The purpose of this post is not so much to change the minds of my Roman Catholic friends, but rather to explain where I come from when I say that the office of the Pope is an Antichrist because I know it angers some of them (and from their perspective, I can understand why).
Before that, however, I would be remiss if I didn't define "Antichrist". Contrary to what Dispensationalists, Classic Pre-Millennialists, and Post-Millennialists errantly teach, the Antichrist is a religious, not political, figure. There is not only one, but many, Antichrists (1 John 2:18). An Antichrist is anyone who puts themself in the place of God or who promulgates false teaching. I could easily make a laundry list of protestants who certainly fit the latter portion of that definition (for example, I would include folks like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Patricia King, Beth Moore, Charles Finney, Jacobus Arminus, and maybe to a lesser extent, even John Calvin--and we haven't even gotten to the heretics I write about weekly).
The Christian Cyclopedia defines 'Antichrist' as:
Term used in the NT (1) of all false teachers (1 John 2:18; 4:3) and (2) of one outstanding adversary of Christ (1 John 2:18). Characteristics of the Antichrist are mentioned, e.g., in Daniel 11; 2 Thessalonians 2.
As to why Lutherans consider the Office of the Pope to be an "Antichrist", I give you the following Roman Catholic documents. Keeping the definition of Antichrists above in mind (anyone who puts themselves in the place of God or who promulgates false teaching), the words below kind of speak for themselves.
From the Bull Unam Sanctam (1302):
"Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster; that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the successor of Peter, since the Lord speaking to Peter Himself said: 'Feed my sheep' [Jn 21:17], meaning, my sheep in general, not these, nor those in particular, whence we understand that He entrusted all to him [Peter]. Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John 'there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.' "Vicar means "to stand in place of". The Pope, as "Vicar of Christ", stands in place of Christ since they cannot be two, but one. This is essentially their first argument, that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, to the Pope having dominion over the Left and Right Hand Kingdoms (a discussion for another time).
"This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, 'Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven' etc., [Mt 16:19]*. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians are subject to anyone but God (not the Pope, not Peter, not anyone). The only way for Catholics to make the argument that all humans are subject to the Pontiff is by saying the Pope stands in place of Christ. This, then, would fall under both false teaching and placing oneself in the place of Christ, both of which fall under the definition of an "Antichrist".
* Probably not the time for this discussion, but Jesus' statement "On this rock I shall build my Church" refers to Peter's confession ("You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."), not Peter in specific. Additionally, "Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven," etc. refers to the Office of the Keys, not Peter specifically. A simple look at the original text in Greek makes this very clear.
From Session 6 of the Council of Florence (1439):
"We also define that the holy apostolic see and the Roman pontiff holds the primacy over the whole world and the Roman pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter prince of the apostles, and that he is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole church and the father and teacher of all Christians, and to him was committed in blessed Peter the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole church, as is contained also in the acts of ecumenical councils and in the sacred canons."Again, nowhere in Scripture is the Pope (or anyone but God) given "primacy" over the world, nor is Peter or the line of Popes given authority to stand as the "Vicar of Christ", nor is anyone but God the Father of all Christians. It is dangerous to put one's trust in man rather than God, especially when God gives no man such status.
Interestingly, The Council of Trent (following the Lutheran and protestant reformations) does not mention the Pope (at least on this topic). Considering it was such a point of contention, and that both Lutherans and protestants raged in many ways against the Pope, one would think that would be the prime topic of such a council.
From Session 4 of Vatican I (1870), First dogmatic constitution on the Church of Christ:
"4. In order, then, that the episcopal office should be one and undivided and that, by the union of the clergy, the whole multitude of believers should be held together in the unity of faith and communion, he set blessed Peter over the rest of the apostles and instituted in him the permanent principle of both unities and their visible foundation.
5. Upon the strength of this foundation was to be built the eternal temple, and the Church whose topmost part reaches heaven was to rise upon the firmness of this foundation ."Christ, not Peter (or the Office of the Roman Pontiff) is the Cornerstone and foundation of the Church.
"6. And since the gates of hell trying, if they can, to overthrow the Church, make their assault with a hatred that increases day by day against its divinely laid foundation, we judge it necessary, with the approbation of the Sacred Council, and for the protection, defense and growth of the Catholic flock, to propound the doctrine concerning the 1. institution, 2. permanence and 3. nature of the sacred and apostolic primacy, upon which the strength and coherence of the whole Church depends."The strength of the catholic church (universal church) is faith in Christ, not faith in the primacy of the Pope.
From Session 4 of Vatican I (1870), Chapter 4:
"6. For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren ."In other words, Peter never sinned in his teaching and the Pope (office) has never sinned in its teaching. Nevermind that Peter was called "Satan" by Christ and told to get behind him (Matthew 16:13-23, the previous verses included for context--just after Peter's confession of faith that is the foundation of the church, he dares to rebuke the Lord and is rebuked himself), denied Christ three times (the only mortal sin is denial of God and blasphemy of the Holy Ghost--Matthew 26:71-75, Mark 14:66-68, Luke 22:54-62, and John 18:15-27), hypocritically participated with the Judaizers when it suited him (Galatians 2:11-21); and nevermind that Catholic doctrine has 'evolved' and sometimes contradicts itself because of the proclamations of various Popes. No, none have ever erred or sinned in their teaching, including Peter. (Sorry, I really was trying to keep the snark to a minimum...)
"7. This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell."See the previous comment. Always speaking the truth and with never-failing faith. Was Peter's faith never-failing when he denied Christ? Was he truthful when he denied his Savior? When he rebuked Jesus? When he participated with the Judaizers (a heretical sect, I might add)?
"9. Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA ["from the chair"], that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable. So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema."Always truthful, never-failing faith and now infallible (a person who cannot fail, as opposed to inerrant, meaning without error in fact). And yet the evidence is to the contrary. Peter himself was clearly not perfect, not always truthful, and not always faithful to God. He was a man, just like the rest of us.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (note: I removed the footnotes for readability, if you want to see those, they are at the link):
"882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For 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."Again, the Pope as the "Vicar of Christ" or "the one who stands in the place of Christ".
"891 "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.... the infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed," and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith." This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself."In other words, the Ex Cathedra declarations of the Pope are to be viewed and believed as if it was Scripture itself.
"892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it."And here, that the non-Ex Cathedra declarations are to be adhered to with "religious assent", while distinct from the "assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it." In other words, not quite infallible, but it almost might as well be.
Finally, from Vatican II (1965):
"2. In this Church of Christ the Roman pontiff, as the successor of Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the feeding of His sheep and lambs, enjoys supreme, full, immediate, and universal authority over the care of souls by divine institution. Therefore, as pastor of all the faithful, he is sent to provide for the common good of the universal Church and for the good of the individual churches. Hence, he holds a primacy of ordinary power over all the churches."Once again, the Office of the Pope (the Roman Pontiff) in the place of God the Father and God the Son. Nowhere in Scripture is this power given to any human.
A few brief notes in closing.
In Confession and Absolution, a Lutheran minister would say, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." This power comes from Matthew 16:19, where the Office of the Keys (all ministers of God) are given the power to bind and loose sins. This is not the same as proclaiming oneself the "Vicar of Christ", because this power was given to ministers by Christ--anything beyond that was not a power given to the pastors and ministers.
There is no need for the office of infallibility because our doctrine is clear and does not change: our doctrine comes from Scripture, and no utterances of man should ever be held on the same level as Scripture.
An interesting thought from when we did a study on this in Church: the Roman Catholic Church has but one Sacrament, the Pope. Because all power and authority are given to the Pope according to Roman Catholic teaching, all sacraments would lead back to him rather than God.
At some point, in a separate post, I will write about the three reasons why the Pope is not the head of both the Left-Hand and Right-Hand Kingdoms as he claims. If anything, he would "rule" in (but not be the head of) the Right-Hand Kingdom alone and his (meaning the office as a whole) intrusion into the Left-Hand Kingdom has caused many problems throughout history.