What Divides Lutherans and the Reformed?

March 26, 2016

I have always considered Lutherans to be dear brothers and sisters in the faith. I was exposed to some of their theology in school. While their sacramentalism seemed excessive, I still appreciated Luther and his followers. I once pastored in a small town where the only other churches were Roman Catholic and Lutheran. My conversations with the Lutheran pastor were cordial, if not extensive. I’ve read some Lutherans (Veith, Forde, Giertz, and Senkbeil) and appreciated their writings. However, even after reading what they had to say, I’ve never been able to wholly adopt their views.

I hang out on a Lutheran Facebook discussion page. I’ve been surprised at the vitriol aimed at the Reformed. The Reformed have been labeled as “heretics.” Since I’m more aligned with Reformed theology, I’ve wondered why my love for Lutherans hasn’t been reciprocated. In general I think it is safe to say that the Reformed appreciate Luther more than Lutherans appreciate Calvin. I suppose living in an evangelical world has lowered the bar for me as to what is and isn’t acceptable. About ten years ago there was a Lutheran who was attending the church I pastored. While attending our church, this Lutheran received a letter from her former Lutheran pastor severely criticizing her for attending the church I pastored. Since I focus on the gospel and hold to the ecumenical creeds and the five solas of the Reformation, I wondered why there was such antagonism directed toward my theology. When someone is looking for a church, and there aren’t any with a Reformed orientation in the neighborhood, I’ll direct people to a conservative Lutheran church.

With this background I’m always looking for more explanation as to what is going on. I just finished “Wittenberg VS Geneva,” subtitled, “A Biblical Bout in Seven Rounds on the Doctrines that Divide.” This slim volume (177 pages) was written by a Lutheran named Brian W Thomas. I very much appreciated the irenic tone. Thomas gently explored the differences between the two doctrinal camps. The issues discussed were the extent of the atonement, double predestination, the salvific nature of baptism, the presence of the Lord in the Supper, and perseverance of the saints.

I believe it is fair to say that Lutherans believe that the Reformed are wrong in these areas because the Reformed generally hold to the logic of their system rather than the truth of Scripture. While I’m not yet willing to become a Lutheran, Thomas does make good points. I felt the Lutheran arguments were stronger in some areas than others. I certainly appreciated the Lutheran passion to adhere to scripture even if there is a conflict with logic. The strongest issue in my view dealt with double predestination, while the weakest was the treatment of the Lord’s Supper. I’ll probably keep reading in an effort to understand what the Lutheran view holds.

Every view has strengths and weaknesses. For me, often a view seems stronger if its weaknesses aren’t as weak as the other view’s weaknesses. For now the Reformed view simply makes more sense.

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5 Responses to “What Divides Lutherans and the Reformed?”

  1. phfs9 Says:

    It is my understanding the Lutheran faith was a branch-off from the Catholic faith. I do find that many Lutheran practices and beliefs mimic that of Catholicism. I looked in to the Lutheran faith many years ago – it’s just not for me.

    • Mark Says:

      It is a branch off from the Catholic church in that it is a Protestant church. But, most every orthodox denomination is a branch off from the Catholic church. Luther originally didn’t want to start a new denomination, but the Catholic church gave him no choice. This to say, Lutherans are very distinct from the Catholic church. You are correct in that they aren’t as radical as the baptistic groups or the Reformed. They are, however, clear about salvation by grace ALONE. Many of us are uncomfortable with their view of the sacraments.


  2. I have a friend who is now a U.S. citizen who grew up Catholic in Germany. After WW II they were living in a town with only a Lutheran church. Her family attended the Lutheran because there was no where else to go. Although I am reformed (grew up in the Presbyterian church) I can worship God anywhere they read scripture and sing correct theology.


  3. […] baptism, the presence of the Lord in the Supper, and perseverance of the saints.” Reviewer: Mark Lugg Rating: 5 […]


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