Thursday, May 3, 2012

Why identifying the Papacy with the Antichrist is an "essential" doctrine of Protestantism.

Over at the Called To Communion blog, Dr David Anders (who is one of the most solid converts in recent memory) wrote an article called Why Protestants Need the Antichrist. I highly encourage you to read the article and subscribe to CTC's feed. The thesis of the article is how some Protestants (not all!) have shifted their historical world-view from that of a restored Gospel to a developed Gospel. The tough part about the restoration thesis is that the Protestant must necessarily approach Christianity from an anti-intellectual standpoint, essentially ignoring Christian history from approximately the Apostolic Age up until the (Pretend) Reformation. Since this doesn't sit well with the more educated class, the "alternative" is essentially that of the classical Liberal Protestant thesis, which holds that the Gospel truths developed over time, right up to today. While classical Liberal Protestants went so far as to suggest doctrines such as Christ's Divinity were developments from primitive Christianity, this (rightly) doesn't sit well with many modern Liberal Protestants (i.e. Evangelicals) today, who thought that took "scholarship" too far. Instead, these Evangelicals felt there had to be some way to not ignore Christian history, yet still ignore or downplay the very unProtestant (and very Catholic) looking historical facts.

The question now is: how does identifying the Papacy with the antichrist fit in here? The obvious answer is that since Rome's Gospel was radically corrupt in the eyes of the (Pretend) Reformers, this could only mean Rome was (logically) some massive puppet of Satan. Where Dr Anders leaves off though is where I'd like to focus on, which is the question of whether this identification is an "essential" Christian teaching, plainly taught in Scripture.

As Dr Anders points out, there is a modern trend to drop references to the Antichrist out of historic Confessions, such as what the (conservative) Presbyterian Church in America has done in adopting the 1789 American revision of the original (1646) Westminster Confession of Faith (see Their Statement). The Orthodox Presbyterian Church adopted this revision as well. More and more "conservative" Protestants today are backing off from this identification, even going so far as to say Rome isn't even apostate.

Folks like TurretinFan stand behind the original Westminster Confession, holding the Pope to be the Antichrist. But this raises the question: which version of the Confession is right? To identify someone as the Antichrist is no small charge; it's not something that can be simply excused as a matter of personal preference. Which of the two is engaging in proper exegesis? The 1646 WCF gives this as the "Scriptural Proof" for identifying the Pope with the Antichrist:
2 Thess 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.
Rev 13:6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
Exegetically, it seems the identification is quite weak. First of all, as Dr Anders noted, the context of these passages is apocalyptic, yet as the centuries go by this seems less and less plausible given that the end of the world still hasn't happened. In other words, it was easy for someone like Luther to make this charge, since he thought the end of the world was near, but his predictions have gone the way of the Millerites and Harold Camping. Second of all, and credit for this goes to someone in TF's comment box, the text speaks of this Antichrist coming from inside the true church, which is impossible if Rome never was a true church. This would entail the ultra absurd historical proposition that there were two parallel visible churches, which diverged at the Reformation. Thirdly, the term "Antichrist" doesn't even appear in these texts. The term "Antichrist" does appear in the Bible (only in St John's Epistles: 1 John 2:18-23; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7), but I suspect the reason why these texts were not referenced was because they identify the Antichrist with denying Jesus has come in the flesh and is the Messiah (i.e. the core Christian dogma). This cannot be charged of Catholicism because Catholicism affirms this core Christian dogma. [UPDATE: I would add another detail that someone showed me, which is that the "Man of Sin" seems to refer to a single individual, not an office or succession of people.]

So when all the evidence and reasoning behind identifying the Papacy with the Antichrist is considered, it becomes clear this was a fatal blunder on the Protestant end. What we have here is essentially an old fashion case of false prophecy, akin to the false prediction as the Jehovah's Witnesses. The JWs claimed 1914 marked the start of the "last days," meaning Jesus would return any moment within a "generation," and since the JWs "rightly" predicted this, it means they're the true religion. Yet as we near the century mark this is becoming a self-refuting prophecy. Similarly, the Pretend Reformers based their entire motivation for tearing apart the Church on the basis of (falsely) prophesying that we were in the end times and that the Pope was the Antichrist. Given that the Papacy is still here 500 years later, and Protestantism is heading out the door, we see the Reformers were wrong. They were right to recognize that for the Papacy to be such a powerful position that he is either propped up by God or from Satan, but unfortunately they placed all their bets on the wrong side of the table.

As noted earlier, this embarrassment has led to the dropping of the reference by some modern Protestants, but I believe this turns it into a matter of revisionist history. If the original identification was wrong, then this has huge implications for the credibility of the first Protestants. So the modern day Protestant is stuck: either they admit the first Protestants were very wrong, or they cling to laughable exegesis and pretend that this is acceptable.


Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

Your remarks about the impossibility of the pope being the Anti-Christ are on target. It was the realization that the Catholic Church always taught Jesus was Christ come in the flesh that knocked down one barrier that kept me out of the Church.
When John wrote his epistles that had the word Anti-Christ in them, there was one religion at that time in history that denied Jesus was Christ come in the flesh. That religion was the one that was known as Phariseeism, the tradition of the elders, or Rabbical Judaism. One only has to go back and forth between John's Gospel (especially the 1st and 8th chapters) and his epistles to see the growing rejection of Jesus as Christ come in the flesh in what was developing as Rabbical Judaism. I can see why many, if not all, of the church fathers taught that Anti-Christ will be a Jew. Since their rejection of Jesus, the Jewish people have followed and have been led astray by various false Christs and messianic movements. Sabbat Tzivi and Zionism are two good examples of this. Pope Pius V claimed that Jews were the seed-bag of nearly all of the heresies that have bothered the church since day one. Indeed, if you read Rabbi Louis I Newman's "Jewish Influence On Christian Reform Movements" you will find (from a Jewish point of view) that PPV was right on the money. The Anti-Christ, IMHO, will probably be a Crypto-Jew passing as a Christian. Just as Anti-Christianism arose in the Old Testament Church, so will it spring up in the New Testament, being pushed by the secret Jews (false breathern) and their duped Gentile helpers. (Sabbat Goys)

Nick said...

Hello Steve,

That is a very interesting connection to make. My mind simply understood St John to be talking about heretics who denied Christ's divinity and secularists who didn't believe Jesus is Messiah, but it makes perfect sense for John to be talking about a Jew of sorts because they would certainly fit his description. That would make sense for the Church Fathers to make such a claim.

(Note: I don't go for the extreme views that state the Jews are behind everything wrong with the world.)

Jae said...

The perfect fit for that description of Anti-Christ by the Church Fathers coming from the jewish lineage and add the characteristic of "rejection" of Jesus Christ as the Messiah comes in the flesh:

CCC 675. "Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.574 The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth575 will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh."

Is no other than Karl Marx and the Bolsheviks (Jewish line) who concocted and promoted the greatest scourge mankind has ever known that even Our Blessed Mother has to come dowm from Heaven to Fatima and perform the greatest Sign of the Sun.....the Atheistic Communism which until now even somehow "vanished and defeated" from the face of the earth still spreading its poison of Atheistic secularism, liberalism, modernism, humanism and relatism that is spreading and afflicting the western world and great part of Asia.

I really think this is best described in the Book of Revelation where the first beast (Atheistic Communism)was seemed to be as "wounded" then the second beast arises (Secularism, relativism etc).

Just my thoughts linking what the chronological events been taking placed, from Pope Leo XIII's apparition when he saw "Satan asking Christ enough time and power to destroy His Church in 100 years.." to the Catechism of the Church describing the nature of Anti-Christ and Second Coming , Fatima, Book of Revelation and the words of PJII.

CD-Host said...

If you think about the core objectives of the early reformers it was to take over or replace the Catholic church with a new church that held to Protestant doctrines on either issues of justification or issues of secular government. They failed. The unexpected happened, both Protestantism and Catholicism continued and spread. Protestantism most importantly to the United States but also Australia, Canada, South Africa... Catholicism most importantly to all of Latin America.

There is no question neither group for decades saw the possibility that they were creating religious pluralism. None foresaw the Peace of Augsburg, much less that in less than 100 years it would be made the permanent institutional structure with the Peace of Westphalia.

Nothing shocking there. Both the Reformers and the Catholics in the 16th century were clueless when it came to what would happen.