The Antichrist, revisited

You have GOT to read Mollie Hemingway’s column in the Wall Street Journal, which should definitively put to rest the media’s shocked discovery that Lutherans believe that the papacy is the antichrist.   The piece has the best lede (journalese for opening paragraph) that I’ve read in a long time:

American political reporters aren’t known for their vocal support of Roman Catholic teachings. But when they discovered recently that Minnesota Congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was once a Lutheran, they began defending the papacy as if they were the Vatican’s own Swiss Guard. They asked with concern, could Catholics even vote for a former Lutheran?

The media as the Swiss Guard!  After patiently explaining the Lutheran position and its historical and theological context, she also includes an interesting detail about the current antichrist’s–I mean, pope’s–interest in Lutheranism!

And yet the current pope, Benedict XVI, is particularly close to the Lutherans. As his biographer John Allen has written, the Lutherans are to Pope Benedict what the Orthodox were to his predecessor John Paul: “the separated brethren he knows best, and for whom he has the greatest natural affinity.” Indeed, far from the sectarian battles that reporters may envision, the fact is that confessional Lutherans and Pope Benedict are partners in the battle against what he has called the “dictatorship of relativism.”

via Mollie Ziegler Hemingway: Michele Bachmann and the Pope – WSJ.com.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • larry

    Pastor Rossow has probably the best fairly obvious insight on this, once he points it out to one (link below). His point is apropos and if I might slightly highlight:

    The real insight here is that confessional Lutheranism (i.e. that which confesses the true Christian faith externally and as an expression) is really shown in this issue both explicitly and implicitly to be utterly unacceptable (as the faith/Cross in truth will/should always be rejected). In this entire situation we find confessional Lutheranism explicitly and implicitly rejected by implication of its doctrine by the (1) secular culture at large (e.g. the fear of loss of a voting block due to said confession); (2) RC (e.g. the fear of loss of a voting block due to said confession); (3) the move over to the heterodoxy of evangelicalism in general (i.e. that more assuages, tickles the ear, of secular, heterodoxies, Rome than said confession).

    Thus, what’s being rejected and “put on trial” is the confession of faith, our confessions, put on paper which were put in writing, signed at the threat of death one time, disturbed both pope and reformed enthusiast alike during the reformation, of which the signers said they INTREPIDLY could hardly wait to confess them before Christ.

    Link to article:

    http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=15332

  • larry

    Pastor Rossow has probably the best fairly obvious insight on this, once he points it out to one (link below). His point is apropos and if I might slightly highlight:

    The real insight here is that confessional Lutheranism (i.e. that which confesses the true Christian faith externally and as an expression) is really shown in this issue both explicitly and implicitly to be utterly unacceptable (as the faith/Cross in truth will/should always be rejected). In this entire situation we find confessional Lutheranism explicitly and implicitly rejected by implication of its doctrine by the (1) secular culture at large (e.g. the fear of loss of a voting block due to said confession); (2) RC (e.g. the fear of loss of a voting block due to said confession); (3) the move over to the heterodoxy of evangelicalism in general (i.e. that more assuages, tickles the ear, of secular, heterodoxies, Rome than said confession).

    Thus, what’s being rejected and “put on trial” is the confession of faith, our confessions, put on paper which were put in writing, signed at the threat of death one time, disturbed both pope and reformed enthusiast alike during the reformation, of which the signers said they INTREPIDLY could hardly wait to confess them before Christ.

    Link to article:

    http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=15332

  • Booklover

    Partners in the battle against the dictatorship of relativism, indeed. Although some don’t like to see the Lutherans and Catholics standing together, the two groups do stand for truth in many ways, against a mushy world.

    A mega-church in our city, one which is filled with former denominational members of all stripes, is having a funeral today, at which the soloist is singing “Imagine” by the Beatles. This would never have happened in the Lutheran church of my youth, and hopefully not in the Catholic church, either. These churches have confessions, and the solos and liturgy need to align with the confessions. Apparently not so with the mega-church.

  • Booklover

    Partners in the battle against the dictatorship of relativism, indeed. Although some don’t like to see the Lutherans and Catholics standing together, the two groups do stand for truth in many ways, against a mushy world.

    A mega-church in our city, one which is filled with former denominational members of all stripes, is having a funeral today, at which the soloist is singing “Imagine” by the Beatles. This would never have happened in the Lutheran church of my youth, and hopefully not in the Catholic church, either. These churches have confessions, and the solos and liturgy need to align with the confessions. Apparently not so with the mega-church.

  • Michael Z.

    I still find it very strange that Lutherans cling so strongly to this tradition about the papacy as if it were Doctrine. I realize it is one of the Lutheran distinctives, but at the same time I am a little surprised that it is such a big deal to Lutherans.
    Is it held so dear because Luther believed it and wrote it? Or is it held tight for the same reason that a lot of evangelicals hold tight to their pre-millenial, pre-trib, rapture theologies? That is to say because it is the best explanation for the Scripture as they read it.

  • Michael Z.

    I still find it very strange that Lutherans cling so strongly to this tradition about the papacy as if it were Doctrine. I realize it is one of the Lutheran distinctives, but at the same time I am a little surprised that it is such a big deal to Lutherans.
    Is it held so dear because Luther believed it and wrote it? Or is it held tight for the same reason that a lot of evangelicals hold tight to their pre-millenial, pre-trib, rapture theologies? That is to say because it is the best explanation for the Scripture as they read it.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @#3 We cling to it because the Roman curia has not abandoned its practices that obscure the Gospel. The moment they abandon these practices officially, we will drop this claim.
    We do not hold it near and dear because Luther wrote it. I and others have tried to make it clear, it isn’t the writings of Luther we cling to as our confession but the confessions found in the Book of Concord. There are many writings of Luther we reject, such as his marital advice to one Prince, who couldn’t keep his vows.

    Good article, Mollie!

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @#3 We cling to it because the Roman curia has not abandoned its practices that obscure the Gospel. The moment they abandon these practices officially, we will drop this claim.
    We do not hold it near and dear because Luther wrote it. I and others have tried to make it clear, it isn’t the writings of Luther we cling to as our confession but the confessions found in the Book of Concord. There are many writings of Luther we reject, such as his marital advice to one Prince, who couldn’t keep his vows.

    Good article, Mollie!

  • SKPeterson

    Michael @3 – following up on Dr. L21′s comment @4 – Lutherans hold that the papacy or episcopal governance are not evil per se, but may be properly instituted for the good order and governance of the Church. However, these are recognized as human contrivances as opposed to the Roman view that the papacy is of divine sanction and carries with it quasi-divine powers of salvation and damnation. Lutherans believe this power is God’s only and that the papacy cannot usurp such authority. Further, this usurpation by the papacy allows error to enter and persist in the Church that obscures the Gospel of Christ and causes distress in the flock.

  • SKPeterson

    Michael @3 – following up on Dr. L21′s comment @4 – Lutherans hold that the papacy or episcopal governance are not evil per se, but may be properly instituted for the good order and governance of the Church. However, these are recognized as human contrivances as opposed to the Roman view that the papacy is of divine sanction and carries with it quasi-divine powers of salvation and damnation. Lutherans believe this power is God’s only and that the papacy cannot usurp such authority. Further, this usurpation by the papacy allows error to enter and persist in the Church that obscures the Gospel of Christ and causes distress in the flock.

  • Michael Z.

    @4&5
    OK, and I agree with you that the papacy is a bad institution, I would even say that this condemnation is a doctrinally based statement.

    My question was about calling the Papacy the Anti-Christ. Do you call the Mormon leadership the Anti-Christ, since they do something similar? The tradition is that the Papacy is THE anti-Christ, which is why the press picks it up so rabidly. It seems like it would be more effective to say that it is one of the anti-Christs that are in the world. This would allow you to continue your condemnation of its false doctrine without the drama…but maybe I just don’t understand the issue very well.

  • Michael Z.

    @4&5
    OK, and I agree with you that the papacy is a bad institution, I would even say that this condemnation is a doctrinally based statement.

    My question was about calling the Papacy the Anti-Christ. Do you call the Mormon leadership the Anti-Christ, since they do something similar? The tradition is that the Papacy is THE anti-Christ, which is why the press picks it up so rabidly. It seems like it would be more effective to say that it is one of the anti-Christs that are in the world. This would allow you to continue your condemnation of its false doctrine without the drama…but maybe I just don’t understand the issue very well.

  • Matt Jamison

    @#6

    I think use of the term antichrist in the confessional Lutheran sense can very well be used of the Mormon leadership. But the 1580 Book of Concord was written in a specific context, long before Joseph Smith came on the scene. Furthermore, we are not free to amend or edit our confessional documents since that would, of necessity, create division in our churches.

    I think the use of the term is unfortunate, but there is no way the Lutheran Confessors could have foreseen the re-definition of “Antichrist” to mean some kind of creepy boogyman, as dreamed up by Tim LaHaye and his ilk. Proper discussion of the term requires a lot of background and context that the U.S. media is not willing to go into.

  • Matt Jamison

    @#6

    I think use of the term antichrist in the confessional Lutheran sense can very well be used of the Mormon leadership. But the 1580 Book of Concord was written in a specific context, long before Joseph Smith came on the scene. Furthermore, we are not free to amend or edit our confessional documents since that would, of necessity, create division in our churches.

    I think the use of the term is unfortunate, but there is no way the Lutheran Confessors could have foreseen the re-definition of “Antichrist” to mean some kind of creepy boogyman, as dreamed up by Tim LaHaye and his ilk. Proper discussion of the term requires a lot of background and context that the U.S. media is not willing to go into.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @#6
    Michael, part of the problem is that the press doesn’t recognize the nuances of the confessional documents. It is not so much that we believe the papacy to be “the great Satan” ala as Matt noted Tim LaHaye. Rather we hold that there is an office of the antichrist and that there are many who hold that office. So yes, we could say that the President of the Mormons is antichrist, or that any number of imams are antichrist, because they are acting in such a fashion to be consistent with the hallmarks of the office of antichrist.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @#6
    Michael, part of the problem is that the press doesn’t recognize the nuances of the confessional documents. It is not so much that we believe the papacy to be “the great Satan” ala as Matt noted Tim LaHaye. Rather we hold that there is an office of the antichrist and that there are many who hold that office. So yes, we could say that the President of the Mormons is antichrist, or that any number of imams are antichrist, because they are acting in such a fashion to be consistent with the hallmarks of the office of antichrist.

  • Anonymous

    @#6: Follow-up of #7. The Mormon church is not part of the Church catholic. The Roman Church, however is part of the “holy apostolic and catholic Church.” St. Paul says that the man of lawlessness (i.e. The AntiChrist) will set himself up in the temple of God (i.e. God’s Church). The Mormon heresy is condemned already in the first article of the Augsburg Confession.

  • Anonymous

    @#6: Follow-up of #7. The Mormon church is not part of the Church catholic. The Roman Church, however is part of the “holy apostolic and catholic Church.” St. Paul says that the man of lawlessness (i.e. The AntiChrist) will set himself up in the temple of God (i.e. God’s Church). The Mormon heresy is condemned already in the first article of the Augsburg Confession.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    To Confessional Lutherans, no, the LDS President is not “the very Antichrist”, though he is clearly anti-Christ, as are many others. Here I must disagree with DLit2C (@8), who appears to soft-pedal what the Confessions say.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    To Confessional Lutherans, no, the LDS President is not “the very Antichrist”, though he is clearly anti-Christ, as are many others. Here I must disagree with DLit2C (@8), who appears to soft-pedal what the Confessions say.

  • larry

    It does no good to soft pedal what the term antichrist means. In reality Tim L’s and others premil. Etc… boogey man version of “antichrist” is less evil than the real deal, truth be known. Now the doctrine behind Lahey is thoroughly every bit as dangerous, but the buffoon picture of “the antichrist” is really more Hollywood than anything real. It ultimately means “in the place of Christ” not the “hand wringing black hat Hollywood” version.

    The reason most attempt to soft pedal it is, one, they do not take seriously or very seriously the soul killing/tormenting that such doctrines do in fact do to believers. Which brings out the next point that many antichrist and antichristic teachings exist out there and they are not all of Rome. Rome still clings to their Trent confession and there you go. Also, the doctrine of believers baptism, that’s antichristic. There’s no “antichrist” head per se in such churches as the BB churches, nonetheless, the doctrine is distilled from and is antichristic (it obscures and robs the comfort of the Gospel from adults, and withholds God’s grace from children, etc…). Same thing with the Lord’s Supper, a symbolic non-real body and blood presence version of this is antichristic, just as is antitrinitarianism, and the various forms of arianism, double predestination, etc…ALL of these distill from antichrist and rob the Christian of their comfort. Ultimately they machinations of fallen human religious ponderings and searchings for God outside of His revealed Word (another topic).

    These are the outer expressions of said confessions, these they express, these are antichristic (in the place of Christ and against Christ). By these machinations the pope and men attempt to rule men’s consciences where only God’s Word can and should, they set themselves up as God.

  • larry

    It does no good to soft pedal what the term antichrist means. In reality Tim L’s and others premil. Etc… boogey man version of “antichrist” is less evil than the real deal, truth be known. Now the doctrine behind Lahey is thoroughly every bit as dangerous, but the buffoon picture of “the antichrist” is really more Hollywood than anything real. It ultimately means “in the place of Christ” not the “hand wringing black hat Hollywood” version.

    The reason most attempt to soft pedal it is, one, they do not take seriously or very seriously the soul killing/tormenting that such doctrines do in fact do to believers. Which brings out the next point that many antichrist and antichristic teachings exist out there and they are not all of Rome. Rome still clings to their Trent confession and there you go. Also, the doctrine of believers baptism, that’s antichristic. There’s no “antichrist” head per se in such churches as the BB churches, nonetheless, the doctrine is distilled from and is antichristic (it obscures and robs the comfort of the Gospel from adults, and withholds God’s grace from children, etc…). Same thing with the Lord’s Supper, a symbolic non-real body and blood presence version of this is antichristic, just as is antitrinitarianism, and the various forms of arianism, double predestination, etc…ALL of these distill from antichrist and rob the Christian of their comfort. Ultimately they machinations of fallen human religious ponderings and searchings for God outside of His revealed Word (another topic).

    These are the outer expressions of said confessions, these they express, these are antichristic (in the place of Christ and against Christ). By these machinations the pope and men attempt to rule men’s consciences where only God’s Word can and should, they set themselves up as God.

  • Joe

    LDS president? Nope. Imams? Nope. They can’t be the anti-Christ because they are not within the church. Pope? Yep, he sets himself up in the stead of Christ and claims for his office powers beyond those given to the Church.

    See, Lutheran teaching on the anti-Christ actually reaffirms Lutheran teaching that Roman Catholic’s are Christians.

  • Joe

    LDS president? Nope. Imams? Nope. They can’t be the anti-Christ because they are not within the church. Pope? Yep, he sets himself up in the stead of Christ and claims for his office powers beyond those given to the Church.

    See, Lutheran teaching on the anti-Christ actually reaffirms Lutheran teaching that Roman Catholic’s are Christians.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Not trying to soft pedal, just needed to go back and read a few things.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Not trying to soft pedal, just needed to go back and read a few things.

  • larry

    That’s a great observation and point of clarity Joe!

    I was just reading Luther last night on antichrists and THE antichrist. He basically said that the pope was the culmination of all antichristic elements in one head, but that the antichrists assist him in the sectarians toward the same end and whole. Luther points out one group teaches against the Trinity, another against the two natures, others on the sacraments, etc…

    In Luther’s day the antichrist persecuted more using the sword, but now the proliferation of false teachings which began back then do more damage and continue to do so. Though the real (spiritual/soul) damage is greater under the persecution of proliferated false teachings, many find themselves at relative ease with them because no one is barging down the doors with sword in hand. Yet, more damage is being done as these erode the truth over time slowly and insidiously. They don’t rob a man immediately of his pockets like a rogue in which his earthly house and life are built, but they devour from within, so that when real trial and suffering comes to a man he finds his soul in real eternal danger.

    In the former his only real danger is that he may not be able to reach for his money when he needs it to get out of a jam or to eat or find earthly shelter during a storm. Yet, in the later when Satan comes and accuses him of his sins, makes ruin of all his “signs” of salvation due to fruits, makes him search out his predestination as reprobate or not, he will not be able to reach for his baptism when he needs it most acutely.

    In our day and age confessional Lutheranism by all is variously laughed at and largely ignored as a by-gone confession of an old historical more primative time of “smart” yet primative minds. IF it is ever taken seriously by in large by the broader public, the Lutheran church can expect physical persecution to begin once again to attempt to snuff it out. Presently, though, false teachings cloud its light by in large to the broader public.

  • larry

    That’s a great observation and point of clarity Joe!

    I was just reading Luther last night on antichrists and THE antichrist. He basically said that the pope was the culmination of all antichristic elements in one head, but that the antichrists assist him in the sectarians toward the same end and whole. Luther points out one group teaches against the Trinity, another against the two natures, others on the sacraments, etc…

    In Luther’s day the antichrist persecuted more using the sword, but now the proliferation of false teachings which began back then do more damage and continue to do so. Though the real (spiritual/soul) damage is greater under the persecution of proliferated false teachings, many find themselves at relative ease with them because no one is barging down the doors with sword in hand. Yet, more damage is being done as these erode the truth over time slowly and insidiously. They don’t rob a man immediately of his pockets like a rogue in which his earthly house and life are built, but they devour from within, so that when real trial and suffering comes to a man he finds his soul in real eternal danger.

    In the former his only real danger is that he may not be able to reach for his money when he needs it to get out of a jam or to eat or find earthly shelter during a storm. Yet, in the later when Satan comes and accuses him of his sins, makes ruin of all his “signs” of salvation due to fruits, makes him search out his predestination as reprobate or not, he will not be able to reach for his baptism when he needs it most acutely.

    In our day and age confessional Lutheranism by all is variously laughed at and largely ignored as a by-gone confession of an old historical more primative time of “smart” yet primative minds. IF it is ever taken seriously by in large by the broader public, the Lutheran church can expect physical persecution to begin once again to attempt to snuff it out. Presently, though, false teachings cloud its light by in large to the broader public.