Hiding in the Lutheran Church—Part One

This is part nine of a series of twelve newsletter articles written by Rev. Neil L. Carlson for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Rev. Carlson is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and Zion Lutheran Church in Sidney and Chappell, Nebraska.

Once Emperor Charles V determined that it was not politically savvy to attempt to eradicate this new group (later to be called “Lutherans”) and that they were most certainly not going to go away, the Lutheran faith was recognized as a legal religion in the Saxon lands. The regions were divided based on prince and ruler. If the ruler of an area was Lutheran then the lands he controlled had Lutheran Churches and, if Roman, then the churches in the land were of the church of Rome. This was an enormous step in The Reformation. These were the only two legal religions in the area. The theological views of others who desired to take The Reformation further were still outlawed. The Reformed (Calvinists), Schwenkfeldians, Enthusiasts, and others still had no legitimate church body in which to dwell, so many of them hid inside Lutheran congregations in order to avoid persecution by the state. They taught non-Lutheran doctrines in Lutheran congregations.

Early Reformed theology was promoted by former students of Luther, yet again.  Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Bucer were the major proponents in the spread of Reformed doctrine. Though these men may have begun the movement, Reformed doctrine became widespread and solidified under the tutelage of John Calvin.

The Crypto-Calvinists became apparent in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. John Calvin, born July 10, 1509, spent time studying both law and theology, much like Luther. Calvin began studying theology, then his father convinced him to study law, but in 1531 John returned to the study of theology in Paris.[1] Unlike Luther, Calvin’s legal training greatly influenced his theology. He “put into practice his legal ideal of a theocratic and rigorous puritanical government”.[2] This led to Calvin’s banishment. He roamed from place to place until he finally found safe haven in Geneva, Switzerland.

The main points of contention Calvin had with Luther were the communication of attributes between the two natures of Christ. Calvin rejected the genus maiestaticum which states, “The attributes of Christ’s divine nature are ascribed and communicated to the human nature”.[3] Calvin believed the finite was not capable of the infinite, and thus, the divine was not able to be present in the human. This belief of Calvin logically caused him to reject the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Calvin taught that after The Resurrection, the body of Jesus was in heaven and unable to enter the finite world to be present under the finite elements of bread and wine. Instead, Calvin taught that communicants spiritually ascend to heaven, where Jesus is trapped, to commune with Him there.

Zwingli held that the body of the Lord can be in one place only. To be in one place only is called local presence. For example, this author has a local presence only in that he is located in the chair in front of the computer. According to Lutheran doctrine, Jesus has three modes of being present, contrary to Reformed doctrine, which limits Jesus to a local presence only. Jesus most certainly has a local presence. It was seen when He was born in the manger and when He was crucified upon the cross. Yet He is also God, so He is omnipresent. This means, that even after the bodily resurrection, Jesus is able to be present everywhere at one time. He is able to be in heaven and on earth, in America, Australia, etc.  Beyond the local presence and omnipresence, Christ has a sacramental presence. He is able to be present sacramentally. This may seem no different than omnipresence, yet it is. Jesus is everywhere, omnipresently, but His promise of forgiveness is not. His promise of forgiveness is present sacramentally (cf. John 6:68, 1 Peter 3:21, Mt 26:26-29).

Reformed theology uses the orthodox phrases and language of the Lutherans, but does so in a way that changes the doctrines. Calvin uses all the same words but redefines them. Calvin would say that Christ is present in the sacrament as a Lutheran would, but what he means is that Christ is in heaven and in the sacrament one ascends to heaven where Christ is present. “Here they [the Zwinglians] wish the word ‘presence’ to be understood only concerning efficacy and the Holy Spirit.”[4] When a Lutheran says Christ is present in the sacrament he means Jesus is under the bread and wine present here on earth for us Christians to eat and drink. Here one is able to see the dangers of the Crypto-Calvinists; they used Lutheran words, making them appear to be orthodox Lutherans, but taught false doctrine.

“Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was received with increasing favor also in Lutheran territories, notably in Southern Germany and Electoral Saxony, where the number of theologians and laymen who secretly adopted and began to spread it was rapidly increasing; They were called Crypto-Calvinists (secret or masked Calvinists) because, while they subscribed to the Augsburg Confession, claimed to be loyal Lutherans, and occupied most important positions in the Lutheran Church, they in reality were propagandists of Calvinism, zealously endeavoring to suppress Luther’s books and doctrines, and to substitute for them the views of Calvin.”[5]

In Part 2, the rebuttal of the Genesio-Lutherans will be discussed along with the name calling that ensued throughout this controversy over the Lord’s Supper. After wrapping up the historical issues, one will see how Crypto-Calvinism is still rampant in the Lutheran Church even today.

[1] F. Bente. Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions. CPH, 2005, 404.

[2] Bente, 405.

[3] David Scaer. A Latin Ecclesiastical Glossary, 1978, 23.

[4][4] Bente, 411.

[5] Bente, 409.


Hiding in the Lutheran Church—Part One — 1 Comment

  1. Not to get ahead of your fine historical survey, but I fail to see that crypto-Calvinism is still rampant in the Lutheran church today. Most Lutherans know nothing about Lutheranism beyond the Small Catechism, yet they all know and confess that a distinctive of Lutheranism is our belief in the real presence in, with, and under the bread and wine.

    Perhaps a good exercise with catechumens would be to illustrate the biblical examples of all three modes of Christ’s presence.

    “Martin Luther argued that although Rome’s explanation of Christ’s true presence in the Lord’s Supper was wrong, the fact of Christ’s true presence was correct. He offered a different explanation for the presence of Christ. In order to understand his view, however, a brief explanation of some rather obscure theological terminology is required. Medieval scholastic theologians had distinguished various modes of presence, or ways of being present. They used the term local presence to describe the way in which physical, finite things are present in a circumscribed place. Spiritual presence described the way in which spiritual beings (such as angels, souls, or God) are present. Because this term was somewhat vague, other terms were used in order to be more specific. Illocal presence, for example, described the way in which finite spiritual beings (for example, human souls or angels) are present, while repletive presence described the way in which an infinite spiritual being (God) is present.

    Zwingli argued that the only mode of presence proper to the human body of Christ was “local presence.” Therefore, according to Zwingli, Christ’s body is locally present in heaven and nowhere else until the Second Advent. Luther rejected Zwingli’s view, claiming that other modes of presence were proper to Christ’s human body — specifically the illocal mode of presence. Because Christ’s body can be present in an illocal manner, according to Luther, it can be present in the bread of the Lord’s Supper. In his Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper (1528), Luther argues that there is a “sacramental union” between the substance of Christ’s body and the bread resulting in a new and unique substance that Luther refers to as fleischbrot (“flesh-bread”). Thus, according to Luther, Christ’s human body is present in the Lord’s Supper supernaturally in a real and illocal manner.”


    Note that the above quote does have the usual Reformed deficiencies when trying to describe Lutheran Christology. We’re not talking about a new combined substance.

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