(Pope Leo X as the Antichrist, as pictured in a Reformation era flyer)
I couldn’t help but being a bit amused by the clarification statement the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod felt obliged to post on its website yesterday, after its views on the pope being the Antichrist became news because of presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s former affiliation with this small conservative Lutheran denomination.
“WELS does hold to the historic Lutheran position that the Roman Catholic papacy fits the biblical characteristics of the Antichrist,” explained the denomination’s president, the Rev. Mark Schroeder. “We do this without reservation and with no apologies.”
No hedging here or putting this well-documented little gem of 16th-century Reformation rhetoric into historical context. (By the way, Catholic polemicists of the day repaid that rhetoric in kind and identified Martin Luther as the Antichrist and “the Beast” of Revelation: “You are the Antichrist!” “No, you are the Antichrist!”)
Of course, Schroeder, hastens to add that “it is wrong and dishonest to portray this belief as stemming from anti-Catholic bigotry. We hold no animosity toward Catholic Christians. We respect the right of people to hold beliefs different from ours, even as we point out the error.”
So the pope is the Antichrist, but they hold no animosity toward him. For all we know, the Antichrist could be a perfectly nice guy. And in a generous display of tolerance, the WELS respects our right to be minions of the Antichrist. I guess it’s kind of like respecting the rights of Satanists to worship the devil. That’s awfully nice of them.
What seems at work here is a pretty strange Lutheran “infallibility complex,” which seems to hold that every utterance of the feisty German reformer will have to stand as gospel. And in this case, it means that his and other Protestant reformers’ denunciations of the admittedly often rather corrupt Catholic hierarchs of his day must not only have been inspired and true for the church of his day, but will be so as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
Perhaps then Rev. Schroeder might want to ponder another Martin Luther quote. In his famous Table Talk, he wrote: “When we draw the sword over the pope, it will strike ourselves.” Touché, Marty, good old Antichrist that you are.