Why Not Lutheran Baptist?

oxymoronOr, why do Baptists want to be Reformed (as opposed to Calvinistic or particular), and why do Reformed Protestants present an object more attractive than Lutherans to Baptists?

These questions continue to bump and push around the mush in my mind, especially when I read folks like James White taking exception to Presbyterians who want to say that Reformed Baptist is something of an oxymoron, and then read the follow-up discussion over at Scott Clark’s blog. I understand how some may take the narrowing of Reformed identity to exclude Baptists as needlessly exclusive. Though I also can’t understand why no reviewer complained about the Dictionary of the Reformed and Presbyterian Tradition in America’s exclusion of Baptists from the scope of entries. (Mark Noll and I didn’t even include those Baptists who do baptize infants – Congregationalists.) I also understand that a Baptist might try to be covenantal in his understanding of redemptive history and still reject infant baptism.

What I don’t comprehend is how few seem to notice or take issue with the traffic for so long running between confessional Reformed and Baptists instead of between confessional Reformed and other confessional Protestants. Mind you, I enjoy the company of Calvinistic Baptists as much as the next Orthodox Presbyterian, and find all sorts of signs of health among those congregations known as Reformed Baptist.

But why are Lutherans chopped liver? Why, in fact, has Lutheran become in some Reformed circles almost as objectionable as the other l-word – “liberal”? One could actually argue that confessional Lutherans share as much in common with confessional Reformed as particular Baptists, and our history is even longer (though it obviously has some rough spots). Could it be the objections to Lutherans run along ethnic lines – dare we say the twentieth-century German problem that forced German-Americans in Pennsylvania to become “Pennsylvania Dutch”? Or is it a problem of liturgy and the triumph of John Owen and Banner of Truth among American Presbyterians as opposed to the liturgical traditions of the Reformed churches on the continent?

If the latter, then as is so often the case, the turning point in American Presbyterian history is 1741 and the anointing of George Whitefield as the Boy George of vital Calvinism. Odd though that no one called that Episcopal priest Reformed.


54 thoughts on “Why Not Lutheran Baptist?

  1. If Lutherans could come up with cute little acronym like TULIP I think it could get an endorsement from Mark Driscoll by the end of the week.


  2. I’ll admit up front that I am a confessional Reformed Baptist. In any case, it seems to me that responses to your question have already been made (repeatedly) by Reformed Baptists.

    Here are a couple of recent posts which look at the heart of the question:

    Michael A. G. Haykin, “The esse of Reformed: a current question

    Bob Gonzales, “May Baptist Churches Use the Adjective ‘Reformed’? The Ongoing Debate

    You may draw the “Reformed” historical line at the Westminster Confession, but those of us who would also allow the Savoy Declaration and 1677/1689 London Baptist Confession into the family of Reformed Confessions have no problem seeing ourselves as Reformed.


  3. You seem to have overlooked that both English-speaking Presbyterians and Baptists have common roots in English Puritanism. Heck, the original Baptist creeds, the London and Philadelphia Confessions of Faith, are essentially copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith, but which reflect the Baptist use of the term “ordinance” for sacrament, and of course, their particular view that the children of believers are not members of the church and therefore not entitled to baptism.

    That joint Puritan heritage may also explain why both American Presbyterians and Baptists bought into revivalism, whether the Boy George variety or the Finney variety a century later.


  4. So the point (a la Haykin) would appear to be that Baptists, Presbyterians, and Independents needed to make common cause for the sake of post-Restoration politics. Does that mean that the phrase, “Reformed Baptist” is akin to the Manhattan Declaration (a joint statement among Christians in response to the political crisis of the United States)?


  5. Good point, Bob. But whatever happened to Presbyterianism’s liturgical moment with John Knox, first-hand participant in Calvin’s Geneva, and his book of common prayer?


  6. DGH, I might have missed it somewhere on the blogosphere… but if you haven’t already commented, can we please see some of your thoughts on the the Manhattan Declaration?

    If so, cheers.


  7. Keller signed it, right? What more do you need to know?

    Actually, I plan to post something next week, likely over at Front Porch Republic.


  8. As a Reformed Baptist pastor, I have in fact on many occasions said that we need to learn from the other side of the Reformation. One of the big issues that separate RB and Lutherans is our adherence to the RPW. This is also, why we reject baptizing any but believers.


  9. Obviously, RPW doesn’t entail baptizing only those you think are believers or Baptists would have come up with RPW in the first place. Note: Why is it that the Mormon church is filled with “baptized believers?” i.e. former Southern Baptists now making their home with the LDS. Are they just back-slidden or were they really not believers? Oops…

    As for fellowship with Lutherans, do they even know we exist? There are more Wisconsin-Synod Lutherans than PCA and OP folks put together (and they are the small, narrow, bunch). They are busy enough in Wobegon, without having to fuss with us.


  10. “and why do Reformed Protestants present an object more attractive than Lutherans to Baptists?”

    I’d think sacramentology, especially since many Presbyterian congregations have practices much closer to the SBC’s than any Lutheran’s. Though some days I’m not sure that there’s a baptist that doesn’t believe we all secretly hold to baptismal regeneration.


  11. One must admit that it is all very odd that P&R would publish a book about a Reformed Baptist in their “American Reformed Biographies” series!

    Which, BTW Dr. Hart’s volume is now on my desk and in third place in the what I will be reading next.


  12. Christian, in case you haven’t noticed, it doesn’t take long in the history of American Protestantism for the work of the Spirit in such phenomena as revivals to erode all formal aspects of Christianity (as in the spirit versus the letter). Whitefield with New Side Presbyterians disregarded the doctrine of church polity. New School Presbyterians disregarded the doctrines of the Confession. Liberals disregarded doctrine altogether. If being born-again matters more than doctrinal assent, then how is doctrine going to survive?


  13. Well, Al Mohler and Russell Moore have been on Issues, Etc. a couple of times to talk about generally left-hand kingdom stuff, but Lutherans are much more aware of the baneful influence of non-Calvinistic Baptists (Can you say “Forty Days of Purpose for Lent” or “Beth Moore’s newest book”?) than of, say, the Federal Vision controversy or “RPW” stands for.

    A Lutheran in Wilmington, Delaware, which is far from Wobegon.


  14. I don’t see how such political conclusions were drawn from Haykin’s post. His main argument seems pretty clear to me (emphasis added):

    “[T]here were indeed ‘heated pamphlet wars’ between Baptists and Paedobaptists during the 1640s and 1650s. But these were all seen by the Baptists as battles within a shared faith, as will become clear in what follows.”

    And later . . . .

    “When I read this statement [from the preface to the 1677/1689 London Confession], I hear my forebears, those worthies of the seventeenth century, saying that they shared a common faith with their Presbyterian and Congregationalist brethren.”

    What is Haykin’s point? These early Particular Baptists–the fore-bearers of today’s Reformed Baptists–saw themselves as part of the larger Reformed “family.” To see this fact demonstrated historically, check out James Renihan’s book True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Family.


  15. I stole that line from Alan Partridge. Seriously, DGH and Zrim, if you like Brit comedy, you’ll love the Alan Partridge series. It pre-dates The Office and no doubt influenced Gervais. Fantastic stuff.


  16. It was these sentences from Haykin that tipped me off to the political character of Baptist and Presbyterian affinities: “After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, they were a community under the cross, and for twenty-eight years they suffered grievous persecution, with a number of their pastors and elders dying in prisons, like the blessed Abraham Cheare. Of course, the Particular Baptists were not the only ones to suffer during this time of great persecution. All who dissented from the distinguishing rites and practices of the state church of Anglicanism suffered to one degree or another. This furnace of common affliction only served to reinforce in the minds of many Particular Baptists just how much they shared with fellow Calvinists who were either Presbyterians or Congregationalists, the latter being then known as Independents.”


  17. It survives amidst and in God’s remnant. And God’s remnant (which exist in all eras of the history of redemption) communicate it to others. Leaven. Defaulting to sacramentalism and some church polity does not keep anything alive. Biblical doctrine can only be seen and valued by the Holy Spirit being inside a person. Giving allegiance to documents means nothing. People and institutions gravitate towards the devil by default. Word and Spirit, Word and Spirit, Word and Spirit, Word and Spirit. And the Word with the authority of God – not man (scholars) – in it: the *received* Word.


  18. “Odd though that no one called that Episcopal priest [Whitfield] Reformed.”

    Sorry, are you actually being serious? (Given the difficulty of conveying tone, I should be clear that I do not intend that facetiously).


  19. Well, if you insist on seriousness, can you think of people that call Whitefield “reformed”? I understand many regard him as Calvinist. But Reformed? Please, no pulling my leg.


  20. My church history professor, who btw would shared with us personal stories about Machen, told us that the Reformed faith won and lost at Dort. It lost because the Reformed Faith, at least in subsequent generations, was reduced to the five points.


  21. C I G A R

    Closed communion
    Intolerant of evangelicals

    I think the closed communion does it. If you’ve ever had the experience of being shut off from communion at a service, you know what I mean: the Door Is Closed. As a result, Baptists who might lean Lutheran have to be either very patient or else have some other incentive to convert.

    Jeff Cagle


  22. DGH, I hope it is not too late to add a few quick thoughts from a Lutherette?

    I think you may see things differently if you consider the starting point of the split as beginning over the Lord’s Supper with Luther and Zwingli? If I understand the development correctly, Calvin’s theology came later and sought a mid-point between the two men, but Calvin’s theology was never accepted by Lutherans. The Book of Concord separates us from the Reformed and even further from Baptists (we tend to see them as relatives of the Anabaptists). Lutheran doctrine and Baptist doctrine on the sacraments (Baptism & Lord’s Supper) are irreconcilable. If the Reformed position is closer to the Baptists than the Lutheran position on the sacraments, then it makes sense that Baptists would prefer the Reformed over the Lutherans, and find our practices offensive. [The Lutherans practice of close communion to protect those who do not understand the Lord’s Supper as the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor 11:29-31) can send some people into orbit. Baptism for infants doesn’t tend to be well received either. A strict 24/7 creation week can be interesting too).

    Today, both the Lutheran and the Reformed churches are plagued by various degrees of degradation to their original confessions. The wayward churches from both our confessions seem to accept the worst practices/teachings of American evangelicalism in their midst, but the churches that seek to be faithful to their confessions want to avoid the anti-sacramental and anti-confessional practices/teachings. This assessment may sound strange to some non-Lutheran ears, but as I guess you are aware, confessional Lutherans are immovable on the sacraments (and most things Lutheran!).We also have other doctrinal differences (eg: two kingdoms, vocation, theology of the cross, law/gospel, etc.) that even though there may be similarities in some ways (categorically?), our differences in understanding them and Lutheran anti-revivalism (eg: Whitefield) can combine to create a gulf between confessional Lutherans and the Reformed & Baptists. Lutheran confessional churches also tend to appear old-fashioned, unspectacular, and stodgily ethnic (German, Norwegian, Swedish, etc.), perhaps that puts us under the radar or off the map for many Christians (and perhaps seen as aliens from another planet by some!).

    I wish I could better explain my train of thought in a short synopsis (the whole picture is much more complex, as you well know), but that’s the best I can do this eve. I hope thinking about a different starting point and the differences on the sacraments is helpful in collating your thoughts on ‘why not Lutheran’. Anywho, it makes perfect sense to this incorrigible Lutherette. 🙂


  23. Dr. Hart, this morning, it finally dawned on me that I might have you mixed you up with another author. I looked up the books and sure enough, I did. Please accept my apology for my carelessness. As I read more of your articles here on Old Life today (and a few links in the articles), it became even clearer how inappropriate it was for me to make comments on your blog (sigh… it’s a pain flunking temptation). Again, please accept my apologies and I do hope that the door will be open for you write a book regarding church history under fascism or communism.


  24. All of this makes much sense. But there was a time when the Christian Reformed Church advised her members that if relocating in a town where no Reformed or Presbyterian congregation existed they should go to the Lutheran church. That may reflect a measure of ethnic ambivalence about the American mainstream. But I suspect it also stemmed from an ecclesial sensibility that Lutherans share with Reformed confessionalists.


  25. Who is Glen Hunt? (I am too embarrassed to reveal who I confused you with. It was sooo stupid – your names are not even close enough to give me a reasonable excuse for my idiocy!) I do need to add you to my reading list. Which book would you recommend first?

    I do appreciate your gracious hospitality and patience with my comments. I like to read a few of the Reformed blogs and enjoy learning and hopefully understanding your tradition better. I find the men influenced by Westminster California the most helpful. If it was not for ya’ll, I would probably lump the Reformed into one basket and become guilty of caricaturing your tradition (I found Keller to be a confusing mess and I have no clue why anyone thinks Piper and Driscoll are wonderful either). On our side, we can be confused with the ELCA or the wretched CGM nonsense in our midst.


  26. Thank you for letting me know I made sense. I appreciate knowing that the Reformed might look at a Lutheran church, but that would require being catechized if they wished to receive communion (we are stinky on that subject). And like you, I find the confessional Reformed of the WSC flavor our closest relatives. Although I might choose a faithful traditional Anglican church since I’m addicted to the calendar. I’m not sure I could handle the withdrawal pangs during Advent and Lent. 🙂


  27. Glen Hunt is no one I know either. It is what you get if you take away one ‘n’ from my middle name and don’t look very carefully at my last name.


  28. Hi DGH,

    Confession is good for the soul (and my embarrassment is receding). I confused you with David F. Wells (his trilogy). Somehow, when I was reading some articles over at the Front Porch blog I mistook you for him. Again, I’m sorry about the mistake, but as always, God works things together for good (you have a new reader and I have a new author – don’cha luv serendipities?). Anywho, I’m still trying to decide where to start (you are prolific). May I ask which of your books is your favorite?


  29. Hi DGH,

    I still have your Lutheran Baptist questions rumbling around in my brain. Thanks for sharing the virus. I’d like to return the virus to it’s home, so here are some thoughts:

    As far as the LCMS Lutherans go, I wonder that ethnicity may be more correlative than causative in the Reformed recommending a Lutheran church. The ecclesiology sensibility only makes sense to me if we are talking about doctrine but not practice…

    And re: the Reformed recommending a Lutheran church: When the early LCMS founders arrived here from Germany, they still had a bad taste in their mouths from the forced union with the Reformed. I wonder if that bad taste still lingers even to this day. Numerous Lutherans still seem to be allergic to the Reformed. Perhaps forced communion with the Reformed is a scar that does not want to heal with us? And perhaps, the Reformed still had good memories of the forced union when they recommended Lutheran churches?

    I’m sure it must have happened at some time, but I cannot remember a Lutheran pastor leaving the synod to join a Reformed church. We do have pastors who leave to become RC, Orthodox, and occasionally Anglican. But Reformed? Not that I can remember. Then, the other day, I ran across a quote from the LCMS church founder C.F. Walther in my reading that made sense to me on this subject:

    “We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them…. It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Papism in outward things. It is a pity and a dreadful cowardice when one sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American sects, lest they accuse us of being papistic. Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that the sects can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?”

    We are not insisting that there be uniformity of perception or feeling or of taste among all believing Christians – neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he is. Nevertheless it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extend that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world. (Essays for the Church, Volume 1, p. 194 (St. Louis, CPH, 1992)”

    Note the attitude towards Armenianism and other sects that surrounded the newly formed LCMS synod and that they were criticized for looking RC. Also note the importance of the liturgy and a sanctuary setting with a baptismal font, altar, and etc. I always end up thinking that we are closer in our church practices to the RC than any Baptist would dream of wanting (or staunch Calvinist), but we are closer in doctrines to the confessional Reformed. Anywho, this is how I always end up with the question of Lutherans & Baptists. We’re like oil and water in too many areas.


  30. The German Reformed received a similar reaction in Nevin’s day. I suspect Calvin’s Geneva would also look more RC than Baptist.


  31. DGH,

    I had to look up Nevin. Interesting man and lots of high drama with Schaff, Berg, Hodge, accusations of RC, heresy charges, factions, peace commissions, revivalism, romanticism, metaphysics, the Mercersburg Theology, The Anxious Bench, The Mystical Presence… history is so much more fun than fiction. You can’t make this kind of stuff up. Nevin appears to be another one of those wonderful hero in the faith types and the Mercersburg Theology seems to help explain why a Lutheran church might be recommended in his era. Nice example.

    Ok… your bishop to my queen’s knight 4. Next move? How about the last 90 years (eg: expanding liberalism and doctrinal erosions)? Or perhaps, the last 60 years (culture deterioration)? If those things are motivators, I can understand the Baptists wanting formal doctrinal structure. But, what inspired the Baptists to choose the Reformed? Are they reaching back in history and looking at Spurgeon’s flavor of Calvinism as a guide? This too would eliminate Lutherans from the equation.

    At any rate (point taken on Calvin in Geneva), if there is no place in the equation for whose church looks the most RC and who is the most persnickety on sacraments doesn’t play a role in why Lutherans were rejected… I give up. So please tell me, “WHY did they pick ya’ll and not us?” Calvin’s wine vs. Katie’s beer? Or is it that catchy TULIP acronym? Maybe it’s the acronym. We don’t have one unless SNAFU counts.


  32. My quick answer, Lily, is that Presbyterians did revivals and Lutherans didn’t. There is a reason we have an entity called “experimental Calvinism.” For Lutherans, enthusiasm is suspect. It should be for Presbyterians who promote decency and order. But sometimes the feelings and swoongings got the better of us and made us more appealing to those filled with the Spirit.


  33. Gracias. That more than makes sense. Our staidness in that area does make us unattractive to enthusiasts. Lutherans are sometimes accused of being so objective that we drown out the subjective. To which we can jokingly answer, “We’re not spiritual. We’re Lutheran.”

    May I ask a sincere question and hope I am not stepping on toes? Why do ya’ll continue to call the revival at Edwards’ church (1733-1735) the good revival? Years ago, I read Edwards’ Religious Affections and had difficulty understanding his gymnastics in trying to strain out and keep what he felt was acceptable emotionalism. From my perspective, it looked like a work of subjective opinion that attempted to protect subjective experiences and did not address the real problem behind revivals (eg: preaching designed to incite emotionalism or provoke a response; preaching that sought to do the work of the Holy Spirit instead of trusting in the efficacy of God’s word through simple law/gospel preaching; preaching that did not trust in God’s timing to give salvation and/or growth in faith as he saw fit). From my simplistic view, it appears that as long as Edwards’ revival goes unchallenged, enthusiasm and the theology of glory will always be trying seek legitimacy through the first revival.


  34. You’ve nailed it, Lily. Stomped toes have never felt so welcome.

    But it’s not as if Reformed aren’t challenging the royal pedigree of the 1GA a la Edwards, etc. Scott Clark does exactly that in Recovering the Reformed Confession.


  35. Zrim, thanks once again. It is good to know that my thinking wasn’t skewed, toes will survive, and that Reformed men are challenging Edwards and his revival. I never could understand the Puritan authors and the adulation for Edwards can be daunting. Looks like I need to add another author to my list (Clark), thanks.

    What is it with all the WSC flavored Reformed men? Whenever I start praying and asking God to please help me with some question, I often seem to end up with their articles, books, or listening to their lectures. My latest question seemed to land me reading DGH’s blog and now reading one of his books. Hmm… does this mean that I’m quite blessed or have I fallen into step with a bunch of simpatico rapscallions? 🙂


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