He is the most infamous character in the Bible after Satan and Judas Iscariot.
Who is or was he? Common answers to this question list names ranging from Nero,
Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin. A surprising answer from more than a few devout
Christians is the Roman Catholic Pope! He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they’ll
say, “a pretender to Christ”.
Does this really make sense? Most people would think that the pope’s about likely as
Mahatma Gandhi to be Anti-Christ. First, we need to know exactly who the
Anti-Christ is by following Scripture. 1 Thessalonians calls him: “the man of
lawlessness, son of perdition who opposed and exalts himself against any
so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of
God, proclaiming himself to be God. (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
There’s actually scarce Biblical mention of so nefarious a figure.
Our other example is in John’s 1st letter, chapter 2. “This is the Anti-Christ, he who denies the Father and the Son.” (2:22)
Now we must apply these attributes to the pope- and once we try, it gets hard. Is
the pope the “man of lawlessness”? First of all, he does not deem himself a
god. He’s obviously mortal and weak just like any other man. If the pope’s a
god, what kind of worship does he demand: none really. In the Roman Catholic Church,
there aren’t worship services for the pope, no hymns to the pope and no
sacrifices to the pope. There’s a manner of showing him respect however, that
some who are culturally-ignorant might misunderstand. Why would anyone bow or
curtsy before him, kiss his ring or call him “Holiness.”?
In the country of Japan, it’s customary for meeting people to bow and to especially
bow before teachers or elders. Is this worshipping? Obviously not. Bowing acknowledges the dignified presence of
another and displays respect.
Long ago, many European countries had the practice of kissing a sovereign’s ring. In
Orthodox Christian churches, people kiss the hand of the church’s Patriarch.
Both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches simply retained these Old-World
customs. They don’t denote worship but obedience and respect. After all, if
Jesus appeared before you, you wouldn’t go for his hand; you’d fall at his
People have titles. It’s a fact of life. We address judges as “Your Honor”, physicians
as “Doctor” and police as “Officer.” The US Army has all kinds of names for
superior ranks and showing disrespect is punishable offense.
Why the Pope is called “Your Holiness”? We don’t really know the title’s exact
origin. We know however, that in Early Christian times, the apostles were commonly spoken of as: “Holy”.
Ignatius of Antioch, around 150 AD, called his fellow-elder Polycarp, “Blessed and Holy.”
In older churches, bishops and elders are usually addressed as: “Reverend, Your
Grace or even Most-Holy (for the Patriarch of Constantinople, Greek Orthodox). Although these names sound lofty, they don’t
indicate worship. No bishop in any church, even Roman Catholicism, is called:
“Lord God.” You’d think that’s what the Anti-Christ would demand….
John’s description of the Anti-Christ is totally inapplicable to the Pope. While
several popes have been corrupt, wicked and narcissistic, none denied the
Father and his Son, Jesus. A central tenet of Roman Catholic teachings is the
deity of Christ as God the Father’s only Son, God in the flesh. No Catholic can
ever permissibly believe that Christ isn’t God. According to John, the Pope is
definitely not Anti-Christ material. So if Biblical evidence for the Pope as
Anti-Christ doesn’t exist, why do many “Bible-Christians” believe it?
Does Catholicism’s claim to always teach truth regarding faith and morals imply the
pope’s somehow God. No. In Ancient times, the Prophet Moses was regarded as
law-maker. What he said, God said. Later, the Torah and Pharisees became
absolute authorities. Jesus himself, no Pharisee-lover, stated; “The Pharisees
and Scribes who sit on Moses’s seat, observe and practice whatever they tell
you… but do not do what they do.” (Matthew 23:1-3).
Here, the Savior acknowledges authority of these teachers as deriving from Moses.
Since Jesus is considered “the New Moses” by Christians, he could pass lawful
authority onto his disciples- and that’s exactly what he did in Matthew’s
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth will
be loosed in Heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19).
He tells this first to Peter and then extends this upon the church itself. (Matthew 18:17-18). Thus,
notion of infallible, apostolic teachers roots itself in Scripture. In all
Catholic and Orthodox churches, the Patriarch, succeeding one of the Twelve
Apostles, has absolute teaching authority. So why is the Roman Catholic Pope
singled out as the Anti-Christ?
Unfortunately, we still live in an age of prejudices- and Christians aren’t exempt. If
someone’s told by a trusted pastor that the Pope is Anti-Christ, they’re bound
to believe it rather than research against the Pastor’s word. Why would a
Christian pastor ever say such things about a fellow-preacher in Christ? Since
the Reformation Era, well-meaning Christians have played with notions the pope
is that; “Son of Perdition” foretold in Scripture. Fed by indignation, and lukewarm
clergy on Catholicism’s part, these prejudices survive today, even in an age
where people can quickly learn facts about just anything.
As Christians, we’re obligated to know our faith, know our Bible and to obey our
ordained leaders. Sometimes those leaders are mistaken, pitted against a line
of bishops extending from Christ’s time, in opposition to a church from which
their descendants broke away. Rather than explain this estrangement as
rebellion (although good-intentioned), some pastors instead claim they are
rightful church-authority. They unknowingly assume a position of authority
that’s claimed by the pope itself!
All good Christians must learn to separate fact from fiction. When they discover
the leadership that Christ actually intended for his church, they shouldn’t
balk in defiance but say “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go.”