How To Be Anti-Catholic without Being Anti-Catholic

How To Be Anti-Catholic without Being Anti-Catholic July 29, 2011

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) is a denomination to the theological right of the Missouri Synod, which, in turn, is to the right of the ELCA.  WELS has come under some scrutiny of late, after Michele Bachmann and her family withdrew their membership at a WELS church in Stillwater, MN last month.

Conflicting reports have emerged about what prompted the withdrawal.  It seems that the Bachmanns had quit attending that church several years ago and were recently prompted by the WELS pastor to make it official, which they did, coincidentally, on the eve of her presidential campaign launch.

That’s led to all sorts of media speculation, and some digging around about what, exactly, WELS churches believe.  Among their articles of faith is a quite brazen claim that the pope is the anti-christ.  Unlike most Lutherans, WELS has not tempered the language of the fiery founder of Lutheranism in the five centuries since he lived.  Luther was known for preaching grace, but he was also known for being virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic.

Now that the media has turned their eyes upon them, however briefly, the leadership of WELS has sought to clarify their stance on the pope and Catholicism.  And, I must say, their press release is one tortured document.

First, there’s this:

WELS holds to the historic Lutheran position that the Roman Catholic papacy fits the biblical characteristics of the Antichrist. We do this without reservation and without apology. We believe that our doctrines cannot be tempered by political correctness or modified to align with changing culture or public opinion.

But then, there’s this:

While our church continues to see the characteristics of the Antichrist in the papacy, it is wrong and dishonest to portray this belief as stemming from anti-Catholic bigotry. Yes, we have strong convictions and we identify what we believe are teachings that depart from the Word of God. But we hold no animosity toward Christians of the Catholic faith, and we respect the right of people to hold beliefs different from ours even as we point out the error.

The final line of the release reads,

To accuse [Michele Bachmann] — or her former church — of being anti-Catholic is patently unfair and wrong.

To summarize their position, “We think that the pope is the anti-christ and the Catholic church is a false teacher, but that doesn’t make us anti-Catholic!”

Let’s try this with another historical position.  In his 1543 press release, On the Jews and Their Lies, Luther writes that the Jews are a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” They are full of the “devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine.”

But, he protests, accusing me of being anti-Jewish is patently unfair and wrong!

OK, I made that last part up.

Of course it’s fair to call Luther anti-Jewish, because he was.  And of course it’s appropriate, and Lutheran, to revise your theological positions and language over time. You can even be critical of the founder of your denomination — it shows that you’ve got a mind of your own.

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  • Not to be Anti-WELS, but it’s unfortunate when Christians view the writings of Luther (or any other theologian) as infallible. Luther may or may not have been right about the 16th-century papacy ~ but almost every one of his criticisms have been addressed and rectified by the Roman church in the intervening (almost) 500 years. I believe it’s incumbent on faithful Christians to point out where theologians are wrong, and especially for Lutherans to point out where Luther was wrong.

    Thank you, Tony, for continuing to hold us theologically and scripturally accountable.

  • Bob Smith

    So, does this mean that you have no disagreements with the Pope or the Roman Catholic Church?

  • JoeyS

    So is this the next Jeremiah Wright?

  • John Shore

    Bob: Yeah, that’s what he said. Dickish much?

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Luther, as far as I know, did not write the Smalcald Articles, from which the papacy as Antichrist statement comes from. Luther, yes, had harsh words on the papacy, but recall the papacy declared him a heretic and anyone could kill him on sight and be regarded a hero. The Smalcald Articles were written by a group of Lutherans about to be militarily attacked by Roman Catholic forces. Of course that never gets mentioned in the narrative, does it?

    • While a group Lutherans had their say concerning the Smalcald Articles, Luther was the one who drafted them.

  • Nice finish! Yes to reformed and ever reforming.

  • Pingback: BREAKING: Video Footage of Luther Calling the Pope the Anti-Christ()

  • The heart of the argument for Lutherans is how they view the Augsburg Confessions. WELS and LC-MS (and other “confessional” Lutherans) take a quia view, meaning that the Augsburg Confession is authoritative because it is faithful to Scripture. The charge against the ELCA is that it holds to a quatenus view, that the Augsburg Confession is authoritative in so far as it faithful to Scripture.

  • Jonathon Grace

    WELS & ELS Lutherans like me believe the papacy is the Antichrist because that is the clear teaching of Scripture:

    2nd Thess. vs. 3 and following is about man of lawlessness/man of sin. This is a passage about the Antichrist (as opposed to the many, evil but less significant antichrists that John also mentions).

    First off, the pope was the first to exalt himself over God and his Word. By claiming to be infallible, he adds to himself a divine attribute. We define God by his attributes. If I were to say that I am almighty or omniscient. I would be calling myself God. The pope makes himself out to be like God when he says he is infallible.

    Many people think the Antichrist will be a political figure like in the left behind series. But verse 4 says that “he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God”–We all know that God’s temple is within us. We are Christians (1 Cor. 6:19)–and Christians are the church. So the pope sets himself up in the temple by displacing God in the hearts of those Christians who listen to his false doctrine. His a figure within the Church rather than a merely political figure or a heritic outside Christianity.

    The power that was holding him back in vs. 6 was the Roman Emperor. There couldn’t be a supreme pope until the power of the government reduced. The secret power of lawlessness was already at work in the early church as super-Apostles, Judaizers, and bishops tried to assert authority for themselves that Jesus did not give, but no one institution could rise to primacy in a pluralistic culture with a powerful government.

    The lawless one was revealed mainly during the Reformation, although there were many who saw the true character of the papacy beforehand, especially as it gradually grew in might. Part of the reason it has succeeded are the so-called miracles and apparitions that come from the saints and from Mary. The papacy used the whole saints-worship phenomena to increase its power–for example by using ex-cathedra infallibility to lay down Marian legend as dogma enforced by papal anathema.

  • Only the righteous, can judge, and only God is truly righteous… so by appointing ourselves judges, we are ascribing the attributes of God to ourselves, making ourselves the Anti-Christ…. Way to go!

    That being said, John’s point about the climate of religious war is important. In most developed nations you can change your beliefs without fear of death, but if the Republicans were killing Democrats over the debt ceiling issue, I would assume we’d use harsh language too. Maybe we have forgotten the lessons of the Albigensians, Waldensians, Hundred years war, Huguenots etc…

  • One Lutheran

    The “Lutheran” Reformation was not about change for the sake of change nor the following of popular opinion. It was rather a return to faithfulness to what Scripture declares. Faith alone in grace alone as the Scripture alone declares what Christ alone has done to accomplish salvation for us. An authentic Lutheran voice still calls the faithful to trust what God has to say in His Word. Sadly many Lutherans have abandoned the Word of God for progressive liberalism. Progress is not always a good thing. For example a disease progresses. In my opinion exercising my right to the free exercise of religion I think the Roman church has made strides in reform but has a long way to go. Scripture tells me that Christ is my priest. I don’t need a Pope or a Father (as Jesus said don’t let anyone call you father for you have one father in heaven) standing between me and God. I have Christ as He speaks to me in His Holy Word.

  • Todd Cassell

    Has a former Lutheran, It took guts to do what Martin Luther did. He wanted to reform the Catholic Church. Until recent history(the last fifty years) Catholics were not allowed to have Bibles. Why not you ask? the Catholic Church didn’t want it’s followers to think for themselves. We are saved by the Grace of God and not of works, let any man boast. It says that in the Bible. Look at recent history of Catholic Church, with the Child Molesting Priests, and the cover up. The Church wonders why people are leaving.