What I love about the Lutherans (in spite of the Lutherans!)

I love me my Lutherans.  Over the next several posts, I will tell you why.  Of course, this love is entirely a one way street.  If you were to ask a confessional Lutheran to indicate what he loves about the Reformed, his response would be… <crickets>.

Lutherans are an odd lot.  Like most sinners.  They call themselves “evangelical catholic” – but do not so readily exhibit a catholic, charitable spirit towards baptized, Christ-confessing brothers outside the city limits of Wittenberg.  But I find even that lovable.  They’re ornery towards other confessional Protestants for principled reasons.  (Oh, wait.  They disavow the “Protestant” label, too.  Crazy Lutherans!)  Take Marburg and that Zwingli fella.  Luther confessed the Word.  Zwingli confessed reason, to which the Word must bow.  Calvin’s later take on the Supper – Christ is really present and received by faith, in a mysterious, spiritual manner – did more justice to the Scripture and the sacrament.  But Lutherans still mock our view as the “Real Absence” of Christ’s body & blood.  Yet they themselves admit their eating of Christ’s body & blood is not “as though His flesh were torn with the teeth and digested like other food.”  Instead they call it a “supernatural” eating and drinking, by faith (Formula, Epitome, VII, para. 42).  To put it somewhat crassly, Wittenberg, Geneva, and Canterbury all agree that a DNA scan of the consecrated elements would not reveal the genetic code of the humanity of our Savior.  But they won’t budge.

Oh, and they say our baptism is valid, because it is all about the objective Word and promise of God.  Thanks!  So that must be true of the Supper and the Words of Institution, no?  Well, that would mean even Zwingli received the body & blood of Christ!  So they can’t go there.  I’ve heard some imply you receive in the Supper what you believe to be there (i.e., nada but bread & wine – if you don’t confess exactly what they do).   But Baptists who adamantly reject baptism as a means of grace, and deny that grace to their children, still have a valid sacrament?  Gotta love their resolve, even if it’s inconsistent.

Lutherans also remember their history about the crypto-Calvinists in Wittenberg after Luther’s death.  The heroes in this story are the “second Martin,” Chemnitz, along with the Gnesio-Lutherans (kinda like our truly, TRULY Reformed guys).  They exposed the crypto-Calvinists and opposed them with the Formula of Concord.  And in more recent history, you have the State overreaching in early 20th century Germany, to force a union between the Reformed and the Lutherans.  Herman Sasse is understandably a hero to confessional Lutherans.

So, the Lutheran’s orneriness towards the Reformed is somewhat understandable.  Even when they label all “Protestants” outside of Wittenberg “Reformed.”  Yup.  Even Joel Osteen.  He’s Reformed.  OK, that’s a stretch, no?  Not to them.  Maybe a little simplistic (oh, and wildly inaccurate and completely unfair), but I kinda get what they’re saying, at least on a historical level.  Methodism is a reaction to Calvinism, and Pentecostalism is the weird offspring of Methodism.  Add 19th century American Revivalism to the mix, and you’ve got the weird mishmash we now call “American evangelicalism.”  These are all the bastard children of Geneva, as far as they’re concerned.  But at least Rod Rosenbladt is more historically honest.  He admits it was the Lutheran pietists who got to Wesley before he reacted against the broad Calvinism of the Church of England.  (Rod is a reason all by himself to love the Lutherans.)

Overall, they’re often an ornery, stubborn, insular, uncharitable bunch, these Lutherans.  But there are still reasons to love them – for the Gospel-rich Reformational attainments which originated out of Wittenberg.  Stay tuned.

Published by pastor tony phelps

Pastor of Christ Our Hope PCA in Wakefield, RI

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