A story about Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachman’s former church, includes a nice, brief summary of early Protestant rift with the Roman Catholic Church and why Martin Luther came to refer to the Pope as anti-Christ.
[Terrence] Reynolds, of Georgetown University, says that this view of the papacy, alarming though it may be to the modern political world, has, over the centuries, shaped the rise of Protestantism. “The discussion of the papacy arose during the vitriolic exchanges Luther had with the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation,” he explained. “Luther thought [the Scripture] proclaimed clearly that we are saved by grace and that faith alone is what justifies us before God; for Luther those claims were the fundamental teaching of the Scripture and should be the focus of the Church’s proclamation.”
But the Roman Catholic Church insisted that faith alone was insufficient, and that good works dictated and overseen by the church were necessary for salvation. “As the debates continued,” Reynolds said, “Luther became more and more frustrated with Rome’s rejection of justification by grace alone through faith and began to link the Church’s intransigence on this matter with Scriptural references to the Antichrist. According to the Scripture, anyone who seeks to undermine the purity of the Gospel and the clear teaching of Scripture in the name of the Gospel–or anyone who becomes anti-Gospel–is the Antichrist. So Luther made the claim** that the Pope is the Antichrist, insofar as the Pope insists upon obedience to his office and on work righteousness, both of which demean the atoning work of Christ.”