Do Baptists believe the Pope is Antichrist?

Text 1 John/2 Thessalonians Time 10 04 05 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

As you know there has been a great deal of coverage of the recent death in Rome of Mr Karol Wojtila, the man people called the Pope and who claimed to be the Head of God’s church on earth and who was happy to be addressed by people as Holy Father. Soon they will choose a new man to take on this role and though he may be different in some of his emphases he will make more or less the same claims as the others have. In view of this I thought it would be good to take a little look at the question of whether the Pope is, as many believe, the Antichrist prophesied in Scripture. Everybody is quick to say what a wonderful man the Pope was and I’m sure that he was very personable and full of many great human qualities. However, I want us to look beyond that this morning and consider what he stood for.

1. What have Baptists and others said about the Pope?
In 1689 a group of Baptist ministers published a Confession of Faith setting out their beliefs for all to see. For the most part they followed the famous Westminster Confession of Faith as they were keen to stress their unity with the Presbyterians. The Confession covers many doctrines. Chapter 26 talks about the church. There are 15 paragraphs, No 4 says
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. In Him, by the appointment of the Father, is vested in a supreme and sovereign manner all power for the calling, institution, order, or government of the Church. The Pope of Rome cannot in any sense be head of the Church, but he is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, who exalts himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God, who the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.
This is far from being an unusual statement for a Protestant group. All the Reformers took this view and many others before and since have agreed with them. In the past this view was held by St Brigitta of Sweden and other Roman Catholics and even today there are Catholics who suggest that Mr Wojtila was Antichrist because of his ecumenism and willingness to kiss the Muslim Koran, etc.

2. What does the word Antichrist suggest?
When most people hear the term Antichrist they think of a dark sinister dictator like Hitler or some horrific, obviously evil creature opposed to God. However, that’s not how the Bible portrays the Antichrist. The idea is much more of someone who sets himself up in opposition to God as a seemingly legitimate but false alternative to the true Christ or Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth is the true Christ. Antichrist is a false Christ. He claims to be anointed by God with the Spirit and qualified to work in God’s name to redeem God’s people and renew the creation. But he’s not. He is a liar. His claims are false. He is a false Christ. He is anti in at least two senses.
1. He is anti Christ, firstly in the sense of being against Christ, opposed to him. Cf anti-aircraft fire, antiseptic. Antichrist is against Christ, against his Word, his church and against God himself. The Antichrist pretends to be motivated by love, concern for mankind, pity for the oppressed, but what drives him is not love but hatred, hatred for Jesus Christ and all he stands for, and all who stand for him.
2. He is also anti in the sense of seeking to be a substitute for Christ, an alternative. Do you know the word antihero? Not a non-hero but an alternative, atypical one. An antithesis is the exact opposite of something. Antichrist is a supplanter. He wants to take Christ’s place. So for example in 1943 Pope Pius VI said of the church over which he was head Christ ‘so upholds the church and so, after a certain manner lives in the church that she may be said to be another Christ’. The claim is then that the Roman Catholic church, with the Pope as its head, is another Christ, an alternative Christ. This is why Roman Catholicism teaches that, apart from invincible ignorance, salvation is only possible through the Roman Catholic church. We are doomed, it teaches, simply because we won’t bow to its authority.

3. What does the Bible say about the Antichrist?
What we are interested in here, of course, is what the Bible says about these things. I thought it would be good for us to look at the passages that speak about the Antichrist and similar matters this morning.
The word Antichrist is used only five times in the Bible. It occurs only in 1 John and 2 John. Cf
1 John 2:18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 2:22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist - he denies the Father and the Son. 4:3 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.2 John 7 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.From these verses we can conclude four things
1. The Antichrist is coming at the end of time. Before Christ comes the Antichrist will be manifested. The Bible seems to be speaking about one person, one individual but we cannot be 100% sure about that.
2. The Antichrist is preceded by many antichrists. The spirit of Antichrist has been around some time. There is development then. This reminds us of the danger of saying ‘This is the Antichrist’ (‘an’ is wiser).
3. The Antichrist is a liar. He denies Jesus is the Christ and that he is from God. Some people say this proves that the Pope cannot be Antichrist as he would be quite orthodox in his view of the Trinity. We need to bear in mind the next point, however, and see that the Antichrist is not going to make a simple denial of the fundamental truths of Christianity. That would make it too obvious.
4. The Antichrist is a deceiver. Like Satan himself who makes himself seem an angel of light so the Antichrist uses all sorts of subterfuge and trickery to deceive people.

4. What are the other key Bible passages about Antichrist?
People tend to link these verses about Antichrist with others in four places
Dan 7, 8, 11 (little horn); Matt 24 etc (false Christs); 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13, 17, 18.
Revelation speaks of the Beast from the Land and the Sea and especially reminds us of the political and religious machinations of Catholicism in its attempts to grab power. It is important to remember that the Vatican City is a country with ambassadors and embassies, a bank, a secret service like the CIA or Mi5, etc. We can’t look at that or at most of these passages today but we will look at 2 Thessalonians 2, which speaks of the man of lawlessness/sin. This is where the Baptist Confession gets its language, speaking of the Pope not only as Antichrist but also that man of sin, and son of perdition, who exalts himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God. So let’s look briefly at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
A rumour had got around in Thessalonica that Paul was teaching that Christ had come. Paul replies that that can’t be the case as certain things that will precede Christ’s coming have not happened.
3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.He is the man of lawlessness/sin – A totally evil man, with nor respect for God’s law. He is ‘the son of perdition’ that is lostness. The NIV puts it well – he’s doomed to destruction. 4-12 goes on He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
Now you know what is holding him back
. They certainly knew as Paul had spoken about it. We’re not sure what Paul means but it’s most likely that he’s thinking of the Roman power or civil government in general. This proves a bulwark against the man of lawlessness. It will at least for a time as it does today.
What do we learn here then? Here we especially see how Antichrist seeks to be an alternative Christ.
1. The man of lawlessness comes before the end but his secret power was already at work in Paul’s day. This ties in with the way John speaks of Antichrist – coming but already at work. There is certainly a direct line between Paul and the power of Rome to the Popes of today. The last Pope may not be the Antichrist but he had an antichristian spirit and the papacy is marked by this spirit.
2. The man of lawlessness is part of a great rebellion against God. Although Antichrist is one man, he is supported by many others. It is right that we see the Roman Catholic movement with all its blasphemous teachings – that the Bible is not the sole Word of God, that they have the power to make Jesus’s body appear on earth in the Mass, that they have the authority to send a man to heaven or hell, that a man can be saved by what he does, etc, as a great rebellion against God.
3. The man of lawlessness opposes God and proudly exalts himself over God or anything worshipped, setting himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. This ties in, of course, with the way the Pope takes titles that belong only to God and acts as though he were God. Do you remember how when he was here in Britain they sang about him ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’? He accepted this worship. Of course, there are also claims that when the Pope speaks ex cathedra from his throne, he is infallible. What arrogance and folly. For any man to call himself Holy Father, Supreme Pontiff and Vicar of Christ (a vicar is a substitute) is the supreme arrogance and blasphemy. Cf
New York Catholic Catechism ‘The Pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth ... by divine right the pope has supreme and full power in faith and morals over each and every pastor and his flock. He is the true Vicar of Christ, the head of the entire church, the father and teacher of all Christians. He is the infallible ruler, the founder of dogmas, the author of and the judge of councils; the universal ruler of truth, the arbiter of the world, the supreme judge of heaven and earth, the judge of all, being judged by one, God himself on earth.’
Innocent III ‘The Pope holdeth place on earth, not simply of a man but of the true God.’
Leo XIII (1885) Pope holds ‘upon this earth the place of God Almighty.’
Pius IX ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’
When crowned they said to Pius XII (1939) ‘Receive this tiara adorned with three crowns that thou mayst know that thou art the father of princes and of kings, the ruler of the world, the Vicar on earth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.’
4. The man of lawlessness will perform all sorts of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders. This is a feature of Roman Catholic teaching. Lourdes is the most famous center for this but there are claims of visions and revelations and healings and miracles in many places. Every time the Mass is celebrated they claim to turn bread into the body of Christ. Most of it is straightforward lies and trickery but some things are inexplicable.
5. The man of lawlessness will perpetrate all sorts of evil and deceive many into unbelief and eternal destruction. We have only a small idea of the scandalous sin connected with Rome. Exposes are regularly written and we have some idea of the evils that go on but we do not know the half of it. How many millions are being deceived by this false religion.
6. The man of lawlessness is doomed to destruction and will be overthrown at Christ’s coming. Here is the final great word of comfort. The Antichrist will not last. Christ is going to come again and the judgement will follow. The Antichrist will not be able to stand then. By his powerful presence the Lord will overcome him and there will be justice for those who have rejected Antichrist and trusted in the true Christ the one Saviour Jesus.
5. What then does the Confession say and not say about the Pope?
1. What is it saying? The Confession is saying three things
1 The Pope is not the head of the Church. This is surely undeniable. Christ is its one true Head.
2 He exalts himself as if he were. What else can we make of the titles he uses?
3 This proves he is activated by the anti-Christian spirit that seeks religious veneration (Matthew 21:8,9), persecutes the godly (Revelation 13:6) and illustrates the predicted apostasy in the church (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4,8,9)
2. What is it not necessarily saying? It is not necessarily saying
1 That there is no other application of the Antichrist idea
2 That the man of sin passage that refers to apostasy in the church is totally exhausted in the papacy
3 Or committing to any detailed understanding of unfulfilled prophecy. The main point rather is that Christ is the Head of the church not the Pope.
A statement from churches in the Southern States of USA issued 1939 perhaps states things better:
"The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Head of the church, and the claim of any man to be the vicar of Christ and the head of the church, is without warrant in fact or in Scripture, even anti-Christian, an usurpation dishonouring to the Lord Jesus Christ."
6. What should I do about all this?
1. Accept that the Bible speaks about an Antichrist and a spirit of Antichrist that is active now.
2. Seek by God’s grace to identify this antichristian spirit. We need to be careful. In the past people have thought they have identified the Antichrist but must have been wrong. It is best seek to identify an antichristian spirit. The characteristics are clearly set out for us.
3. Pray not to be deceived about this. The mark of Antichrist is that he deceives many. Take great care then over this.
4. Pray to be delivered from an antichristian spirit in yourself – from rebelliousness, pride, all taint of evil
5. Rejoice that Antichrist will be defeated. He cannot survive.
6. Prepare for Christ’s return by repenting from sin and trusting only in Christ and rejecting all others.