November 1, 2006

The Pope is Not the Anti-Christ

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:21 am

I, along with 99.9% of my fellow Lutherans, do not believe the Pope is the anti-christ.

I mention this because of the recent press regarding Michele Bachmann, a congressional candidate from Minnesota. From Faithful Democrats:

According to her website, Bachmann attends Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota. This congregation belongs to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), one of the most right-wing Lutheran denominations. Not to be confused with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America or the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, WELS broke with its denominational brethren because it felt they were abandoning core biblical principles and doctrine.

So where does this belief that the Pope is the anti-christ come from? Into the way-back machine to the early 16th century…Pope Julius II was far more interested in waging war against the Venetians to expand his worldly empire than in tending to the spiritual realm of Roman Catholicism. Pope Leo X, who succeeded Julius, spent lavishly on the arts and St. Peter’s Basilica. He issued indulgences to raise funds for his various projects, and when Martin Luther objected on theological grounds, he excommunicated him and put out a bounty for him, dead or alive. Some of Luther’s followers were burned at the stake as heretics, a fate Luther escaped only through the protection of Elector Frederick. The reformation led to the Schmalkald War between Lutherans and Catholics, and later, the Thirty Years War which led to the deaths of perhaps 15% to 20% of the German population.

Looking at all this through 16th century eyes, it’s easy to see how the early Lutherans would consider the Pope as the anti-christ. Looking at this from the 21st century, this is obviously untrue.

The Roman Catholic church reformed itself from within, as the Reformation was pushing for change from without. The Council of Trent put an end to some of the worst corruption of the church hierarchy. Over time the Pope became strictly a religous leader, not a worldly one. The Catholic church’s theology regarding justification by faith, the main theological controversy of the Reformation, also evolved. In 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, reconciling their views on justification by faith.

Every religion seems to have its fundamentalists, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) is the fundamentalist sect of American Lutheranism. They seem to be stuck in the 16th century. While the rest of Lutheranism around the world and in the U.S. saw the doctrine of Pope-as-Antichrist as an anachronism that does harm to the body of Christ, the WELS has stuck to this view as though it were, well, gospel.

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