We must stop the psychological equivalent of selling indulgences.
Tetzel, the seller of indulgences that first got Dr. Luther's goat, was known for a rather crass sales pitch. "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs." This practice is what sparked the Reformation. Intent on raising funds for refurbishing the church at Rome, the Pontiff offered to use his powers to hasten the day that people could be set free from purgatory. All it took was a sufficiently sizable donation. Write a check, and grandma can skip the torment of having her sins purged, and skip right to heaven itself.
We, of course, because we are moderns, believe ourselves to be past all that. The Reformation happened, and now even Rome wouldn't practice such flim-flammery. And we, because we are moderns, are hopeless fools that just fell off the turnip truck. The devil doesn't give up easily on successful stratagems. On those rare occasions that we figure him out, he simply repackages the same old snake-oil, and we rush to buy it.
Here is how it works in our day. First, we buy into the world's therapeutic revolution. We believe, like our unbelieving neighbors, that the good life is one of psychological wholeness. We believe, like our unbelieving neighbors, that the purpose in life is self-actualization. We believe, unlike our unbelieving neighbors, that the right church, or church program, or church guru, will get us there. We believe that the church will give us our best life now.
The church offers to help us feel better about ourselves. It promises programs and premium coffee. It presents feel good talks delivered by some charming guy in a sweater, the Christian equivalent of Dr. Feel-Good. And all it asks in return is that we drop a check in the plate, that we purchase the program, that we donate to the guru. These will drive our guilt far from us, and we will be purged of all that makes us feel utterly unlovely. That is how the program is supposed to work, and now we, heirs of the Reformation, build cathedrals to our own glory.
Luther did not have as his goal psychological wholeness. His beef wasn't that indulgences didn't deliver the emotional goods. Neither was his goal the recovery of an abstract doctrine. He wanted instead to recover the very work of Christ. He wanted people to not jettison their feelings of guilt, but to have their guilt taken away.
The church is that place where we must be told the truth. We must be told the ugly truth that we are in ourselves nothing but ugly, a poisonous blending of dust and rebellion. We must be told the ugly truth that our sins drove Christ to the cross, that we crucified Him. We must be told the shocking truth that because God brought this to pass, we now, if we are His, have peace with God, that we have been adopted into His family.
Here we stand. We can do no other. God help us.R.C. Sproul Jr., excerpt from his upcoming book "Believing God."