Sola Lutherianus

From an article by Pastor Bryan “Theological Bull Rider” Wolfmueller of Table Talk radio entitled “Lutheran Exceptionalism“:

Here is a simple question: What do Lutherans believe and confess that no one else does? Lutherans have a unique history, unique texts, unique songs, but what is theologically unique about Lutheran teaching?

The answer is simple, but with profound implications. The Lutherans are the only ones who teach that the Holy Spirit works exclusively through the external Word of God and sacraments to create and sustain faith and give salvation. Lutherans believe this. No one else does. …

Is that true? A simple survey of Christian theology will establish the fact.

Most Protestants (including American Evangelicals, Baptists, etc.) have abandoned the sacraments and replaced them with symbolic ordinances. The Scriptures (in revivalistic fashion) are simply information that needs to be acted upon by our free will.

The Reformed (our closest theological relative) has inherited from Calvin the distinction between the external word and the internal call. They understand the sacraments as “spiritual”, whatever that means.

The Roman church places the authority of the church over (or at least on par with, which means over) the Scriptures. The sacraments are not the means of pardon or forgiveness, but means through which the church dispenses God’s meritorious-good-work-empowering grace.

And that basically covers them all. There is not a single church out there that understands the work of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace.

Of course, we judge that Wolfmueller has hit his targets of “Most Protestants” and Rome squarely on the nose. And though he takes a jab at Calvinists as well (which is not unexpected; there are reasons that Lutherans are not Calvinists and vice versa), at least he affords us the pre-eminent status of “closest theological relative.” But what is the Calvinist response to this jab?

Early in the article, Wolfmueller quotes Melancthon, “through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith.” And from the Formula of Concord, “the preaching and hearing of God’s Word are instruments of the Holy Ghost, by, with, and through which He desires to work efficaciously, and to convert men to God.” That phrasing jarred me a little; perhaps it is significant that Calvinist terminology usually calls Word and Sacrament means, and faith is the alone instrument of justification. But then later, Formula of Concord also says, “both the ancient and modern enthusiasts have taught that God converts men, and leads them to the saving knowledge of Christ through His Spirit, without any created means and instrument, that is, without the external preaching and hearing of God’s Word.” So maybe the Lutherans simply don’t distinguish between means and instruments.

I find it interesting also that this article is strangely missing the usual Lutheran rhetoric about the efficacy of the sacraments (and Wolfmueller certainly loves him some baptismal regeneration!). How about this quote from Formula of Concord:

Against both these parties the pure teachers of the Augsburg Confession have taught and contended that by the fall of our first parents man was so corrupted that in divine things pertaining to our conversion and the salvation of our souls he is by nature blind, that, when the Word of God is preached, he neither does nor can understand it, but regards it as foolishness; also, that he does not of himself draw nigh to God, but is and remains an enemy of God, until he is converted, becomes a believer [is endowed with faith], is regenerated and renewed, by the power of the Holy Ghost through the Word when preached and heard, out of pure grace, without any cooperation of his own.

Sounds pretty Calvinist to me!


This entry was posted in Baptism, Calvin, Calvinism, Compare and Confess, Confessionalism, Confessions, Ecclesiology, Gospel, Lutheranism, Protestant preaching, Protestantism/Catholicism, Quotes, Reformation Day, Reformed Confessionalism, Revivalism, The Lord's Supper. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Sola Lutherianus

  1. John Harutunian says:

    An interesting post! I’m pretty much with the Lutherans when it comes to the Eucharist. But I see no Scriptural support for their belief that God creates faith in infants through Baptism.

  2. Danny Hyde says:

    The difference on this point is the word “exclusive.” We, too, believe the Holy Spirit works through the Word and sacraments, but we also say he is free to work above means.

  3. RubeRad says:

    Interesting. So does that mean a Lutheran would say that a newborn that dies before baptism is guaranteed hellbound?

  4. Richard says:

    No, it doesn’t. My understanding is that, from the Lutheran viewpoint, infants who die are “Heavenbound”–period.

  5. Rick says:

    All infants everywhere?

  6. Rick says:


    Wasn’t Luther himself converted by way of a private reading of scripture?

    I don’t think the writer truly understands the Calvinist (Reformed) views of the sacraments. But that’s OK – I don’t fully understand the Lutheran views.

  7. Richard says:


    I think so–but I’m not Lutheran, and I’ve been wrong before, as my wife reminds me.

  8. John Yeazel says:

    I have come to believe that if Luther and Calvin were able to come together and hash out their differences theologically they probably would have been able to come to some kind of resolution. The differences are significant in regards to baptism and the Lord’s Supper but I’m betting that they could have resolved those differences too. Lutherans were probably more to blame for the divisions that came between Calvinists and Lutherans after the deaths of both reformers. But I certainly am not qualified to comment much further than that. Any scholars out there who want to give a more comprehensive response?

  9. John Yeazel says:

    I just finished D.G. Hart’s book on Nevin and he goes into some of the debates that took place between Nevin and a confessional Lutheran (I forget the theologians name) which I thougt was interesting and insightful. The book is well worth reading.

  10. Richard says:

    I’m not a scholar, John, but I just finished reading a bio of Martin Bucer, the Reformer from (mainly) Strausborg, who in many ways was Calvin’s teacher. He struggled mightily to come to an agreement with Luther, meeting with him several times. He actually, in 1536, signed something, the “Wittenburg Concord,” with Luther which came to an agreement on the Supper. The Concord went nowhere.

  11. John Yeazel says:


    I did not know that Luther and Bucer met. And I knew nothing of a “Wittenberg Concord.” That is even more interesting. Who was your source for that information? Was it in a book your read or something else? Do you know the reasons why it went nowhere? They were both probably busy with surviving the onslaughts of the Catholics, Anabaptists and nobleman who turned against them and did not have the time to pursue it further. Plus I am sure other lesser lights confused and misinterpreted each others positions and it was never mended properly.

  12. Richard says:


    References to the Concord are available on-line. The book on Bucer is a recent one by Martin Greschat–it’s pretty good. Bucer apparently did yeoman’s work to come to an agreement with Luther, travelling literally all over the place to meet with him. He was an amazing guy.

  13. Carter says:

    Rube and Richard,

    For what it’s worth, my sister attends a conservative Lutheran church, and her pastor told her that without baptism, at best he would be uncertain of a child’s salvation.

  14. Zrim says:

    I’m still working on what the post-pic might mean: Kevin is splashing on his dad’s cologne…something about baptism?

    But jabs and whatnot aside, judging by all the parachurch movementism, I still find it curious how so many of us Reformed seem to think Baptists and broad evangelicals instead of Lutherans are our closest theological relatives.

  15. Rick says:

    no kidding. I always consider MS Lutheran Churches as a possibility when traveling in unfamiliar areas. Put the Episcopal Church in that category too. I think it’s because we’ve by-and-large lost the high-church aspect of our Calvinism. Most would rather have comfort in the pew over closeness in theology. Shame.

    And I’d take Lutheran baptism over credo any day.

    Pic: I’m thinking the “Alone” (Sola) part of the movie title has something to do with it.

    P.S. – I just remembered I’m supposed to e-mail you…

  16. RubeRad says:

    Yes, the pic was for “alone” as well as a facial expression of “what the what?!”

  17. Nathan says:

    The Wittenberg Concord is an interesting document, but both from reading the three points of agreement and what few papers there are about its history it was never really taken seriously by either party. The only English translation that is published exists in the 2nd volume of the 1908 Book of Concord that was published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America along with Martin Bucer’s explanation of the document. Unfortunately, the book is not yet on Google books so you would need to either be within range of a seminary library or do an intra-library loan to see the document. I did actually find a few on Abebooks and I would recommend this volume over the more recent 2nd volume by Kolb, Wengert, and Arand because it includes a lot more documents.

    For some historical background on the document from a more contemporary Lutheran perspective James M. Kittelson and Ken Schurb published an article in April 1986 for the Concordia Theological Quarterly that is online titled “The Curious Histories of the Wittenberg Concord.” There are a few more articles online about the document. The Lord’s Supper controversy in the 16th century between the Lutherans and the Reformed was more complicated – at least on a blow by blow level – than many people realize.

  18. John Yeazel says:

    Thanks Nathan for that input- that was really interesting. I will try to see if I can get a hold of some of the resources you mentioned. The sacrament controversies got to be very complex and I’m not sure if there will ever be any clear answers until the already becomes the not yet. I guess the question becomes whether the Lutherans and Calvinists can come to a reconciliation over their differences and if a reconciliation is really necessary.

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