A Lutheran claims his church should not be considered Protestant

Dear Theophilus & Friends:

Each month I look forward and enjoy eavesdropping on your exchange of ideas. Yet, this month I must respond. In October you wrote: "...I was unaware of Lutheranism's influence on Anglicanism! But it's a moot point inasmuch as traditional Lutherans are, theologically speaking, Calvinist." Allow me to make two points.

Point #1: When Henry VIII desired to rid himself of his first wife, he learned that the title "Defender of the Faith" and "a nickel" would buy him a hot cup of tea, but no divorce. He then turned to Luther and it would not be prudent to quote the Reformer's answer. So, he decided to create his own church.

At this point Henry's newly commissioned reformers saw how much they had to do, so they slipped back to Lutherans for guidance, especially those at the University of Halle, Germany. From there on the story gets interesting. If you or your readers would like to learn more about this, I enthusiastically recommend Henry VIII and the Lutherans by Dr. Neelak Tjernagel. He is considered an authority on this subject.

Point #2: German tour guides often mistakenly state that Christians in their country are mainly Catholic or Protestant. This is a misuse of the latter term. Luther would never consider himself a Protestant. Calvin, Zwingli (both Swiss) and Knox (a Scot) were Protestants. They strongly protested the teachings, traditions, liturgy, and government of the Roman Catholic Church. When they succeeded in converting a parish, they de-Romanized, top to bottom.

Luther, in contrast, simply wanted the Church to become catholic again, without the additions brought to it by Rome. (He felt very close to the Orthodox, but that's another story!) He was never a Protestant but rather a catholic reformer. He had no desire to create a new denomination, but only sought to lead the Church back to the time when only the Bible was the authority for faith and life. Pope Leo X didn't appreciate his efforts and excommunicated him.

When congregations left Rome to align with the followers of Luther, nothing inside was changed. Beautiful Saint Lorenz in Nurnberg is a powerful example to show that Lutherans were not and are not Protestants. Luther's reforms were theological, based on Scriptures and influenced by the orthodox theologian Augustine. With this stated, I think you can understand why I had great difficulty with your statement that "traditional Lutherans are, theologically speaking, Calvinist." Missouri Synod Lutherans are a large and influential case in point.

Calvin had difficulty in seeing the different uses of the law: a) the law to bring conviction and repentance, and b) the law as a guide for the already redeemed to achieve sanctification. Calvin began with the concept of the sovereignty of God: Luther accepted that sovereignty, but for him the center of attention was the salvation of the sinner. Calvin was mainly concerned about God's will on earth; Luther with His grace. Calvin saw the world as a great theater in which man glorified God in doing His sovereign will. Luther saw the cross of Christ at the center of that state.

Thanks for the chance to offer a different view and forgive my footnote to your discussions.

Your friend,

"Onesimus" (actual name on file)

Theophilus replies: No apology is required; this is what this forum is all about. Having said that, however, I must personally reject a number of your propositions. For starters, Calvin was a French expatriot living in Switzerland, not Swiss by birth.

My dictionary says that the word "Protestant" was first used to describe Lutheran German princes and cities who were defending freedom of conscience to be Lutheran.

And as a lifelong Calvinist until a year ago, I have to respectfully submit that Dr. Martin's post on the door of the Wittenburg cathedral was the most eloquent and widely heard "protest" of the whole Protestant Reformation, and I believe most historians, even the Lutheran ones, have gone on record to that effect.

You say that Luther "had no desire to create a new denomination, but only sought to lead the Church back to the time when only the Bible was the authority for faith and life." We Orthodox reply to that: There never was such a time prior to Luther; Luther invented that doctrine. The Apostles while alive were authoritative in the church in a way that transcended their writings — there was no "Bible" as we know it until the church defined which holy scriptures then available should be considered biblical, in the fourth century. And of course many other Protestants would make the same claim: they didn't intend to start a new church, just reform the existing one.

Just as Jews had many beliefs and practices that were not prescribed in their Bible at the time of Jesus, like the belief that an angel came to trouble the waters of the pool of Bethesda once a year (John 5), which belief Jesus abetted and John affirmed, but is not supported in the Old Testament, the early church had certain beliefs and practices that were part of the apostolic tradition, as St. Paul himself mentions in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, but that were not spelled out in Scripture.

You may call Augustine an orthodox theologian, but the Orthodox, while allowing that he led a saintly life, do not consider his theology orthodox. It was he, after all, with his City of God and City of Man, who brought the neo-Platonic dualism that enables most Western Christians to rationalize living one life for God and another for mammon, back into the heart of Western Christendom.

I would be interested in the book on "Henry VIII's newly commissioned reformers" and the Lutheran theologians at Halle. The church history survey by Lutheran historian Lars Qualben makes much more of Archbishop Cranmer's studies with Calvin, and Cranmer is generally considered 1. the father of the Anglican church and, 2. a Calvinist by theology.

In saying that Lutherans are Calvinist in theology one means, generally, that they believe that salvation is a quick (if not immediate) transaction between an individual and God, which lasts forever. The root of that, as I understand, is in Luther's The Bondage of the Will, and prior to him in Augustine's jurisprudence model for theology, but it's an idea that Calvin made so much more of that it is generally called Calvinism.

My prejudice against the proposition that Protestantism is one religion and Lutheranism another, like the one some Anglicans make that they are one, Protestants another, is simply that it's only rending the hole of disunity among Christ confessors larger than it already is. Why not emphasize our commonality and try to sew patches at those points rather than rend even more?

As always, let me emphasize the open-endedness of this forum; my replies are merely put out for consideration like yours, but I stand to be corrected by any able to marshall further evidence or arguments.

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