Calling all Calvinists…calling all Lutherans…

I know a bit about each of these branches of Christianity…but46492 Luther och Calvin 170109 by Gunnar E. probably not nearly as much as many of you.

What are the main differences in the two theologies?

We were discusing some of the differences over at a friend’s blog and I realized that maybe my understanding isn’t all that great.

Have you any thoughts on the matter?



62 Responses

  1. That is a complex question, and I’m no expert either. But, I spent some time trying to answer this myself. This is what I understand, in a nutshell:

    To many, Calvinism finished the Reformation which Luther only started, based on worship styles. Lutheranism held to many RCC-like practices, whereas Calvin was quick to toss out any liturgical forms not found in the NT. This is why Calvinism is seen as “evangelical” whereas Lutheranism often is not (even though Luther coined the term).

    However, Calvin remained theologically much more Augustinian than did Luther. Calvinism believes in a wrathful God, who has to do anything – even pour his wrath out on Jesus – to preserve His glory. Luther, on the other hand, discovered God’s love, and saw that Christ’s offering was just that: an act of love. For me, this difference in the view of God’s primary motivation is key.

    Most people always see Calvinism in the predestination-free will sense; however, I tend to see both Calvinism and Arminianism as both wrong, as they both focus on God’s wrath rather than his love.

    But, I could be wrong, so I’m interested to hear what others have to say.

  2. I would concur with Alden’s comments as well and add:

    That’s a tough one Steve, because one could spend all day displaying the differences within Calvinism alone even though from a Lutheran point of view its all the same thing just different word games. There’s a reason Calvinism broadly speaking is confusing to you and most people for that matter.

    There’s the Zwinglian supper “Calvinist” (the majority report today that goes through into the Baptist realm) versus the purest Calvin supper Calvinist (the minority report today) and all the “in betweens” of those two. There are, and this is only a sample the: “its only a sign”, “no its only a sign and a seal”, “no its “real presence” via the Holy Spirit”, “no we are ushered up into the fiery heaven “real presence”, non of which agree on a single thing concerning the Lord’s Supper EXCEPT that Luther was wrong (which is their only real “homodoxy” on their supper/meal). There’s the Calvin Calvinist versus the Puritan Owenian Calvinist. There’s the “Together For The Gospel” “orthodoxy” seeking Calvinist which contains everything from infant baptizers to believers only baptizers, some consistent orthodoxy! There’s the “sacraments are absolutely essential” when talking to Baptist “Reformed Calvinist” but only “somewhat essential” when talking to Lutherans who we wish to unite with Calvinist. There’s the Calvinist/Reformed Baptist (an oxymoron to all Calvinistic confessions of faith) versus the “real” Calvinist/Reformed. There’s the Calvinist of a century to 500 years ago versus the Calvinist of today. There’s the closed communion Calvinist versus the “doors wide open Calvinist”. There’s a broad spectrum of “Calvinist” within the more “pure Calvin Calvinist camp (non-baptistic). Then the oxymoron Calvinist (Reformed/Calvinistic/TULIP loving Baptist has its own broad spectrum from those of the MacArthurites to the Piperites to the Calvinistic leaning Southern Baptist, none of which adhere to the same confession within that realm either.

    Falsehood is like that, it can literally be infinite in its import because there’s no “one truth” that is truth. 2+2=4 is singular, but 2+2=5, 2+2=5.1, 2+2=5.11, 2+2=6, 2+2=1000 can literally go on infinitely. Thus, “getting a firm hold of” “Calvinism” and all its variations, adaptations and evolutions is literally like trying to grasp hold of with only your thumbs a slippery eel that has been dipped in grease and coated with butter.

    So before a Calvinist of any sort can come at a Lutheran a requirement should be that they themselves agree on their doctrine (e.g. the LS) and not just “what it is not” (e.g. not Luther’s). Here we see in principle a truth, that which parades itself around as “Christian” but really is not (Calvinistic doctrine and all its evolutions) finds its self grasping for the hidden God in the nude and cannot agree on Who and Where that hidden God is no less than general pagan and secular society attempts to grasp at the hidden God in the nude. Similar to how God was unknown, the revealed Christ right in front of them, to the Pharisees who possessed the scriptures and the biblical terms versus the Greeks/Romans who possessed none of the Scriptures but grasped at the hidden god through its idolatrous religions. Loose the revealed God then loose the hidden God as well as Luther said. Or say only what the supper is not (not Luther) and then naturally you loose the sacrament altogether (the battle for what it actually is within the same camp).


  3. Thanks, Alden. Thanks, Larry.

    I know I was asking a lot and it’s much more complex than maybe I realized when I posted the question, but you guys have me off to a good start.

    I’ll re-read your comments when I get home from work today and let it sink in a bit more. I’ve got an early start today and pressed for time.

    I appreciate your help, very much!

    – Steve

  4. Hmmm…seems to me, non-Calvinists come with quite a few preconceived notions couched with poor understanding of non-Lutheran vocabulary. Ahhh, vocabulary maybe that’s the problem…eh, er, difference…*: )

    Mankind…perceiving themselves to wise…haven’t yet realized we are still in the Babelistic dispensation…

    Not to be “outdone” Calvinists also have difficulty in understanding the definition of “total unity” they see in the myriad of Lutheran forms….

  5. Steve,
    Having just read “the Baptism Debate” by Dr. Coppes, a baptist turned Presbyterian, I think one of the biggest differences is the idea of the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit, that is that He somehow operates in the lives of the elect apart from the word of God and the sacraments. It seems to me this idea goes so far as to imply that he really can’t operate in and through the word of God or the sacraments, but has to work outside of these, otherwise the “sovereignty” of God to operate where and when he pleases might be compromised. But it seems to me he pleases to work in and through the word of God and the sacraments. That is what the Bible seems to indicate to me, and if this is his where and when, it does not compromise his sovereignty at all. But in anycase, Calvinists seem more concerned about preserving God’s Sovereignty that He is.

    • God IS sovereign…no one has to protect that quality for HIM. Does He work in us, through us, and on our behalf? Absolutely! Does He work in through and with things we can’t comprehend or detect with mere mortal means? Absolutely! Do Calvinists know it all? Absolutely NOT! Do Lutheran’s? Again, I don’t believe so…

      1 John 3:2 (New Living Translation)

      2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.

      • Nancy,
        I don’t know what is preached from the pulpit at the church you attend. What I do know is what I have read from the man I quoted above, a man who quotes a lot of Zwingli, and Calvin in his work.
        I would agree that God is sovereign, and it doesn’t need to be protected. That doesn’t mean that Zwingli and Calvin don’t see his sovereignty compromised by the idea that he works in and through the means of grace. They make the “sovereignty of God” , defined by them and not the Bible, to be the lens through which they read the Bible. This seriously compromises the gospel in many ways, not the least how it is applied to sinners. When they see the idea that God uses the means of grace to create believers, and not some divine lightning bolt out of the blue to wake up the elect he chose way back when, as compromising his sovereignty and therefore not to be believed, the gospel is compromised, and for that matter so is his sovereignty as I see it…

  6. Calvin and Luther were contemporaries, and knew each other. Calvin’s doctrine was based on Luther’s, but Calvin departed from Luther on the meaning of the eucharist (Calvin rejected both transubstantiation as well as Luther’s view of the “presence”).

    Other than the difference over eucharist, I think the only other major difference is that Calvin went into great detail about matters of election and reprobation. After reading more about Luther, I’ve come to the conclusion that Luther deliberately avoided being too detailed about these matters, and I think Luther was right. Luther’s concept of total depravity and the “offensiveness” of the cross was broader than Calvin’s. In his attempt to “clarify”, Calvin seems to have lost some of the breadth of Luther, and also opened up the door for fruitless bickering between Armninian and Calvinist.

  7. What Bror says is true. For the 50,000 foot view one has to put Calvinist in two big pots first, Baptist type Calvinist and Reformed type Calvinist to see how this works, where/when the Holy Spirit works. For the Calvinist would deny a flat statement that one would say, “Calvinist don’t believe the Holy Spirit operates through means, the means of grace”. Then peel it apart only to find that they really don’t despite their objection. It’s all in the lingo, ask any Christian do you believe in “grace”, even a Mormon, you’ll get, “yes” – this is the long learned theological “art of the right answer to the test question in order to pass”.

    Extreme Calvinistic Baptist, what many would call “hyper-calvinist” (e.g. John Gill) would indeed arrive at the fact that the Holy Spirit operates without the means almost if not entirely like a “bolt out of the clear blue sky”. In the most extreme cases I’ve seen personally, a Calvinistic Baptist church in TN I’m informed directly by, the means of grace, baptism and the LS, are at length done away with. In this particular case baptism was completely eliminated. That’s the extreme logical extension of hyper-calvinism in the Baptist realm. Here the Holy Spirit operating without means becomes more overt if you will.

    However, in Reformed Calvinist (those who baptize infants, WCF, HC, Dort, etc…) the means-less operation of the Holy Spirit is less overt in the teaching but is there if one can peel it apart. In the calvinstic Baptist realm the “bolt out of the clear blue sky” or means-less operation of the Holy Spirit is more obvious because no sacrament, called ordinances, overtly does anything, they are merely “signs or affirmations on the part of the participant of an inward reality somehow somewhere else otherwise determined (the inward looking). The naked Word of Gospel is somewhat retained among some Calvinistic Baptist and like their Reformed Calvinist buddies there’s where one has to peel apart the issue to show that AT THE END OF THE DAY NO CALVINIST really has the Holy Spirit operating in any means, sacrament or naked Word. The Reformed Calvinist might say, “The Holy Spirit does use the means of grace, but only the Word for initial conversion/rebirth, never baptism, and only some of the time does the Holy Spirit do this (the naked Word) AND sacraments are only help aids to a faith already established among the elect that cannot ultimately be fallen away from (which begs the question, why sacraments if you can’t fall away!). This is why, for example, RC Sproul tells a story about a preaching event in which he was preaching and he made and alter call because that’s what they did there. During which he jokes that he’s not like Billy Graham, that’s not his gift, but yet one man came forward. Then he analyzes this as a Reformed person by saying, “See here the Holy Spirit operated on that one man”, the implication is not on another. That’s why when the Gospel Word is preached by the Reformed in same instance in the same church and two men hear it, one converts and the other does not, the Holy Spirit ONLY operated on the convert and did not on the one that did not convert but may or may not later, we cannot know for the Word is ONLY effectual to the elect. And ONLY the elect have real true saving faith as opposed to false faith parading around as saving faith. But therein lay the problem, the so called sacraments in Reformed theology ONLY aid true saving faith and not false faith, so you have to determine “do I have true effectual saving faith, really born again, really and truly converted first” before you can use the sacraments. Because you can always be one of the other two seeds that had false faith but falls away in the end. So in the general hypothetical “the elect can NEVER fall away”, but in the particular real no man can ever really know until after he/she dies that he/she is not fooling him/herself and has actual false faith. So the rat race for secondary proofs of “true saving faith” begin and never end. And by said secondary proofs, which are always left in the unsure nebulous as to “what they actually are” and are highly individualistic, one either “thinks they have them and are pulling it off” or “despairs of hope (if one is actually hearing the REAL LAW) that one is reprobate”. The sacraments are of no help whatsoever here for they only belong to “true saving faith” not “false faith”, the horns of the dilemma one is stuck in. It is there, in the secondary proofs, that most Reformed and all Baptist look for their personal particular “for me” that the Holy Spirit has operated on them in particular, not the objective sacraments, but the subjective particulars of “signs of faith”. In these is detected indirectly both saving faith and the Holy Spirit. The Reformed will always say, “You can know you are elect IF you believe these things…”

    For some these secondary proofs of both saving faith and the operation of the Holy Spirit may be as ridiculous as “I did quite smoking, drinking and cussing” or more spiritual as in a nebulous “well my life has changed much…”, but its always very subjective, all over the maps and nebulous. E.g. one professor at Southern, a SB Calvinist in one of his books said that he got assurance that he was saved by a miraculous sign of the Holy Spirit. And left it at that, no details. Others would say, “Well I know I believe…” ignoring entirely Jer. on the “heart being desperately wicked who can know it”. They’ll tame that verse down to a house pet first. But what do we expect? They don’t believe “this is My body and blood…” which is simple, why believe the Law means exactly what it says and no less! All forms of “hath God really said”.

    The move from baptism under Baptist thought to baptism under Reformed thought is merely one from “a sign of an inward reality (elsewhere determined to be true, hence rebaptism of adults even)” versus “this is God’s will toward you but you still have to have saving faith (elsewhere determined to be true). This is also why in Zwinglian suppers, the Baptist majority view, its again just a mere memorial meal, similar to baptism, you have to gin up your work of memory, nothing is given. And in John Calvin – Calvinistic suppers you have to gin up your faith, assuming you really have true saving faith to ascend high into the fiery heaven’s to benefit from Christ, again nothing given, no free meal in these religions but rather always works somewhere.

    Thus like Roman Catholics the hamster wheel of works begin for the Calvinist. For the former its to “keep out of mortal sin” (what sin is too much so as to be mortal sin), and for the later its to “prove I have real and true saving faith (what sin/works is too much/little to prove my faith was false), slightly different twist on the same religion of works.


  8. Some comments from this Baptist turned Presbyterian who has seriously considered Lutheranism:

    I do not think the differences between Lutheran and Presbyterian views are that far apart, especially if you take the debates all the way back to Luther himself.

    The view of the sacraments is the primary difference, and much is made of that by the Lutherans. Lutherans try to make Calvinists in general more inwardly focused that the Calvinists are in practice.
    It does little good to describe oneself as a “Calvinist” anymore. I have come to merely stating what I believe and letting others decide for themselves.

    I think that Christ’s death on the cross could pay the penalty for all men’s sins but that it does not. Technically, that is limited atonement the way R. C. Sproul taught me limited atonement.

    There is nothing deficient in Christ’s death that would keep it from paying for the sins of everyone. But it does not. How could it if there are people in hell? If God punished Christ for the sins of everyone, and some go to hell to be punished by God again, then some would be punished twice. Punishing the same sin twice is not just.

    The question is what limits the atonement. I would say that all men are incapable of coming to faith in Christ on their own. The choices of men limit the atonement in that sense. God must change the hearts of those that do repent and believe the gospel. God choice limits the atonement in that sense, and therefore is the ultimate limitation of the atonement.

    Either way, if there are people in hell, the atonement is limited in some sense.

    Always looking to learn,


    • Having a Baptist/Presbyterian background, I think you put that very well…*: )

    • JK.
      “I do not think the differences between Lutheran and Presbyterian views are that far apart, especially if you take the debates all the way back to Luther himself. ”
      This is the broken record of the reformed, “Luther was a Calvinist” but then why are they so afraid when Calvinist sem students start reading Luther?

      As for what you have outlined above as limited atonement? It all comes down to blaming God for people in hell. I won’t do it. He died for all, He wants all to be saved. Limited atonement is Satan’s doctrine and reeks havoc on the poor consciences of too many. That there are people in hell, does not mean that Christ’s death did not atone for their sins. It probably means that they went to a reformed church when they did go, and failed to hear that Christ actually did die for them.

      • “This is the broken record of the reformed, “Luther was a Calvinist” but then why are they so afraid when Calvinist sem students start reading Luther?”

        Another straw man from Bror, what a surprise. Seriously, man, you need to get out more. I don’t know any Calvinists who don’t recommend reading Luther. He may not be as popular as Calvin, Edwards, and Owen, but he’s still up there. Everyone just admits that he was a bit cuckoo and unreasonable when it came to the sacraments.

      • Darius,
        I linked to a blog where that was exactly the mans experience. Straw man? I don’t think so.
        lutherans don’t normally recomend reading a guy with the caveat that he was a bit cuckoo. But you said it, and there in lies the rub. There is a difference now isn’t there.

      • Umm, Reformed Christians say the same thing about Calvin or other writers, that they may not agree completely with everything but there are plenty of good things to glean. If you only read stuff that you agree completely with, then you will have a pretty short reading list (and a stunted knowledge).

      • All I can speak to is that R. C. Sproul is the one who originally encourage me to read Luther. I read him, and I get alot from what he says.

      • By the way, Bror, they would not miss the cross if they went to church with me. Our little Presby. church hears of the cross each Sunday.

      • J.K. Jones,
        Great, I am glad to hear that they hear about the cross every week. Do they hear that their sins are forgiven when they hear about the cross? Do they hear that Christ died for them, so that they would be given eternal life? Or do they hear Christ died for the elect, and made to question if they are the elect.

        I’m sorry J.K. Jones, I have read a lot of Calvin, a lot of reformed theology, and I do see glaring differences, huge things. Maybe you do preach the gospel. I really don’t know. But when I read Calvin, and Zwingli, and other reformed authors, (Which by the way Darius, I obviously do) I often fail to find the gospel at all. Sometimes I find glints of it. And I can’t imagine that people who feed themselves on that preach the gospel very well, not the gospel as I know it.

  9. Good stuff, everyone. Thanks!

    It seems there are recurring themes. Internal vs external assurances. Sacraments being something where God is active or not. The possibility of believers losing their faith…or not. Christ dying for everyone…or not.

    I am learning a lot, and I plan on going over your comments again and again.

    Keep em’ coming!

  10. “Sacraments being something where God is active or not.”

    Here I have a question…Who is actually ABLE to remove God’s active participation in the sacraments of the church? while one might not actually believe in the creative power of God…the world is here none the less…*: )

  11. Nancy,
    What is your question?
    No one is able to do anything to God, but slander his name.
    This isn’t so much a question of have you removed him from the sacraments, though Lutherans sometimes question whether you have them….
    The question is what do you teach about them and does that communicate the grace of God or not to the sinner. And when you teach contrary to what scripture teaches concerning the sacraments you turn them into instruments of torture, or worthless talismans that are not to be turned to for the comfort of a soul tortured with sin. And that is unconscionable.
    Harsh I know, but ask Larry what it did to him. And believe me, I have seen it in the lives of many, many others.

    • If you have faith in Jesus and what He did for you on the cross, you can receive communion with Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and yes even Catholics and many other denominations not named here. When you come expecting Jesus to meet you, He IS in the sacrament and the grace of forgiveness is poured out for you again, again, and again….for it isn’t about you…It’s about what He did! I have participated in communion with each of the above mentioned and affirm that the Gospel IS there if you will hear it! Unfortunately people are there also and many times they are quite cruel…being subject to human nature and all.

      • It always amazes me that the anger and vitriol from the non-presence, sign/symbol whatever you want to name it crowd is really the anger against their own doctrine. Why anger towards Lutherans who retain the Lord’s Words and you don’t?

        Norman Nagel answers this well when he says, “Ask them what they have in their sacrament and they themselves will tell you”.

        What is it that the Baptist, Presbyterians and Methodist (not Catholics) pastor puts into your mouth?

        For if it’s not “about you” then why all the “when YOU come expecting…”, “IF YOU have faith”, IF YOU believe. If it isn’t about “me/you” then why all this double talk about “my faith” with Jesus just tacked on in order to give some credit due. What is that the unbeliever eats and drinks, presumably nothing more than the believer is such confessions, just bread and wine? What if you don’t have faith, is Christ there? If one guy has faith taking the bread and juice meal and the guy next to him is an unbeliever, who got Christ and who didn’t? And how did he get Christ? Is Christ distributed via memories, is that the means of grace our memories, is faith merely historical recollection?

        For a lot of it not being “about you” there sure is a lot of “If YOU have faith” and “When you come expecting”, it seems to circle a lot and depend not just a lot but only on me. Forms of “if you have given ALL your heart to Jesus”, then you may have Him. An awful lot of ‘if/then’ conditions in this so called unconditional grace religion, ‘if YOU have faith, when YOU come expecting”.

        How can the Gospel be there IF you’ve tinkered with the Words of institution and say or convey via doctrine these words, “This is not my body, not my blood given/shed for you…for the forgiveness of sin”. How does that match up with Christ’s words “Take eat and drink…this is my body/blood given/shed for you…for the forgiveness of sin”. What WAS given and shed for you, wine and bread?

        Luther said, “this sacrament is the Gospel”, literally and thus to alter the words is to alter that Gospel into another gospel which is no gospel at all. “This is NOT my body and blood” is another gospel just as much as altering “I am the way and the truth and the life” to say “I am NOT the way and the truth and the life” or similarly (to use the symbolic way people alter the Lord’s Supper, “I represent the way and the truth and the life”, “I represent the resurrection”. For “I am the resurrection” is no less incomprehensible to fallen human reason than is “This is My body/blood…”

        Luther was right, “I would rather drink blood with the Pope, than wine with the sacramentarians”. Why? Because “God is still God (where his body and blood still are retained), even in hell (the pope/antichrist)”. But “where there is no body and blood of Christ there is no deity of Christ either, and where there is no Christ there is no Father nor Holy Spirit that we may have for us.

      • One must understand that the Gospel is more than just a message that is only “to be heard”. A huge mistake we often make! The Gospel, the Word, was/is enfleshed, incarnated quite literally and so it is in the Lord’s Supper too not “just a message” to be “just heard”, but an enfleshment of that Word/Gospel that very earthy fleshly is put into our mouths. This is how much Christ came/comes down in the present day and time, this is how much He redeems His creatures. Neither space nor time (Calvin’s colossal Greek philosophical presupposition to the supper and the incarnation itself), creatures all, separates Him from that which He redeems. Thus, He is not separated from me in space (a creature) up in the fiery heaven but comes in space in flesh and blood in the bread and wine. So much for Calvin. Thus, He is not separated from me in time (a creature) 2000 years whereby I can only recollect something I did not experience myself in personbut comes in time (the ever present) in flesh and blood in the bread and wine. And there is no deity of Christ where there is no flesh and blood of Christ either, and where there is no Christ at all there is no revealed God for me/you. And where there is no revealed God for you there is no Father and Holy Spirit for you, but only God without His Words and without the enfleshment of the Word, and thus only God in wrath, death and hell. All is in Christ or all is lost.

  12. There’s a difference in issue X being considered “significant” but not so as to be “essential” absolutely essential. And therein lay the problem, the sacraments. Those are not just “main points of differences” between Luther and Calvin that are “significant” (the argument the reformed made from day 1 and continue to this very day), these very issues are essential, or to put a sharp point on that absolutely and utterly essential. So much that it is right to say that the two camps preach and posses a different religion.

    Secondly, it is not true and completely false that the “sacraments” are “the only” differences. Luther, Chemnitz, et. Alli. Were crystal clear about this. Why are the sacraments NOT the “only differences” (and that are essential and not just significant)? Because what Sasse comments is true, (paraphrasing), the way one holds the sacraments affects the way one sees the rest of Scripture and therefore, law and gospel, who exactly Christ and God are, the heart of God, the revelation of God and all contained therein. Thus, to get the sacraments right or wrong is necessarily to get the rest of Scripture right or wrong and preach a different gospel somewhere in the chain of things.

    Luther clearly condemned Zwingli and Bucer (Calvin’s predecessor) as “of another spirit” and refused them the right hand of Christian fellowship, and would be a grave ignorance to think that Luther would do any less today. Gnosticism in all its forms never changes, the Gnostics of old and the proto-gnostics, Sasse points out, would have agreed on all other points of doctrine, that Jesus was the only Saviour and they desired fellowship with Paul and John, yet they just disagreed on one point (so they the Gnostics thought) that may be “significant” but not “essential” (a form of argument, by the way, Zwingli attempted to excuse himself from Luther’s refusal) – that point – the incarnate nature of Christ. Today I firmly believe that most Christians, if they do at all, only would condemn Arius because they’ve been taught “it was wrong”, but not know why as to its deadly import. E.g. they condemn say modern Arians like the JW’s because they’ve been taught, “their a cult”, and “say Jesus was only a high ranking angel”, but not understanding WHY that is such a real deadly problem. In other words they only disagree because it’s not the right answer to the “test question”, not as to really WHY it’s a problem. E.g. Test Question: “Should a child eat a bowl of arsenic?” Test Answer: “No”. Grade: 100%. But why “no”! Test Question: “Was Jesus not really a man incarnate?” Test Answer: “No”. Grade: 100%. But why “no”! Test Question: “Is the Lord’s Supper really not the real and true body and blood of Christ?” Test Answer: “No”. Grade: 100%. But why “no”!

    This is the flavor of those who think that the issue of the sacraments was while only significant, but not essential or utterly essential. The church does not divide or separate on only “significant issues” that would be admitting to pure sectarianism, the church separates and is called out from false doctrine period, and THAT kind of separation, to the chagrin of the false teachers, is NOT sectarianism which they would love for it to be so that they might trick orthodoxy into mingling with it.

    In the shortest way the construct one has or beliefs one has concerning the sacraments constructs everything else one has about the faith and that is either true or false. One cannot extract the sacraments out as only mere differences, even significant differences and still have the true faith. E.g. the reason Calvin’s “absolution” formula preaches another gospel is built on his philosophical construction of the Lord’s Supper which is built on his constructed view of God, the Law and the Gospel (why is it that unbelievers, in Calvin’s meal, don’t actually partake of Christ and what do they partake of?).

    Another way to look at it: If one removes ANY essential thing that makes up that thing, then one no longer has that thing. If man is defined by bare essence as bodily, sentient, intelligent and living and one removes or redefines any one of these essential qualities, one does not have “man” but a false replica of man, a dummy, a mock “idol”. This is how true Christianity is very insidiously lost by removing an essential thing or not considering a thing essential to it (like the sacraments) or allowing the essential thing to have different meaning. Rome and Mormons have “grace” but what is that grace and is it Christian? In Rome “grace” is this infused power to improve one’s moral life, not essentially or necessarily only “forgiveness of sins”. Like Calvin they would say, “where there is life and salvation, then there is forgiveness of sin”. That’s different than Luther who said, and explicitly in the context of the Lord’s Supper and very real and true body and blood of Christ, “where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation”

    Those to statements using EXACTLY the same words, syllables and letters, “where there is life and salvation, then there is forgiveness of sin”, and, “where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation”, are not “just mere different takes on the same religion or faith”, not just significantly different statements of same religion or faith; but rather two entirely different religions, faith, gospels, Christs, Gods and Spirits.

    THAT’S why Luther refused both Zwingli and Bucer (and Calvin certainly by extension) the right hand of fellowship, said they were of a different spirit than they, and not Christian.


  13. Was a Seventh-Day Adventist.
    Then Atheist.
    Then Seventh-Day Adventist (again)
    Then Calvinist.
    Then finally a Lutheran-ist. @:}

    Somebody said the journey into Lutheranism regarding the question of authority or “how do you know?” is like Alice in Wonderland … or for that matter the Matrix … the red pill is nasty.

    Best discussion I’ve ever seen is Phillip Cary’s “Why Luther was not quite Protestant”. He describes the difference as being like a thin crack that goes a long way down. Also his follow up “Sola Fide: Luther and Calvin” by Dr. Phillip Cary.

    Also Jordan Cooper’s blog is a good resource at
    and he was recently on Issues, Etc. to discuss the differences between Calvinism and Lutheranism
    [audio src="" /]

    For me the biggest difference that I’ve heard is “how do you know?” or to put it another way … “what role does reason play?” to quote Dr. Joel Bierman at Concordia Seminary. His lecture is available on their online university via iTunes titled “Theology of the cross 2” where he discusses the question of “why some and not others”. His lecture on “Reception and Consecration” also gets into the differences. And “Faith2”.

  14. I agree, Philip Cary’s piece is excellent (interesting that Cary is Episcopalian; he has such a good grasp of Luther).

  15. Good stuff, y’all. I am learning. (ya didn’t think it was possible, did ya?)

    Welcome to the discussion, Mike Hughes. I appreciate your perspective and also the links you provided.

    Thanks much!

    – Steve

  16. I think all of us will be surprized at how little we really know. Do any of us really believe one man….whether Calvin or Luther or whoever… it all right?

    All we can do is merely stand as Moses did at the burning bush with our feet unshod and our head uncovered, not fully realizing or recognizing the glory and wonder of it all.

    • Amen! And, maybe I should modify my “It’s NOT about you” for in reality……the cross IS all about us… forgiving us, delivering us, loving us, redeeming us back, as His very own at the cost of His own precious blood!…*: )

  17. I agree with Alden and Mike (good last name, are we related?;-)), Philip Cary’s piece is superb and it’s easily attainable online for free. Well worth the reading.

  18. In fact Dr. Cary has two articles on the same task that are superb that can be found among other places as below:


  19. I like Fr. Cary’s syllogisms. They make the difference easily understandable as to where each side is coming from. I also like the title of his piece, it makes it easy to understand why Lutherans aren’t big P protestants; we are, in fact, just “Lutherans” who go the lonely way–the way of the original, gnesio Evangelicals.

    • Now would that be big L “Lutherans” ????…*; )

      • Yes, actually, because just like big P Protestantism, big L Lutheranism has its own spectrum, such that, what they have in common with each other is the fact that they are not able to fit well within big P Protestantism–although some haven’t got the memo on that yet and they still operate under the assumption that they can fit in (and really do in fact want to be in) big P Protestantism.

      • *: ) *: ) Big G Grin

  20. Ike,
    Saying not everyone gets everything right is no excuse for going with the guy who got it wrong. Usually saying well I am just human, or we all make mistakes, is nothing more than an admission that you are wrong. Not an excuse to keep being wrong, and hold on to the error with the tenacity of a pit bull.
    Quite frankly I haven’t read all of Luther, or all of Calvin. I might be surprised to find Calvin got a few things right here and there. I might find that Luther copied his grocery list wrong and got yelled at by Katie.
    But we are arguing about where Luther and Calvin disagree, and there I go with Luther, because got right what is needed to be gotten right, the gospel. And frankly, Calvin got more wrong in that department than he got right.

    • Bror,

      Neither Luther nor Calvin is my Savior. After saying that…..I could pick either one, as far as their teaching, and be in good company. I don’t see the difference as black/white as you do.

    • Ike,
      What is that? Who said anything about either one of these men saving us. But then I would like you to think about this verse for a bit:1 Tim. 4:16 (ESV)
      Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

      Notice that it is through the teaching, and what is taught that we are saved, in the same manner I suppose that faith comes through hearing and it is faith that saves.
      Doctrine matters.
      To say that they are both good company, is beside the point. I’m sure both of them were a lot of fun to have a glass of wine or a beer with. But they did not agree theologically. And those theological differences are not things that are so easily swept under the rug.

  21. One huge error (I believe – maybe you don’t think so) is when Calvin stated that Jesus could not be present in the bread and wine because He has already ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

    Is that true? (did he really say that?)

    If so, then to my mind it is no wonder that Calvinists have a different understanding of the Sacraments than do Lutherans.

    It is no wonder that ‘reason’ seems to play such a role as it does in Calvinism.

    My 2 cents.

    • That was precisely Calvin’s thought. A Greek philosophy regarding heaven ultimately hung him up. There’s little doubt that John Calvin the man, unlike his modern day alleged “apologizers”, deeply desired the sacrament and lamented its decrease late in life among his churches. His story is one of tragedy, longing deeply for what Luther had to give him, yet his bondage to reason just would not let him get past it. It’s a sorrowful case concerning him.

  22. Yall are scaring me because I currently go to a Reformed (Calvinist) church. I thought I was going down the right direction. 😦

  23. Don’t be scared, Erin.

    Just keep heading towards Christ and what He has done, is doing, and will yet do…for you.

    Just keep hearing His Word and receiving His body and blood (as He commanded).

    You’ll be alright. 😀

  24. Erin’s reaction made me think of this:

    You know it does bring up a challenge in this for Lutherans. A kind of elephant in the room that needs some thought/answer.

    On the one hand orthodoxy recognizes that heterodoxy is deadly error and endangers the souls of those within, endangers we don’t mean “just a little thing” but with eternal damnation to be honest and forthright about what is meant by “endangers the soul”; that the sacraments are ESSENTIAL issues of the faith, not just significant ones much less insignificant ones and finally that this is so much that an orthodox confessing Christian cannot, should not, dare not attend a heterodox church even if it is the only congregation within reach for him/herself that he/she should suffer the isolation as many Christians have rather than attend such heterodoxy and to make sure we are being clear by heterodoxy we do mean all Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and etc… mainline denomination/confessions (we need to be very real and earthy about what we say and mean here if we are to discuss it). However, on the other hand Christians do exist and die within such churches in the salvation of Christ and “some” Gospel is retained in some of the churches doctrine, albeit, mingled with error (by error we mean something eternally deadly to a person). And no man is saved “by his right doctrine” that too we recognize.

    This is a hard mix to handle, allow me to ask the hard questions that may need answered. They are all similar in what they ask by the way. Don’t get me wrong these have answers, but worth pondering for the moment.

    1. A question heard a lot (in some form or another) is “if it’s Christ alone and I happen to be in error concerning the sacraments, I can still be saved right? So what’s the big deal when all is said and done?” I suspect that’s the majority position of the “I don’t knows”, “I’m not sures”, “what’s the big deal” on the sacraments. The battle is probably more there than anywhere for the average lay person and some heterodox pastors. To put it another way why do we Lutherans find it such an alarming issue given the above?

    2. If no one is saved by “right doctrine” then again, what’s the big deal? This is probably the second biggest position of the fence riding folks or “all views on the sacraments are unessential”.

    3. You say in heterodox churches it’s a deadly and toxic atmosphere meaning not that I just might get sick and puke, meaning not that it just might kill my body, but meaning that I might be in danger in such of falling into eternal damnation, wrath and hell forever and ever (let’s not sugar coat this falsely), how so?

    4. Is much like #3, “Perhaps I am in a heterodoxy and Lutheran is orthodoxy, you may be correct, but some Gospel is there you say…is that really so bad, so deadly, so bad I’m in danger of eternal wrath and hell?”

    These are what I consider the underlying questions are of most folks, these are not the counter arguments of trained theologians and pastors of heterodoxy that might wish to argue in order to “just be right” but life and death type questions. To put it another way orthodoxy is “right” but it does not exist to “just be right” or “win the argument”, rather what are the eternal life and death issues. Because men, all of us, sinful as we are will always argue “to win the argument”, it’s our competitive bean counting nature to do so. That’s framing the debate “according to the opinion of the Law” and not “according to the Gospel”. That’s the analogous “right answer” to the test question, “Should children eat arsenic”…right answer “no”…but WHY? That “why” is what we seem to struggle with the most. Sometimes “why” is a good and legitimate answer, sometimes “why” is the fallen nature asking, “hath God really said”.


  25. St Stephen,

    It all boils down to certainty. When one is assailed by the world, sinful flesh and the devil who needs the question about did Jesus die for me? Although Limited Atonement constantly troubles many it is the hardest of which to let go. When one has the L then eyes must be off Jesus for one cannot objectively know he or she is saved. One is always tossed back one’s self either to examine faith or good deeds. Gone are the sacraments. Gone is the good news banging into the ears that you are no longer being held accountable to God for sin.

    In discussions with my Calvinists many will say he or she never has doubts about salvation. When that is the case “God bless!” However, upon further discussion many times it will be they have an adjusted law preached at them. The law is diminished to only a guide for conduct and not also something that always accuses. This gets so bad that some preachers will say the 10 words present no problem for the “True Christian. This moves Jesus further out of sight to those who are honest with themselves.

    It is more than merely a slight difference between the two. What we are talking about is a scattering of the sheep. Even more dangerous is the tripping and falling of those weak in the faith. When one trips and falls due to lack of repentance it is said many times that he or she did not have true and saving faith. Further removing Jesus from his little ones.

    Christ have mercy!

  26. The order of justification which it sets before us is this: first, God of his mere gratuitous goodness is pleased to embrace the sinner, in whom he sees nothing that can move him to mercy but wretchedness, because he sees him altogether naked and destitute of good works. He, therefore, seeks the cause of kindness in himself, that thus he may affect the sinner by a sense of his goodness, and induce him, in distrust of his own works, to cast himself entirely upon his mercy for salvation. This is the meaning of faith by which the sinner comes into the possession of salvation, when, according to the doctrine of the Gospel, he perceives that he is reconciled by God; when, by the intercession of Christ, he obtains the pardon of his sins, and is justified; and, though renewed by the Spirit of God, considers that, instead of leaning on his own works, he must look solely to the righteousness which is treasured up for him in Christ. — John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion (3.11.16)

  27. Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith. Here, too, is displayed a wonderful effect of faith; for by it we receive Christ such as he is given to us by the Father — that is, as having freed us from the condemnation of eternal death, and made us heirs of eternal life, because, by the sacrifice of his death, he has atoned for our sins, that nothing may prevent God from acknowledging us as his sons. Since, therefore, faith embraces Christ, with the efficacy of his death and the fruit of his resurrection, we need not wonder if by it we obtain likewise the life of Christ.
    Commentary on John 3:16

    Observation: The hope is given with one hand and snatched away with the other. That is what Limited Atonement does. Makes God appear to be stingy, small and nasty. To display Jesus crucified but not for the non elect. Nowhere is that taught in scripture.

    Lord have mercy!

    • Calvinism does teach that whoever wants to come to Christ can. There is nothing outside of a person which keeps him from placing his faith in Christ. Nothing, and ceritanly not God.

      Clavinism teaches that we do not want to come to God, that God must change our hearts in order for us to believe.

      Nothing is snatched away. Everything is given.

      That is humbling, and we do not want to accept it.

      • Well im not sure of you but Im very grateful to receive it. Yes they do teach out of one side of the mouth an offer of salvation for all. But if it is indeed not for all how genuine can it be? One cannot have it both ways. Either the bible has a Jesus crucified and risen for all or it does not. Scripture clearly teaches that he is a Jesus for all not less than all. The reason Calvin would look at Jn 3:16 and see limited atonement is that one has to dredge up all the verses possible to teach it. Even though in v 18 we see that those condemned are so due to lack of faith. Noone is condemned due lack of a Jesus dying for them.

        God’s peace. †

  28. You’ve really touched on something central, David. It was this and the ability to entertain veiled gnostic propensities towards the understand of God that made me realize that the practice of much of contemporary Reformed faith was as much of a rut as the beliefs of the Charismatic Restorationism I left in the 80’s (aside from the use of ‘the gifts’, the parallels in terms of teaching and practice were often chilling).
    There is a rich stream of Christian truth and spirituality often passed by today by many Western denominations. Luther tapped that source, and thereby points us so clearly back to God reconciling the world through Jesus Christ. That is the ‘watered garden’ so needed within Christian life today.

  29. I’ll admit…since coming across Calvinism, I’m struggling a lot with Limited Atonement and the Calvinist view of election. But scripture does prove it though…at least the way it’s been shown to me.

    No one could ever be sure with their salvation with Limited Atonement. That’s how I feel. It becomes like a secret election club or something.

    • edo,

      When one is confronted with the law in all its crushing force there can only remain doubt. The way around this is for people to not be honest with themselves of being continually sinner and saint. The law is tamed by many teachers into merely dos and don’ts. Yes as loving children we want to obey our Father’s law. However, the law always accuses.Get one temptation under more or less control and then pride sets in. We cannot win but in Jesus we have the victory given.

      The scripture teaches that God so love the world. It does not teach part of the world. Nor does it teach in that passage that it refers to all nations. But every sinner is loved and died for. V. 18 of that chapter tells why some are condemned. Unbelief. Refusal for whatever reason to trust Christ alone. This is not satisfing to enquiring minds so much breath is wasted and ink spilled searching for a satisfying answer.

      One thing that helped me with election was the realization that Jesus is the chosen one. Mine Elect as God proclaims in Isaiah. And those in Jesus are the chosen in him. Christ centered teaching will do that. Does not satisfy all questions but rather makes them answered already. Am I elect, predestined, chosen and died for? In Christ I am.

      God’s peace. †

  30. David commented: “This is not satisfying to inquiring minds so much breath is wasted and ink spilled searching for a satisfying answer”.

    Irenaeus noted how the entire time between the Crucifixion and the Perousia is a time wrapped in mystery. The focus of the church amidst these last days is to give Christ to the world, in Word and Sacrament, and thereby engage in the ministry of reconciliation – the moving towards the day when all of creation is freed from futility and redeemed by His work, when Christ, the proper man, shall indeed become “all in all”. It is that astonishing calling, to seek in all of our moments to share something of the savor of the word of life, which truly enriches those around us and our own days, wherever we find ourselves.

  31. Just a few scripture passages that show ‘Limited Atonement’ to be a false doctrine:

    The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

    “. . . God . . . desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all . . .” (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

    “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32).

    “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5).

    “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not” (Matthew 23:37)!

    “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them . . .” (2 Corinthians).

    “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2).

    • The us and all in these passages is the audience he is writting to, in other words the brothers. It is assumed the audience is made up of believers. The natural man cannot understand these things anyway. All never really means all people in the world. When it is said all capernum came out to see Jesus it just means a lot of folks came. The us that will not perish is those in Christ.

      • Thank you, Doug.

        I appreciate your input.

        It seems to me that even those in Christ still battle the unbeliever in them. And that Jesus knows this (He is the One doing the fighting for us), so that in His law and gospel, when he speaks about “all”, he is addressing everyone.

        Maybe I’m wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time (today).

  32. “No one could ever be sure with their salvation with Limited Atonement. That’s how I feel. It becomes like a secret election club or something”.

    That reminds me of something Luther noted about John 3:16. If the verse had said ‘For God so loved Martin Luther that He gave His only begotten Son’, then his old nature would immediately rise up and declare that it couldn’t possibly be him – it was speaking of another Martin Luther, but because the verse categorically states ‘God so loved the world’, it includes him, and every Martin Luther. That’s the truth – God loves His creation so much that He gave His only begotten Son to redeem it. If we start to qualify that mercy from our side of the fence, then nothing short of an evil and deformed perception of ‘god’ begins to become fabricated in our vain imaginings of the divine (which Calvin himself described as the true seat of idolatry). Far better to sit ourselves, like Luther, beneath the untarnished faithfulness of the one who gave Himself to rescue us.

  33. The difference between Calvin and Luther and basically two separate religions at the end of the day is this: In Luther the Cross of Christ suffers itself to be truly rejected, in Calvin it does not. Again their sacraments and absolutions show this. Ultimately “faith” for Calvin is the “coin” or “merit”, to purchase or earn salvation. Calvinism thinks it has an out and thinks it preaches a monergistic total depravity (not to be confused with Luther’s bondage of the will) when it says yet this faith is “given” by God. But this is nothing less than the synergy it pretends to reject in other forms such as pelagianism, semi-pelagianism, etc…for all these too would say “God gives/creates man…to be able to_______”. Even pagans are willing to admit to this, give God the “tip of the hat” for the infused grace in whatever form it comes.

    The difference between the two religions becomes apparent when Luther says that even if you don’t believe God has forgiven you in Christ. Calvin could never say that, he would and did qualify their pretend absolution with IF you believe, still needing the merit coin to gain the “gift” that costs in the end. “Admission is free so pay at the door” is the theology of Calvinism, Arminianism, Rome, Islam and all theologies of glory. Calvinism is “IF you believe, THEN you are saved”, Lutheranism/Luther is “I saved you SO you will believe”. Calvin would say, “where there is life and salvation there is (then) forgiveness of sins”, Luther would say and did SPECIFICALLY in regard to the sacrament of the alter (not Calvin’s sacrament) “where there is (already) forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation”. Luther’s statement here is quite literal and a confession also of original sin, Calvin’s ultimately denies the reality of original sin and is simply fallen religion projecting a false concept of such.

    Calvinism wishes to “unite” with Luther but Luther will never unite with Calvinism period and that’s at the end of the day “just the facts” as they say, the sacraments will forever forbade this! Lutheranism would have to give up utterly the sacraments and thus the Gospel to unite with Calvinism in the least.

  34. One of the things Luther makes crystal clear involving divine election and he states it explicitly is that the way of reason cannot in anyway know it but it is revealed through naked faith alone. Now one has to ponder that for a minute. For what Luther, unlike Calvin, did NOT mean was “that statement”, then whereby reason could say, “Sure”, and then go on reasoning for divine election by reason simply saying, “I (reason) do it by faith”. Which is simply fallen reason saying its faith, a faker in other words.

    What Luther meant LITERALLY was this; that human reason is UTTERLY and ABSOLUTELY blind to divine election ENTIRELY. It’s not “as if” but IN FACT the facts that “reason”, especially fallen reason, is non-existent to divine election. It cannot even “ponder it” hypothetically so utterly NIHILO is it to divine election. It’s like trying to contemplate an utterly unbefore created color and then describe it, in other words not just hypothetically undetectable to reason whereby reason can then ponder it, like a fourth or fifth dimension, with tools of ANYTHING created. Rather it is utterly uncontemplative to reason. And thus ONLY naked passive suffering faith sees divine elections revelation. Reason, (e.g. Calvin), cries foul at this. Why? Because fallen reason is Satanic and the way has been utterly blocked by God, the cherub literally blocks the way to the tree of life by the sword of the word of God. Its utterly impenetrable. Thus when faith comes along with a faith language reason cries, “foul you can’t see election”. E.g. when faith says who has FULL site of divine election, “I don’t care foolish reason whether I’m elect or predestine or not (the way of reason), I am baptized (faith’s actually seeing of election/predestination)”, reason is incredulous because it’s a fallen fool of a devil and cannot STAND revelation this way, the way of Christ and the Cross. This reason usurps Christ rather than falls under His rule and stands condemned as it was from the fall forward, the original pietist, the original Gnostic, the original enthusiast. This is at the end of the day Calvin’s religion.


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