Christian Economics: Teacher’s Edition
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.’ And Simon answered, ‘Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me’ (Acts 8:18 – 24).
AnalysisSimon was a magician. He was famous as a result of his supernatural abilities. He liked this fame (vv. 9 – 12). He saw that the apostles possessed the power of imparting the Holy Spirit. He wanted to possess this power. So, he made them an offer of money if they would transfer this power to him. Peter condemned him verbally for having made this offer. He threatened God’s curse on him. Simon repented. He did not know that he would become infamous in history for having made this offer. The word simony derives from his name. This is the practice of purchasing a high church office.
He made an error of theological judgment. He believed that power granted by God to the apostles was for sale to the highest bidder. It was not. The authority of the church is not for sale. Nothing associated with God’s judicial imputation of sin or righteousness is for sale. God grants redemption without any payment or promise of payment by the recipients. This is the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace. Covenant breakers cannot pay God in advance, nor can they repay Him after the fact. They do not possess anything of value in God’s eyes that could compensate Him for the value of the gift of salvation. Paul wrote: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (Ephesians 2:8 – 9). He also wrote this: ‘For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body’ (I Corinthians 6:20).
The Catholic Church in 1517 sold indulgences to those seeking release from God’s posthumous negative sanctions in purgatory. Martin Luther publicly called the legitimacy of these sales into question on October 31. He posted 95 theses against the sale of indulgences on the door of the church at Wittenberg. He offered to debate anyone on each of them. He naively thought the Pope would join him in his opposition. Thesis #5 said: ‘The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.’ Thesis #21 continued: ‘Therefore the pope, when he uses the words ‘plenary remission of all penalties,’ does not actually mean ‘all penalties,’ but only those imposed by himself.’ Thesis #91 insisted: ‘If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.’ Luther misjudged Leo X, who went along with the sale of indulgences. The money was being used to build St. Peter’s cathedral.
This post was published at Gary North on July 27, 2017.