See also: Luther and Tetzel
John Tetzel is not as famous as his counterpart, Martin Luther, but his role in the Reformation, though insidious, can be enlightening and a helpful warning to us all. Tetzel was Rome’s chief fundraiser and one of its most politically savvy and influencial lobbyists. Money earned in the arena of faith owned his heart. Truth mixed with errror dominated his message and he profited from it significantly.
We are at a similar crossroads in our day. Faith is now big business; from publishing to Christian music money dominates the scenery which must produce big profits due to its almost exclusive secular owndership and executive management. Money–not ministry, is the passion of the hour.
Some very critical and important questions are facing us today: Has the evangelical church in America today unwittingly fallen prey to the methods and techniques of Mr. Tetzel? Does the contemporary church resemble more Tetzel’s Rome than the New Testament? Has money become a prerequisite for ministry? Are we guilty of charging others for the gospel, worship, counseling, discipleship, reconciliation, music, Bible study, evangelism, etc.?
Let’s take an honest look together at these important and revealing questions.
Who is John Tetzel?
John Tetzel, was Pope Leo X emissary; a braggart hired as Rome’s chief fundraiser by promising a “get out of jail free card” for the price of a financial offering to the Pope. He was ordered to sell the idea that buying indulgences would release sinners from divine punishment. “Indulgences” were printed permits or coupons listing the monetary value of a personal confession of sin. Bishop Albrecht of Mainz had authorized the sale of indulgences in order to pay Rome for making him an archbishop. The monies raised were used to assist in building St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. This became known as the selling of indulgences. Tetzel was the great mouthpiece, commissioner, and preacher of indulgences in Germany. His preaching raised enormous amounts of money which were sent to Rome. He had a very clever saying that he was infamous for when motivating people with the false promise of avoiding purgatorian punishment, playing with fear on the sentiments of many that by giving to him and Rome their friends and loved ones would be immediately released from torment to heaven’s glory. He would “sing”: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
Luther, who was outraged by this abhorrent practice issued a public call for theological debate on the sale of indulgences by posting his ninety-five theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on the eve of All Saint’s Day, October 31, 1517. He strategically trumped, by one day, Tetzel’s influence over the people by challenging his unbiblical view of indulgences in a public forum. Printers distributed copies without Luther’s knowledge and permission. Within a few weeks, Martin Luther was known everywhere as the “voice of renewal.” He began to see clearly that the church of his time stressed human merit—works righteousness, rather than trust in God alone for the salvation of men’s souls. It is no wonder that Luther and the other reformers gospel cry became: grace alone-sola gratia; through faith alone-sola fide; on the Word alone-sola Scriptura; because of Christ alone-solus Christus; to the glory of God alone-soli Deo gloria.
“This indulgence was highly respected. When the commissioner was welcomed to town, the Papal Bull (a written command or edict from the Pope) was carried on velvet or gold cloth. All the priests, monks, councilmen, teachers, pupils, men, women, maids, and children went to meet him singing in solemn procession with flags and candles. The bells tolled and when he entered the church the organ played. A red Cross was put up in the middle of the church to which the Pope’s banner was affixed. In short: even God himself could not have been welcomed and received more beautifully.” [Source: Friedrich Myconius, Historia reformationis, p. 14.]
Here I Stand
“Although Rome wanted to silence Luther, powerful German princes, led by Elector Frederick of Saxony, Luther’s benefactor, secured freedom of speech for him. He debated with Cardinal Cajetan and the Dominican John Eck at Augsburg and Leipzig in 1519; he stated his case before Emperor Charles V at Worms in 1521 (where, standing before empire and church he said, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me.”); and he published numerous proposals for reform from 1520 on. Nevertheless, Luther was excommunicated as a heretic and condemned as a traitor by pope and emperor in 1521.
Listen to Luther in his own words:
“When many people from Wittenberg ran after indulgences to Jüterborg and Zerbst, I did not know – as surely as my Lord Christ has redeemed me – what indulgences were, but no one else knew either. I carefully began to preach that one could do something better and more certain than to purchase indulgences. On an earlier occasion I had already preached here in the castle against indulgences, but was not very graciously received by Duke Frederick, who was fond of his collegiate church. Now, to speak about the real cause for the ‘Lutheran scandal’, at first I let everything continue its course. Then it was reported to me, however, that Tetzel was preaching some cruel and terrible propositions, such as the following:
“Thus he said that if the Pope would forgive, God also had to forgive.”
“If they would put money quickly into the coffer to obtain grace and indulgence, all the mountains near St. Annaberg would turn into pure silver.”
“Such a marvellous thing was his indulgence. In sum and substance: God was no longer God, as he had bestowed all divine power to the Pope.”
“He had grace and power from the Pope to offer forgiveness even if someone had slept with the Holy Virgin Mother of God, as long as a contribution would be put into the coffer.”
“Furthermore, the red Cross of indulgences and the papal coat of arms on the flag of the churches was as powerful as the Cross of Christ.”
“Moreover, even if St. Peter were here now he would have no greater grace or power than he had.”
“Furthermore, he would not want to trade places in heaven with St. Peter, for he had redeemed more souls with his indulgences than Peter with his sermons.”
“Furthermore, if anyone put money into the coffer for a soul in purgatory, the soul would leave purgatory for heaven in the moment one could hear the penny hit the bottom.”
“Also the grace of indulgences is the grace by which man is reconciled with God.”
“Furthermore, it is not necessary to show remorse or sorrow or do penance for sins when purchasing indulgences or a letter of indulgence. He even sold indulgences for future sins. Such abominable things he did abundantly. He was merely interested in money.” [Source: Martin Luther, Wider Hans Worst, 1541. (WA 51, 538.)]
Turnabout is Fair Play
“After Tetzel had received a substantial amount of money at Leipzig, a nobleman asked him if it were possible to receive a letter of indulgence for a future sin. Tetzel quickly answered in the affirmative, insisting, however, that the payment had to made at once. This the nobleman did, receiving thereupon letter and seal from Tetzel. When Tetzel left Leipzig the nobleman attacked him along the way, gave him a thorough beating, and sent him back empty-handed to Leipzig with the comment that this was the future sin which he had in mind. Duke George at first was quite furious about this incident, but when he heard the whole story he let it go without punishing the nobleman.” [Source: Luthers Schriften, herausg. von Walch. XV, 446.]
Out of the Heart the Mouth Speaks, John Tetzel’s own words:
“What are you thinking about? Why do you hesitate to convert yourself? Why don’t you have fears about your sins? Why don’t you confess now to the vicars of our Most Holy Pope? Don’t you have the example of Lawrence, who, compelled by the love of God, gave away his inheritance and suffered his body to be burned? Why do you not take the example of Bartholomew, Stephen, and of other saints who gladly suffered the most gruesome deaths for the sake and salvation of their souls? You, however, do not give up great treasures; indeed you give not even a moderate alms. They gave their bodies to be martyred, but you delight in living well and joyfully. You priest, nobleman, merchant, wife, virgin, you married people, young person, old man, enter into your church which is for you, as I have said, St. Peter’s, and visit the most holy Cross. It has been placed there for you, and it always cries and calls for you. Are you perhaps ashamed to visit the Cross with a candle and yet not ashamed to visit a tavern? Are you ashamed to go to the apostolic confessors, but not ashamed to go to a dance? Behold, you are on the raging sea of the world in storm and danger, not knowing if you will safely reach the harbor of salvation. Do you not know that everything which man has hangs on a thin thread and that all of life is but a struggle on earth? Let us then fight, as did Lawrence and the other saints, for the day it is well, but ill tomorrow. Today alive and tomorrow dead.
“You should know that all who confess and in penance put alms into the coffer according to the counsel of the confessor, will obtain complete remission of all their sins. If they visit, after confession and after the Jubilee, the Cross and the altar every day they will receive that indulgence which would be theirs upon visiting in St. Peter’s the seven altars, where complete indulgence is offered. Why are you then standing there? Run for the salvation of your souls! Be as careful and concerned for the salvation of your souls as you are for your temporal goods, which you seek both day and night. Seek the Lord while he may be found and while he is near. Work, as St. John says, while it is yet day, for the night comes when no man can work.
“Don’t you hear the voices of your wailing dead parents and others who say, ‘Have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me, because we are in severe punishment and pain. From this you could redeem us with a small alms and yet you do not want to do so.’ Open your ears as the father says to the son and the mother to the daughter . . ., ‘We have created you, fed you, cared for you, and left you our temporal goods. Why then are you so cruel and harsh that you do not want to save us, though it only takes a little? You let us lie in flames so that we only slowly come to the promised glory.’ You may have letters which let you have, once in life and in the hour of death . . . full remission of the punishment which belongs to sin. Oh, those of you with vows, you usurers, robbers, murderers, and criminals – Now is the time to hear the voice of God. He does not want the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live. Convert yourselves the, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, to the Lord, thy God. Oh, you blasphemers, gossipers, who hinder this work openly or secretly, what about your affairs? You are outside the fellowship of the Church. No masses, no sermons, prayers, sacraments, or intercession help you. No field, vineyard, trees, or cattle bring fruit or wine for you. Even spiritual things vanish, as many an illustration could point out. Convert yourself with all you heart and use the medicine of which the Book of Wisdom says, ‘The Most High has made medicine out of the earth and a wise man will not reject it.’” [Source: W. Köhler, Dokumente zum Ablassstreit, pp. 125-26.] The above are quoted from The Reformation, by Hans J. Hillerbrand, published by Harper & Row, publishers, Copyright 1964 by SCM Press Ltd and Harper and Row, Inc., Library of Congress catalog card number 64-15480, pp.41-46.
We’re Still Paying John Tetzel
Tetzel used faith as a means to solicit money; and he used money as a means to promise God’s blessing in faith. Unorthodox and heretical as his Pelagian theology was–his methods were cleverly pragmatic and devastatingly effective. Sadly, that has become all too familiar in the evangelical community in America today. The residue of Tetzelian methodology is now evident in almost every area of the Christian faith; for almost every aspect of our faith is now for sale. The promise of faith’s blessing for financial giving is all too common. Shockingly, this is not just being done by heretics of John Tetzel influence (the “word-faith” movement, Romanism, etc.), but from mainline evangelicalism itself.
The “means of grace” now command high fees for the salvation and sanctification of men’s souls. We now have our own brand of “indulgences” in the evangelical world that people must pay before they can be ministered to and receive the promise of spiritual blessing from the Lord.
Need you think I’m being a gadfly or an alarmist, consider the following:
the health, wealth, prosperity crowd is famous for saying, “send me a donation and God will give you your healing or prosper you,” etc.; to hear the gospel in song or word these days, people are charged a pricey ticket or hefty honorarium totaling in the millions each year; worship gatherings and concerts are also high ticket items and are now owned by large multi-national corporations–it’s “Worship, Inc.”; reconciliation between disgruntled churches or disenfranchised believers can cost you in the thousands, at current hourly rates, just to bring restoration between others; psychological Christian counselors are the new “pastors of discipleship” and do charge you and your insurance company untold millions each year to “help you” deal with the deep problems of the mind and heart; the further training of pastors at Bible conferences can cost up to hundreds of dollars for the registration fee alone- plus materials; to find “the purpose” in “the purpose driven life” is also expensive–in order for churches to get to the material necessary to really equip their congregates more fully on the website, they must pay a handsome fee based on size of church membership. Even for a small congregation those fees can total several hundred dollars; and finally at Christian retail stores– Bibles, books, CD’s, tapes, trinkets, gifts, greeting cards, etc. are available for a pretty tidy sum as well – “ad nauseam ad infinitum.”
Question: How are we better than the Tetzel Romanists of old on methodology? Just because we get it right biblically and/or theologically, does that give us the right to charge God’s people and make retail merchandise out of the holy things of the Lord and His gospel? And that which He has given to us freely?
Spurgeon saw the danger in his day during the Down-Grade Controversy when the Baptist Union was adopting, not a skewed theology mind you, but a worldly methodology for ministry. Spurgeon’s concerns were justified; an abhorrent methodology will ultimately give way to a abhorrent theology – thus corrupting and polluting the entire church. Spurgeon was absolutely right on and history has proven him correct.
In like manner, the contemporary church today has adopted a worldly methodology–parroting worldly marketing techniques for ministry rather than biblical ones. Take the money now and repent later, uh? Some will try to pragmatically justify these methods through “marketing and promotional language and values.” Here’s how the rhetoric usually goes: “if we can get more coverage in mainline stores and through the media, more people will hear the message… more people will get saved… more ministry will be accomplished… our churches will grow greater in number… and, therefore, more glory to God can ultimately be given. What’s wrong with that, man? And after all, we’re just trying to cover expenses and isn’t “a workman worthy of his hire?”
Skubalon! It’s all rubbish ladies and gentlemen. That kind of logic is dung, human excrement worthy only of the manure pile! It is foreign to Christ, the Apostles, the early church and church fathers. Fling it to the winds, for it is a stench in the nostrils of a holy God. This is not ministry beloved–no matter how you package it; it is but love of money (1 Timothy 6:5-12). “We cannot serve both God and Mammon (money),” Jesus said. How dare we turn the grace of God into industry? How dare we make Him the object of our fleshly lusts and worldly pursuits? How dare we make His precious gospel and Word something for personal profit? How dare we pretend to be heavenward in all our efforts, when our daily activity is only about earthly things? How dare we place on the backs of God’s people a promise of healing, prosperity, salvation, a new promotion, a better station in life if they only give to such and such a ministry? How dare we promise spiritual insight and wisdom if they only would financially send money “our way?”
Money Can Never be a Prerequisite for Ministry
The Scriptures are clear that genuine ministry is to be supported through the sacrificial giving of God’s people in and through the local church. Pastors who teach and preach faithfully are worthy of “double honor” – a financial term (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
Travelling missionaries and musicianaries alike; doing the work of the evangelist–those spreading the gospel to an unsaved world are to be cared for by the people of God as well (3 John 5-8 and Philippians 4:15-19).
Even the Apostle Paul says, “that if we are about the work of the gospel that we should eat by the gospel… Do not muzzle the ox while he is threshing out the grain… A workman is worthy of his hire” (Cp, 1 Corinthians 9:7-18).
But we must never demand it up front… We must never put a price tag for serving the Lord, His people or a lost world. And we must never promise spiritual blessing for the sake of soliciting funds. Both are wrong; both are sin. Money can never be a prerequisite for ministry… amen? “Freely we have received; freely we must give.”
Just By Faith
Oh for men and women of God that won’t buy into the spirit of the age and sell their souls for the pottage of prominence, prestige, power, or position. To give all for the sake of the gospel and not parrot the world; to “let goods and kindred go” and model the Master’s life.
Again, money can never be a prerequisite for ministry. May we repent of any Tetzelian tendencies that we may be gulty of individually or corporately in the church; and say with Peter. “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give to you freely…” (Acts 3:6).
It was said of Luther that during the Reformation you would hear him preach almost exclusively from the book of Galatians—“the Magna Charta of Spiritual Freedom.” Listen to these powerful words of Paul and may they ignite your heart and life to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified—and to always offer freely the blessed gospel of grace and His divine truth.
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord, that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:1-13).
Non nobis, Domine, sed Nomini Tuo da gloriam
Not unto us, O Lord, but unto Thy name give glory (Psalms 115:1)