Two WRF Members Debate Whether the Pope Is the Antichrist

October 15, 2015
Sam Logan

[Note: The two items below express the views of the individuals to whom the items are ascribed and do not necessarily reflect the position of the WRF as a whole.]

 

Is the Pope the Antichrist?
by
WRF Member Leonardo De Chirico (ministering in Rome)
leonardo.dechirico@ifeditalia.org

These days no one asks a question like this. It seems too arrogant, too outdated, grossly missing the mark of a honest religious conversation. Moreover, any reference to the Anti-Christ seems to be further marred by the fancy treatments that it has received in popular pseudo-apocalyptic novels, futurist accounts of world trends, and millenarist explanations of Christian eschatology.

It seems that on the Anti-Christ is better to maintain a silent attitude if not an agnostic approach. It is there in the Bible, but we don’t know what it looks like and we are bound to stay away from any polemical discourse or unhelpful conjecture. Ecumenical correctness imposes a dialoguing code that demands that only “nice” things can be said in inter-faith conversations. In this overly hesitant position there is also a clear-cut theological judgment on the way in which the Protestant tradition has been understating the nature of the Anti-Christ for centuries. From Martin Luther to C.H. Spurgeon, from John Wesley to the Puritans, there has been a consistent, coherent and univocal interpretation of the identity of the Anti-Christ. The Protestant Reformation did not invent this reading of the Papacy as the Anti-Christ but carried it on from strands of Medieval teachings and gave it a deeper theological basis.

Here is how the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith aptly summarizes this widespread and long-standing Protestant consensus:

“There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof, but is that Antichrist, the man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the church, against Christ and all that is called God” (art. XXV.6).[1]

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) is perhaps the greatest Reformed theologian of the XVII century. His major work, the Institutes of Elenctic Theology, has been one of the most influential theological textbooks of the continental Reformed tradition. In his section on the Church, Turretin extensively deals with the Papacy, as he always engages in “apologetic” theology. His more comprehensive treatment of the Pope as the Antichrist, however, is his 7th Disputation on the Antichrist that, in turn, is part of a larger work entitled Concerning our Necessary Secession from the Church of Rome and the Impossibility of Cooperation with Her (1661).[2] Here we find perhaps the most detailed and systematic Protestant argument for the identification of the Pope as the Antichrist. Turretin endeavors to exegete Scripture and evaluate the facts of church history for the purpose of saving the Church of Christ from committing spiritual fornication.

After noting that it is the common opinion of Protestants that the Pope is the Antichrist, Turretin explains that Scripture reveals the place of the Antichrist (the temple), his time (from apostolic times onward), and his person (an apostate from the faith, a performer of spurious miracles, one who opposes Christ, a self-exalting figure, a man of sin, an idolater). Turretin goes as far as analyzing the name and number of the Beast of Revelation 13:17-18. Gathering all these elements together, he does not find these marks among the Jews or Turks (Muslims), nor among the Greek Orthodox. In his view, they only fit the chief authority of the Roman Church.

Turretin is convinced that the Antichrist is not a single person but must refer to an office or succession of persons in office that began operating in apostolic times. To the Catholic objection that Popes have never denied Christ, Turretin replies that the Antichrist will not openly deny Christ as a professed enemy but as a professed friend of Christ who praises Him with their words, yet fights Him with his actions. He sees this attitude in Popes who arrogate to themselves the three offices of Christ (Priest, Prophet and King), but bury the Gospel under their own traditions and undermine His work of redemption by their masses, purgatory, indulgences, and false worship.

Referring to the doctrine of Papal supremacy, the 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (882). Turretin’s analysis of the Papacy may seem harsh and trenchant, but fits the presentation of the official teaching of the Roman Church on the Papacy. The Pope as Vicar of Christ with full, supreme and universal power, coupled with the political status of the papacy, is indeed an institution that claims titles and prerogatives which must be Christ’s and Christ’s only and is also an institution that blurs religious and political fundamental distinctions!

These views are certainly far from being “ecumenically correct”. Yet, whatever one makes of them, it is important to appreciate the fact that they do not stem from slandering invectives or bandying insults. Theologians like Turretin built a highly sophisticated Biblical and theological argument and were not driven by resentment alone. The Roman Church, while not being static, nor a monolithic reality, does not really change in its fundamental commitments. It expands itself but does not purify itself. It embraces new trends and practices but does not expel unbiblical ones. It grows but it does not reform itself according to gospel standards. The discussion on the Anti-Christ must be revived and worked out with biblical soberness and historical awareness.

 

[1] It is followed by The Savoy Declaration (1658), art. XXVI and The London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), art. XXVI.

[2] The 7th Disputation was published as F. Turretin, Whether It Can be Proven the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist, ed. by R. Winburn (Forestville, CA: Protestant Reformation Publications, 1999).

 

Appendix added on October 16, 2015, at the request of Leonardo De Chirico:

“Is the Pope the Antichrist?” is a post of mine that was picked up by Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher. According to Schirrmacher, my article advocated the view that “Pope Francis is the Antichrist”. Unfortunately, my post makes no such statement. 

In an article on the Christian Post (15 Oct 2015) 
http://www.christianpost.com/news/vatican-synod-on-family-pope-francis-antichrist-147769/ Schirrmacher grossly misrepresented me by writing that "One Italian blog claimed that Pope Francis is the Antichrist". 

My name is not explicitly mentioned but the reference to an Italian blog and the fact that the blog was written by an evangelical clearly indicates that he is thinking of me. In fact, the blog he refers to is http://vaticanfiles.org/2015/10/114-is-the-pope-the-anti-christ/ where I provide a short presentation of the views of Francis Turretin (1623-1687) which reflect standard Protestant views on the Antichrist across the centuries. 

Here are few snapshots from my blog:

“Turretin is convinced that the Antichrist is not a single person but must refer to an office or succession of persons in office that began operating in apostolic times.” 

“These views are certainly far from being ‘ecumenically correct’. Yet, whatever one makes of them, it is important to appreciate the fact that they do not stem from slandering invectives or bandying insults.” 

I end the blog with this sentence: “The discussion on the Anti-Christ must be revived and worked out with biblical soberness and historical awareness.” 

Nowhere in the blog I make the statement that “Pope Francis is the Antichrist”. Actually Pope Francis is never mentioned in the blog! So Schirrmacher totally misrepresented the point of the post, attributing to me what I did not write.

I have written several pieces on Pope Francis where I offer assessments and insights on his office[1] but nowhere I wrote that “Pope Francis is the Antichrist”.

In another blog by Schirrmacher (12 Oct 2015)

http://www.thomasschirrmacher.net/blog/is-the-pope-the-antichrist-not-according-to-sola-scriptura/

He again makes reference to the same blog of mine and explicitly calls it the Vatican Files (the title of my blog being: www.vaticanfiles.org ). In his piece Schirrmacher transforms the question which entitles my article “Is the Pope the Antichrist?” into the statement that “The Pope is the Antichrist”. A question has become a statement! But I wrote the question, not the statement. Here again my views were grossly misrepresented and I was transformed into a straw man.

I write this clarification so that readers of the WRF website can decide for themselves about what I did write in spite of the misrepresentation to which I have been subjected. I welcome dialogue or debate on this issue and other ones, but such discussion should be honest and transparent and not under the pretense of arguments that have been misrepresented.
 

[1] E.g. http://vaticanfiles.org/2015/09/113-what-do-you-think-about-pope-francis/. In my blog www.vaticanfiles.org there are lots of posts on Pope Francis.

 

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Is The Pope the Antichrist? Not According to Sola Scriptura!
by
WRF Member Thomas Schirrmacher with WRF Member Thomas Johnson (Ministering in Berlin and Prague)
drthschirrmacher@me.com and johnson.thomas.k@gmail.com


While I am representing the World Evangelical Alliance at the Vatican synod and shake hands with the Pope daily, the article above references 1 John 2:18; 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7 and the Beast of Revelation 13:17-18. It quotes historic persons such as Martin Luther, historic confessions such as the Westminster Confession, and especially explains the views of Francis Turretin (1623-1687), who is often seen as the master of classical Protestant theology. 

I am very grateful for the references to Reformation and early Reformed sources. There is much that we modern Evangelicals can learn from these sources that will strengthen the work of the gospel today. I have written about Reformation theology and have translated Reformation texts into modern language, as have some of my closest colleagues. 

But for Evangelicals, sola scriptura counts. The Bible stands as an authority even over our own traditions. So I wished that the blog would have given convincing exegetical arguments why the texts in 1 and 2 John and Revelation 13:17-18 relate to the Pope. The antichrist is the one who “denies that Jesus is the Christ” and denies “that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.” Is this an honest description of the current Pope or the papacy in general? I think not. 

Pope Benedict wrote three volumes on Jesus, the Christ, God incarnate. The central descriptions of the antichrist in all the texts by John are the opposite of what the Pope stands for. Indeed, it is 1 John 4:2,3 that makes me think we have to talk with the Pope and most Roman Catholic leaders in a very friendly manner, expecting that the Holy Spirit is active in their lives, even if we disagree with very important and well-known themes in their teaching. 

“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” 

The above item mentions but then puts aside the fact that there are numerous opinions in the Evangelical world how to understand the New Testament texts about the Antichrist, and the view that the Antichrist is or was the Pope is a minority position even among Evangelicals. But if Evangelicals are far from agreeing on the meaning of the texts about the Antichrist, how can such a hard judgement about the Pope be built on them and stand as the standard Evangelical perspective? 

As far as I can see, none of the present day Evangelical exegetical commentaries on 1 John and Revelation find the Pope or the Catholic Church in those texts. This should be, I believe, the end of debate. If we cannot prove an opinion by exegesis of Holy Scripture, history gives us no authority to make this harsh judgement. Even Luther did not exegete the texts in John to prove that the Pope is the antichrist; he just used the term against the Pope. Let’s follow Luther and the Reformation in using the principle of sola scriptura, even if that means disagreeing with some opinions of those Reformers. 

Appendix added on October 15, 2015, at the request of Thomas Schirrmacher:

1. Of course I have read Turretin, yet, he supposes a whole eschatological system, which goes far beyond what the short verses on the antichrist state. I do not find his arguments convincing as good exegesis of the Greek text of those verses. He also argues, "that the Antichrist will not openly deny Christ as a professed enemy but as a professed friend of Christ who praises Him with their words, yet fights Him with his actions." But where does any NT verse say something like this? And if the Antichrist openly confesses Christ, how can you know, who else professing Christ beyond the Pope could be the Antichrist. John does not say, that the Antichrist secretly in his heart denies Christ, but with his mouth preaches him, he says: "This is the Antichrist, that denies …“.  

2. Turretin argues, that Islam cannot be meant. But he wrote in a time, when information about Islam still were not very in-depth. I am very careful in giving a final opinion on eschatological things happening before Christ’s return. But if I would look for an anti-Christian institution denying Christ in the way, John defines it, Islam would be my first choice. Of course they do not deny it only in their heart, as Turretin thought, but very openly. Yet, if I have to choose between the Papacy and Islam, only the latter would fit the description.
 
3. One could say, that by saying, that Papcy is the antichrist, one does not say that Pope Francis is the Antichrist. But Luther, wesley and Spurgeon and others also included the living Pope’s and attacked them as antichrist. Turettin meant successive Popes, but that clearly included the one living at his time. And the blog discussed, says "that the Pope is the Antichrist." Yes, this means every Pope, but of course it also means the present Pope. So of course one may ask, whether the present Pope really is, what comes to your mind, when you read Scripture.
 
4. To say that Papacy is the antichrist is part of a whole complicated eschatological system, and you have to take the whole system or leave it, you cannot single out the one idea that papacy is the antichrist. What Turretin wrote in the 17th century seems to argue with a different world from ours today, many developments took a different road than he thought. 

 

Tags: 
Vatican Pope Antichrist Sola Scriptura

Comments

Greetings! First of all, thank you for sharing both perspectives. I just preached from 1 John 2:18-27 this past Lord's Day, so this struck a chord with me. I acknowledge that some Christians see a link between the Antichrist the Pope (Papacy), but I do not and I am no papist. While the authors of both articles express their viewpoint clearly and concisely, I am inclined to agree with the view expressed by Schirrmacher and Johnson on exegetical grounds. Per John, Antichrists promote the world and its desires, but the anointing promotes the Word and his desires. Antichrists come to kill, and steal, and destroy, but the anointing comes that we may have the Word of Life, and have him to the full. Antichrists steal our joy and fill us with sorrow by attempting to turn us away from Christ, but the anointing turns our sorrow into joy by turning our hearts to Christ again and again.

Rev. Dr. Yarman Halawa's picture

The identification of the Pope as the antichrist was so ingrained in the Reformation era. Martin Luther stated it repeatedly. For example: “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” (Smalcald Articles, II). Even seventeen years earlier in his sermon on August 18, 1520 he delivered a clear message about the papacy by saying that “We here are of the conviction that the papacy is the seat of the true and real Antichrist…personally I declare that I owe the Pope no other obedience than that to Antichrist.” Phillip Melanchton, who led the Lutheran movement for four years after Luther died, carried on this theme. He wrote in Disputationes, No. 56, "On Marriage" that “Since it is certain that the pontiffs and the monks have forbidden marriage, it is most manifest, and true without any doubt, that the Roman Pontiff, with his whole order and kingdom, is very Antichrist. Likewise in 2 Thess. II, Paul clearly says that the man of sin will rule in the church exalting himself above the worship of God.” The identification of the Pope as the antichrist has (until recently) been regarded as a central tenet to Lutheran theology. Example: the Missouri Synod, in 1938 stated that “We accept [the historical position] 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” (American Lutheran Church Sandusky Declaration, VI).

John Calvin devoted an entire section of The Institutes to this topic (Book IV, “Of the Popish Mass”). In that section, at length Calvin identifies the Pope as the antichrist for no other reason than he leads the Catholic Mass. He said, "Let my readers understand that I am here combating that opinion with which the Roman Antichrist and his prophets have imbued the whole world—viz. that the mass is a work by which the priest who offers Christ, and the others who in the oblation receive him, gain merit with God.” John Knox, the Scotland reformer, in his Zurich Letters, 199, said that for the gospel to make headway in Europe, the people there would first have to learn to identify the Pope as “the very antichrist, and son of perdition, of whom Paul speaks.” 

(Borrowing Bro. Leonardo De Chirico), Turretin is true that the Antichrist will not openly deny Christ as a professed enemy but as a professed friend of Christ who praises Him with their words, yet fights Him with his actions. He (Turretin) sees this attitude in Popes who arrogate to themselves the three offices of Christ (Priest, Prophet and King), but bury the Gospel under their own traditions and undermine His work of redemption by their masses, purgatory, indulgences, and false worship.'

And Dr. R.C. Sproul is also true when said: "At the moment the Roman Catholic Church condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, she denied the gospel and ceased to be a legitimate church, regardless of all the rest of her affirmations of Christian orthodoxy. To embrace her as an authentic church while she continues to repudiate the biblical doctrine of salvation is a fatal attribution. We’re living in a time where theological conflict is considered politically incorrect, but to declare peace when there is no peace is to betray the heart and soul of the gospel" (see http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/reformation-over/).