Both Calvinism and Lutheranism emerged in the 16th century during the Reformation movement following the teachings of John Calvin and Martin Luther respectively. John Calvin (the father of Calvinism) was a French theologian whose teachings lay emphasis on the sovereignty of God, the authority of scripture, and predestination. Martin Luther (the father of Lutheranism) was a German theologian and his teachings focused on justification by faith alone, the priesthood of all beliefs, and the authority of scripture. Calvinism and Lutheranism have a common origin because they rose in response to the shortcomings o the catholic church. They, therefore, hold similar views against some of the teaching of the catholic church. However, there are still some notable differences between them.
One of the most notable differences between Calvinism and Lutheranism is their understanding of salvation. Calvinism believes that salvation is only for the elect who are predestined and chosen by God. Lutheranims on the other hand believe that anyone who believes can be saved and that there are no limits to the atonement. Other less obvious differences include liturgical differences, church administration as well as societal impacts.
Calvinistic views of salvation
Calvinists have three important tenets of salvation namely: limited atonement and salvation of the elect, assurance of salvation, and perseverance of the saints. Let’s take a look at each of these:
- Limited atonement and salvation for the elect: According to Calvinism, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross was meant only for the elect that God predestined for salvation. Calvinist doctrine teaches that not everyone qualifies for salvation because it is reserved for the elect.
- Assurance of salvation: Calvinism teaches that the elect have the assurance of salvation which means that they cannot lose it. They believe that God’s sovereign will guarantee salvation for the elect who can then not lose it.
- Perseverance of the saints: Calvinists believe that the ones that are saved will continue with their good works of salvation till the end of their time on earth because the grace of God is irresistible to the elect.
Lutheran views on salvation
Lutheran views on salvation can also be categorized into three:
- Universal grace and salvation – Lutheranism is against the notion of limited atonement but teaches the concept of universal grace which argues that God’s grace is open to all people and that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ can be saved.
- Faith for salvation – Lutherans believe that justification only comes by faith. The Lutherans emphasize that individuals can only be saved by grace through faith and that good works do not contribute to attaining salvation.
- Assurance of salvation – Lutheranism teaches that assurance of salvation can be found in the promises of God. The concept of the authority of scripture is upheld and that is seen as the source of the assurance of salvation for the believers.
Worship and Church Practices
Calvinistic worship and practices
- The Centrality of the Word: Calvinists believe in expository preaching of the scriptures. Sermons are an important part of a Calvinist worship service because they are believed to be how God communicates his will to the church.
- Sacraments: Calvinists recognize two sacraments: baptism and the Eucharist. These are observed as symbolic acts that not only signify but also seal a believer’s acceptance of the redemptive work of the cross. However, the sacraments are not viewed as vehicles of grace as is the case in other Christian denominations.
- Church governance and structure: Calvinistic churches adopt a reformed or Presbyterian model of leadership. As such, they have a hierarchical structure that recognizes elder or presbyters who govern the church. Since the church leaders are elected by the congregants, this form of leadership encourages shared responsibility in the administration of the church.
Lutheran worship and practices
- Liturgical Worship and the Sacraments: Lutheran worship follows a liturgical approach that subscribes to a structured order. Prayers, responsive readings, and sermons are some common elements of Lutheran liturgy. The Lutherans also observe the sacraments of baptism and the holy communion and these sacraments are regarded as means of grace conveying God’s forgiveness and presence.
- Music and hymns: chorales and hymns play a vital role in Lutheran worship tradition. Martin Luther composed lots of hymns that are still being sung in Lutheran churches. Music is believed to be a tool for proclaiming the gospel just as much as it is a form of worshiping God.
- Church organization and polity: Lutherans have various forms of church organization. However, most Lutherans use a synodical or episcopal structure. Synadocial Lutherans have assemblies or synods that govern them while Episcopal ones are governed by Bishops who are in charge of defined regions. A combination of central authority and local autonomy is encouraged in Lutheran churches.
Influence on Society and Culture
Calvinism’s Impact on Society
- Work ethic and economic prosperity: Calvinism has influenced a strong work ethic because Calvinists believe that every aspect of one’s life constitutes the calling. Calvinists are therefore more dedicated to their mundane work which they do not consider as mundane responsibilities but rather as a ministry to God.
- Education and literacy: Calvinism places a high value on education and literacy. The Calvinist doctrine emphasized the importance of literacy in order to allow each person to read the Bible for themselves. Calvinists, therefore, established schools and championed the education of clergy and laity. This focus result in higher literacy levels amongst the Calvinist populations which helped in the intellectual and cultural development of society.
- Influence on political thought: Calvinist doctrine advocates for the separation of powers, protection of personal liberties, and limited government. It is believed that the governmental view promoted by Calvinism is what resulted in the development of democratic systems.
Lutheranism’s Impact on Society
- Reformation and German culture: The Reformation movement that was led by Martin Luther made huge waves in Germany and had a huge impact on the German intellectual art, music, literature, religious, and social life of Germany.
- Education and vernacular Bible: Lutheranism also put emphasis on the need for education because Martin Luther encouraged every believer to read the Bible on their own. Consequently, Martin Luther also led the translation of the Bible into Garman in order to make it accessible to individuals who didn’t speak Latin.
- Impact on church-state relations: Lutheranism had a complex relationship with the state not only in Germany but also in Scandinavia. For instance, in some regions, the Lutheran church became the official state church which led to a close relationship between the church and the ruling authorities. Lutheranims, therefore, led to the establishment of state-church relations. on one hand, the state helped in observing religious affairs while on the other hand, the church helped in supporting stability and cohesion in the society.
By and large, Calvinism and Lutheranism are distinct in their various unique ways. For instance, while Calvinism stands for predestination, Lutheranism teaches that salvation is open for all that believe. But even though the two have a wide spectrum of beliefs that may not tally, the impact they had on society was huge. For example, both denominations promoted literacy and social cohesion in society. So, even with their differences, the two have had similarly positive impacts on society.