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!