Debatable: Why Are There Calvinist Baptists But No Lutheran Baptists?

[Note: “Debatable” is a TGC feature in which we briefly summarize debates and discussions going on within the evangelical community.]

The Issue - What does it mean to be a Calvinist in a Baptist denomination? And why are there no ‘Lutheran Baptists’? Several evangelicals from various Reformed traditions have recently debated those questions.

Opening Remarks – After hearing about the controversy over Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention, David Koyzis, a professor of political science at Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada, asks why there are Calvinist Baptists but no ‘Lutheran’ Baptists:

From a historical vantage point, the reason for this difference between the Lutheran and Calvinist labels is far from obvious. After all, Calvin was much more explicit in setting forth a reformed ecclesiology than was Luther, who was more willing than his Genevan counterpart to tolerate different ecclesiastical polities in different geographical contexts. The Churches of Sweden and Finland, for example, maintained an episcopal polity with bishops in apostolic succession. Nevertheless, when Swedes and Finns migrated to North America, their respective transplanted church bodies, the Augustana and Suomi Synods, were generally less hierarchical and more congregational in nature, without in any way impairing their continued communion with the mother churches. Their common adherence to the Augsburg Confession was more important than their polities. On the other hand, when Reformed Christians established their churches in the New World, they usually brought their polity with them to this side of the Atlantic. Thus if Lutheranism has been historically more flexible than Calvinism with respect to ecclesiology, it is not immediately evident to some of us why becoming a Calvinist is usually thought to be a soteriological statement while becoming a Lutheran is an ecclesiastical one. But it may be that I’m missing something that others have picked up on.

Position #1 – Collin Garbarino, an assistant professor of history at Houston Baptist University, proffers an explanation for why we don’t have Lutheran Baptists:

When we speak of “Calvinist Baptists” we refer to Baptists who affirm Calvin’s soteriology. Why not call them Lutheran Baptists? Both reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, had similar doctrines of soteriology. (I know some people will disagree with that last statement, but those people are wrong.) My friend and colleague, Jerry Walls, has even called Thomas Aquinas a Calvinist. How does “Thomistic Baptists” sound? Why does Calvin get all the credit? The reasons are mostly historical. One should not underestimate the role of Calvin’s Institutes. Calvin created a handbook for faith and practice that helped transplant reformation into new contexts. While Luther’s writings are more entertaining, they aren’t systematic. If a Protestant has a question, chances are, the Institutes has an answer. Calvin’s writings affected the English-speaking Christians. The Westminster Divines injected Calvinism into the Anglican church. Various nonconformists and congregationalists began to drift away from the Anglicans. Their theology became a modification of a modified Calvinism. Some of these congregationalists became convinced that paedobaptism was illegitimate. They modified a modification of a modified Calvinism.

Position #2 – Greg Forster, author of The Joy of Calvinism, responds to Koyzis and Garbarino by giving several reasons other than the historical, including:

1) Calvinist (and consequently Arminian) theology is clearer. Our Lutheran brothers say that asking the big questions leads only to paradoxes, of which the lowly human mind cannot say much that is meaningful. Meanwhile, our Anglican brothers may have clear personal opinions about the answers to these questions, but when setting direction for the church at large they drape a graceful veil of ambiguity over them for the sake of unity. The confessional Calvinist finds this insufficient—not because he has a high opinion of human reason, but because he believes God has told us clearly and consistently what we are to believe regarding these questions, and the pastor must preach the whole counsel of God. Rising in response, the confessional Arminian agrees that God has told us what to believe, disagreeing only on what God has said. It seems to me that Baptist and Free Church communities generally require this level of clarity in their theology; a large-scale commitment to paradoxes and ambiguity in theology is only sustainable in the context of a broader coherence of tradition and culture that magisterial churches presuppose but Baptist churches do not.

Position #3 – Steven Wedgeworth, a founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, says the differences have a lot to do with how the labels are used:

The real reason that Calvin gets the “credit” is because 16th and 17th century polemics tended to place the blame on him. You see, “Calvinism” is all too often a signifier, not of Calvin’s systematic theology, nor of Reformed theology over and against Lutheranism (though it is that at times), but of the more Puritan and disciplinarian subset of Reformed theology which instigated many of the famous controversies of that time. Even predestinarian and sacramentarian “Anglicans” would at times distance themselves from the C-word for social and political reasons. Richard Hooker is the exemplar of this mood. Over time, however, the tag, implying narrow partisanship, was embraced and became a badge of pride and community. And likewise, “Lutheranism” doesn’t really signify Martin Luther himself nor his primary theological contributions. All of the “Reformed” and “Calvinist” theologians claimed Luther as their own. They all held to justification by faith alone, the freedom of the Christian, and the two kingdoms. Instead, “Lutheran” eventually became the trademark of the Gnesio-Lutherans who made their particular emphasis on the real presence in the elements the sin qua non of Lutheran identity. It really had not figured as such in Luther’s most foundational works, and its unwarranted primacy did in part serve to give Lutheranism a sort of clerical and disciplinarian character which was quite inimical to its original theology. English Christians, many of whom were quite “Lutheran” at the outset, eventually lost their connection to that title because of their own proximity to the “Reformed” wing of the Reformation and because of the Lutheran reaction against that wing.

Position #4 – Finally, a Lutheran weighs in. Gene Veith, explains why Lutheranism is not detachable from “Lutheran churches”:

The discussion shows the profound misunderstanding of Lutheran theology that drives us Lutherans crazy. Here we see on both sides of the issue the view that Calvinism is the same as Lutheranism except without the sacraments, which really don’t matter all that much so why can’t we just get along? To understand Lutheranism, it is necessary to recognize that the Lutheran understanding of salvation by grace and justification by faith cannot be separated from the Lutheran teachings of baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. These teachings are all intimately connected with each other in Lutheran theology and spirituality. If you play them off against each other, thinking you can have Lutheran soteriology without Lutheran sacramental theology, you might have Calvinists or Baptists or Calvinist Baptists or something else, but you cannot have Lutherans. Nor can you have Lutheran Calvinists or Calvinist Lutherans or Lutheran Baptists or Baptist Lutherans.

Scoring the Debate: As an answer to Koyzis’ original question, I think Veith provides the clearest answer, at least to the part about why there are no Lutheran Baptists. The sacramental theology of Lutheranism is much more incompatible with Baptist theology than are other aspects of Reformed theology. But the true value of the discussion is not in answering the question but in getting people to think about why they align with a specific theological tradition. To be a Calvinist Baptist in 2013 (which I am) almost requires one to choose the tradition and to defend that choice to people who think such a category can’t even exist. The same isn’t necessarily true for Arminian Baptists (which I was for much of my life), since it is often considered the default position among baptists, particularly within the Southern Baptist Convention. The result is that Baptists—like most other Christians—too often accept the default setting of their local church’s theology (whether Calvinist, Arminian, etc.) without ever inquiring whether it fits with what they find in Scripture. Discussions like this one can help awaken us from our dogmatic slumbers and lead to us to thoughtfully reflect on why we choose the theological labels we do.

  • Pingback: More Calvinists, Lutherans, and Baptists, Oh My! - The Calvinist International()

    • Daniel Broaddus

      Steven, I read your blog post. Well written, however, what you point out about the 39 Articles is a specific reason why Lutherans and Anglicans don’t have altar and pulpit association. Article 28, on the Lord’s Supper, does indeed articulate the Reformed view of spiritual presence. However, it doesn’t say anything about the physical presence of Christ’s body and blood. To suggest only a spiritual presence is to imply a “Nestorianesque” view of the Lord’s Supper. One cannot stay orthodox and maintain that Christ is divided (one part in heaven and one part on earth) nor can they maintain that man’s spirit is “lifted up” to feast with Christ in heaven. We must maintain what Scripture says about who Christ is despite our own rationalistic tendencies to make it all make sense.

      Here is more to read on that subject:

  • Derek Greer

    I’m not sure I see so drastic a difference in the responses as I see degrees of getting to the point. If I may, I’d like to offer what I believe is a more direct answer.

    Due to historical reasons, the term “Calvinism” has come to be associated with reformed soteriology while “Lutheran” refers to a specific protestant denomination. The reason you don’t have “Lutheran Baptists” is the same reason you don’t have “Presbyterian Baptists” or “Baptist Methodists” … or “Baptist Lutherans” for that matter. In the minds of most protestants, the term “Lutheran” immediately connotes the Lutheran denomination, not some specific theology of Martin Luther that you can apply as an adjective.

    • JB

      But you also don’t find Calvinist Lutherans.

  • Jake Meador

    Joe – My concern is that using the term “Calvinistic Baptist” cheapens the label “Calvinist,” b/c it cloaks so much of Calvin’s thought which is very much at odds with the Baptist tradition (ecclesiology and sacramentology to start out with, but that’s only a beginning). Additionally, it seems to add to the a la carte approach most American Christians take to theology and church identity, which exacerbates the problems we already have with individualism.

    Do you think it’d be better for PCA folks like myself to use the label “Reformed” and you guys use Calvinistic Baptist? I’m not sure I have answers here, but I know I envy the Lutherans on this count b/c their tradition is recognized as a coherent whole, whereas the Calvinistic tradition has been cut up piece-meal because so many people want to claim Calvin, even though they disagree with huge chunks of his thought. What do you think?

    • jch

      Jake, I don’t see that the term “Calvinistic Baptist” cheapens the label “Calvinist”, as much as it clarifies it. The “Calvinist” label speaks to the soteriology and the “Baptist” label to the ecclesiology. I could say I were “Calvinistic” in my soteriology and that would tell you something but not everything. But if I were to say that I am a “Calvinistic Baptist” then that would further your understanding of my theological position. For better or worse (probably worse) the term “Calvinist” implies “the five points” to most people and not much else. Thus, “Calvinist” and “Baptist” are not at odds. But I do get what you are saying.

  • Adam Waddell

    I agree that Calvinism is more of a theological stream that many people throughout church history have fallen into, such as Calvin, Luther, the Westminster divines, Spurgeon, many leaders and churches today (like Piper and Keller), many leaders before the reformation (like St. Patrick, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom), and (I would certainly argue) the apostles and prophets and Jesus himself. Lutheranism is usually defined as the church structure and system established into the Lutheran Church. Because of this, I think Calvin would be fine with “Calvinist Baptists,” but Luther would be shocked by a “Lutheran Baptist,” because “Baptist” does not fit into the system of that church.

    However, there are many, like myself, who look up to Luther a great deal and who glean much (it could be argued more than from Calvin) from Luther. There are some, like myself, who believe there is more to the Lord’s Supper than a mere symbolism. There are some, like myself, who read Luther’s writings on baptism and (apart from the baptismal regeneration tendencies) apply it to credobaptism, gaining a stronger theology of baptism than (sadly) most Baptists hold. So in a sense, I could be called a Lutheran Baptist more than a Calvinist Baptist.

    This is why I think it is better to stand on the foundation that has been laid for us by our forefathers (Lutheran, Calvinist, Presbyterian, Anglican, etc.) from the time of the reformation who have recaptured the biblical gospel of God, and to call ourselves Reformed Baptists and not Calvinist Baptists.

    • Rev_aggie

      I am not sure I follow you on the Church structure and system. When I read that I hear polity.

      Speaking as a Lutheran, we are very much a theological system and not a church structure and system.

      And the reason you do not hear of “Lutheran Baptists” is that our theologies are pretty much incompatible. Veith hits the issue pretty head on. The sacraments play an intimate role in our soteriology because we believe Jesus’ life and atoning sacrifice are given to us in the sacraments. You strip the sacraments out and you rip the heart out of our theology and yes Luther’s theology.

      • Adam Waddell

        Some of it is the polity. Most Baptists are going to be on the Elder-led or Congregationalist side of things.

        I disagree that our theologies are totally incompatable. I do understand that the sacraments play a vital role in soteriology for Lutherans, and that is distinctly different from Baptists. But Luther’s theology was salvation by faith alone! The sacraments were incredibly important, but faith was vital. So Luther’s theology can be adopted without the whole of this sacramental theology.

        But, as I said, there are some Reformed Baptists like myself that hold a very high view of baptism (yes it is credobaptism), and most of what brought me to my high view of baptism was Luther’s Treatise on Baptism. And there are some (though significantly fewer) Reformed Baptists like myself who know there must be more to the Lord’s Supper than mere symbolism yet understand that transubstantiation is an unbiblical teaching, and who come to Luther looking for guidance and discover the beautiful teaching of the sacramental union, or Real Presence, or whatever you want to call it (the true body and true blood of Christ).

        I agree that I am not a Lutheran Baptist. But, my brother, we have more in common than you think.

        • Rev_aggie

          With in Lutheran circles polity is an open question. As long as a given polity serves the Gospel we are pretty good with it. We have congregational polities, episcopal polities, semi-congregational polities, and probably others.

          Luther’s theology is explicit. No Sacraments, no faith. For clarity sake, I am using sacrament in its looser definition according to Lutherans which includes spoken word mostly because we have been speaking of sacraments and switching to the term “Means of Grace” would be confusing. I would encourage you to spend time with his Large Catechism if you haven’t already and his writings against the “Enthusiasts”. He also makes it abundantly clear faith does not happen outside of the three ways God gives the Gospel in Article IV of the Smalcald Articles.

          It is because he is so adamant in this regard that I state his theology is largely inconsistent with general Baptist theology. There can be slight overlap with Calvinist theology, since Calvin was open to the Sacraments doing something, but not much.

          • Philip

            Rev_aggie: That hits the nail on the head exactly. As a Lutheran seminarian, there is no possible way for us to accept any view of the sacraments that would be antithetical to the Book of Concord. Luther and Melancthon were asked time and again to re-evaluate their viewpoints on the sacraments (most notably to form a united front with the Zwinglians against the Catholics); and time and again it was a bridge that they couldn’t cross.

            Also, I am quite offended by the notion that some have put forth that we lack a theology. Perhaps I was misinformed about the Book of Concord or Loci Communes or the myriad of other books. Just because we don’t have a law book to reference for every minor infraction, does not mean we do not have a theology. And yes, there are paradoxes in Lutheran theology. Perhaps the opponents of paradoxes would like to read the first opening lines of Augustine’s Confessions? If you explain everything about God, then He becomes small enough for you to put in your pocket. A person who can be reduced to the yeses and nos of a questionnaire is not a person but a character in a novel.

            This discussion could simply be answered this way: Its the sacraments. Lutherans are not Baptists because of the sacraments.

  • Chris Whisonant

    Great post. I’m one who would consider myself a Calvinist Baptist, but I also run the @LutherDaily twitter/fb pages. So, I get a lot from both streams.

    But I would agree with you that Veith’s response is probably the most accurate with regards to why there are no Lutheran Baptists. However, I think the reason there are Calvinist Baptists is a lot simpler to answer. That lies with the TULIP acrostic. If we’re honest, I think that for the most part the Calvinist baptists are “generally” (pun intended) only referred to in this way due to our soteriology. I don’t know too many Southern Baptists who would be able to line up much else from Calvin’s theology (church structure, baptism, paedobaptism, etc…) with the Baptist Faith & Message. However, there is a good bit of room for affirmation of Dortian theology (from where the 5 points would have initially been expressed in response to the Remonstrants) with the BF&M. Though, there probably isn’t a better way to refer to ourselves than Calvinist Baptists in this regard. Maybe we should start a Dortian Baptist movement? :)

  • Jason Price

    Maybe we ought to go back to using the label Particular Baptists. This distances us from Calvin when it comes to his view of the ordinances, while communicating that we are not arminian in our soteriology, after all Calvin’s view of salvation is not Calvin’s but the Bible’s.

  • Rick

    I was really frustrated reading this article until finally I read a Lutheran point of view. The reason there are no Lutheran Baptists is because first such a Baptist would have to agree that Baptists are wrong. Lutheran ex-Baptist doesn’t roll off the tongue.

    As a former LCMS Lutheran, I find it possible to accept much of Reformed theology while holding on to a Lutheran view of the sacraments. We Lutherterians are small in number though.

  • Chris

    Very helpful article, especially Veith’s section . I did not realize that all or most Lutherans believed in baptismal regeneration.

    • Rick

      Chris, they do, sort of, but baptismal regeneration is not a term I think they would use. “Means of grace” is. Lutherans do not believe sprinkling water saves anyone.

      • Rev_aggie

        Actually, we do believe God does save through Baptism.

        • Derrick


          If I understand my Lutheran Theology accurately, could it be said that Baptism Saves, but if one does not continue in the belief of that, then being washed in the Word (through baptism, which DOES save) no longer takes effect because that person has not believed? I see the biggest clash in Lutheran and Reformed theology with Perseverance of the Saints. I have no problem at all believing that Christ is present in baptism speaking words of regeneration to this individual, I have a problem believing that it isn’t effective unto salvation. Please bring clarity to my understanding, thank you!

          • Miguel

            If Baptism saves and the P in tulip is true, then the logical conclusion is that we must get as many people wet as possible, with or without their consent. Drive down the street in a fire truck blasting people and shouting, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spiri!”

            Baptismal regeneration and the Preservation of the saints are simply incompatible. Both doctrines are designed to comfort the believer in their security of Christ’s work on their behalf, but I suggest that the former is far more effective, because in the latter you can always second guess your election. In Baptism, you can literally see your election.

          • Rev_aggie

            Baptism is indeed effective unto Salvation. It does give what creates faith the washing and renewal of our conscience by uniting us with the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is also equally true that faith can die – part of the point of Jesus’ parable of the seeds scattered on different types of soil.

            While we affirm the salvific nature of Baptism we also deny the principle that once one is saved they will always be saved. It doesn’t mean baptism wasn’t effective just that faith died for one reason or another.

    • Daniel Broaddus

      All Lutherans believe in the means of grace because it is not enough to simply believe and say “I believe in Christ!” or “Christ died for my sins.” Rather, the universal atonement of Christ for the sins of the world must be applied through the Office of the Keys. That is, the power of the Church to give and withhold the forgiveness of sins. This is freely offered through Confession and Absolution, the Holy Eucharist, and Holy Baptism. We receive the forgiveness of sins by other means as well, but the afore mentioned are the principle means.

      All that being said, Lutherans differ from Calvinists (and all the derivatives thereof) in terms of election/predestination, perseverance of the saints, and sacraments (Presbyterians are closer but still no cigar). When these issues are discussed and further fleshed out, differences could be seen in views of the atonement as well.

      A conjecture (my own) about the reason Lutheranism is identified as a group and less as streams of thought in multiple groups (Calvinist) is because of these differences. I think that there is an element of individualism within Calvinist theology that does not appear in Lutheran theology because Lutherans do accept paradox (i.e. we need all the means of grace to be saved and to be held in that salvation. Salvation is not able to be reduced to the simple concept of election). Again, this last paragraph is a snippet of what I have been thinking about lately. I have much more to research and study, though.

      • Bob

        Daniel –

        As a Lutheran, I agree with your statement regarding paradox. Position 2 above states that Lutherans believe “asking the big questions leads only to paradoxes, of which the lowly human mind cannot say much that is meaningful”. I would say this differently. I would say that in Lutheran theology, in paradox we find Christ.

  • Morris Brooks

    Personally, I prefer the term Reformed Baptist.

  • carl peterson

    Why is not part of the answer just the fact that Baptists have their historical roots from the reformed stream of thought? There were reformed baptists at the beginning of Baptist history.

  • Alexanderguggenheim

    It is the Calvinist who is always trying to drag Lutherans by their side and exclaiming, “We’re twins, can’t you tell?”, but rare is the Lutheran who would do the same. The book of Concord need only be studied for one to discover Lutheran is no synonym for Calvinist.

    • JB

      I second this comment.

  • Chris Robin

    Why not Reformed Baptist (or what they originally called themselves, “Particular Baptists”)? After all, they have a confession from that time period (the 1689 London Baptist Confession) w/ a catechism (1695) (

    The 1689 Confession the one Spurgeon reprinted for his church.

    For comparison to the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith:

    Or do we avoid the confession because of 26.4?

  • JohnM

    Wow. After reading all the Lutheran responses I’m wondering not so much how Lutherans differ from Baptists as how they differ from Roman Catholics. I probably just made somebodies list. Won’t be the first time :)

    • Katy

      We differ from Roman Catholics in that we believe that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. We maintain our only righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. The Roman Catholic can agree with grace and Christ, but not faith. We also differ on the authority of the Bible on matters of salvation.

      Surface similarities, but theological chasms:

      Baptism: For the Lutheran: now saves the recipient. Completely passive (whether adult or baby is baptized). Holy Spirit gifts faith, and the baptized becomes a child of God. This is when a person receives the name of the Triune God, and when his/her sins–original and committed–are covered in Jesus’ blood. The cross’s benefits are applied.

      For the Roman Catholic: first plank on the road to salvation, and when the Christian first receives grace. Forgives only sins committed thus far. Must faithfully “attain” potential in God’s grace, and must work out salvation through the rest of the sacraments, especially confession and penance.

      Sacrament of the Altar: Lutheran: Jesus’s Body and Blood, given for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith, unto life eternal. Christ is victim and priest in the Lord’s Supper. He is the host serving us. The cross’s benefits are applied.

      Roman Catholic: Action of the priest on behalf of his parishioners to “offer Christ,” and sacrifice him all over again. God’s gifts are turned into an idolatrous work, and the emphasis is turned from God’s service toward us, to our service toward God (Lutherans call their Sunday services “Divine Service” for this very reason. We can’t do anything for God, we can only fall flat on our faces and receive His gifts. The only sacrifices we can offer are thanksgiving and praise.)

      Confession and Absolution: Lutheran: We confess our sins, either corporately or privately, and our pastor announces the forgiveness of our sins, in the stead and command of Christ (“whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed in heaven”, etc.). Private confession is completely voluntary, and brings great comfort to the Christian with a burdened conscience. Corporate confession only started a couple hundred years ago, I believe. Big emphasis on confessing being a “poor, miserable sinner” over particular sins, We sin because we’re sinners, not we’re sinners because we sin. In our private lives we take confessing and forgiving each other very seriously. The Christian should never say “it’s ok” when he’s asked for forgiveness, but rather “I forgive you.”

      Roman Catholic: The addition of penance again turns God’s gift of pure forgiveness into a work. I also believe Romanists are taught to try to enumerate their sins throughout the week, which is of course impossible. Either the honest person will drown in the overwhelming burden of realizing he could never remember or even identify all his sins (like Luther), or he’ll think he’s not really sinning that much.

      Hope this helps. Just a layperson, and and housewife at that. Roman Catholics and Lutherans who know more than me are welcome to correct or add to what I’ve explained.

    • Daniel Broaddus


      Don’t worry, your on no list of mine. The Lutheran Reformation didn’t come about for the purpose of not being Roman Catholic. It came about for the reformation of the Church and the articulation of pure doctrine. Lutherans don’t claim to have come by new revelation but to only have rediscovered the Gospel as given to us by God through Word and Sacrament, testified to in Holy Scripture and by the Church Fathers. The first is what makes us orthodox, the latter is what makes us catholic. You can’t be one without the other, either.

    • Ryan

      Not at all. The very reason why it’s called the Reformation and not the Revolution was that the original intention was to change the Roman Catholic church, not split from it. As a result, Lutheran theology, while still quite separate, retains more in common with RC than many other Protestant denominations.

      To be honest, as a Baptist myself, I find this approach quite laudable. Though I disagree with no small amount of Catholic theology, she is still in many ways our ecclesiastical mother, and we owe a great deal to her. I think that Baptists and Reformed alike could benefit greatly by taking a softer stance on Catholicism – we’ve got a lot we can learn from each other. It would also help to dispel common myths about Catholicism such as “Catholics worship saints!” and “Catholics believe in salvation through works!”

      This is an attitude I’m seeing more and more frequently in my generation (i.e. current 20-30somethings) – no doubt at least in part due to the teachings of Vatican II finally reaching their fruition and becoming far more ubiquitous in the church than they were forty or so years ago.

      I almost feel as though Reformed Protestantism was the rebellious teenager who broke away from home. Then, he went to college, got a job, found out who he was, started living his own life, and is now ringing up his mother out of the blue saying “Listen. I’m not going to live under your roof, and I’m not going to follow your rules… But you’re my mother, and I love you, and I want you to be in my life.”

      There still seems to be a pretty strong anti-Catholic sentiment among some of the older church leaders, but it seems to be softening with every generation, and who knows? Maybe within our lifetimes, we’ll see a tenuous olive branch being extended and received.

      Now if only we could patch up that Eastern schism…

      (Sorry for the massive tangent)

      • Derek Greer

        I like the depiction of the church presented in the the Credo House church history series. It depicts the church as going through the stages of maturity, starting with infancy and then proceeding through childhood, teens, young adulthood, etc. The point of the analogy is to say “They are us” and to view the church at various stages in history, with all its faults, as a continuum of maturity.

  • SKPeterson

    Lutherans don’t differ all that much with Rome on some key, central tenets of the faith, but on some very crucial things we are very far apart. We agree that baptism is effective for salvation because of the combination of water and Word, i.e., the same thing that Ambrose and Augustine said. We believe in the Real Presence, although here, we are closer to the Orthodox in that we don’t insist on a transubstantiation argument to “make it real.” We agree with Rome that salvation is by grace* alone. However, we dispute the Roman concept of grace as some sort of infused power to to do good works, and hold that grace is the unmerited gift of God won through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. A Lutheran focus will be on the Cross and the work of Christ on the Cross. It is then the benefit of that act that is communicated in the sacraments. A final consideration is that for Lutherans our directionality of worship is somewhat reversed from the rest of Protestantism and it is realized in the Real Presence: we do not ascend to God and our worship does not proceed from us to God as a gift to God. Instead, God descends to us in the Divine Service and gives us his gifts of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. We simply receive and respond animated and quickened by the Word given in Absolution, prayer and Eucharist.

  • Katy

    Good clarification on grace, SKPeterson. My husband wisely said to a former Presbyterian pastor who converted to Rome, “The closer we seem [Lutherans and Romanist], the more clear the differences are, and the harder they are to reconcile.”

  • Daniel Broaddus

    I would like to make some general comments for everyone following this article.

    First, I’m glad this sort of article could be written since it helps provide a glimpse at what people think makes Lutherans different from the Reformed and vice versa. Also, I’m thankful for how relatively civil the comments have been.

    Second, I was a baptist before I became a Lutheran. I had encountered Lutheran theology through going to Patrick Henry College and attending classes under Dr. Veith and Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. However, it wasn’t those initial encounters that persuaded me as to the validity of the Lutheran confession of faith. Rather, through my study of the classics and political theory, I was made aware of the fact that I read the classics and the Church Fathers as a modernist. It wasn’t until after I realized this that I was able to understand Lutheranism. A modernist approaches a text with the assumption that they will encounter much that they disagree with and will be on their guard against anything within the text that is at odds with their presuppositions. Consequently, a modernist reading of ancient texts will read their presuppositions into a text. The opposite of this approach is to let the text convict our presuppositions. After I took this latter approach I was convicted by how little I knew about the early Church and how far I was from being in agreement with them. An example of this in my own experience was when I first sang the Agnus Dei (paraphrasing) “O Christ, Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us,” and found myself having to qualify “world” to mean the elect. I began to notice that I was constantly qualifying Holy Scripture (and the more I read) the Church Fathers as well. I would say then, it was a hermeneutical method that led me to then return to the Lutheran confessions and liturgy with new eyes. Doctrine and worship changed for me and became less a profession (asserting what I believed to be true) and became a confession (reciting that which is true: Holy Scripture). “Baptism now saves you” meant exactly that, the Divine Service became an act of reciting Holy Scripture and the promises therein rather than a response based upon my presuppositions. Ultimately, confessional Christianity is that which restates what is said and believing in that, rather than professing an assumption of what was written.

    I might add, this is why Lutherans do not discern the will of God from “God is sovereign” or “God seeks His own glory,” but rather, “Christ became man.”

    Third, Lutherans view the Word of God as an acting force (speaking creation into existence, whatever you ask in My name, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the Word making Sacrament, et al). This is not to say that some denominations don’t see the Word this way, but I think it is one reason why Lutherans are not as insistent on expository preaching for a description of God or what to believe, but rather a proclamation of Law and Gospel that works the forgiveness of sins on those who have ears to hear.

    These are just some thoughts and observations of my own so, I welcome any further discussion. Again, thank you all for your contributions and discussion.

    • George

      “Homo factus est!”

  • George


    I thought it might be useful for the discussion to note a few things that might not have yet been considered by those above.

    Firstly, it seems to have been overlooked that traditionally Lutherans and Calvinists have differing views of Christology. It is ultimately this which prevented “a united protestant church.” Whereas Lutherans believe in the communicatio idiomatum, that is, the communication of attributes, the Calvinists do not. As far as I am aware, or as well as it has been explained to me, the Calvinists conceive of the two natures of Christ as being united in that they both dwell equally within the same person of Christ; but not united in that the divine and the human “communicate” or share their respective aspects with one another. Though this may seem to be a bit of sophism in these days, during the reformation, it was a big enough issue that the Lutherans would have seen no option but to condemn the Calvinists not only as non-Lutheran, but even non-Christian. Granted this may be extreme, but it points to the fact that this Christological difference can not be brushed to the side.

    From this Christological understanding arises a large difference in the practical piety of the Lutheran versus the Calvinist. If the two natures of Christ communicate attributes and experiences, as the Lutheran confesses, then whatever the human nature suffers, so the divine nature suffers. Therefore, Lutherans gladly say that “Mary is the mother of God”, that “God shed his blood for us,” that “God suffered and was crucified”, that “God was given over for us” and that “We killed God by our sin.” If it happened to Christ, then it happened to God. To the Lutheran, these are much more than just interesting words and phrases, but rather contain within themselves the peculiar experience of religion common to confessional Lutherans. It is my experience with Calvinists that though they would say that Christ is God and man, only the “man” in Christ was crucified, since the “God” could not die, since it is foreign to his essence. Yet this very concept, that God himself participated in every aspect of humanity, including the experience of death, is central to a Lutheran view of the God of Love; the God hidden in suffering, as opposed to the (stereotypically, I admit) God of glory which seems more prominent among the Reformed.

    To carry this further, the belief that the divine and human are inseparable as Christ drives Lutherans to affirm the true presence in the Lord’s Supper, for wheresoever his divinity dwells, so his humanity too dwells, for the whole Christ is there together. The Reformed tend to think of the true (or real, or local etc.) presence as a peculiar and somewhat idolatrous idea which has no real bearing on the rest of theology. Idolatrous it may very well be, for if it is untrue, then the Lutheran truly does worship bread and wine. But it can not be said to be irrelevant, for the doctrine of the True Presence is the central tenet of all Lutheran practice and piety, for the Lutheran understands that even now, God dwells with his people locally, bodily, and fully, granting his gifts and bestowing his favors, no less so than he did in the Garden of Eden, no less so than in the Tabernacle or the Temples erected for him. When one goes to attend Liturgy, one goes to see God in the flesh, to worship him there, to feast upon him. This can not be ignored as unimportant as I find some calvinists seem to insist, for they might say “Well, what does it matter if Christ is really there and you eat him bodily, or if he is just spiritually there as he is everywhere, and you feed on him as you ascend to heaven in faith?” To say such would be like saying to an Israelite ” What does it matter if God is in the temple and tabernacle or not? All that matters is that when you make your sacrifices, your faith brings you spiritually to God.” The concept of the “divine liturgy,” that is, God’s coming here to serve and shepherd his people immediately, is not just a “theology of worship” but must come to inform the entire existence of a good Lutheran.

    Lutherans and Calvinists also tend to have very divergent hermeneutical principles which causes the following problem: that though both hold the bible alone to be their material principle, what they find within the pages of the bible is very different. Though perfect generalizations can not be made, it is most commonly the case that the Calvinist or Baptist will employ a “historical-grammatical” approach to the Bible, taking literally what every passage means, and believing only what the passage means according to its literal reading. The Lutherans, on the contrary, tend to have an extremely typological and even sacramental hermeneutic, seeing Christ in every nook and corner of the Bible. This becomes evident in Luther’s own commentary on the Psalms and on Genesis, where he seems to see Jesus hiding in every “shadow.” With that said, where Christ is prefigured, his work is also prefigured, and where his work is prefigured so is what has been gained by that work, that is, the Church formed by the sacraments. To put it shortly, Lutherans tend towards a multi-layered hermeneutical approach where any given pericope might have its literal reading, a Christological reading, an ecclesiological reading, and a sacramental reading all simultaneously. Such thinking seems to the average Calvinist as militating against the clarity and (though I know calvinists despise this term, and I do not mean it derogatorily) rationality of Scripture. However, to Lutherans, to not read the scriptures thusly is to deny Christ’s own suggestion when he, on the road to Emmaus, “opened all the scriptures concerning himself.”

    It should also be noted the Lutherans and Calvinists suffer from a Cultural divide. One can be a “calvinist baptist” without much harm because, as is well agreed to, calvinists and baptists share a common history, tend to read the same books, move between each-others churches, visit the same blogs etc. When John Piper writes a book, I am just as likely to find it on the shelf of an Anglican or a Baptist as I am a Presbyterian. However, I would most likely not find it on the shelf of any serious Lutheran. Lutherans are a bit like hobbits, in that they keep to themselves, with their own history and literature and blogs and such. It was a strange thing when I was in Lutheran-Land, that is, Fort Wayne Indiana, with many “born and raised Lutherans” to discover that among a group of about 30 theologically astute Lutherans, about 3 had ever read a book by C.S. Lewis. It was also not uncommon for people to ask questions such as “Who is this Spurgeon guy?” Or “John Piper, you mean Piepkorn right?” Lutherans do not dip into the same well as most other protestants, and generally do not partake of their literature and scholarship. This might very well be to their loss, but the point remains, they are, in a sense, culturally isolated. Lutherans tend to read Lutheran books, or books by the church fathers, or, on certain occasions, Orthodox and Catholic works.

    To continue on the subject of cultural divisions, a slew of practical peculiarities seem to form a chasm between a true communion between Lutherans and the rest of protestantism. The fact that Lutherans tend to (though not always) keep a strict liturgy, chant, use incense on occasion, bow, kneel, and hold to the historic church year makes them seem on a shallower level very “other” when viewed honestly by the reformed. Furthermore, such odd practices as formal, liturgical blessings of houses once a year, consecrations of sacred art and iconography, unveiling and veiling of crucifixes during Holy Week, unctions and anointings during certain services, the making of the sign of the cross, the praying of hours, the use of rigorously determined breviaries etc. seem to place the “daily experience” of the Lutheran far away from the “daily experience” of the garden variety baptist or calvinist.

    I know that some reading this post might endeavor to show that within the Reformed tradition, there is much that I term “Lutheran” represented, and there may be some that show that within the Lutheran tradition there are those who side with the “Reformed” way of doing business. I am not so much concerned here with the formal theologies, but rather the human-level “experience” of the theology; the practice and visceral understanding of the theologies common to both groups.

    I hope I have not offended anyone by this post, for I have attempted to make everything written above as non-polemical as possible.

    I hope and pray you are all well.

  • JohnM

    Piecing it together: Lutherans are not like Roman Catholics but are like hobbits, and many used to be something else :)

    Seriously, I appreciate the many good explanations and clarifications. I expected there was some kind of answer regarding differences from the RCC, and the answers given are not only informative but also show at least some Lutherans understand why Baptists or Presbyterians might ask the question. Thanks.

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  • Nathan

    I largely agree with the post that George made on June 6.

    If Christology is a part of a consistent “catholic tradition” which version of Christology are we talking about? I note with interest that some Reformed folks are becoming Eastern Orthodox in part because of their Christology – a Christology that Lutherans really do seem to have much in common with. In any case, we certainly do not want to water things down into some “classical” formulation all who are not crazy Jehovah’s Witnesses, Liberals, or Mormons can agree on! That simply is not recognizing the important reasons why brave saints in the past held the line here and fought as they did – and appreciating that
    they did theology based on the breadth and depth of Scripture.

    In a recent post by the Lutheran writer Gene Veith’s he talked about the common assumption there seems to be “that there should be essential agreement, at some level, between all of the different theologies”. Dr.Veith, I suggest, is right: we cannot assume that is the case and need to challenge ourselves to look at history and our respective theologies a bit more closely. This common viewpoint is especially understandable if we think the end result of theological disagreements are things like the Thirty Years War, but I think we can, by the grace of God, do much
    better than that. I think if we want to talk about points of
    commonality – something that certainly needs to be done as well! – we actually won’t be talking about Christology, for example, even as that is the common assumption.

    In case anyone is interested in reading more, on my blog I have done part II (of III) of my series on “The Real reason there are no ‘Lutheran Baptists’: Martin Luther’s 500 year battle vs. Protestant liberalism?”(here: and how this connects with Christology. Part III, coming tomorrow, will be the heavy-hitting Christological section.


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