A Brief Evaluation of Lutheran Theology


Fred Moritz1

The Reformation was characterized by at least two distinct movements, the Magisterial Reformation and the Radical Reformation. At the outset it is important to understand the nature of the two groups.

Magisterial Reformation

The Magisterial Reformers are so called because their reform efforts were supported by at least some ruling authorities, or magistrates, and because they believed the civil magistrates ought to enforce the true faith. This term is used to distinguish them from the radical reformers (Anabaptists), whose efforts had no magisterial support. The Reformers are also called “magisterial” because the word magister can mean “teacher,” and the Magisterial Reformation strongly emphasized the authority of teachers.2

Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin are considered Magisterial Reformers because their forms of the reformation movements were supported by the magistrates or the political authorities in their various countries. Frederick the Wise supported Luther while he was a professor at the university he founded, but Frederick also hid Luther in Wartburg Castle in Eisenach to protect him from the Roman Catholics. Zwingli and Calvin were both supported by the city councils in their respective cities of Zurich and Geneva.

Since the term “magister” also means “teacher,” the Magisterial Reformation is also characterized by an emphasis on the authority of a teacher. This is made evident in the prominence of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli as leaders of the reform movements in their respective areas of ministry. Because of their authority, they were often criticized by Radical Reformers as being too much like the Roman Popes. For example, Radical Reformer Andreas von Bodenstein Karlstadt referred to the Wittenberg theologians as the “new papists.”3

“Radical” Reformers

The Radical Reformation consists of the most diverse group of theologians of any of the other movements. In fact, the only characteristic that all radical reformers share is their rejection of the Catholic Church and the protestant churches. In his classic, The Radical Reformation, George Huntston Williams classified the radicals as Anabaptists, Spiritualists, or Evangelical Rationalists. Anabaptists such as Menno Simons and Balthasar Hübmaier were pacifists who rejected infant baptism and were strict Biblicists. Caspar Schwenkfeld was a Spiritualist who emphasized the inner witness of the Spirit to such an extent that he rejected the “external matters” such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper as unnecessary.

Evangelical Rationalist Michael Servetus emphasized the use of reason in addition to Scripture. This led to his rejection of the Trinity and his execution as a heretic in Geneva.4

We use radical “of, 1. relating to, or proceeding from a root: as (a) of or growing from the root of a plant <radical tubers> (b) of, relating to, or constituting a linguistic root; (c) of or relating to a mathematical root; (d) designed to remove the root of a disease or all diseased and potentially diseased tissue <radical surgery> <radical mastectomy> 2. of or relating to the origin: fundamental.”5 Thus, the “radical” reformers aimed to build their churches on the “root” of the New Testament model. Philip Schaff describes the difference between the two groups:

The Reformers aimed to reform the old Church by the Bible; the Radicals attempted to build a new Church from the Bible. The former maintained the historic continuity; the latter went directly to the apostolic age, and ignored the intervening centuries as an apostasy. The Reformers founded a popular state-church, including all citizens with their families; the Anabaptists organized on the voluntary principle select congregations of baptized believers, separated from the world and from the State. Nothing is more characteristic of radicalism and sectarianism than an utter want of historical sense and respect for the past. In its extreme form it rejects even the Bible as an external authority, and relies on inward inspiration. This was the case with the Zwickau Prophets who threatened to break up Luther’s work at Wittenberg.

The Radicals made use of the right of protest against the Reformation, which the Reformers so effectually exercised against popery. They raised a protest against Protestantism. They charged the Reformers with inconsistency and semi-popery; yea, with the worst kind of popery. They denounced the state-church as worldly and corrupt, and its ministers as mercenaries. They were charged in turn with pharisaical pride, with revolutionary and socialistic tendencies. They were cruelly persecuted by imprisonment, exile, torture, fire and sword, and almost totally suppressed in Protestant as well as in Roman Catholic countries. The age was not ripe for unlimited religious liberty and congregational self-government. The Anabaptists perished bravely as martyrs of conscience.6

The purpose of this article is to describe the basic tenets of Lutheran theology so Baptist pastors and lay people can better understand the religious setting in which they live and minister.

Similarities between Lutheran and other Reformation Theologies

Similarities exist between Lutheran and other Protestant theologies for several reasons. For one, Lutheran, Covenant, and Anglican theologies are all Augustinian at their source. Another reason for similarities must be that the theme of justification by faith was the dominant theme of the Protestant reformation. “The Reformation creeds emphasize in particular those issues that were especially in conflict, such as the doctrines of grace, faith, justification, the church, and sacraments.”7

Historic Lutheran theology finds itself in agreement with the historic creeds of Christendom, and thus in agreement with other Protestant theologies on those points. Thus, the heart of Lutheran theology is “sola scriptura,” “sola gratia,” and “sola fide”8 (Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone).

Lutheran Confessions of Faith

Lutheran Theology also reveals marked distinctions from other Reformation traditions. Lutheran authorities are very clear in answering the question: “What is a Lutheran?” “While there are a variety of ways one could answer this question, one very important answer is simply this, ‘A Lutheran is a person who believes, teaches and confesses the truths of God’s Word as they are summarized and confessed in the Book of Concord.’ The Book of Concord contains the Lutheran confessions of faith.”9 The Book of Concord communicates the heart of Lutheranism.

After Luther’s death in 1546, significant controversies broke out in the Lutheran Church. After much debate and struggle, the Formula of Concord in 1577 put an end to these doctrinal controversies and the Lutheran Church was able to move ahead united in what it believed, taught and confessed. In 1580, all the confessional writings mentioned here were gathered into a single volume, the Book of Concord. Concord is a word that means, ‘harmony.’ The Formula of Concord was summarized in a version known as the ‘Epitome’ of the Formula of Concord. This document too is included in the Book of Concord.10

We understand Lutheran Theology through its doctrinal confessions.

The History of the Lutheran Confessions

The Wisconsin Synod gives a succinct description of the various confessions.

The Small Catechism (1529 AD)11

Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism as a brief summary of the basic truths of the Christian faith. It was primarily intended to educate the laity and was designed as a tool that parents could use to teach their children. It provides summaries or explanations of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar (Holy Communion), and the Ministry of the Keys and Confession.

The Large Catechism (1529 AD)

Covering in greater depth the same doctrines and subjects as the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism was really a series of edited sermons of Martin Luther. It was intended primarily as a tool that could be used by pastors and teachers to broaden their knowledge of the teachings of the Bible.

The Augsburg Confession (1530 AD)

Written by Luther’s colleague Philip Melanchthon, this statement of faith is often viewed as the chief Lutheran confession. It was presented by the followers of Luther to Emperor Charles V at the imperial diet (assembly) meeting in Augsburg, Germany. It was intended to be a summary of the chief articles of the Christian faith as understood and taught by Lutherans in contrast to the errors that were being taught by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession (1531 AD)

After the Roman theologians had condemned many of the teachings of the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melanchthon authored this lengthy defense of the Augsburg Confession.

Smalcald Articles (1536 AD)

The Smalcald Articles were written by Luther in late 1536 for presentation and discussion at a church council that had been planned by Pope Paul III. On June 4, 1536, Pope Paul III announced that a council would be held to deal with the concerns of the Protestants. In these articles Luther indicated on which points Lutherans would not compromise. Lutherans at once recognized their value as a statement of pure evangelical and biblical doctrine.

The Formula of Concord (1577 AD)

In the years following Luther’s death, Lutherans had become divided over a number of doctrinal issues. Written primarily by Jacob Andreae, Martin Chemnitz, and David Chytraeus, the Formula of Concord (or “agreement”) was a detailed restatement of many of the truths contained in the Augsburg Confession and was intended to be a statement that all genuine Lutherans could adopt. It was signed by over 8,100 pastors and theologians, as well as by over 50 governmental leaders. The Solid Declaration is the unabridged version. The Epitome is an abridged version intended for congregations to study.

Distinctive Teachings of Lutheranism

This study will follow the outline of the Augsburg Confession with necessary additions and comments. “The Augsburg Confession, in part because of its historical significance and in part because of its intrinsic merit, became the most influential of all the Lutheran creeds.”12

“The first part of the Confession deals with matters of faith and draws on the Schwabach Articles, which had been written by Martin Luther.”13 The confession is essentially a dialogue with Rome. The second half deals with church abuses and makes use of the Torgau Articles, which had been written in preparation for the Augsburg Diet.14

The Confession is divided into two divisions entitled “The Chief Articles of Faith” and “Abuses Corrected.”15 A reading of the Confession reveals that the first twenty-one articles were attempting to set forth the faith of the Lutherans in a positive manner and to show that they were in the “mainstream” of historic doctrine. The last seven articles reveal the abuses the Lutherans discerned within Roman Catholicism and which they sought to correct.

The Articles of the Augsburg Confession

The first article on “God” draws from the Nicene Creed and confesses that God is one, and that He is a Trinity.
The second article on “Original Sin” declares that all men since the fall of Adam are sinners. This article introduces Lutheran sacramentalism and states that the result of sin condemns and brings eternal death “upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost.”16

The third article on “The Son of God” follows the Apostles’ Creed and confesses the virgin birth, the deity, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. It speaks of his present session in heaven and his ministry to believers through the Holy Spirit. It also states belief in the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead. This historic affirmation concerning Christology is the tie to the Lutheran view of the real presence of Christ in the elements of communion. The full deity and full humanity of Christ is a mystery, and Lutherans view the real presence of Christ in the “sacramental union” as a mystery in the same way.17

The fourth article on “Justification” states the great truth of justification by faith in Christ’s finished work. “Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.”18

The fifth article, “The Office of the Ministry,” again reveals the perplexing Lutheran mix of grace and the sacraments. It says: “That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.”19

The sixth article “The New Obedience” affirms that justifying faith will produce good works. It specifically denies that these works secure merit, especially the merit of justification.

The seventh article on “The Church” defines the church as “the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.”20

The eighth article describes “What the Church Is.” This article recognizes that the church is properly the assembly of all believers. It also confesses that many unsaved people are in the churches. This article seemingly admits the necessary lack of regenerate membership in Lutheran churches. We must observe that a regenerate membership cannot exist when unsaved people are made part of the church through the door of infant baptism. The last article statement in the section criticizes the Donatists for their insistence on a regenerate membership. The full section reads:

Although the Church is properly the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled among the believers, it is allowable to use the sacraments which are administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ, “The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” etc. [Matt. 23:2]. Both the sacraments and the Word are effective because of the institution and commandment of Christ, even when administered by evil men.

We condemn the Donatists, and all like them, who denied it to be allowable to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of no effect.21

The ninth article on “Baptism” states the Lutheran view on the subject. “Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism, are received into God’s grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.”22

The tenth article “The Holy Supper of the Lord” is brief. It states: “Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise.”23 This article teaches the “real presence” of Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament. It also teaches that both bread and wine are to be distributed to the communicants, and it rejects other views.

This sets the stage for the Lutheran position on the ubiquity (omnipresence) of Christ’s body. The roots of this doctrine are found in the reasoning of William of Occam. Occam proceeded still further, dialectically postulating, at least, the possibility of the “repletive existence” (and thus of the ubiquity) of the body of Christ. He accordingly taught, (1) the actual “repletive existence” of God; (2) the local presence of the body of Christ in heaven; (3) the non-quantitative, definitive presence in many places of the body of Christ in the host; and the possibility of the ubiquity of this body in the universe.24

Luther rejected the Catholic doctrine that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. Rather, he adopted “the teaching of the consubstantiation (of Occam), postulating, without any attempt at explanation, the substantial coexistence of the bread and the body of Christ in the Eucharist.”25

The eleventh article on “Confession” retains confession as a practice.

The twelfth article is entitled “Repentance.” It states:

Of repentance they teach that for those who have fallen after Baptism there is remission of sins whenever they are converted and that the Church ought to impart absolution to those thus returning to repentance. Now, repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance. They condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those once justified can lose the Holy Ghost. Also those who contend that some may attain to such perfection in this life that they cannot sin. The Novatians also are condemned; who would not absolve such as had fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance. They also are rejected who do not teach that remission of sins comes through faith but command us to merit grace through satisfactions of our own.26

Note that the statement denies eternal security. The statement affirms that the church in some way offers absolution to the repentant. The statement condemns the Anabaptist position on security. The statement likewise rejects the Catholic teaching on meritocracy.

The thirteenth article “The Use of the Sacraments” states that the sacraments are a means of awakening faith.

The fourteenth article is on “Order in the Church.” It states that only those who are called should teach or administer the sacraments.

The fifteenth article on “Church Usages” deals with ecclesiastical “holy days.” The statement affirms that they may be observed, but they are not binding upon believers. This statement again renounces meritocracy.

The sixteenth article discusses “Civil Government.” This article affirms that Christians may participate in civil government and hold office. It also affirms that government is ordained of God and should be preserved. It rejects the Anabaptist position of not participating in civil government. Finally, it states that Christians are duty bound to obey civil law. “Therefore, Christians are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates and laws save only when commanded to sin; for then they ought to obey God rather than men Acts 5:29.”27

The seventeenth article discusses “The Return of Christ to Judgment.” It affirms Lutheran belief that Scripture teaches that Christ will return and that there will be a judgment of the saved and the lost. It goes on to state of Lutheran pastors: “They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils. They condemn also others who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.”28

The eighteenth article is on “Freedom of the Will.” The opening statement succinctly states: “Of Free Will they teach that man’s will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2:14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received through the Word.”29

The nineteenth article “The Cause of Sin” attributes sin to the perverted will of sinful men.

The twentieth article on “Faith and Good Works” is extensive. The statement affirms that justification comes only by grace through faith. It reaffirms the Lutheran rejection of good works as a means of gaining merit with God. It teaches that good works naturally follow justification, and they are the will of God for the Christian. The summation crystallizes the statement:

Hence it may be readily seen that this doctrine is not to be charged with prohibiting good works, but rather the more to be commended, because it shows how we are enabled to do good works. For without faith human nature can in no wise do the works of the First or of the Second Commandment. Without faith it does not call upon God, nor expect anything from God, nor bear the cross, but seeks, and trusts in, man’s help. And thus, when there is no faith and trust in God all manner of lusts and human devices rule in the heart. Wherefore Christ said, John 15:5: Without Me ye can do nothing; and the Church sings:

Lacking Thy divine favor,
There is nothing found in man,
Naught in him is harmless.30

The twenty-first article addresses “The Cult of the Saints.” The article positively states that the memory of the saints is to be preserved “that we may follow their faith and good works.” It specifically states that the saints are not to be addressed in prayer. It further states that Christ is the only one to whom believers are to pray. It affirms that Jesus has promised to answer the prayers of believers.

This concludes the section in which the Lutherans articulated their doctrinal beliefs. They closed this section by saying:

This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers. This being the case, they judge harshly who insist that our teachers be regarded as heretics. There is, however, disagreement on certain Abuses, which have crept into the Church without rightful authority. And even in these, if there were some difference, there should be proper lenity on the part of bishops to bear with us by reason of the Confession which we have now reviewed; because even the Canons are not so severe as to demand the same rites everywhere, neither, at any time, have the rites of all churches been the same; although, among us, in large part, the ancient rites are diligently observed. For it is a false and malicious charge that all the ceremonies, all the things instituted of old, are abolished in our churches. But it has been a common complaint that some abuses were connected with the ordinary rites. These, inasmuch as they could not be approved with a good conscience, have been to some extent corrected.31

The twenty-second article begins the second major division of the Confession. It deals, as Haara noted, with abuses the Lutherans observed in their controversy with Rome. The twenty-second article addresses the subject “Of Both Kinds in the Sacrament.” As the last article ended with a summary of the first division, this article is prefaced with a preamble-like statement that sets the tone for the last articles. It states:

Inasmuch, then, as our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons, we pray that Your Imperial Majesty would graciously hear both what has been changed, and what were the reasons why the people were not compelled to observe those abuses against their conscience. Nor should Your Imperial Majesty believe those who, in order to excite the hatred of men against our part, disseminate strange slanders among the people. Having thus excited the minds of good men, they have first given occasion to this controversy, and now endeavor, by the same arts, to increase the discord. For Your Imperial Majesty will undoubtedly find that the form of doctrine and of ceremonies with us is not so intolerable as these ungodly and malicious men represent. Besides, the truth cannot be gathered from common rumors or the revilings of enemies. But it can readily be judged that nothing would serve better to maintain the dignity of ceremonies, and to nourish reverence and pious devotion among the people than if the ceremonies were observed rightly in the churches.32

The article then states that the Lutherans gave their sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to the people in both kinds (both bread and wine). It states that their practice followed the biblical pattern and historic precedent. The argument assumes the real presence of Christ in the elements, calling the wine “the blood of Christ.”33

The twenty-third article, “The Marriage of Priests,” argues for allowing priests to marry based on Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 7. The article speaks of the scandals among the priests and thus argues for marriage on a practical level as an antidote to immorality.

The twenty-fourth article speaks of “The Mass.” The article begins in an interesting manner that also reveals something of the Lutheran view of worship. It states: “Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added to teach the people.”34 The article then goes on to repudiate the Roman abuses of the Mass.

One of the Catholic abuses of the mass related to money. “But it is evident that for a long time this also has been the public and most grievous complaint of all good men that Masses have been basely profaned and applied to purposes of lucre. For it is not unknown how far this abuse obtains in all the churches by what manner of men Masses are said only for fees or stipends, and how many celebrate them contrary to the Canons.”35

Another abuse was the heresy that Christ’s death made satisfaction for original sin and the Mass makes satisfaction for daily sins. The statement appeals to Hebrews 10 in stating that Christ’s death was sufficient to make satisfaction for all sins.

The Confession views the Mass as a sacrament, but also as a remembrance of Christ’s work. It says:

But Christ commands us, Luke 22:19: This do in remembrance of Me; therefore the Mass was instituted that the faith of those who use the Sacrament should remember what benefits it receives through Christ, and cheer and comfort the anxious conscience. For to remember Christ is to remember His benefits, and to realize that they are truly offered unto us. Nor is it enough only to remember the history; for this also the Jews and the ungodly can remember. Wherefore the Mass is to be used to this end, that there the Sacrament [Communion] may be administered to them that have need of consolation; as Ambrose says: Because I always sin, I am always bound to take the medicine. [Therefore this Sacrament requires faith, and is used in vain without faith.]36

The twenty-fifth article discusses “Confession.” The opening paragraph of the statement reveals again the sacramentalism of this Reformation body.

Confession in the churches is not abolished among us; for it is not usual to give the body of the Lord, except to them that have been previously examined and absolved. And the people are most carefully taught concerning faith in the absolution, about which formerly there was profound silence. Our people are taught that they should highly prize the absolution, as being the voice of God, and pronounced by God’s command. The power of the Keys is set forth in its beauty and they are reminded what great consolation it brings to anxious consciences, also, that God requires faith to believe such absolution as a voice sounding from heaven, and that such faith in Christ truly obtains and receives the forgiveness of sins. Aforetime satisfactions were immoderately extolled; of faith and the merit of Christ and the righteousness of faith no mention was made; wherefore, on this point, our churches are by no means to be blamed. For this even our adversaries must needs concede to us that the doctrine concerning repentance has been most diligently treated and laid open by our teachers.37

The statement does not require the naming of all known sins to the priest. Lutheranism argues for justification by faith for a permanent sacrifice for sin by Christ and still teaches confession and absolution by the church.

The twenty-sixth article carries the title “The Distinction of Foods.” It condemns the meritocracy that fasts produced. It also affirms that these practices go beyond the teachings of Scripture.

The twenty-seventh article deals with “Monastic Vows.” It condemns the practice for several reasons, including the corruption the monasteries produced, and the commandments that were laid on monks beyond the teachings of Scripture: “In Augustine’s time they were free associations. Afterward, when discipline was corrupted, vows were everywhere added for the purpose of restoring discipline, as in a carefully planned prison.”38

The twenty-eighth article speaks to “The Power of the Bishops.” The statement opens by saying: “There has been great controversy concerning the Power of Bishops, in which some have awkwardly confounded the power of the Church and the power of the sword.”39 It viewed the legitimate power of the bishops as specifically limited. “But this is their opinion, that the power of the Keys, or the power of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments.” It further stated: “This power is exercised only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, according to their calling either to many or to individuals.”40 The article called for a form of separation of church and state:

Therefore the power of the Church and the civil power must not be confounded. The power of the Church has its own commission to teach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments. Let it not break into the office of another; let it not transfer the kingdoms of this world; let it not abrogate the laws of civil rulers; let it not abolish lawful obedience; let it not interfere with judgments concerning civil ordinances or contracts; let it not prescribe laws to civil rulers concerning the form of the Commonwealth. As Christ says, John 18:36: My kingdom is not of this world; also Luke 12:14: Who made Me a judge or a divider over you? Paul also says, Phil. 3:20: Our citizenship is in heaven; 2 Cor. 10:4: The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the casting down of imaginations. After this manner our teachers discriminate between the duties of both these powers, and command that both be honored and acknowledged as gifts and blessings of God.41

The very next paragraph did seem to allow for a bishop to hold both civil and ecclesiastical office: “If bishops have any power of the sword, that power they have, not as bishops, by the commission of the Gospel, but by human law having received it of kings and emperors for the civil administration of what is theirs. This, however, is another office than the ministry of the Gospel.”42

The article also objects to the abuse of bishops creating traditions not taught by Scripture. It concludes by appealing to 1 Peter 5:3 as a proscription of bishops acting as lords over the churches.

Reason in Lutheran Theology

The place of reason in theology must be understood in any theological system. This is a function of Prolegomena in the study of systematic theology. It is an issue of tension in Lutheran theology, and it should have been noticeable by now. E. Brooks Holifield observes that Luther seemed to work in paradoxes. He “disparaged natural reason as a foe to faith.”43 This produced certain positions, such as:

“Christ was fully God and fully human at the same time.”

“Believers were totally sinful and totally righteous at the same time.”

“The grounding of the gospel was the paradoxical revelation of God in the suffering and dying of Jesus on the cross.”

“In Luther’s theology, the cross was the foundation for the doctrine that the justification of the sinful was a sheer gift of grace to be gratefully accepted in faith, not a reward for spiritual or moral achievement.”

“Luther defended theological positions—such as the corporeal presence of Christ’s body and blood in the sacramental bread and wine, or the doctrine that the baptismal water contained and conveyed a saving spiritual grace—that his critics derided as irrational. In turn, he saw his critics as more devoted to Aristotle than to a gospel that was ‘foolishness to the wise.’”44

The issue of the “corporeal presence of Christ’s body and blood in the sacramental bread and wine” was an issue of debate among Lutheran theologians. They differed on the “ubiquity of Christ’s body,” a philosophical position which was Luther’s justification for his view of consubstantiation in the Eucharist.45

Conclusion

It is important to note just how far Lutheranism did not come in its journey out of Rome. Luther was excommunicated on January 3, 1521.46 The Augsburg Confession was written nine years later, in 1530. At that time the Lutherans were still affirming doctrinal unity with Rome and seeking to reform what they called “abuses” in the Catholic Church.
Lutheran sacramentalism is also readily apparent. By now we have seen that Lutheranism ties baptism and regeneration together. We have seen how the system affirms the real presence of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. We have seen here that they still viewed their liturgical services as a Mass.

The issue of the ubiquity of Christ’s body is a conundrum. Luther sought to reject the transubstantiation of the Catholic mass and yet maintain the real presence of Christ’s body in the elements of the Eucharist.

In spite of the sacramentalism in the system, the emphasis on God’s grace and justification by faith leaps out at the reader of the doctrinal statements. The great issue in presenting the Gospel to Lutherans is the question of trust. Is one trusting the finished work of Christ without any work as the Bible teaches? Or, is a person trusting that the grace of God is somehow communicated through the sacraments? Scripture is clear that we enter into this personal relationship with God apart from any work of our own. Romans 3:28 states: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” In the very next chapter the Apostle Paul reinforces this truth with the example of Abraham: “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:3–5). God justifies us by our faith in Christ without any work of our own. Scripture teaches justification by faith alone.

The opposition to works and meritocracy is reflective of that emphasis, and it is also reflective of Luther’s own conversion experience. The Lutheran position on law and grace is the most biblical of the reformed traditions on this subject.


1 Dr. Fred Moritz is Professor of Systematic Theology at Maranatha Baptist Seminary.

2 Steven Lawson, “The Reformation and the Men Behind It” http://www.ligonier.org/blog/reformation-and-men-behind-it/. Accessed November 8, 2014.

3 “The Magisterial Reformation,” http://www.reformationhappens.com/movements/magisterial/. Accessed October 26, 2014.

4 “The Radical Reformation,” http://www.reformationhappens.com/movements/radical/. Accessed October 26, 2014.

5 “Radical,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ radical. Accessed November 8, 2014.

6 Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 8: 71–72 [emphasis mine]. In referring to the Radical Reformers, “Luther called them martyrs of the devil; but Leonhard Kaeser, to whom he wrote a letter of comfort, and whom he held up as a model martyr to the heretical martyrs (see Letters, ed. De Wette, III. 179), was not a Lutheran, as he thought, but the pastor of an Anabaptist congregation at Scherding. He was burnt Aug. 18, 1527, by order of the bishop of Passau. See Cornelius, II. 56.”

7 John H. Leith, ed., Creeds of the Churches—A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963), 62.

8 David M. Haara, Pastor of Family of Christ Lutheran Church, Tampa, FL. Interview by author, Tampa, July 3, 2013. I am indeb-ted to Pastor Haara for graciously spending an extended period of time with me.

9 “What is a Lutheran?” http://bookofconcord.org/whatisalutheran.php.

10 Ibid.

11 This entire section is taken from “The Lutheran Confessions.” http://www.wels.net/what-we-believe/statements-beliefs/lutheran-confessions.

12 Leith, 64. The Confession may be found at http://www.lcms.org/lutheranconfessions.

13 Ibid.

14 Haara interview, July 3, 2013.

15 http://www.lcms.org/lutheranconfessions. The titles of the articles are taken from the Confession as found in Leith, 67–107. The translation and titles in the online document are slightly different.

16 Ibid.

17 David Haara interview.

18 http://lcms.org/bookofconcord/augsburgconfession.asp.

19 Ibid. Apparently the statement against the Anabaptists refers to the abuses of the Zwickau Prophets.

20 Ibid. This is practically identical to Calvin’s statement: “Hence the form of the Church appears and stands forth conspicuous to our view. Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there we cannot have any doubt that the Church of God has some existence, since his promise cannot fail, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Mt. 18:20).” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), IV, i, 9.

21 “The Augsburg Confession,” http://els.org/beliefs/augsburg confession/#articleVIII. Accessed January 1, 2015.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., The New Schaff-Herzogg Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Baker, 19509reprint, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc12.i.html. Accessed February 23, 2015.

25 Ibid.

26 http://www.evangelicallutheransynod.org/augsburgcon-fession/#articleVIII. Accessed January 1, 2015.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid. The last statement apparently opposes Melchoir Hoffman’s view of eschatology. Hoffman believed that Strasbourg would be the New Jerusalem and that he himself was the Prophet Elijah chosen to announce the event. See http://www.mennosimons.net/melchiorhoffman.html.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 http://lcms.org/bookofconcord/augsburgconfession.asp.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid.

43 E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America—Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 398.

44 Ibid.

45 David Haara, interview of July 3, 2013, confirmed that the concept of the ubiquity of Christ’s body deals with the real presence of Christ’s body in Communion.

46 http://bookofconcord.org/decet-romanum.php.