Statement on the Antichrist

Introduction to the Statement
As Martin Luther grew in his appreciation of the gospel, he also grew in his recognition that the Papacy is the Antichrist. A 1954 WELS pamphlet entitled Antichrist put it this way: “It was because Luther cherished the Gospel so dearly that his faith instinctively recoiled and protested in unmistakable terms when the Pope put himself in the place of Christ and declared His work insufficient and in vain. That is the use to which Luther’s faith put the prophecy of Scripture. For him the tenet that the Pope is the Antichrist was an article of faith.”

Luther left no doubt where he stood concerning the Papacy when he wrote, “This teaching [of the supremacy of the pope] shows forcefully that the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ, because he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power, which, nevertheless, is nothing, and is neither ordained nor commanded by God. This is, properly speaking, to exalt himself above all that is called God. . . . The Pope, however, prohibits this faith, saying that to be saved a person must obey him” (Smalcald Articles, II, IV, 10-12).

In the centuries after Luther’s death, Lutherans accepted this confessional statement without reservation or qualification. In the 1860s, however, doubts about this confessional statement were raised within Lutheranism. They arose from the Iowa Synod, which refused to grant doctrinal status to the teaching that the Papacy is the Antichrist. They listed this teaching under the category of “open questions.” The Missouri Synod took the lead, at that time, in defending the view of the Lutheran Confessions that the prophecies of Antichrist have been fulfilled in the Papacy.

The Iowa Synod, however, in a 1904 document continued to teach the view that it is a “human application” of the teaching of Scripture to declare the Papacy to be the Antichrist. The Iowa Synod became part of the American Lutheran Church, and its teaching on the Antichrist persisted in the new union. Since 1930 the ALC taught that it is only a “historical judgment” that the Papacy is the Antichrist. In 1938 this view was officially sanctioned in the ALC “Sandusky Declaration.” It stated:

. . . we accept the historical judgment of Luther in the Smalcald Articles . . . that the Pope is the Antichrist . . . because among all the antichristian manifestations in the history of the world and the Church that lie behind us in the past there is none that fits the description given in 2 Thess. 2 better than the Papacy . . .

The answer to the question whether in the future that is still before us, prior to the return of Christ, a special unfolding and a personal concentration of the antichristian power already present now, and thus a still more comprehensive fulfillment of 2 Thess. 2 may occur, we leave to the Lord and Ruler of Church and world history (VI, B, 1).

In its “Brief Statement” of 1932 the Missouri Synod repudiated the teaching that the identification of the Papacy as the Antichrist is only a historical judgment. It declared, “The prophecies of the Holy Scriptures concerning the Antichrist . . . have been fulfilled in the Pope of Rome and his dominion.” It subscribed “to the statement of our Confessions that the Pope is ‘the very Antichrist.'” It declared that the doctrine of Antichrist is “not to be included in the number of open questions” (43, 44).

As time went on, however, the Missouri Synod began to retreat from its previous position. In 1951, the Report of the Advisory Committee on Doctrine and Practice of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod stated:

Scripture does not teach that the Pope is the Antichrist. It teaches that there will be an Antichrist (prophecy). We identify the Antichrist as the Papacy. This is an historical judgment based on Scripture. The early Christians could not have identified the Antichrist as we do. If there were a clearly expressed teaching of Scripture, they must have been able to do so. Therefore the quotation from Lehre und Wehre [in 1904 by Dr. Stoeckhardt which identifies the Papacy as Antichrist] goes too far.

This view was endorsed by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Convention in Houston in 1953.

It was in this setting, then, that the “Statement on the Antichrist” was drafted. The Joint Doctrinal Committees of the Synodical Conference adopted this statement on October 15, 1958, and reported this to the Lutheran Synodical Conference Convention in 1960. The “Statement on the Antichrist” was adopted by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod at its convention in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1959, without a dissenting vote. The Missouri Synod, however, never formally adopted it.

In conclusion, we quote a statement from an essay written in 1957 which puts this doctrine into proper perspective:

This teaching that the Papacy is the Antichrist is not a fundamental article of faith. . . . It is not an article on which saving faith rests, with which Christianity stands or falls. We cannot and do not deny the Christianity of a person who cannot see the truth that the Pope is the Antichrist.

Yet it is an important article and should not be side-stepped or slighted. It is clearly revealed in the divine word, and there is nothing needless and useless in the Bible; God wants us to know about the Antichrist. . . . This article is clearly expressed in the Lutheran Confessions; whoever denies it does not stand in one faith with his fathers; he is not a confessional Lutheran. A Lutheran preacher should know, believe, and teach this article or frankly confess that he no longer subscribes to the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. If we value the saving doctrine of the vicarious atonement through the blood of Jesus Christ, the God-man, in these latter days of the world, we shall do well to keep the facts concerning the Antichrist well in mind (“The Scriptural Doctrine of the Antichrist,” Our Great Heritage, Vol. 3, pp. 601,602).

Statement on the Antichrist

I. Scripture speaks of many forces and powers which are actively hostile to Christ and His Church, and uses the term “antichrist” with reference to some of them.

Da 11:36-38; Mt 24:22-25; 1 Ti 4:1-3; 2 Ti 3:1-9; 1 Jn 2:18-22 —compare the whole passage, 18-23; 1 Jn 4:1-6; 2 Jn 7; 2 Th 2:1-12, compare also 13-17.

These and similar passages reveal to the Church that antichristian forces will appear in various recurrent forms until the end of time.

II. Scripture, however, speaks also of a particular personal embodiment of the antichristian power in which the iniquity of false teaching finds its climax (2 Th 2:1-12):

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, who the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

It is with this aspect of the antichristian power that the Lutheran Confessions deal under the term “antichrist,” and we in a reaffirmation of the Lutheran faith are so using the term. Passages from the Lutheran Confessions dealing with the subject of the Antichrist:

Apology XV, 18,19:

And what need is there of words on a subject so manifest? 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. For the honor is taken away from Christ when they teach that we are not justified gratuitously by faith, for Christ’s sake, but by such services; especially when they teach that such services are not only useful for justification, but are also necessary, as they hold above in Art. VII, where they condemn us for saying that unto true unity of the Church it is not necessary that rites instituted by men should everywhere be alike. Daniel 11:38 indicates that new human services will be the very form and constitution of the kingdom of Antichrist. For he says thus: “But in his estate shall he honor the god of forces; and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honor with gold and silver and precious stones.”

Apology XXIV, 97,98:

Carnal men cannot endure that alone to the sacrifice of Christ the honor is ascribed that it is a propitiation, because they do not understand the righteousness of faith, but ascribe equal honor to the rest of the services and sacrifices. Just as, therefore, in Judah among the godless priests a false opinion concerning sacrifices inhered; just as in Israel, Baalitic services continued, and nevertheless, a Church of God was there which disapproved of godless services, so Baalitic worship inheres in the domain of the Pope, namely, the abuse of the Mass, which they apply, that by it they may merit for the unrighteous the remission of guilt and punishment. [And yet, as God still kept His Church, i.e., some saints, in Israel and Judah, so God still preserved His Church, i.e., some saints, under the Papacy, so that the Christian Church has not entirely perished.] And it seems that this Baalitic worship will endure as long as the reign of the Pope, until Christ will come to judge, and by the glory of His advent destroy the reign of Antichrist.

Smalcald Articles II, II, 25:

The invocation of saints is also one of the abuses of Antichrist conflicting with the chief article, and destroys the knowledge of Christ. Neither is it commanded nor counseled, nor has it any example [or testimony] in Scripture, and even though it were a precious thing, as it is not [while, on the contrary, it is a most harmful thing], in Christ we have everything a thousandfold better [and surer, so that we are not in need of calling upon the saints].

Smalcald Articles II, IV, 10-14, (cf. also Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, X, 20):

This teaching shows forcefully that the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ, because he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power, which, nevertheless, is nothing, and is neither ordained nor commanded by God. This is, properly speaking, to exalt himself above all that is called God, as Paul says (2 Th 2:4). Even the Turks or the Tartars, great enemies of Christians as they are, do not do this, but they allow whoever wishes to believe in Christ, and take bodily tribute and obedience from Christians.

The Pope, however, prohibits this faith, saying that to be saved a person must obey him. This we are unwilling to do, even though on this account we must die in God’s name. This all proceeds from the fact that the Pope has wished to be called the supreme head of the Christian Church by divine right. Accordingly he had to make himself equal and superior to Christ, and had to cause himself to be proclaimed the head and then the lord of the Church, and finally of the whole world, and simply God on earth, until he has dared to issue commands even to the angels in heaven. And when we distinguish the Pope’s teaching from, or measure and hold it against, Holy Scripture, it is found [it appears plainly] that the Pope’s teaching, where it is best, has been taken from the imperial and heathen law, and treats of political matters and decisions or rights as the Decretals show; furthermore, it teaches of ceremonies concerning churches, garments, food, persons and (similar) puerile, theatrical, and comical things without measure, but in all these things nothing at all of Christ, faith, and the commandments of God. Lastly, it is nothing else than the devil himself, because above and against God he urges [and disseminates] his [papal] falsehoods concerning masses, purgatory, the monastic life, one’s own works and [fictitious] divine worship (for this is the very Papacy) [upon each of which the Papacy is altogether founded and is standing,] and condemns, murders and tortures all Christians who do not exalt and honor these abominations [of the Pope] above all things. Therefore, just as little as we can worship the devil himself as Lord and God, we can endure his apostle, the Pope, or Antichrist, in his rule as head or lord. For to lie and to kill, and to destroy body and soul eternally, that is wherein his papal government really consists, as I have very clearly shown in many books.

Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope 39-41:

Now, it is manifest that the Roman pontiffs, with their adherents, defend [and practice] godless doctrines and godless services. And the marks [all the vices] of Antichrist plainly agree with the kingdom of the Pope and his adherents. For Paul, 2 Th 2:3, in describing to the Thessalonians Antichrist, calls him “an adversary of Christ, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God.” He speaks therefore of one ruling in the Church, not of heathen kings, and he calls this one the adversary of Christ, because he will devise doctrine conflicting with the Gospel and will assume to himself divine authority.

Moreover, it is manifest, in the first place, that the Pope rules in the Church, and by the pretext of ecclesiastical authority and of the ministry has established for himself this kingdom. For he assigns as a pretext these words: “I will give to thee the keys.” Secondly, the doctrine of the Pope conflicts in many ways with the Gospel, and [thirdly] the Pope assumes to himself divine authority in a threefold manner. First, because he takes to himself the right to change the doctrine of Christ and services instituted by God, and wants his own doctrine and his own services to be observed as divine; secondly, because he takes to himself the power not only of binding and loosing in this life, but also the jurisdiction over souls after this life; thirdly, because the Pope does not want to be judged by the Church or by anyone, and puts his own authority ahead of the decision of Councils and the entire Church. But to be unwilling to be judged by the Church or by anyone is to make oneself God. Lastly, these errors so horrible, and this impiety, he defends with the greatest cruelty, and puts to death those dissenting.

This being the case, all Christians ought to beware of becoming partakers of the godless doctrine, blasphemies, and unjust cruelty of the Pope. On this account they ought to desert and execrate the Pope with his adherents as the kingdom of Antichrist; just as Christ has commanded, Mt 7:15: “Beware of false prophets.” And Paul commands that godless teachers should be avoided and execrated as cursed, Gal 1:8; Tit 3:10; and in 2 Co 6:14 he says: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: For what communion hath light with darkness?”

Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope 57:

Therefore, even though the bishop of Rome had the primacy by divine right, yet since he defends godless services and doctrine conflicting with the Gospel, obedience is not due him; yea, it is necessary to resist him as Antichrist. The errors of the Pope are manifest and not trifling.

III. The passage (2 Th 2:1-12) promises that God will reveal the “man of lawlessness” and states the tokens, or marks, by means of which God will reveal him to the eyes of faith.

Among these marks are:

1. He “sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Th 2:4). He is a religious power demanding religious allegiance, usurping authority in the Church and tyrannizing Christian consciences. Cf. Smalcald Articles II, IV, 10-14.

2. He is an embodiment of Satanic power. This is manifested:

a. in the fact that he appears as the one who “will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God” (2 Th 2:4). He is God’s Adversary;

b. and in the fact that his opposition to God is an opposition of disguise and deceit. He opposes God by usurping the place and name of God (2 Th 2:4). The Satanic appears, characteristically, in religious form: the “coming” of Antichrist is pitted against the “coming” of Christ, his signs and lying wonders against the miracles of Christ, faith in his lie against faith in the truth of Christ (2 Th 2:10-11).

IV. Therefore on the basis of a renewed study of the pertinent Scriptures we reaffirm the statement of the Lutheran Confessions, that “the Pope is the very Antichrist” (cf. Section II), especially since he anathematizes the doctrine of the justification by faith alone and sets himself up as the infallible head of the Church.

We thereby affirm that we identify this “Antichrist” with the Papacy as it is known to us today, which shall, as 2 Thessalonians 2:8 states, continue to the end of time, whatever form or guise it may take. This neither means nor implies a blanket condemnation of all members of the Roman Catholic Church, for despite all the errors taught in that church the Word of God is still heard there, and that Word is an effectual Word. Isa 55:10, 11; cf. Apology XXIV, 98, cited above under II.

We make this confession in the confidence of faith. The Antichrist cannot deceive us if we remain under the revelation given us in the Apostolic word (2 Th 2:13-17), for in God’s gracious governance of history the Antichrist can deceive only those who “refused to love the truth” (2 Th 2:10-12).

And we make this confession in the confidence of hope. The Antichrist shall not destroy us but shall himself be destroyed—”Whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2 Th 2:8).

We reject the idea that the fulfillment of this prophecy is to be sought in the workings of any merely secular political power (2 Th 2:4; cf. Treatise on the Power and the Primacy of the Pope 39).

We reject the idea that the teaching that the Papacy is the Antichrist rests on a merely human interpretation of history or is an open question. We hold rather that this teaching rests on the revelation of God in Scripture which finds its fulfillment in history. The Holy Spirit reveals this fulfillment to the eyes of faith (cf. The Abiding Word, Vol. 2, p. 764). Since Scripture teaches that the Antichrist would be revealed and gives the marks by which the Antichrist is to be recognized (2 Th 2:6,8), and since this prophecy has been clearly fulfilled in the history and development of the Roman Papacy, it is Scripture which reveals that the Papacy is the Antichrist.