A response to “Christology – Differences Between Calvinists and Lutherans”

A reply to Paleolutheran’s Youtube video: Differences between Calvinism & Lutheranism

You start your video stating that “they [Calvinists] start with [God’s sovereignty] where as we would start with Christ”. I believe this is a false dichotomy common among Lutherans, firstly Christ IS God, always has been God. Christ therefore is sovereign. When Calvinists speak of God, we speak of the Triune God of Scripture. Yes, the three persons of the Trinity have differing roles in the plan and purpose of God, but that plan is a primary focus of Scripture, “namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” and “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself”. Since Paul saw fit to make these points foundational to understanding the mission of Christ, we believe this is important too.

You ask how Scripture can get us “logically from God’s Sovereignty to the Cross” and it is apparent thusly: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4) The Triune Sovereign God’s plan was, from before the foundation of the world to save and sanctify a people to reign with His Son through the shedding of His Son’s blood and His resurrection from the dead. Without God’s Sovereignty, the cross is meaningless, and vice versa. No matter where you “start”, you end up at the other.

When you say that the Gospels aren’t about God’s Sovereignty, you seemingly gut vast sections of the Gospels because of a preconcieved notion. God is love, but God is ALSO just etc. One cannot propose that God is love apart from the fact that God is just (and sovereign.) Let me explain, John 3:16, the most often quoted passage about God’s love is surrounded by verses in the immediate context that describe God’s justice and sovereignty as well. While it is true that “God so loved the world” it is equally true that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”. Also, consider the intensity with which Christ expresses God’s complete sovereignty over salvation in John 6:

John 6:37-40 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

The climax of this is found soon thereafter:

John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

Here is the exhaustive sovereignty of God (and thus Christ) expressed in THE GOSPEL. The Calvinist contends that apart from God’s sovereignty, God’s love is not rightly understood and vice versa.

You then say “We freely confess that Mary is the mother of God” – Great so do we, do not confuse greater fuzzy-evangelicalism with Reformed theology and/or Calvinism. Just because modern Purpose-Drivel evangelicals shudder when the concept of theotokos is presented, does not mean that Calvinists deny it.

As far as “body and blood”, Robert Letham says the following:

Christ does not come down to us in his body and blood. Instead, we are lifted up to him by the Holy Spirit. Christ, being the eternal Son of God, is of course, everywhere. Moreover, he has permanently united himself to the human nature assumed in the incarnation. In that sense, the person of Christ is present with us as we eat and drink. Yet, on earth, the Son of God was not restricted or confined to the humanity he assumed, but was simultaneously filling all things, directing the universe even as (according to the flesh) he walked the dusty roads of Palestine. So, at the right hand of God, the Son fills and directs the universe (Col. 1:15-20), now unbreakably united to his assumed humanity, while in terms of that same humanity he is limited and in one place. Yet that humanity is never separate or apart from the divinity, the eternal Son of God with whom and in whom it is one undivided person. Thus, in the sacrament the Holy Spirit unites the faithful to the person of Christ as they eat and drink the signs, the physical elements of bread and wine. There is an inseparable conjunction of sign and reality. As truly as we eat the bread and drink the wine, so we feed on Christ by faith.” (Robert Letham, The Lord’s Supper, 28-29).

You state that Calvin (and thus Calvinists) believed that “physical flesh could not contain the divine” and that the “divine nature cannot communicate divine attributes to the physical nature”, I ask that you provide a specific citation and context for this claim. If I know the quote you’re referring to, Calvin is speaking of our capacity to contain the divine in a sense of understanding, grasping, not that Christ could not be God and man nor that humans could not be indwelt by the Spirit of God. Otherwise, not being an expert on the words of Calvin, I can only suggest that you interact with more scholarly Calvinists on this specific subject before claiming what you have.

But on another note, you state “God can do whatever he wants” in relation to the Eucharistic meal being Christ’s physical body and blood. The question is not “what can God do”, for as you noted, Calvinists are believers in the sovereignty of God (to an extreme!) and thus willingly accept that God “can” do anything, rather the question is: What DID and DOES God do? Does Scripture support the view that the elements of the Eucharist are transformed into Christ’s body and blood, or that Christ’s body and blood are in, with and under the elements? Both camps stake their claim on the very same verses wherein Christ says “this is my body” etc. But this language is strikingly similar to where Christ states that “I am the vine” and the like. If you disagree with this, you must explain why, not simply rest upon an ipse dixit.

Why MUST these verses be interpreted as Lutherans do? What grammatical or contextual evidence supports your claim? And what Biblical reason can you present to show that Lutheran view is the correct one whereas the Roman Catholic view is not?

You stated that: “It also comes to pass that many Calvinists… denied that Mary was Theotokos.” Can you please tell us which Calvinists specifically? It is evident that Calvin accepted the historical title and what it identified, namely who Christ was, more so than who His mother was. Your usage of this in a video defining the differences between “Calvinists and Lutherans” suggests that you don’t know Calvinists nor Calvin very well.

You suggest that Calvinists believe that the “divine aspect of Christ [is] running around… disembodied on Earth”, what is your basis for this claim? What Calvinist writings have you read that state such? Calvinists do not believe that the divine nature of Christ is separated from the human nature of Christ, yet is it the Lutheran who believes that Christ’s divinity is in heaven and his true flesh and blood here on Earth? Why is the charge not reversible?

You state that “in their [Calvinist] doctrine they have explicitly stated Nestorianism, roughly”. Firstly, please provide citations wherein Calvinists state a belief in Nestorianism, secondly please explain how something can be “explicitly stated, roughly”.

You then make the claim that Calvinists attempt to rationalize (the supper?) and figure out God’s ways. Yet it is not Calvinists who want to say that Christ’s body and blood must be “in, with and under” the elements, rather we recognize the Spiritual mystery that is the supper and admit that Christians do feed on Christ really and spiritually, taking true nourishment from the Son of God. Who is rationalizing? Who is really letting the Scripture speak
and rightly dividing the Word of Truth? Herein lies the rub, if one cannot discern a clear difference between the Roman Catholic reasoning for transubstantiation and Lutheran reasoning for their view what difference is there but semantics?

Now, don’t get me wrong here, I realize that Lutherans are NOT Roman Catholics on this matter, but it seems odd to me that this video starts out by claiming that Calvinists “start with God’s sovereignty” and yet it seems that the video is more about calling Calvinists Nestorian without any actual citations or evidence to that claim only the attempted figuring by supposed Calvinist statements. Paleolutheran doesn’t spend much time actually explaining what is wrong with accepting God’s Sovereignty simultaneously with God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice.

(One note here, for Paleolutheran’s benefit: One will often hear Calvinists defending God’s sovereignty more often than other aspects of God’s nature not because that is their primary doctrine, as is often the claim, rather it is because throughout history the opposition to Reformed doctrine has taken a decidedly semi-Pelagian or Pelagian view of the fall and the nature of man. Calvinists are therefore having to defend the sovereignty of God over the supposed “free will” of man from those of a more Arminian and/or Pelagian persuasion.)

Again, you seemingly quote: “the divine nature cannot communicate divine attributes to the physical nature”, I again ask for a specific citation and context by which to understand this claim. If, as I suspect, this ‘quote’ is taken out of context, and in partial, most of the basis for your video falls apart.

Finally, here is what Calvinists actually believe about the supper:

The Lord’s supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace… (WCF, Larger Catechism, Q.168)

…they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death. (WCF, Larger Catechism, Q.171)

In like manner God hath given us, for the support of the bodily and earthly life, earthly and common bread, which is subservient thereto and is common to all men, even as life itself. But for the support of the spiritual and heavenly life which believers have, He hath sent a living bread, which descended from heaven, namely, Jesus Christ, who nourishes and strengthens the spiritual life of believers when they eat Him, that is to say, when they apply and receive Him by faith in the spirit… n the meantime we err not when we say that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body and the proper blood of Christ. But the manner of our partaking of the same is not by the mouth, but by the spirit through faith. Thus, then, though Christ always sits at the right hand of His Father in the heavens, yet doth He not therefore cease to make us partakers of Himself by faith. This feast is a spiritual table, at which Christ communicates Himself with all His benefits to us, and gives us there to enjoy both Himself and the merits of His sufferings and death, nourishing, strengthening, and comforting our poor comfortless souls by the eating of His flesh, quickening and refreshing them by the drinking of His blood. (Article 35 — The Holy Supper of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Belgic Confession)

One final word, I am excited to see Lutherans willing to deal with these issues openly. As I’ve stated previously, it seems that Lutherans are content to do hit-and-run apologetics, whereby they accuse Calvinists of all sorts of errors and yet neither backup their claims nor respond to their critics. I hope this is not the case here.

3 thoughts to “A response to “Christology – Differences Between Calvinists and Lutherans””

  1. Reply to Micah Burke (http://radongas.blogspot.com – Friday March 14th, 2008):<BR/><BR/>Greetings in the name of Christ Jesus!<BR/><BR/>PARAGRAPH 1: The false dichotomy between God’s sovereignty and God’s love was not my intention, nor do I believe it to be most honest Lutherans’. In reality, we believe in God’s sovereignty as well, and I know Calvinists believe in God’s love. The issue is

  2. Chris,<BR/><BR/>Thanks for your reply, I’ll try to respond as best I can.<BR/><BR/>You state: “Calvin starts his Institutes as if he were speaking to persons who did not accept the Scriptures. Lutherans start by talking to Christians.”<BR/><BR/>This could be a central issue in how Lutherans and Calvinists view each other’s position. It is apparent even within Calvinistic circles that an ‘

  3. Hey Micah,<BR/><BR/>I haven’t forgotten about you :-). I’ve just had my hands quite full recently. Hopefully before the end of the week I’ll have a chance to thoughtfully respond to the above post.<BR/><BR/>Hope you had a blessed Easter.

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