This email that I got the other day from a member illustrates a lot of things. It illustrates life in a confessional parish, the challenge to called workers of the LCMS to subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions and in light of recent discussions on BJS, the error of unionism.
It’s not a typical title for the emails I get, especially from a member. This member has a daughter marrying a catholic and he wants to talk about it. He frequents our Confessions Reading Group so he has a decent handle on the Symbols and knows the right questions to ask. He and I had talked on the phone about setting a time to get together and thus the title of the email.
In this day and age in the LCMS when many are queasy about standing firm on matters of unionism and syncretism, it is a healthy challenge for not only called workers, but all Lutherans to come to grips with the Confessions’ assertion about the office of the papacy.
Here is what the Smalcald Articles, from the Book of Concord, say about the matter (note well paragraph 10):
Part II, Article IV: Of the Papacy.
1] That the Pope is not, according to divine law or according to the Word of God the head of all Christendom (for this [name] belongs to One only, whose name is Jesus Christ), but is only the bishop and pastor of the Church at Rome, and of those who voluntarily or through a human creature (that is, a political magistrate) have attached themselves to him, to be Christians, not under him as a lord, but with him as brethren [colleagues] and comrades, as the ancient councils and the age of St. Cyprian show.
2] But to-day none of the bishops dare to address the Pope as brother as was done at that time [in the age of Cyprian]; but they must call him most gracious lord, even though they be kings or emperors. This [Such arrogance] we will not, cannot, must not take upon our conscience [with a good conscience approve]. Let him, however, who will do it, do so without us [at his own risk].
3] Hence it follows that all things which the Pope, from a power so false, mischievous, blasphemous, and arrogant, has done and undertaken. have been and still are purely diabolical affairs and transactions (with the exception of such things as pertain to the secular government, where God often permits much good to be effected for a people, even through a tyrant and [faithless] scoundrel) for the ruin of the entire holy [catholic or] Christian Church (so far as it is in his power) and for the destruction of the first and chief article concerning the redemption made through Jesus Christ.
4] For all his bulls and books are extant, in which he roars like a lion (as the angel in Rev. 12 depicts him, [crying out] that no Christian can be saved unless he obeys him and is subject to him in all things that he wishes, that he says, and that he does. All of which amounts to nothing less than saying: Although you believe in Christ, and have in Him [alone] everything that is necessary to salvation, yet it is nothing and all in vain unless you regard [have and worship] me as your god, and be subject and obedient to me. And yet it is manifest that the holy Church has been without the Pope for at least more than five hundred years, and that even to the present day the churches of the Greeks and of many other languages neither have been nor are yet under the Pope. 5] Besides, as often remarked, it is a human figment which is not commanded, and is unnecessary and useless; for the holy Christian [or catholic] Church can exist very well without such a head, and it would certainly have remained better [purer, and its career would have been more prosperous] if such a head had not been raised up by the devil. 6] And the Papacy is also of no use in the Church, because it exercises no Christian office; and therefore it is necessary for the Church to continue and to exist without the Pope.
7] And supposing that the Pope would yield this point, so as not to be supreme by divine right or from God’s command, but that we must have [there must be elected] a [certain] head, to whom all the rest adhere [as their support] in order that the [concord and] unity of Christians may be preserved against sects and heretics, and that such a head were chosen by men, and that it were placed within the choice and power of men to change or remove this head, just as the Council of Constance adopted nearly this course with reference to the Popes, deposing three and electing a fourth; supposing, I say, that the Pope and See at Rome would yield and accept this (which, nevertheless, is impossible; for thus he would have to suffer his entire realm and estate to be overthrown and destroyed, with all his rights and books, a thing which, to speak in few words, he cannot do), nevertheless, even in this way Christianity would not be helped, but many more sects would arise than before.
8] For since men would have to be subject to this head, not from God’s command, but from their personal good pleasure, it would easily and in a short time be despised, and at last retain no member; neither would it have to be forever confined to Rome or any other place, but it might be wherever and in whatever church God would grant a man fit for the [taking upon him such a great] office. Oh, the complicated and confused state of affairs [perplexity] that would result!
9] Therefore the Church can never be better governed and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ, and all the bishops equal in office (although they be unequal in gifts), be diligently joined in unity of doctrine, faith, Sacraments, prayer, and works of love, etc., as St. Jerome writes that the priests at Alexandria together and in common governed the churches, as did also the apostles, and afterwards all bishops throughout all Christendom, until the Pope raised his head above all.
10] 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. 11] This is, properly speaking to exalt himself above all that is called God as Paul says, 2 Thess. 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.
I won’t go into a lengthy explanation of the Confessions on this matter because they speak clearly enough on thier own except for the following three brief points.
1) The first step toward understanding this truth that the pope is the antichrist is to realize that the Scriptures speak both of a single anthichrist (the lawless one of II Thess. 2) and of multiple antichrists (as in I John 2). The Biblical notion of antichrist is wider and far more subtle than what Hollywood and the chiliasts portray.
2) Antichrist means exactly what it says. It is someone who opposes Christ. The Roman Catholic rejection of salvation by grace through faith apart from works is clearly anti Christ.
3) As mentioned in point 1 above, the antichrist is not some little boy with 666 branded into his scalp, a political figure like Michael Gorbachev, or any other ghostly or beastly figure. Because we have been catechized by Hollywood and the local Christian bookstore instead of doing a careful study to understand the Revelation to St. John and its figurative nature (Jesus is not going to look like a lamb in heaven), we have a tendency to find it absurd that Luther and the Reformers rightly taught that the office of the papacy fits the Biblical description of the antichrist.
It is sad that so many LCMS pastors are willing to join in worship with the servants of the antichrist and also with other denominations who deny the real presence of Christ in the sacrament, baptismal regeneration and divine monergism among a myriad of other errors.
Joint worship with heterodox Christians, like those whose ecclesiastical head fills the office of the antichrist, is obviously wrong based on the Lutheran Confessions. Any LCMS pastor who holds a contrary view is not genuinely Lutheran.
This is a good time (kairos) for the LCMS to renew its commitment to the faith of the Lutheran fathers as given to us in Scripture and taught by the Lutheran Confessions. The teaching of the Smalcald Articles on the papacy/antichrist is a good test of our confessional mettle.
True, orthodox, confessional Christianity is not for the faint-hearted. The church is not a populist gang of church-growing, coffee-drinking, pop-culture comfortable, Jesus-rockers learning how to better manage their money, raise their kids and have better sex. The Church is a little flock. True, orthodox, confessional Christianity is not joining together with false teachers and believers with love overlooking error. It is recognizing and calling out error wherever it appears and fleeing from it.