The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod's president is speaking out as many question presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's decision to leave the denomination. In his latest statement, he explains the church's disagreement with the Roman Catholic papacy and its biblical teachings.
While WELS disagrees with the pope's station in the church and Catholic teachings on salvation, it denies being bigoted toward Catholics. In fact, the WELS head holds that many Catholics are true believers.
The Rev. Mark G. Schroeder wrote in a commentary that he makes no apology for the church’s belief that the Roman Catholic papacy fits the biblical characteristics of the antichrist. Schroeder states that WELS draws its teachings solely from the scriptures.
"The papacy claim[s] to speak with an authority – even infallibility – that was equal to or surpassing the Word of God itself," he explains. "By doing so, it put[s] itself in a position of being 'anti' or 'in place of' Christ."
However, Schroeder says its denomination is not bigoted against Catholics.
The denomination, he contends, "hold[s] no animosity towards toward Christians of the Catholic faith." WELS, the third largest Lutheran denomination, respects people's right to hold different beliefs than its own.
In a nod to conservative Catholics, Schroeder also says he believes many Catholics have a true faith in Jesus.
"We rejoice that even in the Catholic Church (where we believe the gospel has been distorted) there are many Catholics who hold to a simple faith in Jesus Christ as their savior and who will ultimately be saved," he shares in the commentary.
The theological rift between the Lutheran and Catholic churches dates back to the Protestant Reformation. Its leader, Martin Luther, sought to reform the Catholic Church and return it to the teachings of Scripture, sums Schroeder. Luther was excommunicated and regarded as an outlaw.
However, the media attention on Bachmann's decision to leave a WELS church to attend a non-denominational church has brought the rift back into the spotlight.
Church officials say a change in membership is not out of the ordinary. Bachmann reportedly had not attended the church in two years, choosing instead to attend a nondenominational church as her schedule permitted.
However, The Atlantic publication had suggested that the Minnesota Republican would likely face controversy with Catholic supporters over her affiliation with WELS due to its doctrine on the pope.
Bachmann has drawn acclaim among Catholics for her strong pro-life views. The Catholic League, America's largest Catholic civil rights organization, praised Bachmann on her relationship with Catholics.
"We find no evidence of any bigotry on the part of Rep. Michele Bachmann," Catholic League President Bill Donohue told Catholic News Agency.
Donohue also expressed sadness for what he called "strains of anti-Catholicism" in some Protestant circles.
Schroeder maintains that his denomination’s position was distorted in the media.
WELS does believe that the Catholic Church has departed from the teaching of the Bible in concordance with the Lutheran Confessions. However, Schroeder says it exposes those errors as "an expression of love."
WELS also disagrees with Catholic doctrines which teach that salvation is exclusive to the Catholic Church and emphasizes faith and obedience as necessary requirements for salvation.
"In emphasizing that faith and obedience are necessary for salvation, the papacy undermine[s] the very heart of the biblical teaching that salvation is by God's grace alone and comes to individuals through faith in Christ alone," he argues.
Schroeder makes no apology for these disagreements.
"We believe that our doctrines cannot be tempered by political correctness or modified to align with changing culture or public opinion.”