gospel is Revelation 14, and it includes a warning against counterfeits. Adventists must present Jesus clearly. That is the heart of our mission. And many people won’t see Jesus clearly or be ready for His return unless the truth about counterfeit forms of salvation and other real issues of the end-time are presented in detail. So that is a fourth reason for sharing this message even though it might not be popular to do so.