Defining The Antichurch

The term “Antichurch” may be a new one to some people. We’ve all heard of the Antichrist, and a good number of Catholics have heard of an Antipope, but what is an Antichurch? In this blog I’ll briefly explore the meaning of the term, and then go into what the Antichurch is, versus what it’s not.

The prefix “anti-” originally comes to us from Greek and it means “instead of” and/or “opposed to.” In other words, it’s a reference to an impostor or a counterfeit. So when the Apostle John tells us in the New Testament there will come many “antichrists” and that a great Antichrist is coming eventually, what he’s saying is that many people will come who are counterfeit or impostor Christs, until we reach the ultimate impostor Christ in the last days.

The word “antichrist” appears exactly five times in the Bible, and it is only used by the Apostle John…

Little children, these are the end times, and as you heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. By this we know that it is the final hour. — 1 John 2:18

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. — 1 John 2:22

and every spirit who doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God, and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that it comes. Now it is in the world already. — 1 John 4:3

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who don’t confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist. — 2 John 1:7

The Apostle John very neatly and plainly spells out exactly what an Antichrist is, so as to eliminate all the guesswork, and paranoia that often comes along with it. Christians who are looking for the Antichrist in every dark shadow are only demonstrating their lack of Biblical knowledge, in spite of how much they may claim to know the Bible. In my lifetime alone, I have witnessed Evangelicals (and other Christians) play “pin the horns on the Antichrist” so many times it’s dizzying. They’ve named everyone from Richard Nixon, to Ronald Reagan, to Mikhail Gorbachev, to Pope St. John Paul II, to Bill Clinton, to Vladimir Putin, to Barack Obama, to Pope Francis, to Donald Trump. Such accusations have left my head spinning. How could so many people get it so wrong? Especially when the definition of the word is spelled out so plainly in the few Biblical verses where the word appears?

What is Antichrist? Well, according to the man who invented the word (St. John the Apostle), the characteristics of the Antichrist, antichrists and the spirit of Antichrist are all the same, and they are as follows…

  1. Denial that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Christ (Messiah),
  2. Denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ,
  3. Denial that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and therefore God incarnate,
  4. Denial of the humanity of Jesus Christ, which is his Incarnation, as well as his divinity,
  5. So in other words, it’s a denial that Jesus is not only the Christ (Messiah), but also that God became man in the form of Jesus Christ.

So in order to be the Antichrist, or even an antichrist, or to have the spirit of Antichrist, you have to deny that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), and his divinity, and his humanity (Incarnation). In other words, you have to deny that Jesus is the Christ, and you have to deny that he is the God-Man (Incarnation). One would think this ought to narrow down the list. It certainly excludes nearly every person some Evangelicals have accused over the last half century. In order to be Antichrist in any way, one has to oppose Jesus Christ by saying he’s not the Christ at all, and that Jesus is not the God-Man (Incarnation). We can point to various figures throughout history who do meet these specifications, but the popular ones used by some Evangelicals over the last half-century don’t usually fit the bill.

If the prefix “anti-” means counterfeit or impostor, then we can start to get a sense of what the word “antipope” means. An antipope is a man who is a counterfeit pope, or an impostor pope. Much as been written about antipopes over the last seven years, due in part to the erratic and unpredictable tendencies of the Francis pontificate. (To be clear, this blogger is in no way insinuating that Pope Francis is an antipope. Quite the opposite is true. I assert that he is the pope.) But once again, to understand who an antipope is, and isn’t, we need to understand the meaning of the word. An antipope is just a false pope. He doesn’t necessarily have to be an antichrist or even a bad person. In fact, while there have been several antipopes in history, none of them have been antichrists. All of the known antipopes of history have affirmed that Jesus is the promised Christ (Messiah) and that he is the one through whom God became man (Incarnation). In other words, these men (antipopes) were all fully Christian and even fully Catholic. Some of them were quite good Catholics at that, others not to much, some where terrible men, but they all affirmed the divinity of Jesus Christ. In fact, the second recorded antipope in history, Hippolytus, accepted his election as “pope” due to a misunderstanding and error. As a result, he later reconciled with the real pope, and was declared a Saint after his death. Yes, you read that right. The second known antipope of the Church is now a Saint. So as you can see, the word “antipope” carries a very different meaning than the word “antichrist.” An antipope can be a good Christian man, who is just sorely mistaken about the legitimacy of his own pontificate. Or he can be a bad person who doesn’t live his Christian faith well at all, but he still affirms it at least in word. Whereas an antichrist is always a non-Christian man who denies Jesus Christ entirely, often putting himself forward as a counterfeit Christ.

So now that we understand what the prefix “anti-” means, let’s delve into the topic of the Antichurch. To understand what the Antichurch is, we first need to understand the nature of the actual Church.

The actual Church, established by Jesus Christ, is the institution of his Kingdom on earth, and his Mystical Body extended throughout the world. We typically understand the Church of Jesus Christ as displaying four characteristics or marks: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. By “One” we mean that it is not divided into schismatic parts, with different heads or authority structures. By “Holy” we mean that the Church itself, meaning the whole body of believers in Christ, is holy and incorruptible, even if individual members can be unholy and corrupted. By “Catholic” we mean that the Church is universal, consisting of many different peoples, nations, ethnicities, colors and races. Along with these different people come different ways of expressing Christianity, meaning different liturgies, rites, traditions and customs. Yet all of these people are gathered into one Church which is Catholic, meaning that they all share the same Christian beliefs in spite of their ethnic and cultural differences.  By “Apostolic” we mean the common faith we share comes to us from the Apostles of Jesus Christ. In other words, the real and authentic Church professes the same faith professed by the Apostles of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament and the earliest recorded traditions. It’s also led by the successors of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, who bear the same authority as the original Apostles themselves.

So to be an Antichurch, an impostor or counterfeit Church, the church of which we speak has to directly oppose one or more of the four marks of the Church. For example, one could create an antichurch simply by attacking the “One” mark of the authentic Church. This could be done by setting up a totally parallel (and counterfeit) authority structure, such as a false pope (antipope), false cardinals, false bishops and false priests. That doesn’t mean the people therein are false Christians — heavens no! On the contrary, they may be good, holy and devout Christians. They just may be duped by a false Church hierarchy. One such example of this type of an antichurch is one I was involved in for a while. It’s called the Anglican Communion. Here you have many good and devout Christians working in a religious institution that was, for the most part, recreated by men after the body itself had been broken away from the Catholic Church. The British monarchy set itself in the place of the pope, as the governor of the Church of England. Later, the Archbishop of Canterbury was set up as the governor (loosely speaking) for all the Anglican provinces throughout the world. While the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t have nearly the authority in the Anglican Communion that the pope does in the Catholic Church, there has been talk (within the last two decades) of elevating his authorities to a similar level. I don’t think this is going to happen, but you can see how this is an antichurch that attacks the “Oneness” of the Catholic Church. It does so through a parallel priesthood, episcopate, hierarchy and head of communion.

Another way to create an antichurch would be to attack the holiness and catholicity of the authentic Church at the same time. This is done by setting up a counterfeit church that’s based entirely on nationality, ethnicity and race. For example, when church membership is based on national citizenship, you have a parallel church that is not Catholic. It is in actuality a national Church. Some of the first Protestant churches were set up this way, but they didn’t last long. Eventually, they branched out into other nations. While some might accuse the Eastern Orthodox churches of behaving this way, the Orthodox do recognize the legitimacy of other Orthodox churches in other nations, and even the Catholic Church, so the charge doesn’t stick. In modern times, the rise of ethnic or racial churches, particularly among some radical Protestant sects in North America, might qualify as antichurch under these two marks. Such churches are neither holy nor catholic.

Third and finally, another way to create an antichurch would be to attack its apostolicity.  The authentic Church is Apostolic, meaning it teaches the same faith taught by the New Testament Apostles. The way one sets up an antichurch this way is to create an institution, or group of institutions, that teaches a “form” of religion that appears very Christian outwardly, but is anything but that inwardly. The counterfeit is in the teaching and preaching. It sounds Christian at first hearing, but upon deeper examination, it is anything but Christian. Yes, it is possible for good Christians to be part of this organization unknowingly, but its lack of apostolicity will ultimately corrupt them if something is not done to protect them from it. In our time, we have witnessed the rise of the greatest antichurch in the history of Christianity. I believe we could call it the great and final Antichurch.

The seeds of it were planted in the middle 1800s, in the form of Christian Liberalism, which is defined as the lack of belief in the supernatural and a tendency to explain away miracles as natural phenomenon, or literary symbolism. One example of this would be the miracle Jesus performed by feeding over 5,000 people with just two fish and five loaves of bread (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14). While the gospel accounts clearly portray this as a miraculous act, the Liberal Christian would say there is nothing supernatural about the event at all, but it’s merely telling the story of how 5,000 people shared their packed lunches with each other. By reducing the miracles of the Bible, particularly the miracles of Jesus, to merely natural events of human activity, the authority of Christ and his Apostles is diminished.

The seeds of the Antichurch continued to be planted in the early 1900s under Modernism. Modernism is a further development of Liberalism, which brings the former to its natural conclusion. The primacy of individual conscience becomes center-stage under Modernism, wherein the authority of Christian leaders is undermined and traditional Christian values become secondary to the conscience of individuals. Furthermore, the idea is put forward under Modernism that doctrine can develop, in such a way, as to conform to the common conscience of society, even to the point of directly contradicting what was previously taught by the Church. For example; under Modernism, artificial forms of contraception can be embraced as wholesome and good, even though Christianity has taught against them since the age of the Apostles. This is because, under Modernism, doctrine can change when human beings “evolve” and come to a “higher understanding” of things. The driving force of Modernism is the revolution that “newer is always better,” meaning that new doctrinal statements, new decrees, new synods and new councils are always better than the old, and in many cases, they trump the old entirely. Such a notion is anti-Apostolic.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, both Liberalism and Modernism were embraced by leaders in both the Catholic Church and most Protestant denominations. Among Protestants, it resulted in the exodus of tens of millions of Protestant Faithful to Evangelical churches. This is why Mainline Protestant denominations collapsed, while Evangelical Protestant churches exploded into megachurches, in the latter half of the 20th century. Simultaneously, the Catholic Church (particularly in the western Latin Rite) experienced a massive decline of faithful Catholics losing their faith entirely, punctuated by the rise of Traditionalism, wherein small groups of Catholics rejected the changes made to the Church during the 20th century, particularly those made after the Second Vatican Council.

The point I’m making here is that the Antichurch is much bigger than you might think. It’s not just a trend or movement within the Catholic Church. It is, rather, a trend or a movement within both the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations as well. It’s inter-denominational! It may not be a denial of Jesus Christ explicitly, but it is a denial of his teachings as given through his Apostles. Thus, it is a denial of the Apostolic mark of the Church. The irony about attacking the Church’s apostolicity is this. Those who attack it often make grandiose overtures toward apostolic succession, lines of succession, and ceremonial passage of succession, but they undermine everything that succession is supposed to represent — namely the authority of the Apostles and their teaching.

What began as Liberalism in the 1800s, became Modernism in the 1900s, and has now metastasized into the Antichurch in the 2000s. It is slowly becoming a coalition of Liberal-Modernist Christians who subscribe to a certain list of core beliefs that define them as a counterfeit Church. These beliefs are as follows…

  1. Miracles recorded in the Bible, including those of Jesus, are not literal.
  2. Doctrine can evolve to mean the opposite of what Christianity previously taught.
  3. Modern mankind can evolve into a more enlightened state than the Apostles.
  4. Women can be ordained as deacons, priests, bishops, popes, and assume any ministerial role a man can assume within the Church.
  5. Sexual activity before marriage isn’t always sinful.
  6. Divorce and remarriage is perfectly permissible and even normal.
  7. Civil divorce is equivalent to a Church annulment and is always valid.
  8. Artificial contraception is not a sin, and the Church has no authority over this.
  9. Homosexuals are “born that way” therefore “God wills it.”
  10. Homosexual activity, transsexualism and same-sex “marriage,” are new ways in which Christians can live out their God-given vocation.
  11. God no longer wishes to identify as a man, or with male pronouns, therefore our speech and prayers should be gender neutral.
  12. The State, not the Church, is the last and greatest hope for humanity and peace in our world.
  13. Personal conscience is always the supreme authority by which all things are judged.

The above thirteen tenets define the Antichurch in our time. Since number thirteen places the individual conscience as the final arbitrator of truth, members of the Antichurch need not adopt all thirteen of its tenets. For example, a member of the Antichurch may adopt ten of the thirteen tenets, or five of the thirteen, it doesn’t matter, because number thirteen makes this permissible.

As I said, the Antichurch is not just a movement within one ecclesial body, but multiple, moving toward a somewhat unified rallying point. While the World Council of Church (WCC) has historically served as the informal governing body of denominations that embraced this movement, it by no means stands as the final product. I believe that will come later, when the largest segment of the Antichurch breaks out of the Catholic Church to form its own governing organization. Visible unity among all factions of the Antichurch is probably not possible. Instead, the Antichurch relies on a vague concept of “spiritual unity.” It’s a unity of ideology, not necessarily a visible communion.

In our time, we witness large elements of the Antichurch thriving within the current juridic structures of the Catholic Church. There is a reason for this. Protestants are prone to schism. Catholics are not. It’s fairly easy for a faithful Protestant to pack up and move to another denomination when his old denomination goes Liberal-Modernist. For Catholics, it’s not that simple. Catholics cannot leave the Catholic Church without incurring the sin of schism. So faithful Catholics, who actually believe such a sin really exists, will remain in the Church. Some of them will slowly lose their faith as the Liberal-Modernist current grows. Others will coalesce in traditional circles to try to preserve their faith. We’ve seen this mainly develop in the Latin Mass movement, and to a smaller degree within the Ordinariates of Anglican Patrimony. A few dioceses, here and there, are blessed with orthodox bishops who are really trying to restore the faith in their dioceses after decades of Liberal-Modernist corruption. For the time being, the Antichurch exists both within the Catholic Church and outside of it, but that can’t go on for much longer.

As more Catholics lose their faith, many of them adopting some or all of the thirteen tenets of the Antichurch, they will begin to see schism as less of an issue to worry about. After all, if you don’t believe homosexuality is a sin, then what is schism? The day will come, sooner or later, when Faithful and Traditional Catholics will (in some way) make living within the juridic confines of the Catholic Church unbearable for members of the Antichurch. When that day comes, members of the Antichurch will leave the Catholic Church on their own: bishops, priests and laity alike. They will simply walk out in massive numbers — millions of them! They will set up their own hierarchy and juridic structures. Or else they will take with them what remains of the old juridic structures they occupied while Catholic. It’s going to be the biggest schism the Catholic Church has seen since the Protestant Reformation. Entire archdioceses will be lost, and the real Catholic Church will have to set up missionary parishes in those areas. All of this is bound to happen within our lifetime.

Now, that being said, we also have to point out what the Antichurch is not. There are changes that have been made in the Catholic Church, and will likely be made in the future, that do not qualify as Liberal-Modernism. They have a history in tradition and orthodoxy, and are therefore not part of the Antichurch. These include the following…

  • Saying the liturgy in the vernacular is not part of the Antichurch. There has always been a push for this throughout Church history, and the introduction of Latin liturgy in the West 1,500-years ago was one example of this when everybody in the West spoke Latin. Prior to this, the liturgy was in Greek. The desire to say the liturgy in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Japanese is normal and orthodox. Just so long as the language of the Western Church (Latin) is not abandoned entirely, there is nothing unorthodox about people celebrating the liturgy in their native tongue.
  • Allowing married men into the priesthood is not part of the Antichurch. There have always been married men in the Catholic priesthood. These include married priests in the Western Latin Rite up until 900 years ago, and married priests in the Eastern rites up until this very day. Liberal-Modernists like to conflate the issues of married priests with female ordination, but there is no connection here at all. There never was. It’s just a Modernist trick. We need to understand that married clergy are part of the Catholic Church, but female clergy are part of the Antichurch.
  • The Novus Ordo liturgy is not, in itself, Modernist. In fact, it can be quite orthodox and traditional when done the right way. It is rampant confusion spread by constant abuse of the Novus Ordo liturgy that is part of the Antichurch. Priests should seek to celebrate the Novus Ordo liturgy with the highest level of solemnity and ancient tradition. That’s a pretty rare thing these days. We call such rarely celebrated Novus Ordo liturgies “unicorn masses” because they’re so rare you could easily go your entire life without seeing one. That is changing, slowly, as conservative young priests take over for older liberal priests. They should be supported when this happens.
  • The Second Vatican Council is not part of the Antichurch, nor is it Modernist. It has, however, been radically abused by a Hermeneutic of Rupture which members of the Antichurch like to use to further their agenda.

Lastly, the question must be asked: how do we resist the Antichurch within the Catholic Church, causing the members of the Antichurch in our midst to eventually convert back to orthodoxy, or else expel themselves from among us in disgust? In other words, how do we make the Antichurch leave us? That is the topic of my next blog.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism. His articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. You can read Shane’s books at ShaneSchaetzel.Com