By Ryan Patrick Hoselton
About four years ago, I traveled with my former pastor to a conference where he was one of the speakers. During a break, one of the other speakers was asking me about my church’s confession (a classic “ice-breaker” at Reformed Baptist conferences). I told him that we hold to the London Baptist Confession of 1689 but with one exception. He responded, “Oh, the article about the Pope being the antichrist?” Perplexed, I said, “No, I was referring to the one about Sabbatarianism.”
My church really did not think that the Pope was the antichrist, I just did not know that the LBC of 1689 mentioned it. Chapter 26.4, says this:
The Pope of Rome cannot in any sense be the head of the Church, but he is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, who exalts himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God, who the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.
The Philadelphia Confession of Faith of 1742 reiterates this statement. However, most of the popular Baptist confessions of the past few centuries, such as the New Hampshire Baptist Confession, 1833, and the Baptist Faith and Message, 1925, 1963, and 2000, drop any mention of the Pope. I’m sure that multiple variables factor into this shift, but charting them is not the purpose of this post. My concern is that modern Baptists do not have a consensus about how we should view the election of a new Pope last Wednesday.
I do not agree with the seventeenth century Baptists that the Pope was the antichrist. But I think that Baptists must still affirm that the “Pope of Rome cannot in any sense be the head of the Church.” It may not be wise to restore a mention of the Papacy in our confessions, but believers should be aware of the important differences. Baptists through the centuries have maintained that the classic doctrines and practices of Catholicism are harmful to the world because it offers a misleading gospel and leadership. The election of an Argentine, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as Pope obviously indicates the strength Catholicism has gained in the Global South. Thus, Baptists today (and evangelicals generally) must not dismiss the countries saturated by Catholicism as sufficiently “Christianized.” Mission agencies need to continue extending gospel work in catholicized areas, obeying the Great Commission issued by the first, truly non-European head of the Church—an Israelite. And no, it wasn’t Peter.