« Prev The Lutheran and Reformed Confessions. Next »

§ 39. The Lutheran and Reformed Confessions.


Max. Göbel : Die religiöse Eigenthümlichkeit der luther. und reformirten Kirche. Bonn, 1837. (This book started a good deal of discussion in Germany on the peculiar genius of the two churches.)

C. B. Hundeshagen : Die Conflicte des Zwinglianismus, Lutherthums, und Calvinismus in der Bernischen Landeskirche von 1522–1558. Berne, 1843. (The esteemed author died in Bonn, 1872.)

Merle D’aubigné (d. 1872): Luther and Calvin, translated into English, New York, 1846.

Alex. Schweizer : Glaubenslehre der reformirten Kirche. Zürich, 1844, Vol. I. pp. 7–83.

M. Schneckenburger : Vergleichende Darstellung des luther. und reform. Lehrbegriffs. Stuttgart, 1855, 2 vols. (Very acute and discriminating.) Comp. the introduction by Güder, the editor.

Philip Schaff: Germany; its Universities, Theology, and Religion. Philadelphia, 1857, Ch. xviii. and xx., Lutheranism and Reform and the Evang. Union, pp. 167–185.

Essays on the same subject by Lücke, in the Deutsche Zettschrift, Berlin, for 1853, Nos. 3 sqq.; Hagenbach, in the Studien und Kritiken for 1854, Vol. I. pp. 23–34.

Jul. Müller (Professor in Halle): Lutheri et Calvini sententiæ de Sacra Cœna inter se comparatæ, Halle, 1858. Also in his Dogmatische Abhandlungen, Bremen, 1870, pp. 404–467.


Catholicism assumed from the beginning, and retains to this day, two distinct and antagonistic types, the Greek and the Roman, which represent a Christian transformation of the antecedent and underlying nationalities of speculative Greece and world-conquering Rome. In like manner, but to a much larger extent (as may be expected from the greater liberty allowed to national and individual rights and peculiarities), is Protestantism divided since the middle of the sixteenth century into the Lutheran and the Reformed Confessions. To the former belong the established churches in most of the German States, in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and all others which call themselves after Luther; the Reformed—in the historical arid Continental sense of the term384384    As used in all Continental works on Church history and symbolics. It means originally the Catholic Church reformed of abuses, or regenerated by the Word of God. —embraces the national evangelical churches of Switzerland, France, Holland, some parts of Germany, England, Scotland, with their descendants in America and the British colonies.

The designation Reformed is insufficient to cover all the denominations and sects which have sprung directly or indirectly from this 212family since the Reformation, especially in England during the conflict of the Established Church with Puritanism and nonconformity; and hence in English and American usage it has given way to sectional and specific titles, such as Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Wesleyans or Methodists, etc. The term Calvinism designates not a church, but a theological school in the Reformed Church, which in some sections allows also Arminian views. Puritanism, likewise, is not a term for a distinct ecclesiastical organization, but for a tendency and party which exerted a powerful influence in the Anglican and other Reformed Churches on questions of doctrine, government, discipline, and worship.

Among the original Reformed Churches the Anglican stands out in many respects distinctly as a third type of Protestantism: it is the most powerful and the most conservative of all the national or established churches of the Reformation, and retains the entire basis of the mediæval hierarchy, without the papacy; it is a compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism, cemented by the royal supremacy, and leaves room, for Romanizing high-churchism and Puritanic low-churchism, as well as for intervening broad-churchism. But its original doctrinal status was moderately Calvinistic, and for a time it made even common cause with the ultra-Calvinistic Synod of Dort.

The doctrinal difference between Lutheranism and Reform was originally confined to two articles, namely, the nature of Christ's presence in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and the extent of God's sovereignty in the ante-historic and premundane act of predestination. At the Conference held in Marburg, Luther and Zwingli agreed in fourteen and a half articles, and differed only in the other half of the fifteenth article, concerning the real presence.385385    The fifteenth and last of the Marburg articles treats of the Lord's Supper, and after stating the points of agreement, concludes thus: 'And although at present we can not agree whether the true body and the true blood of Christ be corporeally present in the bread and wine (ob der wahre Leib und das wahre Blut Christi leiblich im Brode und Weine gegenwärtig sei), yet each party is to show to the other Christian love, as far as conscience permits (so weit es das Gewissen jedem gestattet), and both parties should fervently pray to Almighty God that by his Spirit he may strengthen us in the true understanding. Amen.' The Swiss reformer saw in this difference no obstacle to fraternal fellowship with the Wittenbergers, with whom, he said, he would rather agree than with any people on earth, and, with tears in his eyes, he extended his hand 213to Luther; but the great man, otherwise so generous and liberal, who had himself departed from the Catholic Church in much more essential points, felt compelled in his conscience to withhold his hand on account of a general difference of 'spirit,'386386    ' Ihr habt einen andern Geist, ' said Luther to Zwingli. which revealed itself in subsequent controversies, and defeated many attempts at reunion.

The internal quarrels among Christian brethren, which are found more or less in all denominations and ages,387387    The feuds between monastic orders and theological schools in the Roman and Greek Churches, and the quarrels even in the œcumenical Councils, from the Nicene down to the Vatican, are fully equal in violence and bitterness to the Protestant controversies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and are less excusable on account of the boasted doctrinal unity of those churches. are the most humiliating and heart-sickening chapters in Church history, but they are overruled by Providence for the fuller development of theology, a wider spread of Christianity, and a deeper divine harmony, which will ultimately, in God's own good time, spring out of human discord.

The two great families of Protestantism are united in all essential articles of faith, and their members may and ought to cultivate intimate Christian fellowship without sacrifice of principle or loyalty to their communion. Yet they are distinct ecclesiastical individualities, and Providence has assigned them peculiar fields of labor. Their differences in theology, government, worship, and mode of piety are rooted in diversities of nationality, psychological constitution, education, external circumstances, and gifts of the Spirit.

1. The Lutheran Church arose in monarchical Germany, and bears the impress of the German race, of which Luther was the purest and strongest type. The Reformed Church began, almost simultaneously, in republican Switzerland, and spread in France, Holland, England, and Scotland. The former extended, indeed, to kindred Scandinavia, and, by emigration, to more distant countries. But outside of Germany it is stunted in its normal growth, or undergoes, with the change of language and nationality, an ecclesiastical transformation.388388    This is the case with the great majority of Anglicized and Americanized Lutherans, who adopt Reformed views on the Sacraments, the observance of Sunday, Church discipline, and other points. The Reformed Church, on the other hand, while it originated in the German cantons of Switzerland, and found a home in several important parts of Germany, as the Palatinate, the Lower Rhine, and (through 214the influence of the House of Hohenzollern since the Elector Sigismund, 1614) in Brandenburg and other provinces of Prussia, was yet far more fully and vigorously developed among the maritime and freer nations, especially the Anglo-Saxon race, and follows its onward march to the West and the missionary fields of the East. The modern Protestant movements among the Latin races in the South of Europe likewise mostly assume the Reformed, some even a strictly Calvinistic type. Converts from the excessive ritualism of Rome are apt to swing to the opposite extreme of Puritan simplicity.

Germany occupies the front rank in sacred learning and scientific theology, but the future of evangelical Protestantism is mainly intrusted to the Anglo-American churches, which far surpass all others in wealth, energy, liberality, philanthropy, and a firm hold upon the heart of the two great nations they represent.

2. The Lutheran Church, as its name indicates, was rounded and shaped by the mighty genius of Luther, who gave to the Germans a truly vernacular Bible, Catechism, and hymn-book, and who thus meets them at every step in their public and private devotions. We should, indeed, not forget the gentle, conciliatory, and peaceful genius of Melanchthon, which never died out in the Lutheran Confession, and forms the connecting link between it and the Reformed. He represents the very spirit of evangelical union, and practiced it in his intimate friendship with the stern and uncompromising Calvin, who in turn touchingly alludes to the memory of his friend. But the influence of the 'Præceptor Germaniæ' was more scholastic and theological than practical and popular. Luther was the originating, commanding reformer, 'born,' as he himself says, 'to tear up the stumps and dead roots, to cut away the thorns, and to act as a rough forester and pioneer;' while 'Melanchthon moved gently and calmly along, with his rich gifts from God's own hand, building and planting, sowing and watering.' Luther was, as Melanchthon called him, the Protestant Elijah. He spoke almost with the inspiration and authority of a prophet and apostle, and his word shook the Church and the Empire to the base. He can be to no nation what he is to the German, as little as Washington can be to any nation what he is to the American.389389    Luther can only be fully understood by a German, while a Frenchman or an Englishman (with some exceptions, as Coleridge, Hare, Carlyle) is likely to be repelled by some of his writings, e.g., his coarse book against Henry VIII. Hence the unfavorable judgments of such scholars as Hallam, Sir William Hamilton, Pusey; while, on the other hand, even liberal Catholics among German scholars can not but admire him as Germans. Dr. Döllinger, long before his secession from Rome, said (in his book Kirche und Kirchen): 'Luther ist der gewaltigste Volksmann, der populärste Charakter, den Deutschland je besessen. In dem Geiste dieses Mannes, des grössten unter den Deutschen seines Zeitalters, ist die protestantische Doctrin entsprungen. Vor der Ueberlegenheit und schöpferischen Energie dieses Geistes bog damals der aufstrebende, thatkräftige Theil der Nation demuthsvoll und gläubig die Kniee.' The towering greatness of Luther is to the Lutherans a constant temptation to hero-worship, as Napoleon's brilliant military genius is a misfortune and temptation to France. Lessing expressed his satisfaction at the discovery of some defects in Luther's character, since he was, as he says, 'in imminent danger of making him an object of idolatrous veneration. The proofs that in some things he was like other men are to me as precious as the most dazzling of his virtues.' There are not a few Lutherans who have more liking for Luther's faults than for his virtues, and admire his conduct at Marburg as much, if not more, than his conduct at Worms. A very respectable Lutheran professor of theology resolved the difference between Luther and Calvin into this: that the one was human, the other inhuman! Calvin once nobly said, 'Though Luther should call me a devil, I would still revere and love him as an eminent servant of God.' If he was cruel, according to our modern notions, in his treatment of Servetus, he acted in the spirit of his age, and was approved even by the gentle Melanchthon. His followers need fear no comparison with any other Christians as to humanity and liberality. And yet, 215strange to say, with all the overpowering influence of Luther, his personal views on the canon390390    He irreverently called the Epistle of St. James an 'epistle of straw,' and had objections to the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apocalypse, and the Book of Esther. He was as thoroughly convinced of the inspiration and authority of the Word of God as the most orthodox divine can be, but he had free views on the mode of inspiration and the extent of the traditional canon. and on predestination391391    Luther, in his work De servo arbitrio, against Erasmus, written in 1525, teaches the slavery of the human will, the dualism in the divine will (secret and revealed), and unconditional predestination to salvation and damnation, in language stronger than even Calvin ever used, who liked the views of that book, but objected to some of its hyperbolical expressions (Opera, Tom. VII. p. 142). Melanchthon, who originally held the same Augustinian theory (like all the Reformers), gradually changed it (openly since 1535) in favor of a synergistic theory. But Luther never recalled his tract against Erasmus; on the contrary, he counted it among his best, and among the few of his books which he would not be willing 'to swallow, like Saturn his own children.' He never made this a point of difference from the Swiss. In the Articles of Smalcald, 1537 (III. i. p. 318, ed. Hase), he again denied the freedom of the will, as a scholastic error; and in his commentary on Genesis (Ch. vi. 6, 18; xxvi), one of his last works, he taught the same view of the secret will of God as in 1525. Comp. J. Müller: Lutheri de prædestinatione et libero arbitrio doctrina, 1832, and his Dogmat. Abhandlungen, 1870, pp. 187sqq.; Lütkens: Luther's Prædestinationslehre im Zusammenhang mit seiner Lehre vom freien Willen, 1858; Köstlin: Luther's Theologie in ihrer geschichtl. Entwicklung, 1863, Vol. II. pp. 32–55, 300–331; Schweizer: Die protest. Centraldogmen, 1854, Vol. I. pp. 57 sqq.; Dorner: Geschichte der protest. Theologie, 1867, Vol. I. pp. 194 sqq. were never accepted by his followers; and if we judge him by the standard of the Form of Concord, he is a heretic in his own communion as much as St. Augustine, on account of his doctrines of sin and grace, is a heretic in the Roman Church, revered though he is as the greatest among the Fathers.


The Reformed Church had a large number of leaders, as Zwingli, Œcolampadius, Bullinger, Calvin, Beza, Cranmer, Knox, but not one of them, not even Calvin, could impress his name or his theological system upon her. She is independent of men, and allows full freedom for national and sectional modifications and adaptations of the principles of the Reformation.

3. The Lutheran Confession starts from the wants of sinful man and the personal experience of justification by faith alone, and finds, in this 'article of the standing and falling Church,' comfort and peace of conscience, and the strongest stimulus to a godly life. The Reformed Churches (especially the Calvinistic sections) start from the absolute sovereignty of God and the supreme authority of his holy Word, and endeavor to reconstruct the whole Church on this basis. The one proceeds from anthropology to theology; the other, from theology to anthropology. The one puts the subjective or material principle of the Reformation first, the objective or formal next; the other reverses the order; yet both maintain, in inseparable unity, the subjective and objective principles of the Reformation.

The Augsburg Confession, which is the first and the most important Lutheran symbol, does not mention the Bible principle at all, although it is based upon it throughout;392392    The Preface of the Augsburg Confession declares that the Confession is 'drawn from the holy Scriptures and the pure Word of God.' the Articles of Smalcald mention it incidentally;393393    Part II. (p. 309): 'The Word of God, and no one else, not even an angel, can establish articles of faith.' ('Regulam aliam habemus, ut videlicet Verbum Dei condat articulos fidei, et præterea nemo, ne angelus quidem.') and the Form of Concord more formally.394394    Form. Conc., Part I. or Epit., at the beginning: 'We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and standard (unicam regulam et normam), according to which all doctrines and teachers alike ought to be tried and judged, are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments alone.' Comp. Preface to the Second Part. But the Reformed Confessions have a separate article de Scriptura Sacra, as the only rule of faith and discipline, and put it at the head, sometimes with a full list of the canonical books.395395    Conf. Helv. II. ch. i. (De Scriptura sancta, vero Dei verbo): ' Credimus et confitemur Scripturas canonicas sanctorum Prophetarum et Apostolorum utriusque Testamenti, ipsum verum esse Verbum Dei: et auctoritatem sufficientem ex semetipsis, non ex hominibus habere. ' Conf. Helv. I. (Basil. II.) art. 1; Conf. Gall. art. 2–5; Conf. Scot. art. 18, 19; Conf. Belg. art. 2–7; art. Angl. art. 6 (Scriptura sacra continet omnia quæ ad salutem sunt necessaria, etc., with a list of the canonical books, from which the Apocrypha are carefully distinguished); Westminster Conf. of Faith, ch. i. (more fully), etc. The exception of the first Confession of Basle is only apparent, for it concludes with a submission of all its articles to the supreme authority of the Scriptures (Postremo, hanc nostrum confessionem judicio sacræ biblicæ Scripturæ subjicimus; eoque pollicemur, si ex prædictis Scripturis in melioribus instituamur, nos ommi tempore Deo et sacrosancto ipsius Verbo maxima cum gratiarum actione obsecuturos esse').


4. The Lutheran Church has an idealistic and contemplative, the Reformed Church a realistic and practical, spirit and tendency. The former aims to harmonize Church and State, theology and philosophy, worship and art; the latter draws a sharper line of distinction between the Word of God and the traditions of men, the Church and the world, the Church of communicants and the congregation of hearers, the regenerate and the unregenerate, the divine and the human. The one is exposed to the danger of pantheism, which shuts God up within the world; the other to the opposite extreme of deism, which abstractly separates him from the world. Hence the leaning of the Lutheran Christology to Eutychianism, the leaning of the Reformed to Nestorianism.

The most characteristic exponent of this difference between the two confessions is found in their antagonistic doctrines of the Lord's Supper; and hence their controversies clustered around this article, as the Nicene and post-Nicene controversies clustered around the person of Christ. Luther teaches the real presence of Christ's body and blood in, with, and under the elements, the oral manducation by unworthy as well as worthy communicants, and the ubiquity of Christ's body; while Zwingli and Calvin, carefully distinguishing the sacramental sign from the sacramental grace, teach—the one only a symbolical, the other a spiritual real, presence and fruition for believers alone. The Romish doctrine of transubstantiation is equally characteristic of the magical supernaturalism and asceticism of Romanism, which realizes the divine only by a miraculous annihilation of the natural elements. Lutheranism sees the supernatural in the natural, Calvinism above the natural, Romanism without the natural.

5. Viewed in their relations to the mediæval Church, Lutheranism is more conservative and historical, the Reformed Church more progressive and radical, and departs much further from the traditionalism, sacerdotalism, and ceremonialism of Rome. The former proceeded on the principle to retain what was not forbidden by the Bible; the latter, on the principle to abolish what was not commanded.


The Anglican Church, however, though moderately Calvinistic in her Thirty-nine Articles, especially in the doctrine on the Scriptures and the Sacraments, makes an exception from the other Reformed communions, since it retained the body of the episcopal hierarchy and the Catholic worship, though purged of popery. Hence Lutherans like to call it a 'Lutheranizing Church;' but the conservatism of the Church of England was of native growth, and owing to the controlling influence of the English monarchs and bishops in the Reformation period.

6. The Lutheran Confession, moreover, attacked mainly the Judaism of Rome, the Reformed Church its heathenism. 'Away with legal bondage and work righteousness!' was the war-cry of Luther; 'Away with idolatry and moral corruption!' was the motto of Zwingli, Farel, Calvin, and Knox.

7. Luther and Melanchthon were chiefly bent upon the purification of doctrine, and established State churches controlled by princes, theologians, and pastors. Calvin and Knox carried the reform into the sphere of government, discipline, and worship, and labored to found a pure and free church of believers. Lutheran congregations in the old world are almost passive, and most of them enjoy not even the right of electing their pastor; while well-organized Reformed congregations have elders and deacons chosen from the people, and a much larger amount of lay agency, especially in the Sunday-school work. Luther first proclaimed the principle of the general priesthood, but in practice it was confined to the civil rulers, and carried out in a wrong way by making them the supreme bishops of the Church, and reducing the Church to a degrading dependence on the State.

8. Luther and his followers carefully abstained from politics, and intrusted the secular princes friendly to the Reformation with the episcopal rights; Calvin and Knox upheld the sole headship of Christ, and endeavored to renovate the civil state on a theocratic basis. This led to serious conflicts and wars, but they resulted in a great advance of civil and religious liberty in Holland, England, and the United States. The essence of Calvinism is the sense of the absolute sovereignty of God and the absolute dependence of man; and this is the best school of moral self-government, which is true freedom. Those who feel most their dependence on God are most independent of men.396396    The principles of the Republic of the United States can be traced, through the intervening link of Puritanism, to Calvinism, which, with all its theological rigor, has been the chief educator of manly characters and promoter of constitutional freedom in modern times. The inalienable rights of an American citizen are nothing but the Protestant idea of the general priesthood of believers applied to the civil sphere, or developed into the corresponding idea of the general kingship of free men.


9. The strength and beauty of the Lutheran Church lies in its profound theology, rich hymnology, simple, childlike, trustful piety; the strength and beauty of the Reformed Churches, in aggressive energy and enterprise, power of self-government, strict discipline, missionary zeal, liberal sacrifice, and faithful devotion, even to martyrdom, for the same divine Lord. From the former have proceeded Pietism and Moravianism, a minutely developed scholastic orthodoxy, speculative systems and critical researches in all departments of sacred learning, but also antinomian tendencies, and various forms of mysticism, rationalism, and hypercriticism. The latter has produced Puritanism, Congregationalism, Methodism, Evangelicalism (in the Church of England), the largest Bible, tract, and missionary societies, has built most churches and benevolent institutions, but is ever in danger of multiplying sectarian divisions, overruling the principle of authority by private judgment, and disregarding the lessons of history.

10. Both churches have accomplished, and are still accomplishing, a great and noble work. Let them wish each other God's speed, and stimulate each other to greater zeal. A noble rivalry is far better than sectarian envy and jealousy. There have been in both churches, at all times, men of love and peace as well as men of war, with corresponding efforts to unite Lutheran and Reformed Christians, from the days of Melanchthon and Bucer, Calixtus and Baxter, down to the Prussian Evangelical Union, the German Church Diet, and the Evangelical Alliance. Even the exclusive Church of England has entered into a sort of alliance with the Evangelical Church of Prussia in jointly founding and maintaining the Bishopric of St. James in Jerusalem.397397    Chiefly the work of Chevalier Bunsen and his congenial friend, Frederick William IV.

The time for ecclesiastical amalgamation, or organic union, has not yet come, but Christian recognition and union in essentials is quite consistent with denominational distinctions in non-essentials, and should be cultivated by all who love our common Lord and Saviour, and desire the triumph of his kingdom.

« Prev The Lutheran and Reformed Confessions. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection