A friend posted something on Twitter this AM that reminded me how little the two traditions understand each other today. In the 16th and 17th centuries our traditions were involved in intense, frequent discussions and interaction and we understood each other more clearly than we do now.
Our mutual ignoring and ignorance of each other’s traditions has led to much confusion and misunderstanding about our own traditions. E.g. I get the impression that some Lutherans believe that Lutherans “don’t believe in election.” That would be a shock to Martin Luther, whose doctrine of unconditional election was so clear Erasmus wrote a critique prompting Luther to write Bondage of the Will (1525) in response. It would also surprise framers of the Book of Concord, where the doctrine of unconditional election is clearly and explicitly taught and it would also be a shock to the founders of the LCMS, for whom unconditional election was a decisive doctrine.
We have differences on predestination and reprobation and perseverance, which are related to election, but not, as far as I know, on unconditional election.
From the Reformed side, I still read and hear Reformed folk writing and talking as if the very act of distinguishing between law and gospel is something that only Lutherans do. How Reformed folk could possibly think such a thing in light of the enormous primary source evidence to the contrary in both our theologians (e.g., Olevianus) and confessions (see Ursinus’ lectures on the catechism where he explains this explicitly) is beyond me but it continues.
I think I understand a little bit why Lutherans have difficulty getting to grips with what Reformed folk actually confess. They confess that Reformed folk are “sacramentarians.” A sacramentarian is one who holds that the Lord’s Supper is no more than a symbol. In practice Lutheran confessionalists tend to think of all sacramentarians as “Reformed,” which means that in their broad usage, “Reformed” denotes virtually all non-Lutheran, non-Roman evangelicals.
Further, Lutherans seem to be confessionally committed to the notion that the Reformed are, to put it delicately, dissemblers. In article 7 of the Solid Declaration, they confess:
Although some Sacramentarians strive to employ words that come as close as possible to the Augsburg Confession and the form and mode of speech in its [our] churches, and confess that in the Holy Supper the body of Christ is truly received by believers, still, when we insist that they state their meaning properly, sincerely, and clearly, they all declare themselves unanimously thus: that the true essential body and blood of Christ is absent from the consecrated bread and wine in the Holy Supper as far as the highest heaven is from the earth
It is not as if the Lutherans make no distinction between kinds of sacramentarians. They distinguish between “gross” (obvious) sacramentarian and “subtle” (sneaky) sacramentarians:
…there are two kinds of Sacramentarians. Some are gross Sacramentarians, who declare in plain (deutschen), clear words as they believe in their hearts, that in the Holy Supper nothing but bread and wine is present, and distributed and received with the mouth. Others, however, are subtle Sacramentarians, and the most injurious of all, who partly speak very speciously in our own words, and pretend that they also believe a true presence of the true, essential, living body and blood of Christ in the Holy Supper, however, that this occurs spiritually through faith.
In Article VII of the Formula of Concord the Reformed are characterized as “astute” and “crafty” sacramentarians for saying that we believe in the “true presence” but not in the local, bodily presence (Schaff, Creeds, 3.136).
Thus, it really does not matter what the Reformed actually confess, that in the Belgic Confession we confess that, regarding the supper,
we say that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body and the proper blood of Christ. But the manner of our partaking of the same is not by the mouth, but by the Spirit through faith (Article 35, Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3.430 [emphasis added]
Thus, in both cases, what is eaten is the “proper” (that which is and belongs to Christ’s humanity) and “natural” (not imaginary) body and blood of Christ. The difference is in the manner and the location of the body. We confess that we cannot say exactly how the Spirit does this—how are we rationalists if we appeal to the mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit?—but that is not enough to keep us from being under suspicion.
So, the goal of this post is to further understanding. I guess, since our confessional Lutheran brothers and sisters are confessionally bound to regard us with suspicion, and since it seems unlikely that we shall persuade them to revise their confession, we cannot really expect much progress on that front, at least not corporately but Reformed churches do not confess such suspicion of the Lutherans. We should be aware of the areas where do confess differences:
- Christology (implicitly also God and man in certain respects)
- Sacraments (baptism and the supper)
- Soteriology—The Reformed have a more developed covenant theology and we confess the doctrine of reprobation and the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints
- Ecclesiology—I think Lutherans have historically been more indifferent to the form of church government than we
- Worship—The Lutherans and Reformed confess two distinct principles of worship. I wonder why more Reformed folk aren’t more wound up about the degree to which Reformed worship has come to look like Lutheran worship. It seems that their concern about “becoming Lutheran” is quite selective.
There are other differences (e.g., in the way the two traditions talk about the canon of Scripture) but these are the major differences that come to mind.
This has been a frequent topic on the HB, principally because of the controversy provoked by the Federal Vision/New Perspective(s) errors, but the continued assertion by some that there is a distinctly Reformed doctrine of justification suggests that a resource round-up might be useful so here it is.
- New In Print: Calvin—Subtle Sacramentarian Or Loyal Son? John Calvin’s Relationship To Martin Luther
- Office Hours: Godfrey on Lutheran and Reformed
- “Calvin as Negative Boundary Marker in American Lutheran Self-Identity 1871–1934” in Johan de Niet, Herman Paul, and Bart Wallet, ed., Sober, Strict, and Scriptural: Collective Memories of John Calvin, 1800–2000 (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 245–66.
- The Differences Between Lutheran and Reformed Orthodoxy
- Lutheran or Reformed? You Make the Call
- Lutheran or Reformed?
- Once More: Lutheran or Reformed?
- Is the Law/Gospel Distinction Only Lutheran?
- Calvin Concerning Luther
- The Old Harmony is New Again
- Kolb, Robert, and Carl R Trueman. Between Wittenberg and Geneva : Lutheran and Reformed Theology in Conversation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017.
- R. Scott Clark, Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008 (ch. 5).
- R. Scott Clark, “‘Subtle Sacramentarian’ or Son? John Calvin’s Relationship to Martin Luther” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 21.4 (2018): 35–60.
- R. Scott Clark, “Law and Gospel in Early Reformed Orthodoxy: Hermeneutical Conservatism in Olevianus’ Commentary on Romans,” in Jordan J. Ballor, David S. Sytsma and Jason Zuidema editors, Church and School in Early Modern Protestantism: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Muller on the Maturation of a Theological Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2013).
- R. Scott Clark, “Calvin as Negative Boundary Marker in American Lutheran Self-Identity 1871–1934” in Johan de Niet, Herman Paul, and Bart Wallet, ed., Sober, Strict, and Scriptural: Collective Memories of John Calvin, 1800–2000 (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 245–66.
- R. Scott Clark, “The Benefits of Christ: Double Justification in Protestant Theology Before the Westminster Assembly,” Anthony T. Selvaggio, ed., The Faith Once Delivered: Celebrating the Legacy of Reformed Systematic Theology and the Westminster Assembly (Essays in Honor of Dr. Wayne Spear). (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007), 107–34.
- R. Scott Clark, “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching,” in R. Scott Clark, ed. Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006), 331–63.