The final mark of Antichrist, according to John Williamson Nevin, is the absence of any theology at all. Nevin, more specifically, states that the twelfth mark of Antichrist is actually the transition from false theology to no theology. All twelve marks of Antichrist have hinged on the basic heresy that Antichrist teaches: Jesus is not factually, actually, and truly the logos-made-man. All along the marks of Antichrist have been the teachings of heresy and schism. All along Antichrist has been teaching that knowledge, wisdom, and the truth of the universe has many answers and shapes whereas orthodox Christianity posits that it is the fact of the incarnation that unlocks the mysteries of history and existence.
To conclude his elucidation of the marks of Antichrist, Nevin writes, “Sects have no true theology. They are prone always to undervalue it in any form . . .” (Anxious Bench – Antichrist – Catholic Unity, p. 54). Although he does not go down this road, I believe it a fair application of his principles to challenge fellow church-goers and leaders to explain their theological understanding for the course(s) of action they believe the congregation and/or wider church ought to undertake. Unfortunately, the Church today is afflicted with many well-intentioned plagues that have little theological support or even bad theological roots. Three examples that come to mind include:
- Children’s Church: I’m not sure how it got started, but the mini-liturgy that takes place across denominational lines wherein we bring all the children up front for a sermon “just for them” followed by a parade out of the nave is on my short list of popular ideas with terrible theological support. Children ought to remain in the worship space and parents ought to have to deal with their duty as Christian parents and train them how to worship! The fact that this practice seems even more popular in churches that commune young children is even more baffling. To me, the trend smacks of laziness, convenience and entitlement. With this kind of religious formation it ought not surprise us that our children depart from us when they are able as young adults.
- Grape Juice for Communion: This trend is old enough in this hemisphere that many believe it to be ancient custom and are not aware of its connections with nineteenth-century temperance movements. The rationale most often given today is that it is hospitable to those in recovery. I am not an alcoholic so I’ll have to rely on those I have known who are, but they manage to commune with wine without issue by intinction or drinking from the common cup. One of the issues here is that it divides what ought not to be in the context of the liturgy. I’ll go ahead and include the little shot glasses of wine here too. Their is a reason that historically the altar was set with a large chalice and host. We are all participating in the same meal of the one body and one blood. Even more importantly (especially for Lutherans and Calvinists for whom Scripture always dictates to tradition) we should not overlook that Jesus used wine. For those who do look for tradition, wine is what Christians have always used and if you’re a member of a truly traditional church, grape juice isn’t even allowed in the first place. Getting back to Jesus’ use, it is important to notice what he used because the sacraments are ordinary material joined with a promise; we ought to avoid be cavalier with the particulars of Jesus’ promise to there with and for us.
- Modern vestments, liturgical dance, puppets, etc.: This may appear curmudgeonly, but their is actually a theological problem with things like large puppets and liturgical dance: they attract attention to the performer, not the Master of the Table. The basic functions and parts of the Eucharistic liturgy are designed to reinforce the basic dogmas of Christianity in the context of a particular setting and assembly. Vestments, set prayers, and standardized liturgical movement ensure that although actions and roles are highlighted, nothing ever comes close to a demonstration of talent. The closest the traditional liturgy comes is with vocal talent, but this is one of the reasons why the choir ought to be seated out of direct view and the use of soloists discouraged. Although the liturgy is rich in symbolism and a wide array of imagery that require practice and skill to effectively do correctly, the liturgy is not theater nor a talent show for the congregation. In this category I would also place praise bands and speaking in tongues, which are but more extreme examples of attention-grabbing demonstrations.
Antichrist, as we have seen over the past months in closely looking at John Williamson Nevin’s text, is subtle and persuasive. It requires diligence, discernment, and prayer to not only be aware of Antichrist’s influence, but to resist it. Although not explicitly focused on in this series, the underlying truth revealed in looking at the marks is that ultimately Antichrist fails. No matter how many falsehoods are taught, they cannot take away from the historical fact of the incarnation nor from its ongoing existence in the Church. Individuals and communities will fall, repent, heal, thrive, disband, be martyred, and proclaim the Gospel despite themselves just as they have for 2000 years and the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church will remain. Yes, the spirit of Antichrist is real, but it has already been defeated. In the mean time may we prepare ourselves with diligence for the coming celebration.