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The Papacy—Why The Lutheran Confessions Assert it is Antichrist

July 27th, 2008
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A new post on the Blog of Concord offers a chance to consider and to discuss the continuing necessity and validity of the Lutheran Confessions’ assertion that the Papacy is the Antichrist. Because of the vital issues this topic covers, I’m going to go ahead and post the BOC blog post here. Be sure to click through to read the whole entry.

“The Reformation’s greatest weapon against Rome, was not Rome’s errors, but Rome’s truths” said John Nevin, a prominent American Lutheran theologian in the 19th century. It is precisely because of this reality that confessional Lutherans continue to assert the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions that the Papacy is the Antichrist. And it is precisely for the sake of the truths of Rome that we vigorously reject and condemn the errors of Rome. Further, Nevin’s statement is a caveat to heed carefully that we never throw the baby out with the bathwater even as we point out the grave errors inherent in the Papacy.

The most vigorous rejection of the office of the papacy in the Book of Concord is found in this portion of the Smalcald Articles.
Luther asserts that the Papacy is the Antichrist. This is a statement
that shocks most modern Christian ears, striking many as an outrageous
excess of rhetoric. Confessional Lutherans must be sensitive to the
degree to which this assertion in our Book of Concord is deeply
offensive to other Christians when they learn of this teaching. Care
must be taken not to imitate the high-volume polemics of the
Reformation era in a context where, regardless of what we think of it,
high value is placed on civility, politeness and courtesy—qualities
obviously not understand in the same way in Luther’s day where there
was a much greater degree of “rough and tumble” in the way Christians
addressed issues and those with whom they disagreed. This is not to
suggest, even for a moment, that we are to back away from this teaching
in the Lutheran Confessions, no, not at all. But it is to say that we
must be careful to be very clear on what we mean, and what we do not
mean, when we continue to assert that the Papacy in Rome is the
Antichrist.

This post will be longer than others so far published on this blog, because, in my opinion, this is such a sensitive issue,
yet such a very vital one. I’ve noticed even among confessional
Lutherans a tendency to want to dismiss the assertion Luther makes here
as historically conditioned. While it is most certainly true that the
assertions in this article are historically conditioned and some do not
even pertain anymore, at the heart of Luther’s argument is an issue
that is still very much alive and well and of essential, vital
importance: the issue is the Gospel of Christ and how that Gospel is
confessed, and to what degree the Gospel is properly understood and
believed. That is the heart of Luther’s argument here and it is why, to
this day, we must continue to confess the antichristian nature of the
office of the Papacy.

Let us be very clear what we are not
saying with this assertion. We are by no means suggesting that within
the Roman Catholic Church there are no Christians, or that everything
taught and heard in Roman Catholic congregations is anti-Christian. No,
quite the opposite is the case. It is precisely because we recognize
the Gospel is preached, taught and heard in the Church of Rome, and
that the Sacraments are validly administered, that we are all the more
concerned to point out as clearly as we can what, precisely, in the
Roman Church runs so deeply contrary to the Gospel. That is the
animating passion in this article in the Smalcald Articles: the
doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on
account of Christ, alone. But that there are dear Christians in the
Roman Church is undeniably true!

It is therefore important for
Lutherans to understand precisely what this teaching is all about and
to take care when explaining their beliefs to other Christians,
particularly Roman Catholics. Simply put, the historic teaching of the
Lutheran Church, as stated here, is that the office held by the
particular men chosen to be pope is the fulfillment of what Paul warns
the church about in his second letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thess.
2:3): a man will seat himself in the church of God, as supreme ruler,
and claim that his teachings are God’s teaching, making himself thus,
effectively, equal to God. Elsewhere St. Paul warns the Church to be on
watch for those who enact rules and requirements, like forbidding
people to marry and ordering the abstention from certain food (1 Tim.
4:3). We are warned that such movements in the church will result in
things like. The person and office that continues, to this day, to best
fit this description, is the office of the Papacy in Rome, which
continues to claim for itself supreme rule and ultimate doctrinal
authority in the Christian Church on earth. At the time of the
Reformation, the Papacy claimed not only ultimate authority in the
church, but also claimed authority in the realm of civil government. A
couple helpful documents from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod help
to explain this teaching. In response to a question from a non-Lutheran
about the historic Lutheran teaching concerning the Antichrist, the
LCMS’ Frequently Asked Questions site states:

The
LCMS does not teach, nor has it ever taught, that any individual Pope
as a person, is to be identified with the Antichrist. The historic view
of LCMS on the Antichrist is summarized as follows by the Synod’s
Theological Commission: “The New Testament predicts that the church
throughout its history will witness many antichrists (Matt. 24:5,23-24;
Mark 13:6,21-22; Luke 21:8; 1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7). All false
teachers who teach contrary to Christ’s Word are opponents of Christ
and, insofar as they do so, are anti-Christ.” However, the Scriptures
also teach that there is one climactic “Anti-Christ” (Dan.
7:8,11,20-21,24-25; 11:36-45; 2 Thessalonians 2; 1 John 2:18; 4:3;
Revelation 17-18). . . Concerning the historical identity of the
Antichrist, we affirm the Lutheran Confessions’ identification of the
Antichrist with the office of the papacy whose official claims continue
to correspond to the Scriptural marks listed above. It is important,
however, that we observe the distinction that the Lutheran Confessors
made between the office of the pope (papacy) and the individual men who
fill that office. The latter could be Christians themselves. We do not
presume to judge any person’s heart. Also, we acknowledge the
possibility that the historical form of the Antichrist could change. Of
course, in that case another identified by these marks would rise. In a
footnote, the Commission adds: To the extent that the papacy continues
to claim as official dogma the canons and decrees of the Council of
Trent which expressly anathematizes, for instance, the doctrine “that
justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy which
remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that trust alone by which
we are justified,” the judgment of the Lutheran confessional writings
that the papacy is the Antichrist holds. At the same time, of course,
we must recognize the possibility, under God’s guidance, that
contemporary discussions and statements (e.g., 1983 U.S. Lutheran-Roman
Catholic dialogue statement on “Justification by Faith”) could lead to
a revision of the Roman Catholic position regarding Tridentine dogma.

These
things are well said, but of course we know that Rome continues to
insist on the historic definition of the doctrine of justification as
specified at the Council of Trent and, to that extent, remains in the
gravest of error regarding the very heart of the Gospel of Christ
itself. And this is the main point of this article in the Smalcald
Articles. The reason the Papacy was so strongly opposed, and why to
this day we must continue to reject and condemn the office and its
powers is precisely because of how it conflicts with the Gospel. Here
is the mystery of lawlessness and the degree to which Satan works

It
is claimed by by the majority of the mainline/liberal form of the
Lutheran Church as typified by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America and other large state churches in Europe and Germany that the
differences between Rome and Lutheranism on Justification were resolved
by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. This claim
is clearly refuted in an excellent monograph on this issue
that was prepared by both Missouri Synod seminaries with the Missouri
Synod’s Commission on the Doctrine of Justification. It is essential
reading on this point. The other essential book that must be read is
Rev. Dr. Robert Preus’ Justification and Rome.
It is a penetrating analysis and summary of the critical difference
between Rome’s understanding of the Gospel and the Scriptural teaching
of the Gospel.

And lest we think it was only Missouri Synod
theologians playing the role of eternal party-poopers in ecumenical
dialogs, we need to remember that a large number of the most prominent
members of German theological faculties also pointed out the failings
of the JDDJ. Here is a quote from an article about this:

While
sharp critiques from conservative Protestants in the United States did
not constitute a hot news flash, the reaction of over two hundred
Lutheran theologians in Europe (primarily from German universities) was
somewhat of a surprise. Prior to the signing of JDDJ they issued a
“Position Statement of Theological Instructors” which set forth seven
points of objection to JDDJ. Among the signatories were eighteen
professors from the University of Tubingen (hardly a bastion of
conservatism), including Peter Stuhlmacher, Martin Hengel, and Otto
Betz. Among their objections was that JDDJ promulgates an essentially
Catholic view of justification.

And here is the
text of the useful FAQ on the JDDJ available on The LCMS web site,
which yours truly authored at the time of the release of the JDDJ:

Q.
I would like to understand the main problem your church body has with
the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (signed October
31 by representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman
Catholic Church). Is it the fact that it implies that we are saved as a
result of both faith and works?

A. Yes, you are on the
right track here. The recently signed Joint Declaration on the Doctrine
of Justification (JDDJ) does not signal a change in the Roman Catholic
church, but rather, a willingness on the part of the Lutherans who
signed it to allow Rome’s doctrine of justification to stand as a valid
interpretation of what the Bible teaches us about justification. This
is something that the Lutheran church has never done before, and in
fact, it is a great tragedy and a profoundly sad moment in the history
of Lutheranism.

Rome historically has always taught that we are
saved by grace, and grace alone. They emphasize that very strongly. The
16th century Council of Trent makes this point very clear. Thus, there
is nothing new on this in the Declaration on this point, even though
some Lutherans have made it sound as if Rome’s words about grace signal
some marvelous breakthrough.

What you probably have not heard is
that the JDDJ very carefully avoid precise definitions of the words
grace, faith, sin, etc. That is no accident. Careful definition of
those terms would have shown how far apart our two churches actually
are on the doctrine of justification.

The problem with Rome’s
view of justification is that they view it as a process, whereby we
cooperate with God’s grace in order to merit eternal life for
ourselves, and even for others (that is a paraphrase of what the
Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches). They view grace as a sort of
“substance” that God infuses into us that permits us to do those works
that are necessary in order that we might earn more grace. The Bible
describes grace as the loving and favorable disposition of God; in
other words, grace is all about what God is doing and giving.

We
distinguish between the result of justification, which is the Christian
life, and the work of God to save us. Rome mixes sanctification with
justification. Why is this view troublesome? Because it teaches that
something other than trust in Christ is necessary for or salvation.
That “something other” is what we bring to the table. And the only
thing we do bring to the table is our sin, not our good works. Our
works are a response that God works in us, but not a contributing cause
to our justification.

The Roman Catholic Church is very careful
to state that even this “something other” is made possibly only because
God has given us the “initial” grace to desire more grace. But in
practical reality, it is apparent that the Roman Catholic Church is
finally throwing people back on relying on what they are doing, or can
do, to merit eternal life. When we mix in our works in the picture of
our salvation, the glory and merit of Christ always end up becoming
obscured.

But the Bible is clear that it is purely by grace, not
by works, or else grace would just be a “help” for us to do the works
that finally are what merit God’s forgiveness. In the Roman Catholic
view, justification is a process by which we participate with God in
achieving our salvation. The Biblical view is that justification is
God’s declaration of our complete righteousness and total forgiveness,
apart from any works. This gift is received by faith alone–apart from
works (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9).

Another point to be made is this:
If, in fact, Rome does teach justification as the Bible teaches it,
then there should be an immediate change in its view of indulgences,
prayer to the saints and the myriad of other extra-biblical traditions
that it has embraced. For if justification is the heart and center of
the Bible, then these other things are incompatible with it.

I
hope this helps you see that the Roman Catholic view of justification
and the classical Lutheran view are definitely not complementary, but
diametrically opposed to one another. The JDDJ did not change that
fact. The Lutherans who signed the document did not insist on careful
definition of terms so as to make absolutely clear that our salvation
is by faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.

The
best short study of the historic differences between Rome and
Lutheranism on the doctrine of justification is available in a book
called “Justification and Rome” by Robert Preus. You may purchase a
copy of this book from Concordia Publishing House (CPH) (800-325-3040).

The
most complete treatment of this subject is in the 16th century Lutheran
response to Trent, which still stands today as the best and most
complete treatment of Trent by a Lutheran. It is “The Examination of
the Council of Trent” by Martin Chemnitz, also available through CPH.

And
it is not only Lutheran groups that have clarified precisely what the
JDDJ means, and does not mean. Here is the Vatican’s own very carefully
clarification and caveats issued at the time the JDDJ was being hailed
as a great “breakthrough” by certain Lutherans. Read this carefully and
you will see the extent to which claims that the differences between
Rome and historic Lutheranism have been “resolved” are entirely false,
as anyone with even the most elementary familiarity with the Lutheran
Confessions will be able to see in the statement below.

From the Vatican statement issued at the time the JDDJ was announced, this from Cardinal Cassidy:

Under
the title “Declaration” it is clearly stated that “a considerable
agreement has been reached” on a question that has been for centuries
so controversial. Indeed “it is rightly stated that there is a
consensus in fundamental truths of the doctrine of justification”. At
the same time, the Catholic Church is of the opinion that we cannot yet
speak of a consensus such as to eliminate every difference between
Catholics and Lutherans in the understanding of justification. And as a
matter of fact the Joint Declaration itself refers to some of these
differences.

Under the second heading “Clarifications”, the
Catholic Church indicates several points that need further study. The
major difficulties are to be found in paragraph 4.4 of the Joint
Declaration concerning the justified person as sinner. We have some
difficulty in seeing how the explanation given in N° 29 regarding the
Lutheran understanding of the justified person as sinful can be fully
compatible with the Catholic doctrine explained in N° 30. The Lutheran
explanation seems still to contradict the Catholic understanding of
baptism in which all that can properly be called sin is taken away.
Concupiscence remains of course in the justified, but for Catholics
this cannot be properly called sin, while in N° 29 it is stated that
for Lutherans it is truly sin. Moreover, the Statement in N° 22 that
“God no longer imputes to the justified their sins” does not seem an
adequate explanation of the Catholic understanding of the interior
transformation that takes place in the justified person. The term
“Opposition to God” that is used in NN° 28-30 is understood differently
by Catholics and Lutherans and so becomes, in fact, equivocal. For
these reasons it is difficult to see how, in the current state of the
presentation, given in the Joint Declaration, we can say that the
Lutheran doctrine of “simul iustus et peccator” is not touched by the
anathemas of the Tridentine decrees on original sin and justification.

One
of the most discussed points in the Joint Declaration has been the
question considered under N° 18, concerning the Lutheran understanding
of justification as criterion for the life and practice of the Church.
For Lutherans this doctrine has taken on an altogether particular
significance. The Joint Declaration states clearly that for Catholics
also the doctrine of justification “is an indispensable criterion which
constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our
churches to Christ”. Catholics, however, “see themselves as bound by
several criteria” and our Note indicates what those criteria are by
stating that, “according to Scripture and already from the time of the
Fathers of the Church, the message of justification has been
organically integrated into the fundamental criterion of the regula
fidei, that is the confession of the one God in three persons,
christologically centered and rooted in the living Church and its
sacramental”.

The Catholic Church has noted with satisfaction
that N° 21, in conformity with canon 4 of the Decree on Justification
of the Council of Trent, states that man can refuse grace; but it must
also be affirmed that, with this freedom to refuse, there is also in
the justified person a new capacity to adhere to the divine will, a
capacity that is rightly called cooperatio. Given this understanding
and noting that in N° 17, Lutherans and Catholics share the common
conviction that the new life comes from the divine mercy and not from
any merit of our own, it is difficult to see how the term “mere
passive” can be used by the Lutherans in this regard, and how this
phrase can be compatible with the affirmation by the Lutherans in N°21
of the full personal involvement in faith. A clarification would
therefore seem necessary in order to determine more exactly the degree
of consensus achieved in this regard.

The Catholic Church also
maintains with Lutherans that these good works of the justified are
always the fruit of grace. But at the same time, and without in any way
diminishing the totally divine initiative, they are the fruit of man,
justified and interiorly transformed. We can therefore say that eternal
life is, at one and the same time, grace and the reward given by God
for good works and merits.

In pursuing this study further, it
will be necessary to treat also the sacrament of penance, through which
the sinner can be justified anew.

And then in a third section,
the Note indicates some Prospects for Future Work. The hope is
expressed that the present important step forward towards agreement on
justification may be followed by further studies that will make
possible a satisfactory clarification of the divergences that still
exist, some of which concern aspects of substance and are therefore not
all mutually compatible, as affirmed on the contrary in N° 40.
Particularly desirable would be a deeper reflection on the biblical
foundation that is the common basis of the doctrine of justification
both for Lutherans and Catholics.

And the Note finally expresses
the wish that Catholics and Lutherans might seek to find a language
which can make the doctrine of justification more intelligible also for
the men and women of our day.

9. In conclusion, I wish to stress
that the consensus reached on the doctrine of justification, despite
its limitations, virtually resolves a long disputed question at the
close of the twentieth century, and on the eve of the new millennium.
It is a response to Pope John Paul II’s appeal in Tertio Millennio
Adveniente that “the approaching end of the second millennium demands
of everyone an examination of conscience and the promotion of fitting
ecumenical initiatives, so that we can celebrate the Great Jubilee, if
not completely united, at least much closer to overcoming the divisions
of the second millennium” (N° 34), and will be an enormous
encouragement to Catholics and Lutherans as they continue to work in
the years ahead for the visible unity to which the Lord is calling us.
Indeed, it will be an encouragement to the whole ecumenical movement.
It will show that patient work to overcome difficulties through
dialogue can achieve results that go far beyond what could have been
hoped for when the dialogue began.

And of course there is this illuminating response
from the Vatican prepared by the man who is now Pope. Note particularly
the very telling affirmation of precisely the very doctrine of Rome
that is so vigorously and consistently rejected and condemned in the
Lutheran Confessions as the direct contradiction of the Gospel that it
is:

1. The major difficulties preventing an
affirmation of total consensus between the parties on the theme of
Justification arise in paragraph 4.4 The Justified as Sinner (nn.
28-1,0 ). Even taking into account the differences, legitimate in
themselves, that come from different theological approaches to the
content of faith, from a Catholic point of view the title is already a
cause of perplexity. According, indeed, to the doctrine of the Catholic
Church, in baptism everything that is really sin is taken away, and so,
in those who are born anew there is nothing that is hateful to God (3).
It follows that the concupiscence that remains in the baptised is not,
properly speaking, sin. For Catholics, therefore, the formula “at the
same time righteous and sinner”, as it is explained at the beginning of
n. 29 (“Believers are totally righteous, in that God forgives their
sins through Word and Sacrament …Looking at themselves … however,
they recognize that they remain also totally sinners. Sin still lives
in them…”), is not acceptable.

This statement does not, in
fact, seem compatible with the renewal and sanctification of the
interior man of which the Council of Trent speaks (4). The expression
“Opposition to God” (Gottwidrigkeit)
that is used in nn. 28-30 is understood differently by Lutherans and by
Catholics, and so becomes, in fact, equivocal. In this same sense,
there can be ambiguity for a Catholic in the sentence of n. 22, “…
God no longer imputes to them their sin and through the Holy Spirit
effects in them an active love”, because man’s interior transformation
is not clearly seen. So, for all these reasons, it remains difficult to
see how, in the current state of the presentation, given in the Joint
Declaration, we can say that this doctrine on “simul iustus et
peccator” is not touched by the anathemas of the Tridentine decree on
original sin and justification.

We also need
to recognize, as Rome rightly notes, politely yet bluntly, that the
Luthreran World Federation can not be regarded as an entity that in
fact represents or speaks for world Lutheranism. In fact, at the time
the JDDJ was being pushed by the LWF Executive Council many member
churches of the LWF did not approve it, or sign on, or vote to adopt it. The Vatican says:

We
need finally to note, from the point of view of their representative
quality, the different character of the two signataries of this Joint
Declaration. The Catholic Church recognises the great effort made by
the Lutheran World Federation in order to arrive, through consultation
of the Synods, at a “magnus consensus”, and so to give a true ecclesial
value to its signature; there remains, however, the question of the
real authority of such a synodal consensus, today and also tomorrow, in
the life and doctrine of the Lutheran community.

Therefore,
when we today read this article in the Smalcald Articles we need to
keep in mind that the severity of the rhetoric reflects the reality
Luther and his fellow reformers were experiencing at the time: the
Roman Papacy was engaged in literal warfare against those who disagreed
with Roman Catholicism. They were torturing and putting people to death
for affirming the Biblical Gospel. Today we can be thankful that there
the extravagant claims made for Papal authority on heaven and on earth
are no longer being made by the Papacy, and we praise God for any
movement more toward the proclamation of Christ that we do see and
notice in more recent Papal sermons and addresses; however, the most
fundamental error of Romanism remains: the claim that we are not saved
by grace alone through faith alone, but that we are saved through a
mixture of faith plus works. The Pope continues to insist on his
universal authority in the Church.

Let’s also be careful not to forget what Trent declared over against the Gospel:

CANON 9: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is
justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to
co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and
that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed
by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”
CANON 12: “If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing
else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s
sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified …
let him be accursed.”

Canon 14: “If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his
sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved
and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes
himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and
justification are effected; let him be anathema.”

Canon 24: “If any one saith, that the justice received is not
preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that
the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification
obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be
anathema.”

Canon 30: “If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification
has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and
the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there
remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in
this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the
kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.”

Canon 33: “If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine
touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present
decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in
any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and
the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more)
illustrious; let him be anathema.

We rejoice that we have much
in common with our fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church.
Because of what we have in common, we are committed to working toward
true reconciliation of our important differences. We can not support
the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification because it does
not actually reconcile the differences between Lutherans and Roman
Catholics concerning the most important truth of Christianity. What is
that truth? God loved the world so much that He sent His Son, Jesus
Christ, to live a perfect life in our place and to die for our sins.
God declares us to be totally righteous and completely forgiven because
of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God gives us
eternal life as a free gift through trust in Christ alone. The Roman
Catholic Church teaches that something more than trust in Christ is
necessary for us to be saved. It teaches that we are able to merit,
through our works, eternal life for ourselves and others. We believe
this teaching obscures the work of Jesus Christ and clouds the central
message of the Bible. Therefore, despite what has been reported in the
public media about the Lutheran-Roman Catholic declaration, very
significant differences remain in regard to how we understand
salvation, a fact that the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges. We pray
for genuine reconciliation of differences among Christians. Our church
is intent on working for the day when the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ
is proclaimed with one voice. We will continue to work toward true
reconciliation.

I ask for your kind indulgence, dear reader, as I wax a bit autobiograpical at this point in this post.

Why Separation from Rome is Still a Tragic Necessity

Some
time ago, word went out that the Papacy might be considering lifting
the charge of heretic against Martin Luther. This rumor was squelched.
In the course of talking about it with a friend, we were going back and
forth about our feelings about Rome and the Papacy. I offered him these
more personal reflections on my experiences with Rome and what a truly
painful thing it is to recognize that Lutheranism and Romanism must be,
and remain, separate. In light of the Pope’s coming trip to the USA, I
thought I would share these thoughts, with a few modifications, more
openly here:

The reason I have such strong feelings of
frustration and, yes, anger, with the errors of Romanism is precisely
because there is so much in the Roman Catholic Church that I love and
cherish. “Tragic necessity” is no mere polite soundbite to me, nor to
many other faithful Lutheran Christians. We cherish the Gospel that is
read and heard in Roman Catholic Churches whenever and wherever it is
read, or preached. We cherish the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar which
is given and distributed in Roman Catholic Churches. We love and
cherish these things in spite of the errors that obscure the glory and
grace of God in the mercy of Christ.

I developed close
friendships with many Roman Catholics growing up in the Deep South
where Lutheran and Roman Catholics were but two sides of the same coin
in the view of Baptists, Pentecostals, etc. There was a shared history
and experience of liturgy and church history that was unknown to many,
if not all, Bible fundamentalists.

I attended a Roman Catholic
High School and was so deeply moved and impressed by the nuns and
priests there who taught us everything from typing (thank you Sister
Mary Jean!) and drilled us to death in English and grammar (thank you
Sister Mary Margaret!). I loved Latin class when Father Pine, S.J.,
would wander in and engage in Latin with our teacher, and when he
actually corrected my writing one day, walking up and down the rows of
desks, “Ah, excuse me, Mr. McCain, but you seem to have a certain
fondness leaving your “t’s” uncrossed and your i’s undotted.” As my
face grew red, I was able only but to agree and say “Yes, Father. You
are right.”

And I recall Father Foley regaling us with tales of
youthful episodes with a certain “fair lass” in Ireland, where he
hailed from, and I recall listening to him and Sister Mary Ellen rattle
away back and forth in Gaelic, their mother tongue, the mother tongue
of my ancestors as well.

And they even gave a Lutheran kid best
religion student of the year award, twice in a row! And I have the
warmest memories of all of the many kind notes and remembrances from
the priests, sisters and brothers who, in their own dear ways,
encouraged me to become a Lutheran pastor, with quiet conversations,
even whispered in some cases. We shared a love for Christ!

But
as for the institution and public doctrine of the Roman Catholic
Church, here is where the tragic necessity of separation becomes a
reality.

But I sat seething through four years of Masses where
the Gospel was terribly obscured with all manner of nonsense that one
can only imagine that would be possible in the mid-seventies, with
people trying to impress teenagers attending Mass. (It became so bad
the Bishop announced he would no longer conduct mass at our high school
until the behavior in Mass got better!).

For these very personal
reasons, in addition to my passion for theology, I’ve been deeply
concerned and interested in Roman Catholicism for years and feel such a
kindred spirit with the Roman Church, but also at the same time, such a
heart-wrenching separation when I watch the Gospel not really
proclaimed sweetly and clearly.

Tragic necessity, indeed. Lord, have mercy.

While
it is necessary to read and understand this particular article in the
Smalcald Articles with the errors of Rome clearly in view, there is
also much to be gained from this article in addition to that. Read and
applied to the situation even within our Lutheran Church raises
opportunities for introspection, confession and repentance. How and
when can situations arise in any church where the Gospel is obscured
and the authority of a man, or men, is elevated over and above that of
Christ and His Word? While the Papacy is still rightly identified as
Antichrist, is the Papacy alone antichrist? What are other modern-day
“antichrists” that threaten the church?
In what sense is any threat to the Gospel the spirit of Antichrist at work in the Church today?

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. July 26th, 2008 at 21:46 | #1

    Pastor,
    I take it you have no objection to the Catholic Church insisting that confessional Lutheranism is heretical and that Lutheran churches are not proper churches at all, but only “ecclesial communities,” without a valid ministry or eucharist? After all, Catholicism in those circumstances is merely stating what it believes to be necessary in light of the Gospel…
    [[McCain: Of course I "object" to these assertions, since they are false, but I acknowledge that Rome teaches these things, as one would expect Rome to do.]]

  2. Michael L. Anderson
    July 28th, 2008 at 07:38 | #2

    Dear Mark in Spokane,
    Insistences, many of them, are only to be expected. They can even speak to a certain steadfastness by others. In this sense, I have no objection to the cognitively-crippled crowd’s howling of “Crucify Him,” in the direction of the equivocating Pilate. As our Lord Christ informed the protesting St. Peter, on the Master’s road to the cross, this demand for Messiah-on-wood is something on the order of the wholly expected, as well as the entirely needful.
    If Lutherans are Lutherans, made of the very same mettle as the confessors of the 16th century, then expect the noisomely insistent labels tumbling forth from the Tiberian tribe’s headquarters. The contribution from Rev. McCain has documented, pretty clearly, that the Diocese at Rome remains altogether fixed and centered on certain unhappy beliefs. Accordingly (and logically), Luther is still a heretic, in the eyes of the Diocese. If the our contemporary Diocese views contemporary expressions of Lutheranism as “heretical,” as you indicate, then the conclusion must be (and God be praised) that someone, somewhere must still be doing something Lutheran … right.

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