Michele Bachmann’s exit from her longtime church brought to focus the traditional Lutheran doctrine which equates the Roman Catholic Pope with the Antichrist, but the denomination says its views are being misunderstood.
The anti-papal doctrine of Protestant Reformer Martin Luther is “not one of our driving views, and certainly not something that we preach from the pulpit,” a spokesperson of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s former denomination, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, told Religion News Service.
“As a confessional Lutheran church, we hold to the teachings of Martin Luther who himself maintained the papacy, and in turn the pope, has set himself up in place of Christ, and so is the anti-Christ,” Hochmuth, the director of communications since 2007, said. But, “we love and respect Catholic Christians,” he added.
Hochmuth also said his denomination prayed that the Catholics would recognize that “their church’s official doctrine that the pope is infallible and that no one can be saved outside of the Roman Catholic Church” is an error. But he clarified that Lutherans saw the anti-Christ only as a theological principle, not a “cartoon character with horns.”
On its website, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod explicitly lays out its doctrine of Antichrist. Giving a historical record of the Statement on the Antichrist, it says, “We reject the idea that the teaching that the Papacy is the Antichrist rests on a merely human interpretation of history or is an open question. We hold rather that this teaching rests on the revelation of God in Scripture which finds its fulfillment in history.”
It goes on to say that Scripture teaches that the Antichrist would be revealed and gives the marks by which the Antichrist is to be recognized; this prophecy has been clearly fulfilled in the history and development of the Roman Papacy. Therefore, “it is Scripture which reveals that the Papacy is the Antichrist.”
However, a disclaimer on the website reads, “As a fellowship of Christians, WELS does not issue statements that all of its members are expected to follow. From time to time, however, we find it necessary to clarify our position on certain issues.” WELS is a group of nearly 400,000 men, women, and children in nearly 1,300 congregations across the U.S. and Canada.
On June 21, the Minnesota Republican and her husband Marcus Bachmann officially left the WELS-affiliated Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., where they had been members for over a decade. About week later, the 55-year-old congresswoman announced her candidacy for the White House. Media reports suggest that she left the church because of its anti-Catholic belief which could weaken her chances for the Presidency as there are 70 million Catholics in America.
America’s largest Catholic civil rights organization, the Catholic League, Friday backed Bachmann, saying, “We find no evidence of any bigotry on the part of Rep. Michele Bachmann.”
Bachmann, a supporter of the Tea Party movement, has reportedly been attending an independent church in the Stillwater area in Minnesota.