[Note: The sermon hymn was "Lord, Keep Us in Thy Word and Work" from the 1918? Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, including this stanza: "Lord, keep us in Thy Word and work,/Restrain the murd'rous Pope and Turk,/Who fain would tear from off Thy throne/Christ Jesus, Thy beloved Son."]
The words of the hymn we just sang can be shocking to many people, and perhaps to some of you as well. People want to think that the pope is a nice, loving man. Why call him a "murderous" man, as Doctor Luther called him in the hymn we sang? It may seem unloving to do so.
Keep in mind that we are not talking about just one pope, but many popes over the centuries. Also, we are not speaking about physical murders. The Muslims, or "Turks" as Luther called them, have certainly committed many physical murders. Some popes of previous centuries were responsible for killing innocent men. Yet that is not really what makes the pope a murderer. The killing of human souls is far worse. The pope is a spiritual murderer.
Now, there are many false teachers whom Jesus calls "wolves in sheep's clothing." But the pope is in a special category of his own, according to our Lutheran Confessions. They call the pope the Antichrist. This is our official teaching, since Saint Paul's Constitution and Bylaws name the Lutheran Confessions as our standard of doctrine. But not everyone wants to follow our official teaching. Some people want to view these old documents as obsolete, and not binding on us at all.
For instance, Atlantic District President David Benke recently spoke with the current pope, Benedict. Benke claimed to represent the Missouri Synod and its members - you and me. He blessed the pope and called him "holy father." Obviously, Benke does not agree with the Lutheran Confessions that the pope is the Antichrist. We should be informed about this because Benke claims to represent us.
Let us not be sidetracked by questions of what is loving and what is nice. If the pope is the Antichrist, then it is not loving to treat him as if he is not. That would be to deceive many people who do not know better. To be nice is not necessarily to be loving.
Martin Luther was often accused of using harsh words. He was accused of being unloving. Perhaps sometimes, when his emotions got the better of him, he went too far in certain things he said. But Luther did not call the pope the Antichrist because of bitter or angry feelings. There were very good reasons, which still remain today.
First of all is the sacrifice of the mass, which the Reformers called "the greatest and most horrible abomination because it runs into direct and violent conflict with" the Gospel. The pope has turned people away from the free forgiveness in Christ's Body and Blood, and substituted instead a sacrifice that is offered to God. That teaching is bad enough to be called a murder of souls, but it is not enough by itself to call the pope the Antichrist.
The pope has also invented other new teachings that contradict the Gospel, like purgatory. Purgatory is an illusion of the devil, since purgatory, also, is contrary to the fundamental truth that Christ alone, and not the work of man, can help souls. Yet still, the pope is not necessarily the Antichrist from just this teaching.
The real reason, the main reason, centers around our Gospel Reading today. Our Lord Jesus said, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." According to the pope, these words mean that he, as the successor of Saint Peter, is the head of the whole Church by the command of Christ. The pope claims that he alone holds the power of the keys, which is the authority to forgive sins.
But we also have the words of Christ in other places that give the very same authority to forgive to all the disciples, such as in John 20. He even gives the authority to forgive to the whole Church in Matthew 18. So it was not to Peter alone, even if the pope were really Peter's successor.
As for the statement, "On this rock I will build my church," the church is not built on the authority or goodness of a mere man. It is built on the holy ministry that confesses Christ. When Peter confessed Christ, he was acting as the spokesman for all the disciples. This is how most of the ancient Church Fathers understood this passage. Only centuries later did the pope invent for himself the myth that Peter had superiority over the other Apostles.
It is always extremely dangerous to build the Church on one man, unless that Man is Christ. Every other man is by nature full of sin. Even Peter could not have arrived at his great confession unless the Father had revealed it to him.
This is also why it is so dangerous to build individual congregations on the personality or goodness or talents of an individual minister. Then it is no better than building the Church upon the pope. Christ alone is the perfect and holy cornerstone upon which He builds His Church.
Even if it were possible to build the Church on one man, the pope would be a poor choice. His doctrine conflicts in many ways with the Gospel. So he murders many souls. The pope claims authority not only to forgive, but also to change the teaching of Christ and invent new doctrines. He allows no one to question his teachings because he says they are infallible. That is no different than to claim to have divine authority, as if he were equal to God Himself.
All Christians should watch out from becoming participants in the lies of the pope. As Christ commanded, "Beware of false prophets." Saint Paul also commanded that ungodly teachers should be avoided. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:14, "Do not be mismatched with unbelievers, for what fellowship has light with darkness?"
I do not say these things lightly. It is very serious to disagree with so many members of the world that pay homage to the pope, as if he were a wise leader of the Church. People may call me unloving and divisive. It would not be the first time, nor the last. But the Word of God gives stern warnings that I must also preach to you. You must not be associated with false teachers, or you endanger your souls.
By all his false teachings, the pope distracts people from the true glory of Christ, the Son of the living God. The reason the Church can stand even against the gates of Hades is that it is built upon Him. He is the true spiritual Rock of Israel. He alone has conquered death for you. He alone shed His Blood to redeem weak sinners like you and me.
Christ the Son of God did not come into human flesh in order to exalt Himself or claim His own rights over others. No, He came to choose the lowest position of all. He came to place Himself into the jaws of death, and to suffer hell's fury. He has burst open the gloomy gates of Hades, and flung open the pearly gates of heaven.
So you can rest assured that your sins are fully and finally forgiven for all time. There is nothing to block your entry into Paradise, since the Son of the living God has freed you from all iniquity. He has loosed your sins, so that they no longer hang around your neck like lead weights.
This I declare to you most certainly: You are forgiven by Christ Himself. For I am an authorized minister of His keys, by the call of Saint Paul's congregation. This is the true authority, not some made-up sham. Christ wants His Gospel to give all consciences a firm consolation in Him. He desires that all His houses of worship should declare the forgiveness of sins, which is the true Divine Service. That is why Christ gave the Authority of the Keys to Peter and the other disciples. Your Lord does not want you to despair over your sins. He wants to fill you with hope and comfort through the wonderful message of the salvation He has won for you.
Therefore, believe firmly upon His Name. He alone is Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. He alone was appointed by His Father to end death's evil reign. He alone was sent to reveal that He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. For salvation comes only through His life and death. There is no other Name by which you must be saved, and no other way to come to the Father, except through Christ His Son.
Why, then, should you seek after false shepherds who want to lead you away from Christ? Why should you listen to preachers who burden you with more and more laws, when you have the sweet freedom of the Gospel? Why should you hunger for the false comforts of pop psychology and purpose-driven fads? You have the fullness of the glory of the living God. You have the pure worship of free forgiveness. You have the Blood of God's own Son. There is no reason to go chasing after men who seem nice on the outside, like fluffy sheep, but inside they are ravenous beasts. Christ alone is enough for you, here on earth, and to all eternity.
It is also right that you should desire peace and unity among the churches of Christ on earth. There is only one Body of Christ redeemed by His Blood. So all Christians should be united. Yet as long as some hold to false teachings and false shepherds, there cannot be peace and unity.
As for the pope, we may hope that he will see the truth and turn to Christ alone. We may pray for his salvation, as we pray for all men. May he turn from error's way, and preach the pure Gospel, however unlikely that seems. But until he does, we must not seek his fellowship, or call him "holy father" or any such name. For nothing less is at stake than the souls of men and the Gospel of Christ, the Son of the living God.
In His Name, and to His glory alone, with the Father and the Spirit. Amen.
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