So a few weeks back, I threw open the floor for questions and answers. A few people took me up on it and today, I thought I would answer the first one I saw, namely this one:
So what’s the difference between Lutheranism and Calvinism? On the surface, it may seem like we should be put in the same category, but most Lutherans don’t consider themselves Reformed (which is odd, since our guy gave the whole Reformation business a good kick in the start button).
I’ll admit, it may seem tempting to lump us together. After all, both Lutherans and Calvinists are at odds with Arminianism when it comes to our understanding of salvation and a person’s participation in it. But there is a distinct difference, I think, one that becomes clear when we examine the Calvinists’ infamous TULIP.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, TULIP is a quick way to summarize the chief points of Calvinist belief, namely:
- TOTAL DEPRAVITY
- UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
- LIMITED ATONEMENT
- IRRESISTIBLE GRACE
- PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS.
So do Lutherans hold to these five beliefs? Well, let’s take them one at a time.
Total depravity refers to the belief that human beings have nothing good in them. There’s no spark of original righteousness lurking anywhere within us. On this, Lutherans and Calvinists agree.
Unconditional election means that God chooses to save people, not because of anything within us, but because of the grace that is in Him. Again, this is something that Lutherans and Calvinists have in common.
But that’s the last one.
Limited atonement means that God only intends for some to be saved and not others. Who is saved and who is not is determined by God ahead of time (that whole predestination business). Lutherans disagree on this point. We believe that God desires for all people to be saved and that, through Christ’s death and resurrection, they can be.
Irresistible grace refers to the idea that, once God has chosen a person to be saved, there’s pretty much nothing that individual can do to avoid it. But Lutherans disagree. We believe that people can and do resist God’s grace all the time. We aren’t happy about it. We wish it weren’t so. But it does happen.
Perseverance of the saints means that once a person is saved, they always will be. It’s impossible for someone to fall away from salvation. Calvinists may believe that, but Lutherans do not. We believe that people can and do fall away from saving faith.
It’s true that both Calvinists and Lutherans believe that people don’t choose to be saved, but I think the key difference can be described like this: for Calvinists, God is the one who decides who is saved and who isn’t. Lutherans believe that humans are incapable of making that choice due to sin. It’s what I talked about earlier in this series (namely this one, this one, and this one).
There are other points that we disagree on (communion leaps immediately to mind), but that covers the basics. Next week, we’ll tackle another question.