Southern Baptists are currently embroiled in a controversy over “Calvinist Baptists.” David Koyzis and Collin Garbarino over at the First Things blog are asking if there can be Calvinist Baptists, why can’t there be “Lutheran Baptists”?
After all, Lutherans were flexible about allowing different kinds of church polities. Calvin is associated with Presbyterianism. One might think that Luther’s theology would be more adaptable. When it comes to soteriology, says Mr. Garbarino, Calvinism and Lutheranism are pretty much the same anyway. (He adds in a parentheses: “I know some people will disagree with that last statement, but those people are wrong.”)
The discussion shows the profound misunderstanding of Lutheran theology that drives us Lutherans crazy. Here we see on both sides of the issue the view that Calvinism is the same as Lutheranism except without the sacraments, which really don’t matter all that much so why can’t we just get along?
To understand Lutheranism, it is necessary to recognize that the Lutheran understanding of salvation by grace and justification by faith cannot be separated from the Lutheran teachings of baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
These teachings are all intimately connected with each other in Lutheran theology and spirituality. If you play them off against each other, thinking you can have Lutheran soteriology without Lutheran sacramental theology, you might have Calvinists or Baptists or Calvinist Baptists or something else, but you cannot have Lutherans. Nor can you have Lutheran Calvinists or Calvinist Lutherans or Lutheran Baptists or Baptist Lutherans.
Can you have Lutheranism in a sacramental church that is not an explicitly Lutheran denomination? Can you have Lutheran Anglicans? Or Lutheran Catholics? I think that’s what we did have in the early years of the Reformation. Perhaps that’s possible again.
Parts of the Anglican tradition have tried a quasi-Lutheran sacramental theology, while playing down the Gospel, the reverse of what the Calvinists have tried, but it still amounts to much the same thing and certainly cannot be described as Lutheran. And yet I know of Anglicans in the past and present who might be described as Lutheran, though usually with some qualifications.
Conversely, there are certainly members of Lutheran denominations who are NOT Lutheran in their theology. I’m not sure what to call them.
I do think Christians with other theologies can learn from Lutheranism and even adopt parts of it. (That has happened with all Protestants in practices such as Bible reading and hymn singing.) The doctrine of vocation is a good example of a Lutheran teaching that is getting wider currency today.
It’s also virtually impossible to practice Lutheranism by oneself, never going to church. You can do that with individualistic theologies. It is possible to be a Baptist or a Calvinist without going to church. But the Lutheran emphasis on the sacraments means that you have to receive them from someone in an actual assembly, which means that you must have a pastoral office and local parishes, along with institutions to train the pastors and associations of congregations with the same beliefs and practices.
So the bottom line is that Lutheranism is going to manifest itself in a specific church body. It’s not easily detachable from “Lutheran churches.”
And yet, it may well be possible to have Lutheran convictions while being part of a different church tradition.
I’m not certain about all of this. Please help me out here.