by Lars Walker, Conservative Battleline Online
All right, I’ll come clean. I have to admit it. I am a Lutheran.
And that, at least according to Joshua Green at The Atlantic, would seem to be pretty fringey stuff. Definitely outside the realm of respectable opinion in today’s world. (Which must be a surprise to all those Garrison Keillor fans.)
Or… maybe I’m not a Lutheran at all, really.
If you were to speak to an official of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, to one of whose congregations presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann used to belong, they’d probably tell you that my own church, a member of a conservative but pietistic fellowship, isn’t really Lutheran in the proper meaning of the term. We’re insufficiently sacramental in our focus, and so not truly Lutheran.
And you know what? I’m OK with that.
Among ourselves, we other Lutherans laugh at the Wisconsin Synod sometimes. You might call them our Hasidim. A little strict, a little stiff by our standards. They have their own ways, which sometimes can even cause offense, as when we visit their churches and are denied communion.
But at bottom we respect them. They have their principles, and they stick to them.
The “sin” of the WELS, you see, is that they take their foundational documents seriously. Dr. Martin Luther, over the course of his life, involved as he was in a bitter struggle with Rome (not a theoretical debate but a war in which blood was being shed), came to be convinced that the pope, as the chief opponent of what he saw as the true, essential Gospel, had made himself the chief enemy of Christ in the world—the “anti-Christ.”
It should be noted that the term antichrist has two meanings. In Scripture, the actual term is only used in a couple places—1 John 2:18 and 2 John verse 7—primarily to describe an attitude common in the world rather than some individual. But Luther, along with many other Bible interpreters, identified the antichrist with the prophesied “man of sin” spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2, and linked him to the “Beast” spoken of in Revelation and the perpetrator of the “abomination of desolation” in Daniel. Believing that he was living in the closing days of history, it seemed obvious to Luther that the pope must be this ultimate Nero, this supervillain in the great apocalyptic drama of the fallen world.
And here’s the “dirty secret”—every Lutheran church body in the world has this teaching as a part of its constituting documents. Even the hyper-liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which now openly ordains practicing homosexuals and has embraced universalism (in practice if not explicitly). Even the latitudinarian state churches of Europe which maintain largely empty church buildings and serve mainly as departments of government bureaucracy. Examine their founding documents, and you will find that they affirm the Lutheran Confessions as a faithful statement of true Christian theology. And the Lutheran Confessions include (among other relevant documents) the Smalcald Articles, which say, “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.”