Reflections on Calvinism and Lutheranism
Marvin Olasky some time back wrote a colum in WORLD magazine in which he documented from several sources how profoundly
unchurched and immoral Puritan New England was. What? The bastion of
Puritanical Calvinism? Yes, none other!
More women were fornicating than attending church on Sunday morning.
Abortions were not at all uncommon. More men were sleeping off a
Saturday night binge than were in church. Church attendance was at an
all time low. No wonder the Calvinists had to pass laws to try to
legislate behavior. I found it all very interesting. The Calvinist
"system" is coming clearer for me. In the same issue there is an
article by a Calvinist columnist describing how she finds comfort,
purpose and meaning in life. But not a word about Jesus Christ. None..
Just talk of the great Sovereign God.
It has become clear to me that for Calvinism, since its foundational thinking about God flows from the
premise that the chief characteristic of God is his "Sovereignty," it
makes perfect sense that the Sovereign God would lay down hard and fast
rules and laws for all eternity but then turn right around and order
his people to break them by putting, for example, images in the house
constructed for His worship. After all, in their system, this same God
is the one who, despite telling everyone through His Son that He loves
the whole world and that the atoning sacrifice of His Son was for the
sins of the whole world, turns right around and decides to create some
people just so He can send them off to roast in Hell, while others, He
determines to be in Heaven. You don’t really need the atoning sacrifice
of Christ in this system. You see the Sovereign God simply is
Sovereign. That settles it. I’m not really sure what point there was
for Him to send His Son anyway, but I guess that too is just to be
chalked up to the Sovereign God.
And this Sovereign God is also so remote and "other" from His
creation, that we can not possibly suggest that this infinite God is
capable of associating Himself with the finite. In fact, it is an
affront to this Sovereign Other in Calvinistic thinking to suggest that
the actual humanity of a human being is so closely united to Divinity
that He is now truly, actually present in, with and under bread and
wine of the Holy Supper, even as he was in, with and under the assumed
humanity from the God-bearer, the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Jesus is God, in the flesh, in the womb of the Virgin Mother. Christ,
is God, in the flesh, on the cross, crucified, died and buried, risen
again for our salvation.
And so it then is necessary for Calvinists to speak of a "spiritual
presence" of Christ, but in such a way as to avoid at all costs
actually regarding him as truly present where He promised to locate
Himself: under bread and wine, with His actual body and blood, given
from the hand of the pastor, into the mouth of the communicant. His
Glory dwelt between the Seraphim, but it seems for Calvinism, that
can’t be truly said of the Man Jesus Christ, now and into all eternity
as our Ascended Lord and King.
All this has come very clear to me and frankly the way some of my Calvinist
friends deal with the subject of images, it is perfectly,
rationally consistent with their theology. Rather than starting in the
Mercy and Grace of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus, Calvinism proceeds
first from speculations about the Sovereign Lord and then works itself
out from there.
With the Mother of Our Lord, I rejoice in God my Savior, who has blessed
us all through the humble Virgin Mother of God, through whom He took on
human flesh and blood and now, and for all eternity, is united with our
humanity in such a way that truly we look at the man Jesus and say, "My
Lord and My God" and receive the body and blood of this God-Man as the
atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, into our mouths, for
the blessing of both body and soul.
But I find myself concerned when I survey Lutheranism. How many
Lutherans in this country believe that the best way best to reach out
to people is by using methods and techniques that embody and rely on
essential characteristics of Evangelicalism, Non-Denominationalism,
Pentecostalism and the like.
These revivalistic measures are reactions to Calvinism! They are not
compatible with Lutheranism. When there is such a rich, warm, glowing
treasure of truth at the hearth on which the fire of Biblical
Lutheranism blazes, why do we feel such a need to run outside and pick
up a few Calvinistic Reformed/Evangelical or Revivalistic sticks to rub
together for light? Do we not realize that American Evangelicalism and
Revivalism is the natural reaction to Calvinism’s dreary
double-predestination and lack of certainty about the presence of
Christ in His Word and Sacraments, its distortion and confusion of Law
and Gospel, its emphasis on the Sovereignty of God at the expense of
the mercy and love of God in Christ?
When a theological tradition holds out the message that there is
finally no way to know if one is saved, or damned, other than to throw
oneself into the arms of a Sovereign God’s whims, is it any wonder that
the response to this will be emotionalism and revivalism, trying
desperately to work up in the human psyche some assurance of salvation?
When Calvinism holds out empty sacraments that are mere legal
requirements to be obeyed, rather than actual saving actions of a
merciful, loving Christ, present among His people as He has promised to
be, is it any wonder people run from such "Sacraments" and the
"Sovereign God" and throw themselves down at the feet of false prophets
like Joel Osteen and other wolves in sheep’s clothing like him? ?But
why would we Lutherans want to mimic sterile worship spaces, and
revialistic practices? Why would we want to have among us practices and
techniques that mirror revivalism and emotionalism and then expect
anyone to bother much with what Lutheranism is all about? This has
given me much to think about indeed.
Let this point be clear and may God grant it for Jesus sake . . .
The differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism, and all those
churches that are spiritual heirs of Zwingli and Calvin, or reactions
against it: Reformed, Presbyterian, Episcopalianism, Methodism,
Baptist, Pentecostal, Non-Denominational, and all the rest – these
differences are every bit as harmful, serious and threatening to the
truth of God’s Word as the differences between Lutheranism and Roman
Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. One person I know suggested that
Roman Catholicism added to God’s Word while the Reformed removed things
from it. Simply affirming an inerrant Bible is no reason to assume that
the theological differences are either relatively minor or of no great
consequence. Affirming an inerrant Bible, which I do, is no guarantee
of fidelity to what the Inerrant Word of God teaches.
Am I with these remarks suggesting that Lutherans are perfect
people? No, quite the opposite. We are poor, miserable sinners who
deserving nothing but God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We daily
sin much and deserve nothing but His wrath and condemnation. We flee
for mercy to our Lord Jesus Christ, seeking and imploring God’s mercy
for His sake. Lutheranism has many failings and faults and
imperfections. Some of my Lutheran friends find these so disturbing
that they think the "escape hatch" is to be found in Eastern Orthodoxy.
But they are just deceiving themselves with the allure of grass that
seems greener on the other side of the ecclesiastical fence.
This blog discussion and debate over images and commandments has
really helped me realize what a stark contrast there is between
Biblical Christianity, and Calvinism and all derivations, or reactions,
to it. To whatever extent Calvinism does teach and cling to the
revealed Gospel in Sacred Scripture, I thank God, but to the extent
that it does not, I, with Luther must say, "They have a different
spirit. They can expect no fellowship from me." Amen and Amen.