Were They Right?

Every reformer, from the 12th to the 18th century, from Wycliffe to Luther, from Calvin to Cranmer, and dozens in between, pointed their collective fingers at Rome and proclaimed the Roman papacy as the Antichrist of prophetic scripture. Were they right? Judging by today’s views, the reformation was a major mistake, and the reformers all religious radicals deceived and influenced by the times in which they lived. If they were right, then why do so few proclaim it today? If however they were wrong, then why don’t we all forsake the title “protestant” (who’s protesting today anyway?) and return to Rome?

From the time of Wycliffe (known as the morning star of the reformation) there were some who held the view that the papacy was the antichrist of prophetic scripture. A follower of John Wycliffe,  one John Purvey, wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation, this being nearly 150 years before Luther. In 1528 Luther reprinted or republished this commentary, and inserted the following preface.

“This preface, noble reader, you may understand was written by us for this reason–that we might make known to the world that we are not the first to interpret the Papacy as the kingdom of the Antichrist. For many years prior to us, so many and so great men (whose number is large, and their memory eternal) have attempted this so clearly and openly, and that with great spirit and force, that [those] who were driven by the fury of the papal tyranny into the farthest boundaries of the earth, and suffering the most atrocious tortures, nevertheless bravely and faithfully persisted in the confession of the truth.”

In a statement from the Westminster Confession of Faith, ratified by the British parliament in 1647:
“There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God.”
(Phillip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom–With a History and Critical Notes, vol. 3, pp 658, 659)

In his book, All Roads Lead to Rome, (pp205,206) Michael de Semlyen says:
“Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Cranmer; in the seventeenth century, Bunyan, the translators of the King James Bible and the men who published the Westminster and Baptist Confessions of Faith; Sir Isaac Newton, John Wesley, Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards; and more recently, Spurgeon, Bishop J. C. Ryle and Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones; these men among countless others, all saw the office of the Papacy as the antichrist.”

The vast majority of these courageous men died at the hands of the very system they were denouncing, so there can be little surprise that the power that had most to gain by their silence was that power that destroyed them, and what writings they could find. There is however many examples available of such denunciations, particularly of those more eminent scholars like Newton, Calvin, Luther Wesley and Whitfield.

Now, some quotes from some individual reformers.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) (Lutheran): “Luther … proved, by the revelations of Daniel and St. John,by the epistles of St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. Jude, that the reign of Antichrist, predicted and described in the Bible, was the Papacy … And all the people did say, Amen! A holy terror seized their souls. It was Antichrist whom they beheld seated on the pontifical throne. This new idea, which derived greater strength from the prophetic descriptions launched forth by Luther into the midst of his contemporaries, inflicted the most terrible blow on Rome.” Taken from J. H. Merle D’Aubigne’s History of the
Reformation of the Sixteen Century, book vi, chapter xii, p. 215.

John Calvin (1509-1564) (Presbyterian): “Some persons think us too severe and censorious when we call the Roman pontiff Antichrist. But those who are of this opinion do not consider that they bring the same charge of presumption against Paul himself, after whom we speak and whose language we adopt… I shall briefly show that (Paul’s words in II Thess. 2) are not capable of any other interpretation than that which applies them to the Papacy.” Taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin.


John Knox (1505-1572) (Scotch Presbyterian): John Knox sought to counteract “that tyranny which the pope himself has for so many ages exercised over the church.” As with Luther, he finally concluded that the Papacy was “the very antichrist, and son of perdition, of whom Paul speaks.”
The Zurich Letters, by John Knox, pg. 199.

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) (Anglican): “Whereof it followeth Rome to be the seat of antichrist,
and the pope to be very antichrist himself. I could prove the same by many other scriptures, old writers,
and strong reasons.” (Referring to prophecies in Revelation and Daniel.) Works by Cranmer, Vol. 1,
pp. 6-7.

John Wesley (1703-1791) (Methodist): Speaking of the Papacy, John Wesley wrote, “He is in an emphatical sense, the Man of Sin, as he increases all manner of sin above measure. And he is, too, properly styled the Son of Perdition, as he has caused the death of numberless multitudes, both of his opposers and followers… He it is…that exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is
worshipped…claiming the highest power, and highest honour…claiming the prerogatives which belong to God alone.”

Antichrist and His Ten Kingdoms, by John Wesley, pg. 110.

For what reasons did the reformers risk life and limb, (literally), in their damning accusations against the church which raised them? Nearly all the reformers were priests, with no intentions of forming new churches, but reforming the one they loved and held dear. Yet here they are accusing the very institution which educated and confirmed them in their faith, of being the dreaded Antichrist of prophetic scripture. Why?

Was it revenge for being excommunicated? No, they were excommunicated for the most part because of the accusations. Was it the worst insult they could come up with because of a personal grudge? Hardly. Or perhaps, as this author believes and will expand on later, was it because they were serious students of the Bible and saw unmistakably the fulfilment of the many prophecies regarding Antichrist being played out perfectly before their very eyes?

Are you aware that there is more detail concerning the character and nature of this entity than any other in the entire scriptures apart from Jesus Himself? Even Satan doesn’t get that much press, yet God has seen fit to describe the Antichrist with accuracy and detail no other earthly entity receives. In His love, God earnestly desires that every man, woman, and child on the planet makes no mistake regarding the identity of Antichrist. Antichrist poses such a threat that God has given us more than ample warning and information as to who or what this entity is. Yet today the majority of Christendom completely ignores the very heroes of our faith and the godly men and women of recent history who died as a result of their testimony, and look to the future for some mythical creature to fulfil their clairvoyant prognostications.

Let me lay my card on the table, and I pray everyone reading this heeds the warning. While you look to the horizon for a battleship to appear with all guns blazing against Christianity and named “Antichrist”, look behind you. There is a ‘friend’ who kisses you as Judas kissed Christ and will run you over like a runaway train lest you kneel before her.

2 thoughts on “Were They Right?

  1. Pingback: Commonality: M. Luther, J. Calvin, and J. Wesley « Kevin Nunez

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