Calvin Luther

Catholic and Protestant split

Here are some fundamental differences that explain the visible differences:

 Area Protestant  — slogan was the “three onlies” Catholic  — rejected those “three onlies.”
Authority Bible only Bible, plus:1) Tradition, including
a.  Natural law
b.  Experiences,
such as visions
2) Pope’s Teachings
How to be Saved Faith only Faith, plus its results
Man’s and God’s part Grace only
(Grace defined as God’s attitude)
Grace (defined as something we get to help us become worthy)


Rather than “Bible only,” the Roman Catholic Church asserted that church authority is based on three things: on the Bible, on tradition (which would include beliefs based on visions and on natural philosophy), and on the teaching authority of the church, including the necessity for the pope to be the head of the church.  

Luther wanted the church to return to the Bible’s teaching about “justification by grace through faith” (that is, even though we do not deserve it, God pronounces us not guilty). The Bible says, “by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works.” (Paul, writing in Ephesians 2:10).

But in 1529, the Catholic Church said “if anyone says people are saved by faith alone, without works, let him be accursed.”  The controversy has to do with the relationship between faith and good works. Luther taught that grace is God’s attitude by which he pronounces us righteous because of Jesus’ death on the cross; by faith, we are saved, and because we have new life, we will do good works.  The Catholic teaching is that grace is given to us so that we may grow and do good works and so be more likely to be saved.

In 1999 some Christians and Catholics wrote that there is no longer any difference between them on the point of justification.  The actual words of their statement are “Together we confess: by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”  However, other Christians feel that it is premature to sign this paper, since Catholics have not changed their definition of the meaning of grace and the place of good works. There are still Catholic customs that are thought to gain merit.

The reformers translated the worship service into the language of the people, but the Roman Catholic church continued to hold worship in Latin until Vatican Council II in the 1960’s approved use of the local language.    Return to text

Differences between Luther and Calvin:

Area Luther Calvin
Emphasis finding forgiveness finding laws for Christian living
Bible function Shows Jesus; Bible is “cradle for Christ” shows God in control: stresses “sovereignty of God.”
Interpretation limit to verses alone logical conclusions beyond the verses
Example 1: communion Giving the bread in communion, Jesus says “this is my body.”  The word “is” should be accepted. Since Jesus is in heaven, therefore Jesus must not be in the bread.  Jesus is with you spiritually.
Example 2: predestination1 Though the Bible comforts believers by saying God predestinedthem, no verse says that God predestined anyone to hell. Since the Bible says God predestined some to heaven, therefore God must have predestined the others to hell.2
Traditions Keep traditions that are not against the Bible3 Discard any tradition that is not in the Bible
Example 1: singing Fostered singing hymns at first only allowed singing Psalms
Example 2: Sunday church service Allowed traditional European structure4(adapting Catholic mass) Discarded traditional structure, created a simpler service

1 pre=ahead of time, so “predestination” means God decided where you would end up “ahead of time.”
2 Term is “double predestination.”
3 more on the Lutheran Approach
4 more on Luther and the church service 

Explanation of Calvin/Luther comparison chart.

The differences between Luther and Calvin include views in these three areas:

a) Purpose of Bible. Luther’s emphasis was on the Bible as a place to find forgiveness through Christ.  Calvin’s emphasis was on the Bible as a place to find God’s will — what laws should be followed by people to show they are true Christians.

b) theme of Bible: For Calvin, the main theme in the Bible was “the sovereignty of God;” for Luther, it was “the cradle in which we find Christ.”

c)  Approach to Bible.  Calvin, with his background as a lawyer, devised explanations for some Bible teachings that differ from Luther’s views.  Here are two examples:

First, view of communion.  Luther was emphatic that Christ’s words when He instituted communion, “this is my body and this is my blood,” are to be taken at face value, whereas Calvin said that Jesus was in heaven, and was present at communion only in a spiritual sense.  (Jesus is present with you in communion, but he is not in the bread.)

Secondly: Why some are saved and some not.  The Bible says that Christians can rest in the assurance that God has already decided that they will be saved. (Ephesians 1:4-5).  This topic is called “predestination” or “election.”  Calvin, in keeping with his systematic approach to explaining Christianity and his emphasis on the sovereignty of God, wrote that therefore God must have predestined certain people to go to hell.   This teaching is called “double predestination.” (that is, predestination both to heaven and to hell).  Luther ‘s approach was that we should not go beyond what the scriptures actually say.  The Bible does teach that Christians have been predestined for salvation.  As far as those who are not saved, the Bible teaches that it is their own fault: the Bible does not actually say that some people are predestined to hell.  It is a logical conclusion, but not actually taught in the Bible.  Luther’s approach is in keeping with his willingness to limit doctrine to what the Bible actually says, even if the teachings might not seem to make logical sense when compared to one another.  It is also in keeping with Luther’s use of the Bible to bring comfort, as compared with Calvin’s use of the Bible as rules for Christian living.

Calvin and his followers felt at first that only Psalms should be used in church, not hymns.  They translated the Psalms into poetry, and then wrote “hymn-tunes” so that everyone could sing them.  The Lutheran church emphasized hymns right from the beginning, and was called “the singing church.”   In the 1700’s,  most of the “reformed” churches of England began to allow hymn singing as well as Psalms. After Vatican Council II in the 1960’s, hymn singing became common in the Catholic churches.  Return to text

 Later developments:

 After Calvin, a man named Arminius, a professor in the Calvinist (that is, “reformed’) church of Holland, said he did not accept the extreme Calvinist’s teaching about  “double-predestination,” (that God not only took the initiative in bringing people to be saved, but also determined beforehand who would not be able to be saved.) Arminius taught “conditional predestination,” by which he meant that God predestined the ones that he already foresaw would come to faith. The strict Calvinists produced a document in 1618 condemning Arminius. The letters of the word “tulip” are often used to summarize the strict Calvinists, and the carts below compares them to the followers of Arminius and to the followers of Luther:   Return to text

TULIP and Arminianism

  strict Calvinists Arminians Lutherans
T Total depravity of man1 Man is able to respond to the gospel of his own free will Man is not able to respond to the gospel except by a miracle of the Holy Spirit
U Unconditional Election2 God predestined the ones he knew would believe If you are saved, it is because you have been predestined.
L Limited atonement3 Christ died for everyone’s sins Christ died for everyone’s sins
I Irresistible Grace4 Man can resist Man can resist
P Perseverance of the Saints5 Believers can fall away Believers can fall away

Notes on the TULIP chart:
1Depravity means enemies of God and unable to know God
2The word “election” here means the same as “predestination.”
3Atonement means salvation by the blood of Christ; limited means Christ only paid for the sins of the people who were going to come to faith.
4Means that if God has decided to save you, you are not able to refuse it.
5Those who are saved can never fall away. Saints here means believers.

 The Protestant church that is well-known for taking an Arminian position is the Methodist church; churches that call themselves “evangelical” would also usually follow Arminius. Some denominations, such as the Baptists, have divided over this issue: some Baptist churches specify that they are “free-will Baptist” and the ones who teach double-predestination might call themselves “reformed Baptist.” The Presbyterian church is well-known as a church that still maintains the strict Calvinist view of “double-predestination.”   Return to text