The teaching that got Michele Bachmann into trouble–that the papacy is the antichrist– and made her leave Lutheranism in order to be a creditable presidential candidate (see the other post for today) is not limited to the Wisconsin Synod. It is a tenet of the Lutheran Confessions, serving as the climax of Melanchthon’s Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (41-42) and affirmed throughout the Smalcald Articles. This, however, is not in the sense of the premillennialist understanding of the Antichrist, as in the Left Behind series or in the various historical figures from Napoleon to Henry Kissinger who have been given this label. Rather, it is in this sense, as explained in another one of those confessions, referring to the notion that humanly devised ritual, rather than the Gospel, confer saving power:
If the adversaries defend these human services as meriting justification, grace, and the remission of sins, they simply establish the kingdom of Antichrist. For the kingdom of Antichrist is a new service of God, devised by human authority rejecting Christ, just as the kingdom of Mahomet has services and works through which it wishes to be justified before God; nor does it hold that men are gratuitously justified before God by faith, for Christ’s sake. Thus the Papacy also will be a part of the kingdom of Antichrist if it thus defends human services as justifying. Apology of the Augsburg Confession XV. 18.
Now Lutherans are not alone in this. Reformed confessions say the same thing in the Westminster Confession, Chap. 25, Art. 6, though conservative Calvinists in the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have apparently repudiated that section. (Perhaps someone from one of those traditions could explain how it is possible to be a confessional body, as these groups claim to be, while rejecting part of the confession.) The Reformed Baptists also associate the pope with anti-christ in their statement of faith. (See this Catholic site, which keeps track of such things.)
Perhaps a better question could be asked by reporters to ferret out “anti-Catholicism” with an even broader application: “Do you consider Roman Catholics to be Christians?” Many, if not most, evangelicals will say, “no.” Lutherans, on the other hand, including those who believe the pope to be antichrist will say, “yes.” The Church of Rome is still part of the church, since it retains the Word and Sacraments, which are the marks of the Church, and the Gospel is still present in its liturgy and in the teachings of many of its pastors and theologians. A major argument that Roman Catholics are part of the true church is precisely that, according to 2 Thessalonians 2, the antichrist will arise in the true church! Lutherans, unlike many other conservative Protestants, do affirm that Roman Catholics may well and often do have saving faith in Christ.
These theological subtleties, of course, will go over the head of most reporters and other outside observers. Does that mean it would be impossible for a confessional Lutheran–or a Calvinist who confesses the whole Westminster Confession or an Evangelical open about his or her beliefs about who is a true Christian–to win the Catholic vote and thus win national office?