Antichrist – a Teaching to be Ignored

“Luther’s judgment of the papacy as Antichrist is no longer accurate with respect to the modern papacy.  But at that time it did apply, insofar as the papacy was destroying God’s order in the world because of a false understanding of the church, marriage, and family, and of economic and political matters as well.”  So says German Lutheran Oswald Bayer in his Martin Luther’s Theology ( 4, fn. 8).  Plenty of English Lutherans, and some confessionals, are now picking it up.  But remember this isn’t just Luther’s judgment.  It is the judgment of the Confessions we have bound ourselves to as a correct exposition of the doctrines of the Word of God.  So ask yourself: is the teaching that the papacy is Antichrist free to be ignored?

Does or does not the papacy have a false understanding of Church?  They still confess that only Christians under the authority of the Pope are fully in the Church.  “Those ‘who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 838).  The rest are “separated brothers.”  Moreover, they state that even those outside the Church can be saved if they are sincere in their own faith. ‘The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. ‘ The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day’” (Ibid. 841).  The papacy’s salvation extends even to unbelief. “’Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation ’” (Ibid. 847).  This is a false understanding of the Church.

Do they still have a false understanding of marriage?  Do they not forbid marriage to their priests and other religious?  Is forbidding marriage still a doctrine of demons (I Timothy 4) or not?

Do they still have a false understanding of family?  They still bind consciences with their stance on birth control.  It is not about a concern for life but a concern for power.  How convenient for those who do not have to deal with the vicissitudes of conception and birth to make binding pronouncements about these things!

Do they still have a false understanding of economic and political matters?  When the cardinal of Chicago pronounced the first Gulf War as unjust, I’d say he made a mess of political matters.  When the American bishops issue letters about wealth distribution, I’d say they are misusing their authority.

If we would divest ourselves of the notion that the anti in Antichrist doesn’t have the primary notion of “against” but “in place of” we would stop thinking that since the papacy is so nice in comparison to Luther’s day (i.e. they don’t seem so anti) that it can’t be the same entity that our Confessions speak about. Wrong.  The pope still bears the title Vicar of Christ.  He still claims the obedience of all Christians.  He still claims to be infallible.  He prays to Mary and the saints for help, still offers indulgences for sins, and keeps souls in purgatory.  That’s a whole lot to ignore.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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4 Responses to Antichrist – a Teaching to be Ignored

  1. Jim Craig says:

    Our confessional position on the papacy and the antichrist can certainly be inconvenient and uncomfortable in our modern society. An example comes to mind from the 2006 congressional campaign in Minnesota. Michelle Bachmann, then a WELS member, was asked by a reporter why Catholic voters should support her in light of the fact that her church body considered the pope to be the antichrist. She indignantly answered that her church body professed no such thing, and furthermore, her church body would not be so interant as to hold such a belief! A charitable view of Ms. Bachmann’s comments would be that she was terribly uninformed regarding the WELS position on the antichrist. There might also be less charitable interpretations of her motives relating to inconvenience and discomfort.

    Jim Craig

  2. Scott says:

    As we look at the life of Luther I think we should give full credit to the fact that Luther had plenty of reason for reducing his stance on the Papacy by the time of his death but he did not. Despite there being 4 popes from 1520-1546 and despite various signs that later popes were less evil than Pope Leo X we still never see Luther back away from his 1520 conviction that the Pope is the Antichrist. Of course this goes without saying that Luther would have never kissed the ring of the pope (Benke) or even thought about inviting him to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation but I think he would agree with LWF president Younan who spoke concerning Lutherans and Catholics “the climate of relations [between the two] has warmed dramatically”

  3. Darcy Geu says:

    Your comments on the church’s stance on birth control intrigue me. I was under the impression that while Lutherans don’t expressly condemn all birth control they weren’t really fans of it. Especially since nearly all forms of birth control can cause an abortion if fertilisation is able to take place.

    • My point was not to criticize them for being against birth control, but to point out that for the people in power it’s not about life. It’s about having power over others in an area where they don’t have to live at all. I would say that birth control is accepted and for the most part promoted in the LCMS. The LCMS Commission on Life will not even come out and say that the Pill can function as an abortifacient even though the PDR and the Nurses Handbook both list it as such. In my correspondence with them, they have defended their position. It’s only the WELS people who speak accurately about this. You are correct the IUD, the PIll, and some of the other medicines can cause an abortion by not allowing the baby to implant on the uterine wall.

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