Mail Bag: Lutheranism and Reformed Theology

[I recently received an email that gave me a chance to write on this subject of Lutheranism and Reformed theology which has been on my mind for many years. I figured I’d share my response here in case it might be of value to others]

The email reads in part:

“You have mentioned that you were Lutheran and reading Gordon Clark helped  you become reformed. I was curious what works helped you in this area. I myself have been considering Lutheranism and I am currently reformed. … My best, A.–”

My response:

Hey A.–,

Good to hear from you.

I was in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) until about age 25 and for a time considered attending their seminary in St. Louis. I believe that the LCMS and the WLS (Wisconsin Lutheran Synod) are good churches. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on the other hand is apostate is to use that strong word. There is much to appreciate in the conservative Lutheran churches. They are strong defenders of Creationism and they preach the Gospel.

However, I don’t think “paradox” is the way to go theologically. When God revealed His Word to us in the Scriptures, He did exactly that – He revealed something (knowledge) to man. We should seek to understand it. I believe it largely, if not entirely, can and should be understood.

The Bible nowhere teaches “paradox.”

So the Lutheran church has developed a theory of paradox. Part of the Reformed world (Van Til) has also developed a theory of paradox. How do we chose between these theories? Lutheranism says that (1) God loves ALL men, (2) not all men will be saved, (3) we don’t know why. Van Til accepts that there are many many more paradoxes in the Scriptures, yet believes in some version of Calvinistic soteriology over against the Lutheran paradox on that point.

In Lutheranism I was often given the impression that Calvinists (and even Arminians) used “Magisterial Reason” to force views out of Scripture. The Lutheran says, “we should just keep it as read.” I now believe this Lutheran critique is wrong and that their view is impossible. No man is an island, and no verse is in isolation.

All this to say, it is absolutely critical and necessary that we understand the Scriptures by “comparing Scripture with Scripture.” This is the most important hermeneutical principle, perhaps ultimately the only principle; the one from which all others may be derived.

Holding that God is not the author of confusion and comparing Scripture with Scripture means that (1) we must accept standard logic in order to do the comparing, and (2) when we find “paradox” we must realize that we are misunderstanding something. When that happens, a clearer verse should improve or even overturn our previous understanding of the first.

Long story short, I believe the Reformed faith sets up this proper hermeneutic when it says in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, OR BY GOOD AND NECESSARY CONSEQUENCE MAY BE DEDUCED FROM SCRIPTURE: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.”

It is because of “good and necessary consequence” that Reformed thinkers deduce the doctrine of reprobation that the Lutherans will not touch. That is, if SOME are elected to salvation, then by good and necessary consequence SOME (the remaining) are not elected to salvation. If this be denied, then we deny logic and we have no basis for using logic anywhere else. In short, we must use logic in all places, not selectively.

While some Reformed thinkers have thus deduced the doctrine of reprobation, I believe it is also taught explicitly in the Scriptures. (Romans 9:22-23, Proverbs 16:4, 1 Peter 2:8)

This Westminster Confession also notes that an evidence to the truth of the Scriptures is “the consent of the parts.” This rules out the Lutheran view and it rules out Van Til, each of which do not believe the parts come together in a logical understandable system.

On a personal or practical note, I have found a greater interest in the faith and perhaps even a greater piety in the Reformed world over the Lutheran one. Of course your experience could be the exact opposite where you are. But I must say that as a Presbyterian minister I’m very happy we are following the Regulative Principle of Worship. I just don’t know how we’d ever make any decisions regarding worship or have any peace at the church if we opened up the elements of worship as broadly as in Lutheranism. Even my conservative Lutheran church as a child had “liturgical dance” as part of the service.

I hope this helps,

Many blessings,


3 thoughts on “Mail Bag: Lutheranism and Reformed Theology”

  1. Great and biblical reason for leaving Lutheranism for the Reformed side. I made the same change because of baptismal regeneration, images, exclusive psalmody and the RPW. I was fortunate to never have to witness a liturgical dance growing up in WELS.

  2. “Liturgical dance”!…eeeek! Thank you for this article. I was also raised in the LCMS (in St. Louis) and sat under very good preaching, but was probably at least somewhat aware of the concept of “paradox” that you discuss here. The parts of Lutheran worship that I miss are the beautiful and content-rich congregational sung liturgy and some of the hymnody. But that was in the 1950’s and 60’s. There probably aren’t even any LCMS churches who use it anymore. What a pity. See you at RRBPC this Sunday!

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