A Summary of the Doctrinal Differences Between the Lutheran and Reformed Church Regarding Faith, from “Here We Stand,” by Hermann Sasse

085910429xWhen the Gospel is not understood as the gracious promise of God alone, the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, not only is the Gospel lost, but faith is recast into something other. When the common, basic understanding of the Gospel as unconditional promise is forfeited by the churches, faith is no longer a, “…response of man to this promise, his trust in the pledge of divine mercy.” [130] Instead it is made over into, at the same time, a response to God’s command to repent, “which accompanies the promise in the Gospel.” [130] Thus, writes Hermann Sasse, “faith approaches the idea of obedience.” [130]

In this way the Westminster Confession of 1647, following Calvin, defined saving faith as, “yielding obedience to the commands [of God], trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God.” It goes on to say that, “the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life by virtue of the covenant of grace.” Thus, God does not justify men in fact through the proclamation of the Gospel and the Sacraments. God does not justify men by, “imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and sanctification of Christ.”

The Westminster Confession makes this turn away from unconditional promise to conditional response, because they rejected God’s promise of free grace in Christ. They believed there was something besides God’s promise that was also God’s proper work: the Law. If, as Sasse writes, “the proclamation of the divine Law is a part of the ‘real work’ of Christ; if it belongs to the nature of Jesus Christ, as the Savior, to be the Interpreter of the Law and hence also its authoritative Teacher; then obedience to His command is a natural and necessary counterpart of trust in His promise of grace, and saving grace includes both. If, to quote Karl Barth … ‘the Law stands beside the Gospel, on the same footing, as a part of the selfsame eternal treasure,’ then the juxtaposition, ‘on the same footing,’ of obedience to the commandments and trust in the promise cannot possibly be avoided.” [131]

What we discover in the Calvinist and subsequent Reformed doctrine about faith is, in short, the obedience of the Enthusiasts, which Luther warned the Church about in his Smalcald Articles. The Enthusiasts were not satisfied with the Wittenberger’s teaching about justification, who they accused of using Christ’s graciousness and forgiveness to cover their immoral lifestyle. Instead, they argued, faith must also be tried and proven by obedience to God’s commands, which they were more than eager to supplement with obedience to moral law and the Golden Rule.

However, writes Sasse, “If the Golden Rule constitutes the essential Gospel, and if the keeping of the Rule is Christianity, there is no longer any need for the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world. In fact, we no longer need Christ even as Lawgiver. For the Golden Rule is also known to the heathen: it is, as old Lutheran theology always insisted, a part of the law written in the hearts of all peoples. And the two-fold commandment to love God and fellowmen is familiar also to the Jews, for it is recorded in the Old Testament.” [132]

sasse01Unfortunately this is the state of modern Christianity. The Gospel is more often than not presented to an atheistic, nihilistic world as a system of morality. Yet, this is not a recent innovation. Listen to the admonition of the Formula of Concord at this critical point, which warns that when we confuse Law and Gospel, obedience and faith: “the Gospel is again converted into the law, the merit of Christ and the Holy Scripture obscured, Christians robbed of true consolation, and the door opened again to the papacy.” [FC, Part I, Chapter V]

This is the temptation which constantly threatens to overwhelm evangelical Christianity in every generation. Therefore, we ought faithfully to listen to what that great cloud of witnesses, especially Hermann Sasse, has to teach us about this dread disease of Law-Gospel confusion which turns Jesus into a new Moses, obscures the importance of Gospel preaching and the Sacraments, and terrifies consciences so they find no certainty in this life; because the unconditional promise of forgiveness is yoked to the, “the obedience of faith, “ as Calvin liked to refer to it. A phrase used very rarely in the New Testament, and which by no means, writes Sasse, “exhausts the Biblical meaning of faith.” [130]


Note: All citations of Herman Sasse are taken from, “Here We Stand,” pg. 130-132.




A Summary of the Doctrinal Differences Between the Lutheran and Reformed Church Regarding Faith, from “Here We Stand,” by Hermann Sasse — 39 Comments

  1. “The Westminster Confession makes this turn away from unconditional promise to conditional response, because they rejected God’s promise of free grace in Christ. They believed there was something besides God’s promise that was also God’s proper work: the Law.”

    Thanks for this wonderful explanation! Since my last system of theology was “Reformed,” I have struggled over how Confessional Lutheranism was really different? I understood Luther as another (maybe the first) “Reformer” since “Reformed” are monergists and use the five solas.

    What I had missed was this “conditional” which introduced the source of all my worried doubt and introspection! “Am I of the Elect or will Jesus ever know me!” “Did I merit Christ?” I knew I didn’t!

    This lead to a spiraling-downward, religious, inward navel-gazing despair to see if I really could merit the merits of Christ instead of turning to the Objective Gospel that Christ in faith has done his work irregardless of how I feel!

    In the Lamb Who was Slain!

  2. Great summary and article! Sasse is a true gem and I am always glad to see articles about his writings here on BJS!

  3. Now see, I have to admit that I’m a little confused on this, because having come from the Reformed wing of Christianity, all of the Reformed people I know at least verbally assented that salvation came through faith in Christ alone apart from any merit on our behalf. In fact, Reformed I knew would often ally themselves with Lutherans and would say that Sasse’s assertion above applies more to the Arminians and Romanists than to the Calvinists, and Reformed teachers such as R.C. Sproul run directly to Luther many times (sometimes more than they do to Calvin) for a full explanation of justification.

    Consider the Westminster Confession, Chapter 11.1- “Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies. He does not pour righteousness into them but pardons their sins and looks on them and accepts them as if they were righteous-not because of anything worked in them or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone. He does not consider their faith itself, the act of believing, as their righteousness or any other obedient response to the gospel on their part. Rather, He imputes to them the obedience and judicial satisfaction earned by Christ.”

    Now I confess that, being a bit new to Lutheranism, I don’t know the full extent of all of Lutheran doctrine, though I am thoroughly enjoying the process ( 😀 ). And maybe I’m misunderstanding things, but the doctrine of justification posted by the Westminster doesn’t sound different at all from Luther’s doctrine of justification. And while I understand the necessity of avoiding the false idea that our post-salvation works contribute to our salvation in any way, shape, or form, didn’t Luther himself teach that the regenerative work of God’s Spirit effected a change in our dispositions?

    Help me out here; what am I missing that Sasse is getting at?

  4. Dear Pastor Riley,

    I’m a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. I subscribe to the Westminster Standards. Westminster Confession’s chapter on Saving Faith is an effort to describe what characterizes saving faith. The first section which you did not quote states, “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.” Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, i.e., the means of grace.

    The second section, which you do quote, sounds to me much like what Luther says in his preface to Romans: “Faith … is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, … It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.”

    The believing, regenerate heart – the heart of faith – takes God’s Word as it comes. When it comes as Law, threatening judgment, it repents and flees to Christ. It also “obeys” – absolutely imperfectly and shot through with sin – out of gratitude for God’s free grace in Christ. Faith works through love. Faith is a busy, living, active thing which does good works. This is what saving faith looks like. But most of all, faith embraces the promises of God – “especially receiving and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace,” i.e., the Gospel.

    And I’m not sure what your problem is with God not counting “faith” as righteousness – as if it were a lesser work that merited His favor. That’s what Westminster is rejecting (contra the Arminians). Do you not believe that you are justified by the imputation of Christ’s Cross and righteousness – His living, dying, and rising for you? That’s what Westminster is confessing.

    Listen, I know we do not confess the same thing about the sacraments. But my goodness, you’ve basically impugned an entire Reformation tradition as practically embracing works-righteousness. Christ is my righteousness. Not Calvin, Westminster, or Luther. His Cross is my only hope. I am justified by faith alone in Christ alone. I am not a Lutheran. But that does not mean I am not justified, solely by the grace of God.

    Pastor Tony Phelps

  5. A few comments from a lifelong Lutheran (LCMS), with apologies in advance to Reformed readers if I’m not getting it right here:

    The main post says that the writers of the Westminster Confession “rejected God’s promise of free grace in Christ.”

    Rather, the Westminster Confession says plainly that Christ “did make a proper, real and full satisfaction to His Father’s justice” on behalf of sinners, and that “their justification is only of free grace”. (Chapter XI, Section III)

    The main post appears to take issue with how Westminster describes faith in terms of “yielding obedience, etc.” and “principal acts” (Chapter XIV, Of Saving Faith). Reading the passages in their context, I accept what I see described there as general and “principal” manifestations of faith. By faith, we trust that God means what he says, that his commands are good, etc. That’s general. But the “principal” object of our faith is what Christ achieved for us on the cross.

    The main post above appears to take issue with the Westminster passage saying God justified not “by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness.” (XI, I)

    On the face of it, I find it difficult to reconcile that passage with Romans 4:5: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

    But the lengthy footnote provided as “proof” actually quotes Romans 4:5 (http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/), so what conclusion can be drawn? Mine, for now at least, is this: I understand the Westminster text to mean we would be misguided if we were to place our faith in “faith itself.” Faith, Westminster affirms, is about “resting upon Christ alone” (Chapter XIV, Section II) and it is “a gift of God” (Chapter XI, Section 1).

    The main post characterizes Westminster as saying, in effect, “God does not justify men in fact through the proclamation of the Gospel and the Sacraments.”

    Westminster affirms that faith “is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.” (XIV, I)

    The Reformed view is represented by more than the Westminster Confession. The London Confession of 1689, the Canons of Dort and Heidelberg Catechism are among those documents that I would think are worth consulting as part of a survey of any aspect of Reformed doctrine.

    I am a lifelong Lutheran (LCMS). One of the most cross-centered sermons that I have ever heard was preached by a Presbyterian (PCA) minister. I was moved and blessed.

    “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:10)

  6. Carl H :
    The main post characterizes Westminster as saying, in effect, “God does not justify men in fact through the proclamation of the Gospel and the Sacraments.”
    Westminster affirms that faith “is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.” (XIV, I)

    Now this is where things get interesting.

    Up until fairly recently, I had assumed that all non-Lutheran Protestants had the same view of the sacraments (i.e., that they are symbolic). I came to find out, however, that many in the Reformed church have a “halfway” view of the sacraments (that they are more than symbolic but less than what is stated by Lutherans). They believe that the sacraments convey “a type of” grace to the believer, and that baptism has a sort of “retroactive” grace that comes to the one who makes a true profession of saving faith in later life.

    One of the things that Lutherans and Calvinists need to hash out is the role of the sacraments, because in the eyes of the Reformed they see the Lutheran understanding of sacraments as too close to Rome’s and as being meritorious, adding works for salvation.

  7. @J. Dean #5

    I, too, can understand how some may consider the Westminster Confession and the Lutheran Confessions to be saying the same thing. However, we can’t just look at the article of justification alone. It is, after all, the article on which the whole Church stands or falls. And, every other article of faith coheres and is cohesive with it.

    Our Lord Jesus Christ is truly the center of monergistic salvation in that we don’t focus on who is saved and damned but how. That many are called but few are chosen is a problem that classic Calvinism shoe-horns into its view of double predestination which such prominent Reformed scholars as James White, et al continue to defend.

    IN a strictly double-predestinarian perspective, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness go to those whom God has chosen through the cross.

    Chemnitz argues in the Formual of Concord, SD XI that pondering how many are called but few are chosen is the wrong inquiry altogether. And, Sasse also explains that predestination must be viewed throguh the objective atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9, John 3:16, Rom. 5:6-8, Eph. 1:4-7, etc.)

    Election, as it is, is not just God’s choosing some and not others or his saving those whom He foreknows will belive. (in tuitu fidei; crypto-Calvinism) Rather, according to FC SD XI, 4-20, election covers the whole scope of salvation throught he finished work of Jeuss Christ by grace, through trusting in HIs merit, brougth to us in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

    Hence, Lutheranism takes seriously the Sacrament of the Altar’s efficaciousness on both the worhy (through faith) and unworthy (through unbelief) who are partake of it. (1 Cor. 11:27-28ff) On the other hand, Calvin in his fourth volume of the Institutes, differs from the means of grace as Lutheran teaching espouses. When, to Calvin, the soul ascends to the fiery heavens who believes Christ promise in HIs Supper, the unbeliving, according to him, have nothing happen to them.

    So, it’s in the relationship between justification and predestination where we see the differences between Calvin and Luther come to the fore. It’s an instrumentation thing that shows the truly Christ-centeredness of Lutheran theology in our Savior’s new covenant with us.

  8. Who said this: “”We must confess, then, that if the representation which God gives us in the Supper is true, the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the visible signs; and as the bread is distributed to us by the hand, so the body of Christ is communicated to us in order that we may be made partakers of it. Though there should be nothing more, we have good cause to be satisfied, when we understand that Jesus Christ gives us in the Supper the proper substance of his body and blood” ?

    Who said this: ” Thus we do also in infant baptism. We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God.”

  9. On double predestination, I find it interesting that:

    Calvinism is pretty straightforward on the issue: God has his elect and nothing will keep them from Him.

    Lutheranism(UOJ American-style): God justifies all, but doesn’t enable all to believe. None of us is able, in our own strength, to believe. We need God to enlighten us, as sinners. Yet He doesn’t do so. Why?

    Talk about heaping coals on your enemy’s head! God gives this gracious gift, and dangles it in front of all, but only enables some to believe. How is this less….unpalatable…than Calvin’s straightforward

  10. @DAvid Rosenkoetter #8

    To clarify, when I mentioned the Calvinist perspective on who is chosen vs. who called, note that for Calvin, the cross is only efficacious for those whom God as already chosen. On the other hand, Lutheran teaching shows the cross as the instrument by which our Lord objectively died for the sins of the whole world. (See John 3:16, John 12:32, etc. So, Calvinist understandings of the Lord’s Supper follow the Calvinist teaching on the cross. Lutheran teaching, likewise, ties the efficaciousness of the Lord’s Supper to the efficaciousness of the cross. Those who reject the cross really are damned, according to the teaching of Holy Scripture. Likewise, those who partake of the Lord’s Supper apart from trusting in the words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” partake unworthily. Wil we see folks not in fellowship with us get up from the table, get sick, and die? Probably not. Yet, they will have marred their own confession of the faith. They wil suffer ongoing uncertainty in further reception of the Sacrament.

    On the other hand, all who believe the promise/institution of Christ, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” has exactly what these words declare in the Supper–forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    (1 Cor. 11:23-25, Matt. 26:26-28)

  11. @JH #11

    Salvation is purely gift by God’s grace, through trust in Christ alone. I like how Pieper, in the first 30 pages of the second volume of his CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS) describes the relationship of grace (favor Dei) and faith (trust). They are both completely God’s gifts. And, everything related thereto hinges on the all-sufficiency of Christ and Him crucified. Pure Calvinism cannot offer this comfort.

  12. One thing that would improve this site is an automatic ban of those who reject UOJ. Let them go make photoshop pics of synod officials with their nutball friends, rather than enjoy the platform of more popular sites to spread their heresy.

  13. You are left with a huge gap in Calvinism when it comes to predestiantion and salvation. Calvin could not bring himself to say that Christ died and shed his blood for the ungodly, only for the elect. Therefore he rejects UOJ. (This is the “L” in TULIP) So as a believer, how do you know if you are one of the elect or not? Calvin has to lean on something for assurance of salvation. He may claim it is the cross, but the elect are invisible and known only to God. So what is your objective, visible, way of discerning your election? Not the means of grace! Pr. Riley gets at the heart of this here:
    “Instead, they argued, faith must also be tried and proven by obedience to God’s commands, which they were more than eager to supplement with obedience to moral law and the Golden Rule.”
    So yes, Calvinism states justification through Christ alone, but then, when it comes to the assurance of salvation one is in essence not directed back to Christ, but to ones sanctified life of obedience. Here, as Pr. Riley correctly points out, the Law is reinserted back into the equation to muddy up the Gospel.
    Without a firm and true grasp of the Sacraments, which are the means of grace, Calvin MUST fall back on something as a sure sign of salvation and election. Luther would simply say, “I am baptized!” Calvin would say, “I have the obedience of faith.” How very subtly the works come back in!
    This is why for the longest time (and you still may hear it) those in the Calvinist tradition cannot say, “Jesus Christ died for you.” Why? Because you may not be one of the elect for whom He has indeed died! Ask this simple question of Calvinism, “How do you know you are one of the elect for whom Christ has died?” The answer will be very revealing.

  14. I remember hearing a paper a few years back from a certain Phillip Cary at the Fort Wayne Symposia entitled “Sola Fide: Luther and Calvin.” Cary identifies the chief difference between Luther and Calvin on “faith” comes down to a difference in syllogisms. The Calvinist syllogism goes:

    Major Premise: Whoever believes in Christ is saved.
    Minor Premise: I believe in Christ.
    Conclusion: I am saved.

    The major premise is true (John 3:16), but the minor premise directs you to yourself rather than to the Word of Christ. Luther’s syllogism preserves the extra nos character of Lutheran theology and identifies the essential difference:

    Major Premise: Christ told me, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
    Minor Premise: Christ never lies, but only tells the truth.
    Conclusion: I am baptized! (i.e. I have new life in Christ!)

    I am currently writing my dissertation on the development of “practical theology” in Lutheran Orthodoxy, and I’ve discovered that this question of the necessity and usefulness of formal syllogisms is a key polemical point between Lutherans and Reformed at the turn of the 17th century.

    While you won’t find any substantive difference between Lutherans and Reformed in the locus of justification, which includes its appropriation (fide), I do think that Pr. Riley is correct in his assessment of the Reformed view of what fides ultimately is. Apart from certainty in God’s Word, Reformed faith is to rely on the coherence and reasonableness of Reformed syllogisms concerning God and his will. Pr. Riley and Sasse are right on the money when they say, to repeat once again, that “faith must also be tried and proven by obedience to God’s commands, which they were more than eager to supplement with obedience to moral law and the Golden Rule.”

    Indeed, the Reformed generally reduce the second table of the law to ethics. Consider what the Reformed (if not entirely “Calvinistic”) Heidelberg philosopher, Bartholomew Keckermann, writes in his Praecognita Philosophica (1608) Book 1, chapter last, p. 110: “The doctrine of ethics, economics, and politics, which is all of practical philosophy, is subordinated, as it were, to the theological doctrines concerning the law of God, and chiefly the second table of the law, which cannot be completely understood and explained without the doctrine of virtues and vices, of which practical philosophy treats.” Ultimately, faith itself, as to its essence, falls under “theological doctrines concerning the law of God,” and thus into the category of “virtues and vices.”

    If you have any doubt about this, look closely at Perkin’s chain, affixed to the Westminster Confession, and you will see that “faith” is present even among the reprobate, only it is not attached to Christ. The bottom line is that the Reformed put so much stock in human reason, that the certainty of faith falls to the certainty of the syllogism (system). Hence, faith may be present, even where saving faith is not.

  15. I blogged on this accusation I frequently hear from my Lutheran brothers – that Reformed Christians can have no assurance because of the doctrine of particular redemption: “How do you know you’re one of the elect, that Christ died for you?” I cite both Luther and Calvin and how they dealt with that question in a similar pastoral, Christ-centered manner. I also use a bit of sarcasm, something with which I think many Lutherans are especially gifted.

    If you care to have a look:

  16. That is an odd accusation(lack of assurance) considering that Lutherans believe one can lose one’s faith. How can you know that you will never lose your faith, Lutherans? What assurance do you have?

    Brings us right back to election and God’s eternal will therein, doesn’t it. Nothing will keep His true children from Him. Only God holds us, no? That’s some good assurance, right there. 😀

  17. Very good blog post, Rev Tony. The bully aspect is esp good, and true. Honestly, I think a lot of the problem stems from the Germanic ire at that upstart Frenchman who kinda…honed in..on THEIR reformation. Human nature.

    Now, truly….I think the Lutheran schema is more difficult to reconcile with a loving God than Calvin’s:

    Lutheran: He died for us all, but He does not enable us all to accept the gift of His atonement. He dangles it out there saying, “come unto me”, but He doesn’t quicken us all to enjoy that gift.

    Calvin: He died for His elect, and no one can pull them our of His hand.

  18. Thanks, JH. I’m sure our Lutheran brothers won’t agree! But they, like us, are monergistic. It gets a little confusing, because they say grace is resistible – in that it comes by means of the outward Word which people can and do reject (cf. Acts 7:52). However, it seems to me that at the moment of conversion, they believe like us that the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion is efficacious and monergistic – and at that moment, presumably “irresistible.” Here’s what they confess from Augsburg Confession Article V: “…Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, WHEN AND WHERE IT PLEASES GOD [citing John 3:8!], in those who hear the good news,” etc. The “when & where it pleases God” sounds like sovereign, irresistible grace to me. I’ve asked this question in some Lutheran forums: “Isn’t the work of the Holy Spirit ‘irresistible’ at the moment of conversion, according to this article?” But so far, crickets. We confess with the Lutherans that outside of Christ, sinners are spiritually dead (Eph 2) – and in that sense, every sinner rejects God’s revelation (natural and special) by “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1). One must be “made alive with Christ” in order to believe and be saved – the Holy Spirit must work faith, “when and where it pleases God.” Thus, conversion must be monergistic – and by its very nature, irresistible.

  19. Tony and JH,

    It is important to remember that Lutherans do not try to make Scripture make sense. We simply say what Scripture says whethere it can be systematized or not.

    We are quite devoted to reason and systematics but these are always secondary to saying what Scripture says.

  20. @JH #20
    Keep in mind though, that the Lutheran crticism of Calvinist assurance as propagated by some Calvinists is a valid one. It can be a very dangerous thing to run to your works as an assurance for your salvation because 1.) our fruits will never measure up to perfection, and 2.) from that position it is not too far a leap to jump into works-righteousness.

    People like David Platt and Francis Chan (both Calvinists as far as I know) are pushing this in their books. They’re coming DANGEROUSLY close to legalism and an almost Arminian understanding (I’ll even go so far as to say Semi-Pelagian) of works. If we as Christians (Calvinist, Lutheran, or otherwise) really believe that the basis for salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, then we really ought to mean grace ALONE, faith ALONE, Christ ALONE.

    This review done by somebody outside of both Calvinist and Lutheran camps of Francis Chan’s book is a very apt one, and it nails the problem with running to works for assurance down quite well: http://www.drcone.com/2012/04/11/can-i-be-spiritual-if-i-still-have-my-own-teeth-a-review-of-francis-chans-crazy-love/

  21. Thanks for your comment, Pastor Rossow. Believe it or not, though Reformed, I entirely agree that reason must serve Scripture, not vice versa. I also understand that some Calvinists do not stay within those bounds. Calvin himself famously said that where Scripture has shut its holy mouth, we must desist from further inquiry.

    And J. Dean, I also agree that SOME Calvinists make subjective self-analysis the priority of assurance – rather than the objective Gospel. We have our pietists among us, as well. But that is not true of all the Reformed. Generalizations are generally unhelpful.

    That said, I respect the confessional commitments of BJS – and the desire to be consistent with your confession. In my own communion and confession, I could wish we had such consistency. I also greatly appreciate your Christ-centered, Cross-focused faith; and the emphasis on Law & Gospel preaching, and the means of grace. I identify with the White Horse Inn / Modern Reformation tribe in keeping the biblical attainments of the Reformation front & center. And I’m a fan of Issues, Etc, WVE, and GW – so you have a friendly Lutheran sympathizer in me. 🙂

  22. One thing to remember is that there is more than one bit homogeneous “Reformed” denomination. There are the “mainliners” (PCUSA, CRC), the “sideliners” (members of NAPARC, such as the OPC, URCNA, etc.), and the ones in between or “in transition” from the sidelines to the mainline (PCA).
    The mainline P/R are very liberal, akin to the ELCA in Lutheranism and just about anything goes theologically in the name of social justice. The sideliners are, for the most part, very confessional relying upon their adherence to the Canons of Dort and the Heidelburg Catechism, in particular, not so much the modified WCF. These are to the P/R world much like the ELS, WELS, and maybe half the LCMS are to Lutheranism. The ones in transition are about like the other half of the LCMS.

    The point of this is to say that it’s not necessarily fair to lump all P/R into one camp any more than it it is to see all Lutherans in the same manner. The confessional P/R see baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments, not as mere ordinances as do evangelicals. Yes, they receive communion elements by faith instead of by mastication as do the Lutherans, but they consider it to be the means of grace! [and most of them use wine and un-leaven bread vs. grape juice and anything off the grocer’s shelf].

    The total membership of NAPARC congregations is very tiny, far overshadowed by the mainliners, but they take things seriously. This, too, is similar to what may be seen in Lutheran synods. Todd Wilken has had well known and respected P/R pastors and seminary professors on his program numerous times – Kim Riddlebarger, Scott Clark, etc. and they have a very high view of scripture and the entirety of redemptive history.

    This is not to say that Lutherans need to drop everything and rush into ecumenical bliss with these people, but they do deserve a little more respect than some of the broad brushed stereotypes that are often applied to them. You’ll never hear one of these those men mentioned in the previous paragraph make any kind claim about salvation by works. Just sayin’…

  23. O me! My comments have started a war between brethren!

    I believe George comments are right in that “reformed” can have variations of meaning. I suspect I had the Pietistic/Puritan strain. When I actually read Calvin, I was blessed by his acknowledgement of the Holy Spirits work in our faith (i.e., monergism). I too love White Horse Inn and listen attentively to Dr. Rod Rosenbladt’s comments!

    Francis Chan is a “Gospel Coalition” Calvinist and read and passed around large Church Growth “Community Centers.”

    I modified David’s Lutheran Premises to below:
    Major Premise: Christ told me thorugh My Baptizer, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
    Minor Premise: Christ never lies, but only tells the truth.
    Conclusion: I am baptized! (i.e. I have new life in Christ!) On the basis of Faith in the Work of God, at my Baptism where I was “sealed.”

    I believe the words of the Absolution are similar in logic. Please help me as I am a fledgling Lutheran!

  24. Rev. Tony Phelps :
    And J. Dean, I also agree that SOME Calvinists make subjective self-analysis the priority of assurance – rather than the objective Gospel. We have our pietists among us, as well. But that is not true of all the Reformed. Generalizations are generally unhelpful.

    I was careful to say “some” Calvinists. 😀 I know that not all of them fall into that trap.

  25. Dr. Ralph “Rafe” E. Spraker, Jr. :O me! My comments have started a war between brethren!

    Not at all, Dr. Calvinists and Lutherans in general are the most cordial to each other in discourse, even when it’s a matter of disagreement.

    Now, get a Calvinist and an Arminian in a room… or a cessationist with a charismatic… and it’s not pretty 😀

  26. @JH #19

    That is an odd accusation (lack of assurance) considering that Lutherans believe one can lose one’s faith. How can you know that you will never lose your faith, Lutherans? What assurance do you have?

    Things become a little clearer, and more biblical, when we recognize with that question its concommittant question: “How can I know that I will never lose the grace of God?”

    Focus too much on faith, without enough focus on grace, and its nature changes. Once its nature changes, all sorts of problems are spawned.

    Fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Jesus, who married me, and hates divorce. Jesus, who says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Jesus, who says, you did not choose me, but I chose you. So on, and so on, and so on.

    Lutherans resolve these problems by clinging to Christ in the only way anyone can, through the Word and Sacraments. Self-examination flounders whenever we lose the extra nos character of salvation. Whenever I see Christ the Faithful extra nos Savior in the Word and Sacraments, and my consciousness is full of him, then, even if unconsciously, and perhaps especially if unconsciously, faith resides in me intra nos, but only as the moon reflects the light of the Son.

    Ask not, do I have faith. Ask, is Christ faithful to me? Then, do not speculate or fantasize an answer, but go to the Word and Sacraments. The way to assurance of grace is the means of grace. That’s how Lutherans know. It’s an altogether different epistemology.

  27. @JH #19

    Lutheran espistemology is a unified jewel. One of its facets is Word and Sacrament. In my previous posting, I answered your question of assurance with the epistemology of Word and Sacrament. In this posting, I will answer with the epistemology of the theology of the cross.

    The term “theology of the cross” does not refer to what theologians say about the cross. It refers to what the cross says and does. The cross speaks. The cross reveals. The cross reveals God, but not in glory, rather in hiddenness. In the cross, God is hidden from us, and the Father is hidden from the Only Begotten Son. The cross says that God does not want to be known today in his glory, but in hiddenness, humility, shame, weakness, and foolishness.

    The opposite of this is a theology of glory, to which the Devil tempted Christ in the wilderness, and to which Peter tempted Christ, to detour around the cross and suffering on his way to the kingdom, which earned Peter the name Satan. By the theology of glory, Peter would not have let Christ wash his feet.

    Now, skipping over some intermediate steps in order to come more rapidly to the point concerning assurance of faith, the Christian life is, like Christ’s, under the cross. Rather than being marked by glory, the Christian life is marked by humility, trial, and prayer. Of these your question about assurance is most directly answered by trial. “Life under the cross is a life of trial. Theology of the cross is theology of trial.” Walther von Loewenich, Luther’s Theology of the Cross, pp. 1335-36 (Augsburg Publishing House, 1976).

    In the theology of the cross, the hidden God arrives at his proper work only by way of his alien work.

    “The most severe trial comes upon a person when he believes he has been forsaken and rejected by God. … This is then the highest degree of faith, to cling to the grace of God even in the trial of God-forsakenness. It is nothing less than a struggle with God against God. It is God himself who attacks through trials.” von Loewenich, pp. 136-37.

    To say “trial” is to use a truncated phrase. The whole phrase, in the theology of the cross, is “trial of faith.” In the theology of the cross, faith and trial, trial and faith, are inseparable. Trial is not just generic affliction or suffering. Trial always and only ever is the trial of faith. Nothing but faith can be tried. Because only faith can be tried, trial proves faith. Therefore trial is the precious possession of the Christian.

    The world and the Devil persecute, but they don’t try (though God can and does use them as instruments for his own trial of his saints). God alone tries his saints. So, again, trial is the precious possession of the Christian because it is a gift from God, and because “trial keeps faith in motion.” von Loewenich, p. 135.

    When the theology of the cross says that trial proves faith, this does not mean that faith proves itself by enduring and overcoming the trial. It means that trial in and of itself, per se, nevermind the outcome, proves that faith exists, because only faith can be tried. Trial could nto exist if faith didn’t. This, indeed, was the way of Christ in his whole life, and especially in Gethsemane and on the cross.

    The jewel of Lutheran epistemology is unified because this facet, the theology of the cross, when the trial of faith is severe, strips everything away so that only Word and Sacraments remain.

    Included in what is stripped away is glory of all kinds, including the glory of systematics. A systematics that commends itself to us because it is rational, or makes sense, or promises the best apparent benefits, such as assurance of faith, is a theology of glory. That systematics itself is not crucified, and does not look like Christ on the cross. It looks like a christ who came down off the cross.

    If that systematics says, once you have faith, you cannot lose it, it is an attempt to detour around the cross, to avoid the trial of faith, to hold to a synthetic assurance. While systematics can be good, and should be used where it is good, when it detours around the hiddenness of God, around what God does not reveal, around the cross and trial as God’s own attack on faith, as his alien work, then systematics sell out to the theology of glory, and, ironically, unleash the monster of uncertainty.

  28. @JH #19

    Having defended or apologized for Lutheran assurance with two facets of its unified epistemology, viz, Word and Sacrament as one facet, and Theology of the Cross as another, which I think shows due respect because it hears and directly answers your question, I will now venture, as you challenged Lutheran assurance, to challenge Reformed assurance.

    You are using systematics as an epistemology. How does a systematics that says, once you have faith you never can lose it, assure you that you ever had faith in the first place?

  29. @Rev. Tony Phelps #27

    Very nice to hear a request not to lump all Reformed into one basket. I was a longterm WELS member and now attend URCNA church because….
    my Wels congregation became too small and needed to rent with evening services. I am chronically ill unable to go out at night; so I worship with the URCNA congregation that bought our WELS church…it is closeby and has a morning worship service. WELS is much more similar to URCNA than to ELCA. I so wish the Confessional Lutherans and Confessional Reformed could have come into fellowship during the Reformation. Now my heart belongs to both but by joining a URCNA church I am forbidden communion at the WELS:-(

  30. It was heartwarming to hear some of the comments accurately describing Reformed beliefs
    and that not all Reformed are the same just as not all Lutherans are the same. My previous church was WELS and now I am a member of URCNA. WELS has much more in common with URCNA than with ELCA. George did a great job of representing these various church bodies. It is good to read gracious comments from Lutherans about the Orthodox Confessional Reformed. WELS, LCMS and URCNA have much in common.

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