Why Reformed Folk Become Lutheran

Over the years I have watched a trickle of Reformed folk leave confessional Reformed churches for confessional Lutheran churches and in every case of which I know there was one reason: assurance. In Lutheranism, those folk found a clear, unequivocal message of free acceptance with God that they were not hearing in their Reformed congregation. This reality demands, ironically, some introspection among the Reformed. It is ironic because introspection is part of the problem. To be sure, from the Reformed perspective, there is some irony in Reformed folk decamping for Lutheranism since Lutheran orthodoxy, after Luther, arguably made moves that significantly damaged the Reformation message about assurance. If, as Lutheran orthodoxy holds, grace is resistible, then assurance is necessarily in doubt. The orthodox Reformed hashed out this question with the Remonstrants at the Synod of Dort. The Fifth Head of Doctrine of the Canons of Dort is a resounding affirmation of the Reformation doctrine of free grace and the perseverance/preservation of the saints by grace alone, through faith alone.1 We say that no one, not even the sinner himself, will snatch anyone (not even himself) from the Savior (John 10:28–29). If someone resists the grace of God in Christ, he had perhaps an external relationship to the covenant of grace but he was never regenerate, he was never in a state of grace, he was never elect, and, as Paul says, he was “of Israel” but he was not Israel (Rom 9:6). After all, a Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly (Rom 2:29). Being, “enlightened” (not regenerated), i.e, merely tasting of the “heavenly gift,” and partaking of the Holy Spirit, i.e., tasting “the good Word of God and the powers of age to come” (Heb 6:4–5) does not mean that one has the power to resist the sovereign grace of Christ.

That said, as an outsider to Lutheranism (though baptized LCMS) my impression is that the resistibility of grace is not a major theme in Lutheran preaching and teaching. What people hear from confessional Lutheran pulpits and lecterns (when they are at their best) is a clear, unambiguous declaration of God’s free favor in Christ. What they hear is a clear distinction between the law (“do this and live”) and the gospel (“Christ has done”). What they hear is a strong affirmation of assurance that, to all those who believe, their sins really are forgiven and they really are accepted by God.

“But we believe all that,” replies the Reformed pastor who has just lost a family to a nearby LCMS congregation. Well, pastor, that is true but did your parishioners hear that affirmation from you every week or did you say to yourself, as I have heard and read confessional Reformed folk say, “We all know what the gospel is. Let us get on to the Christian life?” This is where we need to do a little soul searching. Do we really “know what the gospel is?” My experience combined with the recent Ligonier surveys on the state of Christianity in America lead me to doubt that proposition. I am fairly confident that, were we to take a survey of your congregation we would find that a substantial percentage of that congregation does not know what the gospel is or exactly how they are right with God or what is the basis of their assurance of faith. Let me ask you a diagnostic question: how explicit are you about the forgiveness of sins when you give the declaration of pardon (absolution)? Wait, you do not give a declaration of pardon? Well, that may well be part of your problem right there. Does this language make you nervous:

This is what our Lord Jesus Christ says: (John 3:16), For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that all who would believe in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. To as many of you therefore, beloved brothers and sisters, as for yourselves and your sins, and believe that you are fully pardoned through the merits of Jesus Christ, and resolve daily more to abstain from them and to serve the Lord in true holiness and righteousness, I declare, according to the command of God, that you are released in heaven from all their sins (as he has promised in His gospel) through the perfect satisfaction of the most holy passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This was part of the liturgy of the Palatinate church in 1563–76 and 1585 and beyond. Calvin used this very sort of language in Strasbourg, while he shepherded a congregation in exile from Geneva. There was also a declaration of condemnation for those who were still unbelieving. I will write about that another time. What matters here is that the Reformed in Heidelberg, Strasbourg, and elsewhere explicitly declared to believers the forgiveness of their sins. They were not nervous about being too gracious or unintentionally licensing sin. When we worry thus are we not agreeing with Paul’s critics, “should we sin that grace may abound” (Rom 6:1)? A declaration of God’s free pardon of believers does not license sin. It licenses sanctification. It says, “You have died with Christ to sin. You are free to obey. The law no longer condemns you.” This is a wonderful message of free acceptance that leads to godliness.

Pastor, does your congregation hear from you every week, not only in the liturgy, but as you exposit God’s Word, a clear, unambiguous distinction between the law (“do this and live”) and the gospel (“Christ has done”) or do you worry that is a Lutheran way of thinking and speaking? Well, whoever told you that it was misled you. That way of speaking could not have better Reformed bona fides. Calvin, Beza, Dathenus, de Bres, Ursinus, Olevianus, Perkins, Owen, Boston, et al. ad infin. spoke that way. When we fail consciously, clearly, conspicuously to distinguish the law and the gospel for Christ’s lambs, they may easily decide that they are back under the law (i.e., the covenant of works) for their standing with God. “But of course they aren’t,” you say, but have you said that to them? It is like marriage counseling. How many times, pastor, has a wife said to you, “He never tells me that he loves me,” and the husband says, “But I do love you.” What do you say to the husband: “But have you said it to her?” You are exactly right. You are a husband, as it were, to Christ’s bride. Have you told her that Jesus loves her, unequivocally, unconditionally, immutably? She needs to hear it.

Is there a strong note in your preaching on the objective ground of assurance, i.e., the promises of God to sinners in Christ? Do you consciously, intentionally, and clearly sound that note so that even the folks in the back can hear it? If you are not, that note is easily lost in all the other things that need to be said from the pulpit. If it is not sounded clearly and regularly, the congregation may begin to infer that what you are really saying (the subtext of your sermons) is that God will accept them if they are sufficiently sanctified and sufficiently obedient. Of course you and I know that it is just the other way round. Our congregations will grow in sanctification and make progress in obedience only when they are fully assured that God is for them in Christ and that he will never let go of them. That is the gospel-mystery of sanctification. The work of the law in teaching them (and us) of their sins and the role of the law as the norm of the Christian life is irreplaceable, but so is the gospel of free acceptance with God, in Christ.

God’s Word says about the Servant of the Lord,

And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;

He will faithfully bring forth justice (Isa 42:3; NASB95).

There are more “tender reeds” and “dimly burning” wicks than we under shepherds know and when we, whether because of our own confusion or neglect, fail to assure them, some of our sheep are likely to bolt for greener, more welcoming sheepfolds, but it does not have to be that way. It should not be that way—not in a Reformed congregation that is being faithful to its confession and tradition. It is one thing if people become convinced of the truth of the Lutheran confession, but in my experience, the sheep go looking for a kind shepherd and then they figure out what they think about the Lutheran confession. If we are withholding assurance and grace from them, can we blame them?


See Jakob Andreae and Théodore Beza, Lutheranism vs. Calvinism (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017), 548–64; Solid Declaration in Kolb et al., ed. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 557.67–560.83. On the the Reformed affirmation of the irresistibility of grace see Resources On The Canons And Synod Of Dort.


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  1. Well said. My diagnosis of the problem is two-fold. A wrong application of election as the starter, not the finisher, of our faith and an over-analysis of our fruits. (I’ll give my wife as assist as she is always quick to note my daily failings, lol).

    My personal issue that I brought to my Reformed faith that began in a hyper-Cal church (yikes!) is the superstition I brought with me from being raised RCC….

    I guess I’m pretty spiritually damaged. :/

    I’m finally at rest(less) under the preaching of a shepherd who does the things you commend…. As I lament, why can’t I believe him???

    Lutheranism does seem pretty warm and fuzzy. I became a big fan of Dr. Phillip Cary from his Teaching Co. videos. But I’m pretty content with the OPC.

    • When I say starter (I mean from our side). Trying to ascertain hidden decrees to believe, rather than realize we believe cause we are loved and forgiven.

  2. I do hear the doctrines of grace and the assurance (in my church ASSURANCE) of pardon every Sunday. I should be more grateful for my pastor!

    I’m always grateful for him when I read articles like this and think, “I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

  3. It’s funny, I was raised up as a modern pagan, heard the gospel in a LCMS congregation and am now a deacon in a PCA church. Guess I went the other direction, but I do remember and appreciate the strong distinction between law and grace taught in the Lutheran church.

  4. I didn’t know you were baptized in the LCMS … me too!

    I think you hit the nail on the head. I’m currently attending – though not a communicant members – of an LCMS church. I’m their “resident Calvinist” you might say, and am there due to an irreconcilable abuse of power by the session of the OPC congregation I was attending prior.

    There are a few reasons why I haven’t become Lutheran even though I find a great deal more common ground with confessional Lutherans than I think confessional Presbyterians like to give credit for. The first is the nature of the presence in the Lord’s Supper – I’m decidedly in the spiritual presence camp (though I think Calvinists and Lutherans both overstate what “this is my body” means. We should have left it there without conjecturing about the nature of the presence of Christ). But the second reason I’m NOT a Lutheran has to do with assurance.

    Understanding Kline’s take on the covenants really solidified assurance for me and confessional Lutherans don’t have as a strong a covenant theology. But my LCMS pastor, who grew up in the PCUSA, says he came to Lutheranism for the assurance. And I’d say he’s theologically strong on it, despite believing God’s grace is resistible. And I know of two other local LCMS pastors who became Lutheran (from being “Reformed) because of the matter of assurance. But the “Reformed” theology they learned was the YRR/Piper/JMac stuff. So, no wonder!

    Between Piper/JMac and now Doug Wilson, I think NAPARC has been significantly tainted by theology that contradicts the heart of the Reformation – whether Lutheran or Calvinist.

    It’s sad.

    • Thank you for sharing your story and perspective. Imo your comments are spot on. “Between Piper/JMac and now Doug Wilson, I think NAPARC has been significantly tainted by theology that contradicts the heart of the Reformation – whether Lutheran or Calvinist.” I think you put your finger on the problem here. Too many sub-reformed and/or “de-formed” theological streams polluting the confessionally-Reformed NAPARC pond.

      As an OP pastor I am grieved to hear you had a toxic experience in an OPC congregation. May our Lord grant you healing and recovery.

    • Hi Kerry,

      I share your concern. I’ve been fairly critical of Piper, MacArthur et al. for their revisions of the Reformation doctrines of justification and salvation sola fide.

      I agree with you re our commonalities with the Lutherans. Unfortunately, neither the confessional Lutherans (for whom we are nothing more than “crafty sacramentarians”) nor some American Presbyterians seem able to see the genuine areas of agreement between the Reformed theology, piety, & practice and the Lutheran. Anyone who recognizes these areas of agreement will be called a “Lutheran” by Presbyterians and a sacramentarian by the Lutherans. It’s a no-win situation.

      I really don’t think that most Lutherans are aware of what we say about the Supper. They see us and Jimmy Swaggart in the same box. The language of the Belgic is as high one can get re the Supper—”proper and natural” body and blood is a high view of the Supper but because we will not say “in, with, and under” we are anathema.

      We need to hand a copy of Petrus Dathenus, Pearl of Christian Comfort to every graduating Reformed seminarian.

    • What RSC says and if you need more proof of it, consider Robert Koester’s “Law & Gospel: Foundation of Lutheran Ministry (with special reference to the church growth Movement)”, Northwestern Publishing House, 1994, in which he consistently uses the terminology “Evangelical/Reformed” as though the two are synonymous throughout his book. He clearly does not understand the distinction. There is definitely a Lutheran bias going on here.

    • Scott, I have seen you use the word ‘sacramentarian’ to describe the Lutheran view of the Reformed on a few occasions. I am mildly perplexed by their use of this language. Since they are the party with the over-realised notion of the sacraments, would they not claim that our ordinances are not sacraments at all? Would we not call them ‘sacramentalists’?

      • Hi Allan,

        “Sacramentarian” was a perjorative used by the Lutherans, first against the Zwinglians and later against all Reformed Christians. They used it because Zwingli, somewhat unfortunately, used the analogy of Roman military oaths (sacramentum) for the Lord’s Supper to the effect that our coming to the Supper is our pledge of allegiance to Christ. Well, the Lutherans (not entirely unreasonably) saw that move as a way of turning a gospel sacrament of God’s free promise of favor to sinners, into a legal ceremony whereby we are promising something to God. They omitted Calvin from this category (more or less) until he signed the Consensus Tigurinus (1549) between Geneva and Zürich. The Lutherans regarded the Zürichers implacably (and still today) as mortal enemies and Calvin’s alliance with them meant that, despite all his protestations to the contrary, he was really, at bottom, just another stinking sacramentarian. Calvin continued to protest that, in substance (no pun intended) he was with Luther that, in the Supper, we are fed by Christ’s body and blood. By that time, however, the Lutherans had become fundamentalist on the Supper requiring everyone to affirm that Christ is “in, with, under” the elements. Calvin held (as does the Heidelberg and the Belgic) that we are fed on Christ’s “proper and natural” body and blood by the Spirit mysteriously. They rewarded Calvin by calling the Zwingians “crude” sacramentarians and the Calvinists “crafty” or “subtle” sacramentarians.

        There is no really accurate single term to denominate the Lutheran view. There has frequently been called “Consubstantiation” (in recognition of the “with” aspect) but they reject that so I try to honor their wishes even though they continue to misrepresent the Reformed. They don’t even get Bullinger right who, by 1548, had moved away from Zwingli and who would continue to develop his views into the early 70s.

  5. I’ve been reading Zwingli’s_Commentary on True and False Religion_, and also read some of the Book of Concord recently, including Melanchthon’s Apology for the Augsburg Confession. It seems that for Zwingli, salvation by Christ alone led him to justification by faith; for Luther, justification by faith led him to the by Christ alone.

    The assurance of grace and pardon found in the Gospel is an overlap between Lutheran and Reformed theologies. But understanding that way back there is the eternal decree of God from whose hand no-one can snatch his sheep is very omforting.

  6. Appreciate your emphasis on the assurance of pardon. An older colleague who was filling our pulpit one Sunday refused to do it. He told me that it was “evangelical.” I told him that I’ve never been to an “evangelical” church that practiced the assurance of pardon, but that it was a common practice in many Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn’t listen.

    • Whereas some Reformed pastors fail to emphasize assurance enough and some Lutheran preachers do emphasize it, though frequently in a roundabout way, I have found that evangelicals instead follow the “victorious Christian life” paradigm. And they just can’t seem to get past it.

    • George,
      Indeed. We have Wesley to thank for a lot of that paradigm. Wesley’s revisions to the WSC shows his stark divergence on assurance by gutting election and adoption and cultivating “perfection”.

    • Thank you Wes.

      I remember a very senior domine telling me that the rule of worship/regulative principle was “Presbyterian.” Who knew that Presbyterians wrote HC 96?

    • Im prone to cynicism and pessimism. I know I would feel much worse if I was in one of these evangelical churches that anticipate everyone is miraculously changed overnight and ready to go out and make more disciples.

      In fact, there is a guy (evangelical) that I come in contact with a few times a week on the job that wants me to join him in prayer. He knows I’m a Reformed Christian but he can’t help himself. The guy really makes me anxious and I try to avoid him like the plague. He’s like a spiritual predator.

  7. In my experience – nearly my whole life in Reformed churches – it’s seemed much more common for the confession of sin to be left out (or at least left non-specific, minimized, muted, or even silent) than the declaration of assurance, but I wonder if that doesn’t have much the same effect – how is assurance to the repentant assuring without any definite repentance to look back at?

    Although the other thing that catches my eye is this phrase: “…I declare, according to the command of God…” The Lutheran pastors, when I’ve occasionally attended those services, say something very similar: but I don’t know how many Reformed pastors make the personal declaration. Does this matter, theologically or practically, though? Or is it enough that the pastor is the one saying, “Christ declares those who repent are forgiven…” or similar phrases or readings from Scripture?

    • According to the older “blue” hymnal and order of service, after the congregation’s confession of sins, LCMS Lutheran pastors say,

      “Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”

    • Jonathan,

      The Heidelberg & Strasbourg liturgies are more representative of the language of the Reformed churches. We haven’t typically used the first person singular, “I forgive…”. Even with the caveat, “by the authority of” it’s still not true. Christ forgives. We announce what he does.

  8. I’ve spent almost 20 years in a PCA church, having intentionally sought out a Reformed, confessional church after growing up in various legalistic and evangelical traditions. Our family threw ourselves heartily into service in the church. There was a point at which we felt a “shift”, but would have been hard-pressed to fully describe the nature of it. Due to a series of unfortunate events leading up to and then including 2020, conflict hit the church and all manner of fractures and fissures were exposed. I felt like I was looking around with fresh eyes, realizing that I was in a confessional-in-name-only-church, that most of my fellow members didn’t seem to know about or really care about being confessional, that I was really busy “doing church,” but that I was rather anemic and unhealthy in my own personal growth in the Scriptures. Tim Keller and N.T. Wright were of great influence in our church. Hearing repeated calls for “unity” while great doctrinal error within the body was ignored was incredibly demoralizing as a believer.

    2020 introduced me to Confessional Lutheranism. 20 years in the PCA, and I finally heard Law and Gospel from the Lutherans on Youtube. It was a balm to my soul during the most spiritually discouraging time of my life. I can understand the desire to flee what has sometimes felt like spiritual chaos.

  9. This resonates so deeply with me. My husband and I were taught the Reformed faith under Kim Riddlebarger, and then we relocated to another state for a great job opportunity… thinking that we’d be fine, since we’d joined a NAPARC denomination that we’d reasonably vetted before moving… We’ve been here for 5 years and our leadership/congregation regularly and publicly partners with the local theonomists who also platform the Moscow crowd, in the name of evangelism, which is more like ridiculing anyone who isn’t saved.

    It is so frustrating for doctrine to be minimized, for the congregation to be addressed as if we are not in union with Christ, and to be told that a law-gospel distinction is a Lutheran position… And then to be commanded to have unity when doctrine is minimized is mindboggling to us at a Reformed church. My husband and I have honestly felt tempted a few times to go worship with the local LCMS congregation just to hear the law-gospel distinction and be given gospel assurance, since the closest URC is several hours drive one way.

    The way we have dealt with this is to listen to URC sermons online weekly, to read the catechisms, to read theology from Escondido although we are suspected “Lutherans” haha, and to find online communities to have some sort of like-minded fellowship with… while deciding we will not stay here long-term and planning a re-location closer to a URC. In Anaheim, we left church refreshed with eyes fixed on Christ, and here it is difficult to motivate to go at all- although we don’t want to stop worshipping with the body… I suspect the first time I am back in a URC pew hearing those guilt-grace-gratitude sermons in real time I will break down and weep though…. We probably wouldn’t have understood the desire to go to a Lutheran congregation for assurance if we hadn’t moved here- and our gratitude to the men of Escondido who taught us the Reformed faith and provide us with resources for comfort while we are here, such as The Heidelblog, has amplified tenfold. Because of teachers like yourself caring for the sheep, we understand that we need to make our way back to our beloved URC rather than going toward the LCMS. Thank you!

    • Crystal:
      The problem with a Reformed person going to an LCMS church is that you are done taking communion if you are honest about your Reformed understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

    • Hi Bob,

      Yes, I agree. We have been tempted to visit just to hear the gospel clearly proclaimed and for assurance… our current church doesn’t observe the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, so we would have opted to go on a Sunday when we wouldn’t miss communion.. but we haven’t actually gone, we’ve just been tempted for the reasons Dr. Clark outlines above. We are receiving gospel assurance from online URC sermons for the time being and not attending the LCMS, until we can find employment and re-locate.

  10. Does scripture prescribe a deceleration of pardon? As both the author and the figures mentioned argue for the regulative principle people I assume they find it somewhere, but I wonder where

    • Samuel,

      Where does Scripture command us to begin a service with an invocation or to conclude it with a benediction? How did the fellows who gave us the regulative principle (rule of worship), e.g., Calvin answer this question? They did you know.

    • I don’t know. I specifically mentioned they probably have an answer, I just don’t know what it is. The same would apply to the benediction. I assume people have answered the question but I have no idea where to find the answer

      • Samuel,

        I would start with Institutes 4.10.23, where, after critiquing Roman abuses at some length, Calvin turns to the proper use of church constitutions. That gives us an idea of how the early Reformed thought about these things.

        If you’re looking for a proof-texting approach to justify each aspect of the Genevan liturgy, however, you won’t find it. Calvin never wrote any such thing because he didn’t think that he needed such a thing.

        Calvin did articulate the “rule of worship” and a framework within which to think about worship. Take a look at the chapter on worship in Recovering the Reformed Confession. It’s linked in every HB post in the resources. See also this essay:

        “Calvin’s Principle of Worship,” in ed. David Hall, Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of his Quincentenary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 247–69.

    • Dr. Clark, I have a copy of RRC published 2008. Have there been any revisions to this since? If not, I need to re-read my copy, because I have accumulated a greater understanding of Reformed theology since that date. If so, I need to purchase a more up to date version.

  11. Like Michelle, I was a member and also a Deacon in the PCA for 20 years. In 2019 we decided to leave the PCA for a WELS congregation. Culture creep in the PCA including revoice, man and women roles , etc played a big role but the distinction between law and gospel and assurance is definitely upfront in the Lutheran churches. Reading CFW Walther on Predestination was very helpful in that I realized that Lutherans have a robust doctrine of election and while they may believe faith can be shipwrecked they believe all the elect will persevere in faith. Guess you could call it the Perserverance of the elect.

    “56. Does the true doctrine of election give the Christians a beautiful and glorious comfort then also, when they consider that they can so easily lose their salvation through the weakness and wickedness of the flesh, or through the fraud and power of the devil and the world?

    Yes: the true doctrine of election also gives the beautiful and glorious comfort, that God wishes to secure MY salvation so truly and firmly, that in His eternal PURPOSE, WHICH CANNOT FAIL OR BE OVERTHROWN, HE DECREED IT, and to secure it, placed it in the omnipotent hands of our Savior Jesus Christ, out of which none shall pluck us. John 10:28. For, if our salvation were committed unto us, it might easily be lost through the weakness and wickedness of our flesh, or be taken and plucked out of our hands, by the fraud and power of the devil and of the world. Hence Paul, Rom. 8:28, 35, 39, says: “Since we are called according to the purpose of God, who shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord?”60”

    And here again

    “12. By what do you prove that the salvation of the elect is so firmly and immovably grounded upon the eternal election of God?

    From this, that it is written: “no one will snatch [My sheep] out of My hand” (John 10:28). And again, Acts 13:48:”

    Excerpt From
    Walther’s Works: Predestination
    C.F.W. Walther
    This material may be protected by copyright.

    • Russ,

      Walther did indeed have a high view of election, so much so that he was accused by his contemporaries of being a crypto-Calvinist. One of the reasons that the LCMS is so hard on Calvinism is because he had to set fire to the Calvinist rhetorically in order to create some distance between his views, and those of the Reformed, who were hated.

      On this see,

      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.

      The question here is whether Walter was following the Book of Concord. Unfortunately, the book of Concorde is conflicted on this very question. One can find out the sort of language that you quote from Walter, but one also finds a fairly clear affirmation that one can be in a state of grace, and yet fall away. Had the Lutherans unequivocally endorsed the perseverance of the elect, there would have been no controversy with the Reformed on this point. As I understand it, the Confessional Lutheran sided with the remonstrance at the time of the Synod of Dort.

  12. Thanks Dr Clark. As I studied the Predestination controversy in the Lutheran church in the 19th century many Lutherans made clear that the book of concord most certainly holds that predestination is unto faith not in view of faith. They also affirmed that the elect cannot lose their salvation although some who are not if the elect may apostate. The LCMS and WELS broke fellowship from other synods for this very reason. When the LCMS began certain forms of fellowship with these Arminian synods the WELS broke fellowship with the LCMS. At least this is what I gathered from my readings.

    • Russ,

      I understand that, for Walther and the BoC, election is unconditional.

      The problem/crisis is due to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration and the conviction that new life (and election) may be resisted and lost. This strikes at the vitals of the doctrine of assurance.

  13. In my travels from Geneva to Wittenberg it seems that both camps really have a hard time understanding the others Theological systems. While the Lutheran believe in a form of baptismal regeneration they do not hold that all those baptized are elect. This does not effect a believers assurance any more than the reformed system in which a non believer is a member of the visible church, thinks he has genuine faith, has been baptized, but is not among the elect. Both systems I believe would agree that ones assurance is found in Christ and his promises of the Gospel found in word and Sacrament. Here is the WELS answer on that very question.

    I have heard that Lutherans believe it is possible for a believer to fall from faith and the WELS web site has confirmed this (This We Believe IV. Justification #9). However, I have also heard that Lutheran doctrine teaches that Christ gives assurance of salvation in a way that implies some sort of “once saved, always saved” doctrine. Is this true and if so, how does it not contradict the belief that a Christian can fall? Also, does the belief that we are saved by baptism or by election mean that there is more than one way to be saved?
    It is clear from Scripture that people can fall from faith (Luke 8:13; 1 Corinthians 10:12; Galatians 5:4; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Peter 3:17).

    While God’s law warns us about falling away from faith, God’s gospel assures us that we are safe and secure in God’s hands (John 10:28-29). While we definitely pay attention to the warnings of the law, we cling all the more in Spirit-worked faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is God’s message of eternal life (John 3:16).

    If God has elected a person to salvation, God will bring that individual to saving faith and preserve that individual in saving faith. None of the elect are lost; all the elect enjoy eternal life. In figurative language Revelation 7 describes all the elect on this earth, and Revelation 14 describes all the elect in God’s presence in heaven.

    If a person at one point in life professed Christian faith but then distanced himself or herself from God and died without saving faith, that person was not among the elect.

    There is only way to be saved: that is through faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; 17:31). God works saving faith through the gospel (Romans 1:16). God can work saving faith through the gospel in word alone or through the word and water—baptism. Because baptism connects people to Jesus Christ in saving faith, Scripture can rightly say that baptism saves (Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21). When people are brought to saving faith in Jesus and leave this world with saving faith in their hearts, God was responsible for that through his gracious election (2 Timothy 1:9).

    • Russ,

      How are non-elect people regenerated in baptism? What does that mean? What sort of regeneration is that?

      I’ve been reading Lutheran sources and writing about the Lutheran-Reformed dialogue since 1993. See my chapter on Olevianus’ Christology in Caspar Olevian.

      I know very view Lutheran scholars, outside of Bob Kolb, who’ve tried to understand Reformed theology.

  14. In the Reformed system this type of new life or regeneration is impossible since faith cannot be lost. In the Lutheran system there is a form of faith that can be lost and an enlightening of Holy Spirit given in baptism that can be lost. So the difference isn’t that election an be lost but is more about what we say about the apostate. Did they have no faith or work of the Holy Spirit at all or did they have a form of faith and work of the holy spirit that they abandoned?

    I certainly didn’t mean to insinuate that you haven’t studied Lutheran-Reformed dialogue and I would agree that many Lutherans have never tried to understand Reformed Theology. While you have dedicated time to these studies I have heard many other Reformed and Lutherans accuse each other of holding erroneous views. I am no where near the scholar that you are but mainly am commenting on my personal studies and what I have observed as someone who has embraced each system with love.

  15. Are Lutherans and at least some reformed in agreement on the law / gospel distinction (as it is presented in the formula of Concord epitome)?
    I find the distinction to be crucial (although perhaps not the exact same formulation used by ubiquitarians), and yet I can’t accept much of the Lutheran distinctives, especially around Christology, worship, and perseverance.

    Please pardon my stupid questions, I am new to reformed thought, and to historically rooted protestantism in general

  16. LCMS lay Lutheran here of mediocre theological depth. It seems to me in my experience that the Reformed theology has a certain eggheaded-ness to it. and what i mean is this. there are stresses and counter stresses that overwhelm the simple believer and though a doctrinal pastor can point to some theology that balances a believers theological crisis, the nuance is lost on the believer. a dear reformed brother and sister’s mother died who never converted from her Jewish upbringing though she was given ample opportunity to know and believe the gospel. The Lutheran comfort to the son/daughter would not delve into election but would say she hardened her heart against God. Single predestination vs. double. The Reformed person in this real example struggles with the ramifications of a God that did not choose to save the mother. To a Lutheran paradox is embraced because paradox is biblical. If someone is saved God did it. If someone is lost the person resisted. Both cannot be humanly possible but both are presented in the bible so the Lutheran concludes the reconciling of this is beyond our minds, but true nonetheless. So it is with assurance. God holds us, and yet we can fall away. Not intelligible according to human reason but supported biblically in Lutheran doctrine. So the Lutheran assurance and comfort pastorally is to be drawn back to what did Christ do and what is He doing now FOR ME. In that the Lutheran sees his ultimate hope and walks away comforted by his state with God over his own failings. The Reformed – and this may be i know unfair in that egghead sense but it’s true in my experience in the average Reformed i’ve interacted with – at points deals with the unknowingness of Gods hidden decrees of election. the lack of assurance stems from wrestling with what is hidden. Lutheran theology talks about the order of Romans, that the issues of election are dealt with only after the “front door” of the faith are set – i’m a sinner but Christ has died for me. Election afterwards is a doctrine of comfort. A Reformed person (rightly or wrongly) in my experience wrestles in his life with election as the front door. A Reformed believer can indeed console with law/gospel comfort, but that “front door” of election still dangles….unknowable, and looking inwardly for the believer at times can lead to a despair. This in a long description is a view from the pew i sit in.

  17. I spent about a year and a half in college attending and communing at an LCMS with my best friend while I wrestled with the doctrinal issues. The pastor gave me a lot of thoughtful discussions and articles and we parted quite amicably one I firmly came to Reformed convictions and started attending a PCA. I still have a strong fondness for the Missouri Synod and it will be my default if there’s a non NAPARC church (and sometimes even if there is if it’s a progressive one). While Anglicanism is theoretically closer in principle, a confessional LCMS is much sounder in practice to my Reformed views aside from a few actually confessional Anglican churches.

    I think one of the things that’s important about doctrinal engagement that we each lose by the separation rather than parallel fellowship is that Lutherans and Reformed often use different terms or take different approaches that provides either a helpful alternative explanation to a tricky concept or that provides a good counterweight that sharpens one’s own view.

    The emphasis of Lutheranism on vocation vs the Reformed on the 3rd Use (I know the Lutherans also have the 3rd use, but the emphasis sometimes isn’t there) means that a Reformed person struggling under say a Catholic or Wesleyan background might more clearly with a robust, ordinary appeal to vocation and callings. In this case, it’s the emphasis.

    Another one where I think the Lutheran perspective provides a good perspective is on what apostasy according to Lutheranism is, namely that it’s turning away from faith, and not sinning yourself out of the kingdom. Pietism, Catholicism, and Wesleyanism are all basically highly introspective endeavors that basically cause you to do lots of fruit inspection and (if you’re honest) be paranoid about sinning yourself out of the kingdom.

    As far as I can tell, the Lutheran approach to apostasy is much more along the lines of giving the middle finger to God and rejecting His promises and as far as I know is not tied sinning your way out of God’s salvation. Functionally, we Reformed wouldn’t call someone who rejects the faith and deconstructs a Christian anymore either, though our approach would be either to say the person has backslidden and we pray they come back or that they never were. At a season of intense spiritual doubt and sin in my own life, this focal point forced me to come to terms with and cling to Christ rather than trying to fix myself before approaching His throne in repentance.

    I favor robust fellowship that does not deny but actually interacts with the differences we have, especially on the things where we really do have fundamental differences. There are few things more valuable in life than a friend one truly disagrees with where you both know you’re on the same pilgrimage. Lutherans and Reformed can learn a lot from each other.

    • Scott: Fellowship? I’ve been to a LCMS church on numerous occasions and even though I am a fellow believer, I am denied the Lord’s Supper because I am not LCMS. The same would not be true if a LCMS believer came to my PCA church. If they deny fellowship to us on such a fundamental level, where is there hope for fellowship on any other level?

      • Bob,

        The LCMS practice is closed communion. They confess, in the Book of Concord, that we are “Crafty sacramentarians,“ which is a way of saying that we are liars. We profess to believe in the true presence of Christ in the supper, but we do not say “in, with, and under.“

        I think it is possible to fellowship with a Lutherans on an individual basis. I know this happens. But I think anything beyond that is very difficult indeed.

  18. I guess I’m a bit of an odd duck. Fellowship is perhaps the wrong word in the context of being denied communion and membership, but when the vast majority of Evangelicalism either shouldn’t (but they allow if they’re sloppy) or won’t (if they’re actually serious about it) allow me to join their church or even commune either because I’ve only been baptized as an infant, I’m more comfortable with closed communion denominations and recognize limitations even as I grieve that we have the divisions. Being considered as unbaptized vs. considered a deceiver/deceived on Communion at the confessional level seems about the same to me in the net given that both are clear and unequivocal commands of Jesus to His disciples and to us. We just have so much sub-Zwinglian evangelical influence around us that most Baptists tolerate us far more than they should, doctrinally speaking.

    The other thing is that the LCMS churches I’ve been to that have allowed or offered me to commune (after my views solidified and I declared them as Calvinist/Spiritual) were definitely much more broad and lacking substance than the rock solid ones (in terms of preaching and teaching) where it’d have been unthinkable to allow a Calvinist to commune.

    Anglicanism in theory would be great as the next best alternative, but at least in my observation, even the conservative/prayer book parishes seem to practice or tolerate paedocommunion, which I think is also a very hazardous practice and not wise to commune with myself. Presbyterian and Reformed is definitely my confession and the churches I seek out when traveling.

    • Scott: Your desire for fellowship with Lutherans seems more like nostalgia for your days growing up. I was raised in a Methodist church with some really nice people but I can no longer accept their beliefs for myself. We can be civil and “get along” with other denominations but ecumenical efforts always seek to minimize real differences usually to the detriment of the side desiring an ecumenical relationship. The Lutherans can believe what they want as long as I have the same freedom.

  19. I suspect you’re right, Bob. It’s very human, but part of the value of actually saying something or speaking about something is to expose foolishness, naivete or sentimentality, as this kind of reasoning I was showing displays. I just wish I didn’t have to open my mouth so much to get clarity and realize what am I saying or not saying. It’s a tragic breach, but ecumenism is historically not a positive when and where it happens.

    • Scott: I can’t count the number of times I wish I had followed the proverb: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

  20. I relate to the comments above by Michelle and Doug.
    I converted to Christ, then later the Reformed faith, because of R.C. Sproul (Sr.).
    Pushed away from Reformed due it’s leaders, it’s cultures, and mostly it’s theology. The yearly mess in the PCA didn’t help either.
    Pushed towards Lutheranism by “The Pearl of Christian Comfort” and the Heidelberg Catechism, The White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation, reading Reformation history from non-Reformed sources, Luther’s catechism.
    Converted to LCMS Lutheranism with help from Chemnitz, Pieper, Walther, Book of Concord. Assurance was a part of that, but not the main issue. Pastoral care among Lutheran’s is typically way more personal and real world than the academic focused, defensive, and detached version so common among the Reformed. Too often Reformed pastors made me feel like I was just a mind, not a soul or body or a person. Instead of “Christ, for me”, the message was here’s some theology to ponder about your situation, I’ll pray about it but won’t lift a finger to get dirty and help in any tangible way, and you need to get to work trusting that God will bless you if you are trusting in him. This always made it seem like Christ was just an illustration of the concept of atonement, not the Person who died and lives for me in this world.

  21. Even though I’m Lutheran/Anglican (and an oddball because I believe in double predestination), it really irks me, too, that so many Lutherans are so hostile towards Reformed folk. The snarky “sacramentarian” comments in the Lutheran Confessions are really inappropriate and should be disavowed.

    Case in point: It must have been 15 years ago when I made an innocuous little comment on Paul McCain’s blog about how we Lutherans should just try to get along with the Reformed and treat them kindly as brothers and sisters since we share so much in common.

    It took only seconds for McCain’s ascerbic slapdown to come back (as if from Luther himself at the Marburg Colloquy), demanding a retraction!

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