Differences Between Lutheran and Reformed Orthodoxy

Prior to the 19th century, orthodox, confessional Lutheran and Reformed theologians used to read each other’s work and interact more than they do now. I’m not entirely sure when we stopped talking to each other but it seems clear to me that few of the orthodox Lutherans with whom I’ve talked are deeply knowledgeable about Reformed theology. Further, it seems that most Reformed folk are equally ignorant of what confessional Lutherans actually teach.
Stephen writes to ask,

…how would you assess modern-day confessional Lutheranism, its strengths and weaknesses, similarities with/departures from confessional Reformed teachings? The confessional Reformed identity you promote has similarities of course to confessional Lutheranism, e.g. in its dislike for ‘pietistic’ religion and its concern for the importance of the sacraments. In particular, how would you counsel a Reformed believer tempted by what was on offer in Lutheranism to ‘convert’, or for that matter, what would you say to a Lutheran regarding the benefits of the Reformed faith? One area I recently encountered myself (having done some exploration of Lutheran writings) is that of sanctification: the concept of progressive sanctification receives little attention in Lutheranism, which seems to dislike any talk of progress “in us,” emphasizing instead what we have already received in baptism. Any thoughts you might have on this and other areas of disagreement would be much appreciated.

Thanks for writing, Stephen. Traditionally it has been considered that there is much agreement between confessional Lutheran and Reformed theology (e.g., the basic law/gospel distinction, the doctrine of justification, total depravity, unconditional election,  sola Scriptura, three uses of the law) but there have been a few areas of major disagreement.

  • In soteriology, in the Fifth Head of Doctrine of the Canons of Dort (1619), the Reformed churches rejected the confessional Lutheran doctrine of the resistibility of grace in favor of the perseverance of the saints.
  • The Lutheran orthodox deny the Second of Doctrine of the Synod of Dort, i.e., definite atonement.
  • Lutheran orthodoxy teaches a different Christology than confessed by the Reformed churches. We confess that Jesus’ humanity, though glorified and ascended, remains local (i.e., in one place at one time). We confess that he is “everywhere present” by the power and in the person of the Holy Spirit. Lutherans confess that his humanity is everywhere present.
  • The Lutherans and the Reformed have also disagreed over the theory and practice of worship (and also over the numbering of the ten commandments).
  • In obedience to the second commandment (as we number them), in light of the formal principal of the Reformation (sola scriptura), we confess the Regulative Principle of Worship: we may do only that in worship which God has commanded. The Lutherans teach that we may do in worship whatever is not forbidden. Unfortunately, today, because few Reformed churches practice the RPW as confessed in the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 96) and in the WCF (ch. 21) even those who consider themselves arch opponents of all things Lutheran tend to be practical Lutherans in their approach to and practice of worship.

On the doctrine of sanctification we should proceed carefully. I asked this very question once at a colloquy of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals in the late ’90s, and earned a stern rebuke from my colleague Richard Muller. Obviously it left a mark. I could think of several Reformed works on the doctrine of sanctification, but I could not think of any major Lutheran works on sanctification. Indeed, when I asked the Lutheran theologian David Scaer about this, he agreed that there were not a great number of such volumes. I did not understand what you have already discovered, that Lutherans tend to teach their doctrine of sanctification under the heading of baptism. When we compare the best Reformed teaching on sanctification with the best Lutheran teaching, the differences are not as great as some seem to imagine.

Nevertheless, I suspect there are differences. For example, in an online essay by my friend David Scaer, he wants rightly to say that sanctification is by grace as much as justification is by grace. He rightly wants to challenge and correct the notion that we begin by grace in justification but finish (sanctification) by works.

In this essay, however, he is quite critical of any talk of “cooperation” with grace in sanctification. I have no doubt that David knows much more about the (quite complicated) Book of Concord (1580) than I do, but notice in the Epitome of the Book of Concord, the Lutheran Churches confess,

But, on the other hand, it is correctly said that in conversion God, through the drawing of the Holy Ghost, makes out of stubborn and unwilling men willing ones, and that after such conversion in the daily exercise of repentance the regenerate will of man is not idle, but also cooperates in all the works of the Holy Ghost, which He performs through us.

Perhaps “cooperate” is not quite the right verb. We should, however, agrees with Belgic Confession (Art 24):

We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,” causing him to live the “new life” and freeing him from the slavery of sin.

Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned. So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word.

These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification– for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

So then, we do good works, but not for merit—for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not He to us, since it is He who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure”— thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ “

Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works— but it is by his grace that He crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

In the brief essay to which I referred above, David doesn’t say which “Protestants” he has in mind but the Reformed churches agree that believers are no longer under the curse of the law. We agree that we are not sanctified by the law, but we confess that the law is the norm for our sanctification. As Walter Marshall explained in The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, and as Mike Horton has recently explained in The Gospel-Driven Life, the gospel is the power of the Christian life. The law never gives us the ability to do what it commands. Only God the Spirit does that, through the word of the gospel. Nevertheless, as the Epitome says, we are not idle. Sanctification is by grace alone, but that grace is operative in us and through us and enables us to grow in Christlikeness in this life.

Judging by some Reformed literature I read, I suspect that we do not often read the Lutherans deeply or carefully and I don’t see much evidence in Lutheran literature that they have been reading our writers (or even confessions) well or carefully. There are very real and perhaps irreconcilable differences between the confessional Lutheran and Reformed churches but there are genuine areas of agreement. It would be well if we could at least talk with one another more frequently to come to a clearer understanding what those areas are.

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  1. I was wondering what you would think about Reformed people putting their kids through the Lutheran educational system? Some parents at our Reformed church (even though there is a Christian school once founded and formally supervised by our church but no more) send their children to the local Lutheran day school and I have my kids in a once a week classical Christian homeschool coop run by the local confessional Lutheran church in which all the mothers share in the teaching. The morning and afternoon liturgies (this includes some litanies and scripted prayers and Lutheran hymns) are sound and so far, no doctrine has been taught, just Bible. I just wanted your opinion on it and whether it matters that the pastor’s children don’t attend the “Reformed” Christian day school (we personally don’t think it is as Reformed theologically and that it is in fact more evangelical and ecumenical [ie Roman Catholics are admitted in the school]than it should be)?

    • Hi Leah,

      It’s an option that many Reformed folk have used. It can be complicated as the tend to run their schools as parochial schools and they sometimes require students to memorize Luther’s Small Catechism. That’s not the worst thing that can happen but it would be better if children memorized the HC or the WSC.

      We’ve had a big discussion here in recent months on the question of Christian schools so I don’t want to open up that can of worms again (search the archives) but depending on circumstances, it may be the best way to go.

      • Thanks. We do have our children memorize a version of the HC. Pastor Adam has condensed some of them for the 3 year olds and the 5 year olds so they’re easier to memorize. I know eventually our involvement will come to a head as the children get older. I assume that doctrine will eventually be required. But I guess we’ll make decisions when we get to that bridge. Fortunately, all the mothers are given a lot of power to make decisions (as it is a homeschool co-op and not an actual day school), so I am not too concerned about it now. When Eva has seen pictures of Jesus in the church’s sanctuary, it has been a great opportunity for me to recite to her the 2nd commandment and the HC teachings on it. She responded once by saying that that is the reason why we don’t go to that church. So far so good.

  2. Thanks for this, Scott. I was reeled into orthodox Christianity through my confessional Lutheran wife and subsequent involvement with a Lutheran church. Yet I found myself drawn toward the covenant theology of Ridderbos, et al.., and soon found a home among the Reformed (even if, at times, it’s a little uncomfortable).

    I once asked a good (Presbyterian) friend of mine, in a somewhat frustrated manner, if he thought “we” were closer to Lutherans or Baptists. He said Baptists, hands down. I was taken aback, and I think for good reason. (But maybe he was thinking of a major qualification—covenantal Reformed Baptists.)

    • Chris,

      I wonder if your friend’s answer owes to the fact that the Lutherans have no real modern celebrities (where the Baptists do) and the odd phenomenon that the modern Reformed seem smitten with being aligned with the popular kids.

      One explanation as to why Reformed and Baptists are equally confused about their being soul-mated is that the Baptists have simply stolen the name and run amok. Granted. But I am inclined to think the blame resides at least as much with us (if not more so) for lending out the name in hopes of being associated with circuit-riding stardom. That doesn’t explain everything, of course, but I’d be more satisfied if we started owning up to some blame.

      • I’m second guessing now. So, is it really true that the Westminsterian Presbyterian is not closer (theologically) to, for example, a guy like Ernie Reisinger than a Lutheran? This has little to do with stardom.

        But I think your point has some validity. No doubt about it.

    • Good reminder.

      Covenant theology is another area where the Reformed tended to diverge from the Lutherans, not in substance but in pedagogical method. The point of early Reformed covenant theology was to preserve the gains of the Reformation and articulate the same in a redemptive-historical way.

      • I’ve always thought this, Scott. That the best of covenant theology puts in redemptive-historical terms the (potentially procrustean) categories of Law/Gospel. But this has gotten me closer to the likes of Moo/Ridderbos, etc., than Westminster…

  3. Dear Dr. Clark,
    I noticed that two parts of your paper that didn’t really make sense. They might just be typos. At the beginning of the paper you say:

    I’m not entirely sure when we stopped talking but it seems clear to me that few of the orthodox Lutheran theologians with whom I’ve talked are deeply knowledgeable about Reformed theology and it seems that most Reformed folk are equally ignorant of what confessional Lutherans actually teach.

    Don’t you mean speaking of orthodox Lutherans that they “… aren’t deeply knowledgeable about Reformed theology …”?

    The second questionable part comes from your quote of the Belgic Confession fourth paragraph:

    Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure”60

    The question is about the 60 after the word “pleasure”. I can only imagine it’s a Scripture footnote but I did want to bring it to you attention.

    I share in the disappointment on both sides. I’ve talked to Lutherans about some points of disagreement before and had the conversations turn out very unfortunate because I did not know adequately what they teach and how they talk. However, I’ve also have had conversations where Lutherans ask me about “the Reformed teaching on x” but we don’t get very far because the language that I use can be very different then what they are familiar with hearing, or the Lutheran simply doesn’t clearly state their assumptions like the ubiquitous presence of the Lord’s body in the Supper.

    The way to really have good dialog is to study the Confessions of both churches and then discuss them. The public dialogs on this subject have not gone well because their Book of Concord is too big and we seem to have too many confessions that the confessions get left out of the discussion, and so both parties talk past one another.

  4. I really want to comment on this more but I cannot right now. I just read an excellent article by Dr. Phillip Cary on the subtle differences between Luther’s and Calvin’s understanding of Sola Fide. It can be found at the Issues, etc. web site: Faith Alone: Luther & Calvin

    Dr. Phillip Cary of Eastern University

    right-click here, or…

    Further Resources & Reading:

    * Sola Fide: Luther and Calvin by Dr. Phillip Cary
    It is not copying properly but you can find the interview and a copy of the paper at the Issues,etc. site. For myself, it is one of those must read papers- I’m sure most who visit the Heidelblog would find it worthwhile to spend the time to read it.

    • John-

      A copy of that Cary paper, which was presented at the 2007 Symposia at the CTS in Fort Wayne, may be viewed here:


      I have read and re-read Cary’s speech many times and I’m not sure that he truly presents a “Reformed” view of soteriology. He may have had some good points to make, but I think he generalizes I bit too much, making systematic Reformed theology sound a bit too much like run-of-the-mill evangelicalism. Moreover, I’m not sure that I buy those syllogisms he uses – especially the Reformed one. I’d enjoy hearing what Dr. Clark has to say about the paper.

      Back to the subject at hand, I too, lament the fact that Lutheran and Reformed theologians have not come to the table, willing to talk over their differences and look for some middle ground. Being a life-long confessional Lutheran, I became curious about Reformed theology and began studying it in the earlier part of this decade after having read Kim Riddlebarger’s famous work on Amillennialism. Along the way I discovered a less willing, more close-minded attitude among the Lutherans than the Reformed when it comes to open discussion. I’m sad about that, because I think both sides have much to offer each other. We are both few in number in a sea of pluralism (along with apostate synods on both sides) and I think that a united front would benefit us both.

      As Dr. Clark pointed out, David Scaer is a gem of a theologian in the process. I have read some of his papers and have heard him preach (unfortunately, he talks at a level that is probably above the average layman, but I fault them, not him, for that).

      Many Lutheran commentators seem to lump Reformed into the same category as evangelical denominations, using the general label of “evangelical/reformed” in their work. While I do not disagree that there are those less confessional Reformed synods who are guilty of this kind of generalization, the truly confessional ones certainly are not. Also, Lutheran theologians often accuse the Reformed of making the mistake of interpreting Scripture “by logic” instead of “letting God be God” and leaving unsolvable paradoxes in places. But if I’ve read correctly, as a layman, this is not the case at all – the Reformed have left the paradoxes intact, but have simply moved them a little further than the Lutherans seem to like.


  5. Scott,
    Many thanks for addressing my question. I read Scaer’s essay some time ago. I thought it was largely uncontroversial – excepting the denial of ‘cooperation’ in sanctification which seems somewhat artificial. (A Lutheran pastor admitted to me that there are differences between Lutherans regarding the appropriate terminology here.) But I had more problems regarding another Scaer paper:
    He views justification as referring to all of our relationship with God, while sanctification describes our ‘horizontal’ relationships with men. What do you make of this? This is stated differently from the typical emphasis already mentioned, ie that we are definitively sanctified at our baptism. But it shares the implication that sanctification is NOT to do with growth in the Christian’s relationship with God (eg growth in love, a transformed will etc). Such a concept seems to be seen by confessional Lutherans (modern-day ones, at any rate) as ‘pietistic’. I know how mainstream evangelicalism would react to this, but what is your take from a confessional Reformed perspective?
    I agree with you that confessional Lutherans and Reformed need to read each other and appreciate each other more. When it comes to law/gospel and justification we should all be ‘Lutherans’.

    • The doctrine of definitive sanctification is, I think, a Lutheran more than a Reformed view. This is why I’m puzzled by Reformed advocates of this doctrine who want to call us “Lutherans” who advocate the traditional progressive view of sanctification.

    • Stephen,
      In a distinction between the relationship with God and the relationship with one’s fellow man, Scaer is using the “two kinds of righteousness” paradigm that’s been promoted by the faculty of the St. Louis seminary for some time now. You can find an entire issue of the Concordia Journal at St. Louis’ website devoted to explicating two kinds of righteousness. (Here: http://www.csl.edu/Img/Publications/cjapril07.pdf) Briefly, there is the “righteousness of God” which is through faith in Jesus Christ and is perfect or “definitive”, and then there is what the Apology of the Augsburg Confession calls “civil righteousness,” in which we can grow in love toward our neighbor but which can never avail before God because it is a righteousness of the law. This whole terminology stems from Luther’s “Sermon on Two Kinds of Righteousness” (and a couple other pieces) which I think is in Vol. 31 of the American Edition of his works, and Dr. Kolb and Dr. Arand at St. Louis picked this up and ran with it. They can explain it far better than I can, but basically, yes, sanctification and all our works are for the neighbor’s good, even as Christ’s works were all for our sake. This kind of righteousness of the law is a different thing from the perfect righteousness of Christ which we grasp by faith in his promise.

      • Adam,
        Thanks for the link and background, I will definitely delve into this. The two kinds of righteousness, before God and before man, make sense. What is strange to me is to relate these to justification and sanctification, respectively. But I need to read more. Thanks again

  6. We should be very, very careful about “cooperation” terminology. We must be absolutely clear what we mean by it.

    Sanctification is entirely and only the work of God. This work is effected through means and the resultant effect is a believer’s actual obedience. But the obedience-producing, holy-making power/energy, is entirely monergistic; that is, of God alone. As Paul says in Gal.2:20 “nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” Walter Marshall is utterly clear about this. A.W.Pink does pretty well on this too. If only all “Reformed” writers were as clear.

    It is certainly not the flesh, not the autonomous sinner, but not even the believer “in himself” (as though there were such a thing) who cooperates with the Spirit to produce fruit. No way. The obedience of believers is entirely and only Christ Himself living in them. God effectuates the Christian’s acting, but it is God alone making it happen. Moreover, every single act of obedience a believer will ever render to God has already been predetermined (Eph 2:10).

    WCF 16.3
    [Believers’] ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will, and to do, of his good pleasure

  7. I appreciate the post, Dr. Clark. One of my joys as one who came to faith in a church of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has been in seeing how many of Luther’s views on issues of substance mirror those of Calvin and the Reformed. I recently got a kick listening to your lecture, “Who’s Afraid of Martin Luther?” We should not be afraid to call ourselves “Lutherans” on these issues. And, away with the moralists!

  8. Professor Clark,

    Do you think there are any important differences in the way the Reformed and Lutherans distinguish Law and Gospel? If so, any reading you can recommend (eg. clear statements from both traditions, analysis of differences, etc.)?

    • There are differences between the way that David Scaer speaks about the law and the way I might but when I look at the Book of Concord or Luther’s Large Catechism, I’m pretty comfortable with them on this score. The 16th and 17th century Reformed did not go out of their way to articulate strong differences with the Lutherans on this. So I’m a little puzzled by the claim that I keep hearing that there are massive differences. The Reformed have always been willing to say that we’re justified in order that we might be sanctified. My perception is that (some?) Lutherans are not as willing to say that.

      To compare a Lutheran with a Reformed writer on this you might compare John Colqhoun with Walther’s book on law and gospel. I don’t know, however, if I would make deductions about “the Lutheran” view vs “the” Reformed view on the basis of two non-ecclesiastical documents.

      Is this sentiment Lutheran or Reformed?

      We divide this Word into two principal parts or kinds: the one is called the ‘Law,’ the other the ‘Gospel.’ For all the rest can be gathered under the one or other of these two headings…Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity

      Or this one?

      The basic principle in application is to know whether the passage is a statement of the law or of the gospel. For when the Word is preached, the law and the gospel operate differently. The law exposes the disease of sin, and as a side-effect, stimulates and stirs it up. But it provides no remedy for it. However the gospel not only teaches us what is to be done, it also has the power of the Holy Spirit joined to it….A statement of the law indicates the need for a perfect inherent righteousness, of eternal life given through the works of the law, of the sins which are contrary to the law and of the curse that is due them…. By contrast, a statement of the gospel speaks of Christ and his benefits, and of faith being fruitful in good works.

      One more:

      How many ways does the Word of God teach us to come to the Kingdom of heaven?


      Which are they?

      The Law and the Gospel.

      What says the Law?

      Do this and live.

      What says the Gospel?

      Believe in Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.

      Can we come to the Kingdom of God by the way of God’s Law?


      Why so?

      Because we cannot do it.

      Why can we not do it?

      Because we are all born in sin.

      What is it to be none in sin?

      To be naturally prone to evil and …that that which is good.

      How did it come to pass that we are all borne in sin?

      By reason of our first father Adam.

      Which way then do you hope to come tot he Kingdom of Heaven?

      By the Gospel? What is the Gospel?

      The glad tidings of salvation by Jesus Christ.

      To whom is the glad tidings brought: to the righteousness?


      Why so?

      For two reasons.

      What is the first?

      Because there is none that is righteous and sin not.

      What is the other reason?

      Because if we were righteous, i.e., without sin we should have no need of Christ Jesus.

      To whom then is this glad tiding brought?

      To sinners.

      What, to all sinners?

      To whom then?

      To such as believe and repent.

      This is the first lesson, to know the right way to the Kingdom of Heaven.: and this consists in knowing the difference between the Law and the Gospel.

      What does the Law require?

      That we should be without sin.

      What does the Gospel require?

      That we should confess our sins, amend our lives, and then through faith in Christ we shall be saved.

      The Law requires what? Perfect obedience.

      The Gospel what?

      Faith and true repentance.

      • How would you and Dr. Scaer speak of the law differently? If I recall, he had some statements in his book on Matthew which seemed to equate to Mosaic administration with grace. Scaer is probably my favorite living Confessional Lutheran theologian, however I was a little worried about these statements. It seems both unPauline and unLutheran. Is this what you are referring to?

        • No, I was referring to the article linked. It’s a brief article and he couldn’t say perhaps everything he would like so I should read more before I comment

          Sent from my iPhone

  9. Like a couple of others here, after holding membership in both Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod Churches, i have found a home in the URC. That said, the Lutheran Liturgy does reflect a more biblical pattern of worship than the anti-Liturgical bias of the WCF. Are we not more biblical if we chant the Psalms and Canticles instead of singing paraphrases of them in meter? the church year has definite catechetical benefits. Finally, of course, it is preferable for Reformed kids to learn the Heidelberg, which I prefer above Westminster.

  10. George,

    I would tend to agree with you in regards to drawing from the varying expressions of Calvinism in the Church- I dialog more with Calvinists than I do with Lutherans. I have benefited greatly from reading books by Kim Riddlebarger, Michael Horton, Scott Clark, Daryl Hart, B.B. Warfield, Meredith Kline and Gerhaardus Vos to name the major ones. I also frequent the Riddleblog, Heidelblog, Confessional Outhouse, and Daryl Hart’s Old Life. I can do this because I sit at a desk with a computer at it most of my work day. I still keep up with reading the Book of Concord and go to a few group studies of the Lutheran confessions a couple times a month. I am a member of a LCMS Church in the Chicago area.

    What hit me in that Cary paper was his contention that Calvin’s thinking about Sola Fide would lead to a more subjective emphasis in doctrine which worked its way out in the assurance of salvation and perseverance of the saints. This, Cary believes, results in much Pastoral Counseling which really can cause an inward looking pietism. You might be right though George- I am not sure how some good Calvinistic theologians would respond to that. I know Robert Godfrey believes that he thought Calvin teaching and sermons gave the saints much confidence and strength in regards to their justification before a Holy God.

    Cary also believed that Luther’s syllogism, which included baptism in the formula, led to a greater degree of confidence because it centered everything outside the believer and therefore our confidence would never reside in our inward belief. This is where Luther’s Anfechtung comes into play where when we are in despair about our unbelief we can look to something outside of us and say that my salvation depends on Christ’s work for me as revealed in my baptism and in the forgiveness and absolution in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, it was a much more objective scheme than Calvin’s. This is the major point I think Cary was making.

    Cary also brings up the predestination debate which he claims Luther would not enter into with others. He states that Luther refers all this back to our baptism and partaking of the Lord’s supper and says why enter into the conjecture about election and predestination when baptism and the Lord’s Supper are more concrete and visible. To me it was a very illuminating article but like you
    George I would like to hear a Calvinistic response to it.

    • Like I said, it’s evident that most Lutherans aren’t well read in Reformed theology, not even Calvin (or Luther, in some cases).

      De servo arbitrio anyone?

      Christ as the “mirror” of election? (Calvin)

  11. One more point here- I think what I mentioned above goes to the core of the matter in regards to the imputation and the infusion debate. It seems to me that the Calvinistic scheme of Sola Fide would lead to a more infusion like stance in regards to sanctification (some type of inward change takes place in us which is always almost impossible to measure). We can somehow cooperate with the sanctification process because of the inward subjective change which takes place in us.

    On the other hand, imputation is always something which we depend on outside of us- in this case Christ’s perfect righteousness. We are always simultaneously saint and sinner in this life. This leads to a much different form of spirituality in regards to sanctification.

    • I have no idea what it means to speak of a “Calvinistic” scheme of sola fide.

      What is distinctively “Calvinistic” about Heidelberg Q. 21?

      21. What is true faith?

      True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

      or HC 60:

      60. How are you righteous before God?

      Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them,and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

  12. The best book I have read on Lutheran spirituality and the Lutheran view of sanctification is by John Kleinig- an Old Testament scholar and seminary professor at Australian Lutheran College in Adelaide, Australia.

  13. Scott,

    I would refer you to the Cary article- he stated that there were subtle differences in how Luther and Calvin came to their conclusions about Sola Fide. I believe he stated that they looked at different promises in the scriptures. Calvin did not write the Heidelberg Catechism. I suppose scheme is the wrong word. What overall scriptures Luther and Calvin looked at were different when arriving at their complete doctrine on the matter. This is what I meant by scheme. The scheme of Calvin turned into the assurance of salvation and perseverance of the saints language. The Lutherans never went that route. Does that make what I said more clear? Again, I would refer you to the article. I would also refer you to Korey Mass’s paper on the development of Luther’s theology of repentance in contrast to Calvin’s view on the matter.

    • It’s clear and wrong.

      It sounds like a Lutheran caricature of Calvin from 150 years ago

      There is a long established party line in the LCMS as to what Calvin MUST have said

      See my essay on “Calvin as Negative Boundary Market”

      It – the party line- bears little relation to what Calvin actually said

      Calvin said exactly what the HC said – repeatedly

      Sent from my iPhone

    • Dear John,
      While you are historically correct that John Calvin did not directly write the HC. Calvin did write at least two Catechisms. The first of these was done in 1538 and is published by Westminster John Knox Press and the format of that Catechism is more statements then Q & A. I think sections 12, 14 – 16 outline the relevant parts to the question of what John Calvin’s definition of Faith is. Dr. Mike Horton did a review of the hardback edition for Christianity Today that is available online at:


      Calvin’s second Catechism was published in 1545 as the “Catechism of the Church of Geneva, Being A Form of Instruction for Children in the Doctrine of Christ”. The format is more Q & A, and the text is available at, but still bit odd by are standards of what a Catechism tends to look like:


      I believe questions 111 – 122 which are below can help us see that as Dr. Clark continually speaks about the Reformed position as confessed today is the same position that was confessed by John Calvin:

      M. As we understand the foundation on which faith ought to rest, it will be easy to extract from it a true definition of faith.

      S. It will. It may be defined — a sure and steadfast knowledge of the paternal goodwill of God toward us, as he declares in the gospel that for the sake of Christ he will be our Father and Savior.

      M. Do we conceive faith of ourselves, or do we receive it from God

      S. Scripture teaches that it is the special gift of God, and this experience confirms.

      M. What experience do you mean?

      S. Our mind is too rude to be able to comprehend the spiritual wisdom of God which is revealed to us by faith, and our hearts are too prone; either to diffidence or to a perverse confidence in ourselves or creatures, to rest in God of their own accord. But the Holy Spirit by his illumination makes us capable of understanding those things which would otherwise far exceed our capacity, and forms us to a firm persuasion, by sealing the promises of salvation on our hearts.

      M. What good accrues to us from this faith, when we have once obtained it?

      S. It justifies us before God, and this justification makes us the heirs of everlasting life.

      M. What! are not men justified by good works when they study to approve themselves to God, by living innocently and holily?

      S. Could any one be found so perfect, he might justly be deemed righteous, but as we are all sinners, guilty before God in many ways, we must seek elsewhere for a worthiness which may reconcile us to him.

      M. But are all the works of men so vile and valueless that they cannot merit favor with God?

      S. First, all the works which proceed from us, so as properly to be called our own, are vicious, and therefore they can do nothing but displease God, and be rejected by him.

      M. You say then that before we are born again and formed anew by the Spirit of God, we can do nothing but sin, just as a bad tree can only produce bad fruit? (Matthew 7:18.)

      S. Altogether so. For whatever semblance works may have in the eyes of men:. they are nevertheless evil, as long as the heart to which God chiefly looks is depraved.

      M. Hence you conclude, that we cannot by any merits anticipate God or call forth his beneficence; or rather that all the works which we try or engage in, subject us to his anger and condemnation?

      S. I understand so; and therefore mere mercy, without any respect to works, (Titus 3:5,) embraces and accepts us freely in Christ, by attributing his righteousness to us as if it were our own, and not imputing our sins to us.

      M. In what way, then, do you say that we are justified by faith?

      S. Because, while we embrace the promises of the gospel with sure heartfelt confidence, we in a manner obtain possession of the righteousness of which I speak.

      M. This then is your meaning — that as righteousness is offered to us by the gospel, so we receive it by faith?

      S. It is so.

      M. But after we have once been embraced by God, are not the works which we do under the direction of his Holy Spirit accepted by him?

      S. They please him, not however in virtue of their own worthiness, but as he liberally honors them with his favor.

      M. But seeing they proceed from the Holy Spirit, do they not merit favor?

      S. They are always mixed up with some defilement from the weakness of the flesh, and thereby vitiated.

      M. Whence then or how can it be that they please God?

      S. It is faith alone which procures favor for them, as we rest with assured confidence on this — that God wills not to try them by his strict rule, but covering their defects and impurities as buried in the purity of Christ, he regards them in the same light as if they’ were absolutely perfect.

      Reading though both of these works gives one goosebumps because the language of the HC, WSC, and WLC heavily resemble both of Calvin’s Catechisms.

    • John Y,
      I have read the Cary paper a number of times, having had it constantly recommended to me in the blogosphere. I can see why it is so popular with confessional Lutherans. Indeed its central point seems to be the importance of finding our security outside ourselves, not looking inwardly. But while there may be (later) elements of our Reformed tradition which might reasonably be accused of that, to see this as true of the entire tradition is grossly unfair. This is a caricature of Calvin, I believe. I think a truer contrast would be between authentic, confessional Protestantism (both Luther and Calvin) versus subjective, pietistic religion.
      You raise imputation vs infusion. When it comes to the Christian’s standing before God, the Reformed agree 100% with Lutherans that everything depends on the imputed righteousness of Christ. Our inherent righteousness never comes into it. But we do believe in the believer’s growth and transformation, i.e. progressive sanctification. I have talked with Lutherans who seem to have an aversion to anything that happens “in us”, or at least to any notion of progress in us (emphasizing a definitive, once-for-all sanctification received in baptism), as if this would be contrary to the central truth of justification based on Christ’s alien righteousness. But I just don’t see that. Actually, the Book of Concord talks about growth in the sanctified life. I have a hunch (though I am no historian) that this aversion to talk of progress in holiness might not have been characteristic of the early Lutherans.

    • As a Reformed reader I have a difficult time getting beyond Cary’s ‘Standard Protestant Syllogism.’ In his minor premise he seems to speak of a faith that is somehow separate from Christ. That may be possible for a standard Protestant but it is a strange idea to a Reformed Christian. The Heidelberg Catechism (Q21) lists knowledge and trust as elements of true faith. From this it is clear that what makes faith ‘true’ is not my subjective apprehension of faith but the truthfulness of faith’s object. The Heidelberg (Q65) provides further elaboration when it states that this faith has its origin in the operation of the Holy Spirit through the preached Word and is confirmed by the administration of the holy Sacraments. This Word and Sacrament is not found within, but comes to me without on a particular day and at a particular time that I did not appoint. Further, in a gracious accommodation to my fallen nature, it comes to me weekly. For me then, as a Reformed reader, to be reflective is to reflect on Christ as He is presented to me in Word and Sacrament and to find my assurance there. Recast the minor premise as: “The Holy Spirit has worked faith in me by the preaching of the Word and confirmed it by giving me the holy Sacraments.” How then, is this much different from Cary’s Lutheran syllogism?

      Now, recast the minor premise in Luther’s syllogism as: “I believe that Christ cannot lie (for to say that Christ cannot lie is the same as saying that I believe that Christ cannot lie).” This is quite close to the form of the Protestant syllogism and presents the same problem. Where do I find word of Christ’s truthfulness? The Reformed answer is to look for Christ, for all the promises are in Him. Where do I find Christ? Look for Him where He has promised to meet you. Look for Him in Word and Sacrament.

  14. I think you are right in your assessment. I was once a Presbyterian and converted to Lutheranism. It was hard for me to make that decision simply because the Lutherans I had talked to simply would not listen to or try to understand my beliefs. They simply assumed I was saying something that was a horrible caricature of Reformed theology. At the same time, when I tried to find reformed answers to questions raised by Lutherans, I found they were simply not there. The Reformed have not bothered to take the other side seriously either. The mere fact that so many Reformed publications call the Lutheran view of communion Consubstantiation shows they have done no research.

  15. The Lutheran doctrine of the communication of attributes to which you refer when you say “Lutherans confess that his humanity is everywhere present” is a VERY sticky wicket.

    Most Lutherans would probably quibble with your expression here and say that Christ, in His humanity is said to be somehow illocal rather than endorsing in any sense that he is ubiquitous though I am aware that some Lutherans have used that construction.

    This issue comes up most obviously in their sacramentology but also in devotion where you will hear Lutherans say after Luther himself (especially at Easter), that, in some mysterious sense, at Calvary, God died. This is very jarring to Reformed ears but properly understood is probably not heterodox.

    That said, my wife is Lutheran and I have learned a lot about them. I would like to be the kind of Reformed believer who has a firm grasp of confessional Lutheran orthodoxy but it can be difficult. In some ways it is SO different.

    Thanks for your effort here.

  16. Dear Dr. Clark,

    I recently had an email conversation with Dr. Dennis Ngien who denies divine impassibility, in which he states that he takes the Lutheran view. In saying that God died at Calvary, and that God suffered pain, he uses the term ‘communicatio idiomatum’ to describe how God can be said to suffer and die at Calvary. Historically, as Ngien conceded, the Chalcedon Definition makes it clear that when Christ suffered and died, he did so as ONE person in his human nature (not divine nature). Ngien however says that we cannot “restrict” Christ’s suffering to his human nature alone.

    Most definitely, divine impassibility is a doctrine which is found in the confessions of the Reformed, Anglican and Baptist churches (cf WCF, 2nd LBCF, 39Articles of CoE, Savoy etc). So the denial of divine impassibility is certainly unconfessional. As the WCF says,

    There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
    (WCF, Chapter II Of God and of the Holy Trinity, Paragraph I)

    It seems to me that Ngien’s idea of God suffering (not merely Christ suffering) would run the risk of the Monophysite error as the two natures of Christ do not seem to be distinguished at all in his system.

    My question in light of all this is:
    1) Is the doctrine of divine passibility/impassibility another difference between us Reformed and the Lutherans (in fact between all non-Lutheran Protestants and Lutherans)?
    2) Did Luther, and do the Lutherans, really teach such an idea of communicatio idiomatum in such a way as to “go beyond Chalcedon”? What are we to make of it?


    • I’m a Lutheran layman and so familiar with the idea that God died at Calvary, which I’ve heard preached several times, but I’m unfamiliar with the idea of divine impassibility. How does this comport with Christ’s anger in the temple or his weeping over Lazarus? I’m not sure what it means to say that God has no passions. Could someone more knowledgeable explain?

      • @Adam,

        I cannot say that I am familiar with how other Reformed exegetes have handled this problem, but my own understanding is that Christ is passible (have passions) just as he is mutable (having grown from a baby to an adult etc), but all these are with regards to his human nature. This however is not to suggest that Christ’s suffering or changes are partial, since they are done in the ONE person. Christ’s human nature is 100%, just as his divine nature is 100% (a restatement of the hypostatic union).

        With regards to God’s own emotions, I personally find the idea of ad intra and ad extra appealing. That is, God does not change ad intra, but his dealings with us change (ad extra).

    • Daniel,

      Divine impassibility (God does not suffer) is a catholic doctrine not just a Reformed doctrine.

      Both the Lutherans and the Reformed have a doctrine of the “communicatio idiomatum.” The Lutheran doctrine of the communicatio is that what may be said of a person may be said (predicated) of a nature. Thus, if the person of Christ may be said to be illocal, then the either nature may be said to be illocal. The Reformed doctrine of the communicatio is that what may be said of a nature may be said of a person. Thus, if one of Jesus’ natures died, then his person may be said to have died. A classic text for this is Acts 20:28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

      I gave an address to a large gathering of Lutheran ministers and theologians at Concordia Sem, Ft Wayne, IN some years back defending the doctrine of divine immutability (God does not change), over against Open Theism. Divine impassibility is a corollary of divine immutability.

      God does not suffer in se (in himself). It is the anthropomorphite heresy to say that he does. God reveals himself using anthropomorphic language in Scripture with the understanding that, in divine condescension, given the Creator/creature distinction, we must be given “baby talk” (Calvin’s term) as a way of understanding and thinking about God. Thus he does not actually “repent,” but in order for us to understand something of God’s displeasure with sin he uses that picture. He doesn’t actually have eyes, ears, a nose, arms, or legs — and yet Scripture attributes all those things to him.

      Contra the rationalists, there are mysteries and paradoxes in the faith but none of them require us to affirm divine passibility or mutability.

      The Lutheran Christology, as I understand it, does create significant potential for error. As a Reformed pastor, I’m more satisfied with the Reformed explanation of the relation to the two natures of Christ and of the relation of Christology to the doctrine of God.

      • Dear Scott,

        thanks for the explanation. I am more conversant with the Reformed side and not much of the Lutheran view, thus I was wondering if Lutherans were really that way off, or rather that Ngien was not really presenting the confessional Lutheran view.

      • Perhaps it’s sinful mutability or passion that the WCF has in mind, not mutability or passion per se. Seems to me the idea of divine impassibility is a speculative philosophical concept, and requires a great deal of censorship of the Bible to make it work.

        • @Vern,

          The proof text for the WCF in this section is Acts 14:11, 15, in which God is stated as not being of “like passions” as Man. The Greek word is homoiopatheis, and thus “like passions” is a good translation for this term.

          I don’t have the time now to prove the linkage between divine mutability and divine passibility (maybe others can help?), but suffice it is to say that they are linked. Deny divine impassibility, and divine immutability should consistently go as well.

          • Isn’t eternal procession just a species of mutability? Passion and change (mutability) are ethical concepts in the Bible, and I think that the WCF is using them in that sense, not some frozen Aristotelian Thought Thinking Itself sense.

            • Well, not really. The term itself “ETERNAL procession” precludes the idea of the Holy Spirit having changed from not processing to processing.

              As for Aristotelian philosophy, I don’t think any Reformed person or church is constructing our theology along Aristotelian lines. I don’t see any orthodox Reformed theologian utilizing Hegel’s idea of the totally uncaring Divine Ideal either. Divine impassibility therefore does not make God into a totally uncaring Principle which is more of a caricature of Orthodoxy by people like the Open Theists.

            • Hope this shows up after Daniel’s latest….

              Daniel, you say that adding the concept “eternal” to procession precludes change in the Holy Spirit. But the only change the concept “eternal” is precluding is the change from potentiality to actuality (as you say, not processing to processing). It does not preclude the concept of procession from actuality to actuality. IOW, God is both eternal Being and eternal Becoming, eternal Stability and eternal Change. He is First, Middle, and Last, Beginning and Ending. Qualified by appropirate via negativa of course.

              But what concerns me is that sometimes impassibility is taught to exclude emotions from God. I don’t think you could read much of the Bible before finding plenty of emotion on God’s part. Calling this divine emotion little more than accomodation or anthropomorphism seems rather silly. As I said, you’d have to bowdlerize much of the Bible to remove the divine passion from it.

  17. Daniel,

    If I may…for Lutherans, the idea that, at Calvary, God died is not as much a doctrinal assertion as a devotional one. It refers and points to the mysterium tremendum, the whole incarnation, in fact.

    They are not alone, by the way, apparently there are several early church fathers who would refer to the Word dying on Calvary’s cross.

    That said, there does appear to be a significant divergence between how Reformed and Lutheran Christians look at this, so I am not trying to suggest that this is a distinction without a difference.

    However, I remain a bit suspicious of judging the confession of another church by our own standards in this kind of categorical way.

    • @Mike,

      Thanks for the information. I am asking this mainly in light of this post by Dr. Clark. With regards to our confessions, I am of the opinion that divine impassibility is not just confessional, but also scriptural, so I do not think it is merely “jufing the confession of another church by our own standards”.

      With regards to the idea of God suffering and dying, Ngien gave me the idea that this seem to be a Lutheran doctrine, yet the manner in which he addressed the issue seems as we are dealing with Christology as to the relation between Christ’s natures and his person – in other words circling around Chalcedon. If this is true of the Lutheran view, then it would seem that there may be another difference between Reformed and Lutheranism in the area of Christology.

      Just FYI, the article which started the discussion between Dennis and me is published on Christianity Today at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1997/february3/7t2038.html

  18. It strikes me that one characteristic of Luther (and Lutheranism to a large degree after him) is that he was (and they generally are) very fond of paradox and of the arresting image. He was primarily a preacher I think, but as a theologian-preacher (would that all preachers were theologians), many of these “arresting images” became almost theological loci in themselves.

    Sometimes this is good though. In a Christmas sermon Luther once reffered to Christ as “this bawling babe”. He was, apparently, no fan of the “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes” brand of nativity devotion. he wanted a really human Jesus and this too comes from his perspective on the communicatio idiomata. This kind of recalling the guts and bones of the incarnation can be useful. It may be that he sometimes did so for shock value, it’s hard to judge, but that he was very fond of it seems beyond doubt.

    I often wonder where Luther would weigh in on the kenosis debate.

    Anyhow, you’re right I think in your insight that this is a very important difference between Reformed and Lutheran Christology.

    My respect for Luther and for the serious Lutherans I have known disinclines me to dismiss them on this point and, after years of exposure, I’ll admit some sympathy for their view.

  19. It also occurs to me that Lutherans have done well to maintain this curious view without ever falling into the heresy of open theism which it seems might be a danger.

    • Mike,
      The Catalog of Testimonies (http://www.bookofconcord.org/testimonies.php), which is sometimes printed with the Book of Concord and sometimes not, is a long defense of Lutheran Christology drawn almost exclusively from the Fathers. The online reading format is somewhat awkward, but for those looking for a clearer view of Lutheran thinking on this, it’s an excellent place to go. It’s also printed with the recent McCain edition of the Book of Concord (that’s the one published by Concordia), and if you’re still interested, Martin Chemnitz’s The Two Natures in Christ is magisterial and also packed with the Fathers, as Chemnitz’s mind was.

  20. I was aware that the Lutheran view is not really the complete innovation many Reformed seem to think it was but has historical precedents. Thanks for the links!

  21. Hi Scott, thanks for writing this topic. I have listened to the WHI podcasts and Issues ETC frequently, and encouraged by the common things that bind Lutherans and Reformed together. However, I am still disappointed at times caricature still abounds within the Lutheran side. A recent example of this is with Todd Wilkens interview with Carey on the difference between Luther and Calvin’s view on Sola Fide. As pointed out by one poster here, Calvin was alluded to subject justification more to the subjective side while Luther to the objective. While I noted that there were problems within the Reformed camp at certain century and also problems still persist today within certain Reformed community regarding the issue or assurance of salvation, the Heidelberg Catechism for example is very clear on the objectivity of our faith placed on Christ alone. Work is the fruit of the Spirit wrought in us, and the only certain assurance we have is to continue to look to Christ., not at ourselves.

    While Todd has interacted with Kim Riddlebarger on one session on the differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism, and Kim did clarify the objectivity of looking to Christ for our salvation in regards to assurance, Todd has never seemed to have a corrected view, as demonstrated in his interaction with Cary later on. Note, I am not putting down Todd here, he is a great guy. I think it could be just the nature of hosting programs whereby there are time limits where time needed for clarification is challenged. Still, I wish he could have at least pointed out there are different views in the Reformed community and note the official confessional view on this matter since he has already interacted with Kim on the differences.

    Listen to Lutheranism and Calvinism, A comparison with Kim Riddlebarger

    The following is the discussion between the difference between Luther’s and Calvin’s view on Faith Alone, from Issues ETC podcast.


    • Hi Robin,

      I’m a fan of Issues Etc and did what I could here to encourage them when they were in the wilderness. I’ve been a guest a few times and we’ve had good fellowship away from the mic.

      My theory is that the Calvinist caricature has become a part of the confessional Lutheran identity. They can’t get to the Calvin of history or to Reformed theology as it really is because they used Calvin and Calvinism as a foil in the formation of their identity in the 19th century (and before). To re-consider Calvin and Reformed theology now would be almost traitorous to the founders (e.g. Walther, who, because of his predestinarian views was attacked as crypto- Calvinist) who defined themselves over against Calvin and Reformed theology.

      It’s a huge psychological mountain.

      • This is a good insight. So much of what Lutheranism is is bound up in its history, which, unfortunately, very few people know anything about.

        Re: Walther’s Crypto-Calvinism, I can no longer find his sermon on the subject online, nor can I find the very helpful analysis of the controversy surrounding his teaching on it.

        Mores the pity, would that more Lutherans were with him on the subject.

      • Defining Lutheranism over against Calvinism in the context of the election controversy had to do with Walther affirming the monergistic election of Christians to eternal life, as opposed to confessing limited/definite atonement or double predestination. In this regard, I don’t think Walther was being merely polemical or inaccurate. I can’t make a general statement that Walther and/or Lutherans before or after him weren’t polemical about Calvinism, but I don’t think that defending himself against the charge of Calvinism in the election controversy led him to distorting relatively simple distinctions between Calvinism and Lutheranism on the issues of the nature of predestination or the purpose and extent of the atonement.

        It’s easy to claim that one’s own are merely misunderstood, and things would really be different if one’s interlocutor really understood the other side of things. I think that it’s often the case that misunderstanding is the cause of difference, at least on the level of comprehending someone else’s position. This is easy to see in the difficulty Lutherans have in grasping the whys and wherefores of covenant theology. But I would credit someone like Nicholas Hunnius or the writers of the Saxon Visitation Articles or Catalog of Testimonies with enough scholarly self-respect to have read thoroughly in their opponents of other confessions and nonetheless remained Lutheran.

        The greater openness that I find online and in person from Calvinists towards Lutherans is not reciprocated as often because I think the Lutheran doctrine of the Sacrament of the Altar is too much for Lutherans to see their way past on the way to greater understanding. I’m not saying that reading Calvin or Ursinus or Bavinck or whomever will not immensely profit any Christian, but I think historically, it’s easier to prove that men like Claus Harms in 1817, Chemnitz in the late 1500’s, or Hermann Sasse in the 20th century centered their teaching and liturgical practice around this Sacrament. The confrontation with Calvinism has centered as I understand it around what “Hoc est corpus meum” means. Both the Missouri Synod fathers and those in the Buffalo Synod were persecuted and, in the case of some Prussians like Grabau, went to jail in order to celebrate the Lutheran order of Holy Communion. I think that’s the historical mountain that any Lutheran faces when considering Calvinism.

        • Adam,

          If you read the essay I wrote you’ll see that Walther and other Lutherans in the 19th century and early 20th century, including influential confessional Lutheran dogmaticians, have painted a picture of Calvin and Reformed theology that cannot be sustained by serious historical scholarship. It’s pure caricature. Calvin was accused of virtually every sin known to man and some that were new to me.

          These things happened partly (perhaps largely) for reasons to do with the necessity of identity formation. Thus I call Calvin, relative to 19th and 20th century Lutheran orthodoxy, “a negative boundary marker.” I wanted to call the essay, “Calvin in the Hands of Angry Lutherans.” That would have been appropriate.

          There are genuine differences but the Calvin who mediated or the Calvinism/Reformed theology mediated to LCMS/WELS types is hardly Reformed theology that we actually confess.

          I find that the older Lutheran orthodox were more engaged with the Reformed. Why did that change? They were not trying to carve out an identity in the same circumstances and the MoSyn in the 19th century.

          • This kind of thinking is common among Lutherans even today. For a good example, read this pastor’s sermon at:


            (I haven’t singled out this gentlemen for any personal reason, his sermon simply was one of the first listed in a routine Web search)

            Based on what I’ve read on blogs like this one as well as reformed literature (and LCMS literature, for that matter), his conclusion that his synod is festooned with Crypto-Calvinists, and that they are the ones pushing their agenda for “open communion,” is wrong on many levels.

            “Fenced” communion has been the subject of a thread on this blog site many times and careful examination of the communal candidate has been strongly advocated. Moreoever, his quotation from” Calvin’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians” regarding the physical presence in the Lord’s Supper is taken entirely out of context. Then he mixes metaphors and brings “Reformed latitudinarianism” (whatever that is) into the picture confusing it with a kind of unionistic pluralism.

            Now, if this preacher had singled out a mainline Presbyterian assembly, such as the PCUSA, I might agree with him to a certain extent about the open communion and unconfessional influence, but the rest of it is just wrong. If anything, the LCMS has been under a strong neo-Pentecostal (maybe a better word would be “methobapticostal”) influence for the past couple of decades, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Reformed. But he’s making sure that its all the fault of those “crypto-Calvinists.” Amazing

            • This article is good in that it shows a lot of similarity between the Lutherans and the FV theology. Warfield’s *Perfectionism* is a good antitode to this denial of the perseverance of the saints.

        • Dear Adam,
          I do not think the False and Erroneous Doctrine of the Calvinists articles of the Saxon Visitation Articles (1592) represent the teaching of the Belgic Confession (1561), or the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). They certainly don’t reflect the teaching of Calvin either. So either they represent a group of people claiming to be Reformed but truly were not really Reformed, or the Lutherans of 1592 didn’t bother to adequately understand what the Reformed had confessed up to 1592.

          Maybe Dr. Clark is of a different opinion of the Articles, but Schaff says that the Reformed at the time would not accept the extreme form of their teachings ascribed to them. Dr. Clark, do you know the context for Saxon Visitation Articles in terms of the orthodoxy of the crypto-Calvinists that the Lutherans were kicking out of Saxony?

          • Nathan,

            That’s a really good question but not one I can answer. I should know so I’ll look into it.

            Okay, so I’m looking into it. An English translation, by Charles P. Arand, of the Saxon Visitation Articles of 1592 is published in Kolb, Nestingen, eds Sources and Contexts of the Book of Concord. He writes that they are rooted in the 1574 dismissal by Elector Saxony, August, of theologians (Pezel and Peucer) whom Arand calls heirs of Melanchthon who were false accused of being crypto-Calvinists (crypto = secret). On the accession of Christian I (1586), there were Reformed theologians in the circle of influence. Christian I abolished the authority of the Book of Concord and removed adherents from positions of authority. On his death, the son was too young to rule so the regent, Duke Friedrich Wilhelm, restored Lutheran orthodoxy. (A similar struggle would occur in the Palatinate). The Visitation Articles are part of the reimposition of Lutheran orthodoxy in electoral Saxony.

            We might call these the 4 Points of Lutheranism. Each Article has a rejection of errors (like the Canons of Dort).

            Art. I is aimed at the high Calvinist doctrine of the supper, which the Article reflects accurately — that, as Calvin held, we eat the true body and blood of Christ, by the mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit, who nevertheless remains ascended and locally present at the right hand. Article 1 insists on his local presence and oral manducation (chewing) of the body and blood by the communicant.

            Art II affirms the union, in one person of two distinct natures, denies their mixture and their separation. Nolo contendere.

            2.3 is more problematic:

            “On account of this personal union, it is correctly said–and it is so infact andin truth–that God is a human being and a human being is God, that Mary gave birth to the Son of God, and that God redeemed us through is own blood.”

            I don’t object to anything there except the proposition: “God is a human being.” Certainly God the Son, the Word, became flesh. No one can deny that, but the bald statement “God is a human being” seems unnecessary. I think this is the first I’ve seen this proposition. It wants reflection and research.

            2.4 re-states the gnesio-Lutheran doctrine of the genus maiestaticus. See ch. 5 of Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant for more on this.

            Art 3.1 teaches that baptism “washes away our sins.”

            3.2 says that baptism “saves us and effects in us righteousness and cleansing from sins, so that whoever perseveres in this covenant and confidence unto the end is not lost but has eternal life.” This strikes me as essential the doctrine of the Federal Vision! They are the “Lutherans” on baptism and covenant. This is not exactly Luther’s doctrine of baptism in the Small Catechism (1529).

            4.1 affirms the universal intent of the atonement. This is problematic for Reformed theology and was rejected in the second head of doctrine at Dort.
            4.2 teaches a form of the free offer
            4.3 Might be taken to affirm resistibility of grace. It’s unclear.
            4.4 seems unobjectionable,

            “All sinners who repent are received into grace, and none are excluded even though their sins were as scarlet, for God’s mercy is much greater than the sins of the entire world, and God has compassion on all he has made.”

            In their rejection of errors (“False and Erroneous Doctrine of the Calvinists” — the adjective “Calvinist” is a gnesio-Lutheran invention; the Reformed called themselves “Reformed”) they do caricature the Reformed view of the supper. They accuse us of reading figuratively what is meant to be taken literally.

            2. “In the Supper, there are only bare signs. The body of Christ ias far from the bread as the highest heaven is from the earth.”

            That’s not quite accurate. Yes, Jesus body is locally present in heaven, he being consubstantial with us, but we are lifted up by the Spirit and there commune with him and are fed by him on his “proper and natural” body and blood. The local distance is overcome by the Holy Spirit. The supper is not a bare sign unless one says that any denial of Lutheran orthodoxy makes it a “bare sign.” We are not Zwinglians.

            3. We do say Christ is present in the Supper with his power and efficacy but not his body. They get that right. They’re close in 4-5. They mock us. It is not “faith” that lifts us up to heaven, but the Spirit who feeds us on Christ. 6. Is accurate. We deny the manducatio infidelium (eating of Christ by unbelievers).

            On Christology

            They’re account that the Reformed believe that “God is a human being” and “a human being is God” are figurative is mystifying. We certainly confess that a human being is God. That’s not “figurative.” Where they got that I’ve no idea.

            Their claim that the communion of the human with the divine is only rhetorical must assume the Lutheran doctrine of the communicatio otherwise it’s nonsense from a Reformed point of view.

            They have it that we say “It is impossible for God, with all his omnipotence to cause the natural body of Christ to be simultaneously present in more than one place.”

            That’s not quite right. We don’t say that it is impossible, but rather, if that were so, Christ’s humanity would cease to be true humanity. It’s not a matter of the power of God but of the nature of Christ’s true humanity.

            4-6 under this head essentially caricature the Reformed Christology. They completely ignore the person and role of the Holy Spirit in our theology. One might accuse them of binitarianism.

            They say that we confess that it is idolatry to “place confidence and faith of the hear in christ not only according to his divine nature but also according to his human nature and to direct the honor of adoration toward the human nature.”

            Being Chalcedonian, we would direct the honor to the person rather than to the humanity. To divide the humanity from the divinity thus is foreign to our theology. They must assume a sort Nestorian view and impute it to us.

            On baptism, they are right in points 1, 2. That baptism is a sign and seal. They are right that, in Reformed theology, only the elect receive the grace of Christ or the gift of faith. We are not federal visionists, but apparently orthodox Lutherans are (on baptismal union with Christ and perseverance).

            They’re right, we deny emergency baptism. We accept it as irregular but it is unnecessary since baptism isn’t magic.

            They’re right that we baptize infants on the basis of the covenant promises and commands of God and not in order to regenerate (make alive).

            On election:

            They’re right, we deny a universal intent of the atonement.

            They are wrong, however, to impute to all Reformed folk a supralapsarian view or a view that “God created the greater part of humankind for eternal condemnation and he is unwilling to have them converted and saved.” We don’t know, confess, or teach any such thing. There are extremists who call themselves Reformed who say such things but we do not.

            They’re right that we confess the perseverance of the saints (which these articles deny).

            They deny the doctrine of reprobation but they seem to assume that we think we know who the reprobate are.

            Fascinating stuff. Bizarre in places but fascinating.

            • Dr. Clark,
              Thank you for your response, and the amount of time you spent on commenting on the Saxon Visitation Articles. For little bit of historic background from the LCMS’ perspective go to:


              The one interesting addition of background information that comes from the published work is that the reason why the Lutheran Church in Saxony stopped including the Articles as of 1836 was due to a forced merger of Lutheran and Calvinists churches and the Articles were viewed as harmful (p. 654).

              So from the historical resources your looking at this group that the Visitation Articles was addressing would possibly have not subscribed to the Belgic and the Heidelberg catechism, right? However, as we can see both in the online introduction and the longer book introduction the LCMS doesn’t identify the Articles being against Melanchthon’s followers – which I believe are called the Phillipists in the BoC – but against Calvinism.

              The introduction to the Formula, however, does attach Melanchthon to Calvin, but makes sure we understand that John Calvin was the real problem and Melanchthon was just along for the ride. Could it be that Melanchthon has quite a lot to do with the Lutheran understanding of Calvin? However, instead of admitting it the Lutherans now just mostly talk about Melanchthon before Luther’s death, which might be unhelpful in these discussions. However, let’s be sure to say that while Melanchthon came closer to Geneva on the Lord’s Supper he moved further away from both Luther and Calvin and into semi-pelagianism on the the condition of man’s will after Luther’s death. So the Reformed would not agree with the Phillipists on everything.

              Is it possible that Lutherans in the latter half of the 16th century conflated the Phillipists and the Reformed, so that whatever the Phillipists said was automatically translated as the “Reformed position on x”? It is my contention that the Saxon Visitation Articles implicitly inform Lutherans on what the Reformed must believe about the Lord’s Supper, Christology, Baptism, and Predestination and so even though they are not articles that Lutheran ministers and laypeople subscribe to they explicitly must agree with the teaching in the Articles because in comes out in sermons, books, and Lutheran radio.

              • Nathan,

                The relations between Philippists, gnesio-Lutherans, and the Reformed (which is a broader group than “Calvinists”) were complicated.

                The Saxon Articles of ’92 suggest that the Lutherans understood what the Reformed were saying but also that they were willing and capable of caricaturing the Reformed view for their own rhetroical, ecclesiastical, and political purposes. Remember, however threatened the gnesio-Lutherans might have been by Reformed inroads, the Reformed, in Germany, were a minority. We had to represent the Lutheran views more carefully than they had to represent their views.

                I don’t think the Lutherans were terribly confused between the Philippists and the Reformed.

                The professional Lutheran theologians were capable of articulating Reformed theology with considerable nuance but I don’t know how well this care trickled down to the churches and to ecclesiastical documents.

                I tried to suggest in this very quick and cursory survey that a good bit of what these articles presented as “Reformed” was the Reformed view, i.e. the view of the HC or the Belgic but at places it is rather distorted for the reasons I gave above.

                • Thanks for the reminder of the historic context around Germany at that time. I’m using the HC and Belgic as a reference point because historically the Westminster Standards would not have existed.

  22. Daniel,

    Theopaschitism – God died on the Cross is not to be confused with a denial of divine impassibility. Divine impassibility does not mean that the Persons are immutable only. This would would involve another categorical confusion of essence and persons. Immutability is not based on simplicity. It is not therefore a philosophical or abstract construal, but a revelation. Thus, divine impassibility does not exclude divine mutability. The problem with Open Theism, etc. is the confusion between the two. Orthodox triadology maintains the distinction between the two. Recall that it is the one of the Person who became incarnate, not the godhead. In the Incarnation, the immutable God became mutable, etc. for it is God who assumed a human NATURE.

    Communicatio idiomatum does not mean that the divine properties are ‘transferred’ directly with the human nature, and vice-versa, but it simply means that the One Divine Person acts in concert with BOTH natures simultaneously. It is the PERSON who suffered and died, not human nature which is IMpersonal.

    • Jason,

      Agreed. Ngien’s take on the communcatio idomatum however implies that because Christ suffered and died, therefore God Himself also participates in the suffering and death. According to what Scott has said, I think Ngien’s view seems to be following the Lutheran idea of predicating what is said of a person to that of the nature.

  23. I have reread this Cary paper a few times with the intent of trying to flush out his main points. Let me say before I do this that I really have no desire to try to prove that Lutherans are right and Calvinists are wrong. I actually do not know who is more accurate according to the scriptures and their respective confessions and traditions. Like I stated in my previous posts, I draw heavily from both traditions and have developed a deep respect for both Calvin and many Calvinists. That is why I continue to press towards a greater understanding of both perspectives. I do want to know the truth and I want to make sure I am understanding and representing both sides properly. So, with that said, I am going to try to scan through the paper highlighting the main points. If I am misrepresenting a Calvinist or Lutheran perspective I would hope someone would correct me. I will try to state accurately what Cary has said in the paper. Remember, I am stating what he is stating in the paper and want to know if he is accurately interpreting both Calvin and Luther accurately too.

    Cary starts out the paper by stating that Luther was a sacramental thinker in a deeper sense than Calvin was- therefore he was more medieval and more Catholic than Calvin was. He also makes a somewhat startling point by saying that Luther was less Protestant then the Lutheran confessions are (the Book of Concord). I think what he meant by that was that there is a section on conversion in the Book of Concord which Cary takes issue with and which he thinks was not part of Luther’s mature thinking. Luther much preferred talking about the sacraments in regards to regeneration than to a one time conversion experience. This will make more sense as we go through the main points in the paper.

    He then goes on to what he calls the standard Protestant syllogism in regards to Sola Fide and seems to think that Calvin would adhere to this syllogism. Now he may be incorrect here and I wish someone would pipe in if they think this is wrong with reasons for why they think it is wrong. The syllogism is as follows:

    major premise: whoever believes in Christ is saved
    minor premise: I believe in Christ
    conclusion: I am saved

    He gives Mark 16:16 as the main scripture promise here
    “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” Cary contends that many Protestants leave out the is baptized part of the verse. There is a huge difference in understanding the sacrament of baptism between Lutheran’s and Calvinist’s and is probably the core issue here which causes both traditions to veer off in different doctrinal directions- especially in regards to sanctification.

    The minor premise is always the condition for the particular- you are saved if you believe. You must know that you meet the condition. What matters most here is the moment that you believe (conversion) not the sacrament of baptism in this mode of thinking. Everything depends on the person being able to say “I believe.” Cary calls this reflective faith- I must know I truly believe. This, according to Cary, discourages us from confessing our unbelief and encourages us instead to profess our belief. The main problem here was to attain assurance that you really had true faith. It seems that the following confessions is saying this very thing:
    60. How are you righteous before God?

    Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them,and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

    In contrast to this standard Protestant syllogism is what Cary believes was Luther’s syllogism. This syllogism is structured like this:

    major premise: Christ told me, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
    minor premise: Christ never lies, but only tells the truth
    conclusion: I am baptized (that is, I have new life in Christ)

    “The major premise here is based on a scriptural promise (Math. 28:19) but is also a sacramental word, spoken at a particular time and place under very particular sacramental circumstances. This makes it profoundly differently from the Protestant understanding of the Gospel promise, a difference that is subtle but makes a huge logical difference in the outcome. The baptismal word is nothing less than the work of Christ spoken to me in particular. This sacramental word of Christ is an external word in a deeper sense than the major premise in the standard Protestant promise. Logically, it is not a conditional statement. It lays down no conditions about what I must do or decide or even believe in order to make sure the promise applies to me. The promise applies to me because it says so. Faith does not make it so but merely recognizes that it is so. That is why the minor premise in not about my faith but about the truth of Christ. It is hard to find an important passage about the doctrine of justification in Luther’s works which does not hammer at these points: God is true, faith acknowledges God’s truth, and unbelief calls God a liar. Romans 3:4- “let God be true but every man a liar” is a favorite verse hovering behind these discussions.”

    Cary then goes on by stating the following, “the problem with reflective faith is that it must do more : if reflective faith is required, then believing in God’s word is not quite enough because we must also believe that we believe. Faith does not rely on faith, but on the Word of God.” He continues, “If you want to build people up in the faith, you have to direct their attention to the Word of God and not to their faith. Direct them to their baptism- the minister who speaks on Christ’s authority said I baptize you and meant you in particular.”

    So, this is how Cary characterizes the differences between Calvin in Luther and their varying emphasis in regards to Sola Fide. Calvin he thinks relies on this concept of reflective faith where Luther points you towards the Sacraments. That seems to be the main point he was making. Whether this is true or not is open to debate. I am just trying to get clarity in the matter.

    Cary does cover more in the paper- particularly about election and predestination but I will not go into that here. He does claim that the differences in understanding this doctrine does stem from what is stated above.

  24. “Ngien’s take on the communcatio idomatum however implies that because Christ suffered and died, therefore God Himself also participates in the suffering and death.”

    That’s the whole point.

  25. Anecdotally, it’s been my observation for quite some time that there is little intercommunal readings occurring between the magisterial Reformation streams. Personally, I was fairly annoyed to find Chemnitz’s grand volumes after two years in a Presbyterian school (MAR) and three years in a Episcopal school (MDiv). Who could deny that his work on Trent was quality stuff? This parochialism works, to my limited eye, in three directions: Presbyterian and Reformed, the Lutheran and the Anglican–the latter being the worst of them.

    While not being Lutheran at 4-5 critical points, I’ve gained much–alot–by a close reading of many of the works from the academic section of Concordia Press. Who can deny that Pieper is a worthy read? Who would deny that the Smalcald Articles rightly characterize Rome as that antichrist with its false gospel? While not willing to cede my old Prayer Book, but like Cranmer, I would anxiously bid Continental Reformed thinkers to instruct young Anglican ordinands and to teach systematics at their schools, e.g. Vermigli, Bucer. I have sent five such men to Reformed seminaries for just that reason; I did such realizing they would not learn Anglican disciplines or worship-piety. (Knox, one historian suggested, may have retarded some receptivity to Calvin in Elizabethan England with his obstreperous “Monstrous Regiment of Women,” but the scholars got past that.) Anglicans need to listen and read the Lutherans and the Reformed in depth—and also their own works, the English Reformers–who were Reformed with a few bishops, e.g. Guest as Exegete 1’s leading chaplain, remaining Lutheran.

    The thrust of the post, understanding the other traditions in the magisterial Reformation, coordinates with my limited experiences.

  26. I just happen to be reading Michael Horton’s God of Promise and came across this remark by Horton in chapter 5 p. 79 this morning. He is talking about the Covenant of Redemption between the three Persons of the Trinity and says this: “This is why we are not to search out God’s secret decree of predestination or to try to find evidence of it in ourselves, but, as Calvin urged, to see Christ as the “mirror” of our election. The unveiling of the mystery hidden in past ages, the person and work of Christ, becomes the only reliable testimony to our election. Those who trust in Christ belong to Christ, are elect in Christ.”

    So, when Scott Clark exhorted me in a previous post, I was not sure what he was saying. Now I get it and realize that Cary was wrong in saying that Calvin tried to “look for evidences” of election within himself or in his changed behavior. Calvin exhorted people not to do this according to Horton.

  27. Nathan and Stephan,

    I did read both of your posts and appreciate the links (read them also). I am starting to understand the differences between Calvin and Luther better and perhaps my and Cary’s views are more caricatures then anything else. However, I think we would agree that the sacrament issues are what still divides the two groups. What else is new right? I still will pursue a deeper understanding of our differences but hopefully without the caricatures. It may take awhile to sink through my thick skull but I believe it is a worthwhile effort when done in a proper manner while seeking to represent the respective views both accurately and fairly.

  28. Divine immutability simply means that God NEVER ceases to be God. It does not mean that God the Creator cannot become creature – finite, mutable, etc. In the Incarnation, the Creator is creature. In the Incarnation, God the Second Person ADDED humanity to his personhood – personal union, not a natural union. Thus, there is no mixture, confusion, etc. of the divine and human natures.

    • >Divine immutability simply means that God NEVER ceases to be God.

      If that is the case, then why can’t the Open Theists or Process Theologians be said to believe in divine immutability?

  29. Thus, Lutheran christology is closer to the Chalcedonian Definition and orthodox thinking. The danger with the Reformed is that excessive speculation on the essence gets in the way of a proper understanding of the Incarnation. We know God not in uniquely irreducible equal essence but the Persons and their operations or energies which come down to us Creation, Incarnation and Redemption. Union with God is always union with the Persons not the Essence.

  30. @ Vern:

    [start a new thread to avoid stacking]

    The issue with those kind of language you employ (from actuality to actuality) is that it is not defined. Is there actual change or seeming change in the Godhead in se? Or maybe this means that the constant in God is a uniform change which is analogous to a mathematical equation, and therefore adding the word eternal simply means that the change in the Holy Spirit refers to the an eternal
    equation” in God analogous to y = 2x? If the latter, then isn’t that “equation” itself unchangeable or immutable?

    On the issue of God being “eternal Being and Becoming” etc, unless the senses of the tersm are different, what is espoused here violates the law of non-contradiction. While God is not logic, yet logic is the way the mind of God works. As C. Matthew McMahon states, God precedes logic ontologically, while logic is antecedent to God epistemologically (cf The Two Wills of God, Puritan Publications). The ‘mysteries’ of God are above reason (contra rationalists), but they are never contradictory)

    With regards to God’s emotions, I don’t think anyone denies God has emotions, and make God into the Platonic or Hegelian Ideal. God is love after all! What we are saying is that God has no passions, whereby passions refer to emotive reactions by God caused by the provocations of Man. At least that is my take on the issue.

    • I don’t think God precedes logic, either ontologically or epistemologically. To say that logic comes after God is basically to say that God is irrational or illogical, a nominalistic conception of God. In actuality, logic is part of God’s nature, so that it neither comes before nor after him.

      Eternal being & becoming is not a contradiction, but a mystery. God has (or is) all that is GOOD about stability & change (superalativa). All that is BAD about stability & change are excluded from his nature (negativa).

      On the contrary, God certainly does respond emotionally to the provocations of man. How can anyone read the Bible and deny it? That’s what I was talking about earlier, that some conceptions of divine impassibility are in flagrant conctradiction to the Bible.

      • Vern, your first paragraph is a strawman and misrepresentation of my sentence. Ontology and epistemology has nothing to do with temporality. The paragraph is also a logical contradiction because while initially denying that God precedes logic ontologically, yet you affirm it later by saying that “logic is part of God’s nature”.

        Your second sentence is irrational. Unless the two antinomies are shown to mean different things (ie have difference senses of the term), they are logically contradictory, and thus nonsensical and unbiblical. The mysteries of God are certainly beyond our reasoning, but they are not illogical.

        Your third paragraph assumes that your reading is the natural reading while others are reading into the text. It is subjective special pleading since I read the same Bible as you do and yet do not see this God with mood swings that you evidently find so plainly taught in Scripture.

          • Hi Vern,

            besides the obvious genetic fallacy, may we know what does Van Till hve to do with your case? Obviously we are not talking about the one person/three persons gaffe made by him and mentioned by John Frame, right? Or perhaps the multi-perspectivalism promoted by Frame et al?

  31. “If that is the case, then why can’t the Open Theists or Process Theologians be said to believe in divine immutability?”

    Yes. Divine immutability means that God does not cease being all the omnis – that we read in Scripture. In the Incarnation, God added mutability whilst remaining immutable. The hidden God (The Father) in all His majesty is revealed in the Crucified God (The Son). In Open Theism and Process Theology, the God-ness or divinity of God is compromised or re-defined, etc. etc. – categorical confusion.

    • I see. It all boils down to the direction of the communicatio idiomatum – i.e. person -> nature (Lutheran) or nature -> person (Reformed). Thanks for the information.

  32. After reading through all the posts I still have questions about whether Luther and Calvin had the same understanding of Sola Fide. Luther seems to center his thinking around the sacraments and because this caused so much controversy Calvin tried to find a middle ground that was still faithful to the scriptures. We are still arguing about this today. What I take to be important here is that both tried to articulate that it is Christ’s objective life, death and resurrection for us that is important. How this is imputed to us is where the controversy seems to lie. Both Luther and Calvin believed in imputation rather than infusion. How this imputation is appropriated to the believer and how we can be assured of this appropriation is where the confusion still resides. Luther put his assurance in the sacraments, Calvin put it in the evidences that the saints persevere until the ends of their life. Am I thinking right here? Luther wanted to emphasize the sacraments more as the means of appropriation where Calvin was not as comfortable with this and was not sure this is what the scriptures were actually saying. This then led to the Christology differences and some of the differences in regards to election and predestination.

    Another question I have is why are Lutherans so against the covenant theology that developed in the Reformed Church’s? Horton makes a pretty convincing case for Covenant theology in his book the God of Promise. What was the main objection of Lutherans to this way of reading scripture? I know many have argued that the covenant of works with Adam and Eve is really not specifically mentioned in scripture but it certainly does seem to be implied and fits the structure of other covenants made between God and man in the other covenants. Again, Horton’s book is very convincing in this regard.

    • I think we agree that for Calvin, the ground of assurance was no less objective than it was for Luther. For Luther and for Calvin, the sacraments are the gospel made visible. Insofar as the sacraments testify of the gospel, they are appropriate grounds for assurance because it is the gospel and the Christ promised in the gospel on which we rely.

      Luther was more ambiguous in his language about the sacraments, in certain ways, than Calvin. I think the Saxon Visitation Articles of ’92 capture Calvin’s view, that baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant, reasonably well.

      I don’t think Luther’s language, in the Small Catechism, is exactly that of these Articles, however. In other words, I’m proposing a “Luther vs the Lutherans” in re baptism. I suspect there’s probably more continuity on the supper between Luther and Lutheran orthodoxy.

      I doubt that Luther thinks that we’re “in by baptism and stay in by not resisting grace.” Luther’s language on reprobation is also much stronger than that of Lutheran orthodoxy.

  33. I wonder if I would be accused of being a crypto-Calvinist back then? Actually, I can kind of relate to what Melanchthon must have gone through as he developed a relationship with Calvin and Bucer. He must have experienced a deep sense of Afechtung with all that was upon his slender shoulders. From what I know about him I do not think he could handle some of the pressures of leadership like Luther did.

    I kind of get a kick out of the crypto-Calvinist concept. I am sure a lot of that was nonsense and was the result of misunderstanding more than major doctrinal differences. Although I suppose I am treading on dangerous ground here and may not know what I am talking about.

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