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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






27 August 2005

Catholic-Lutheran Comparison


Luther RoseQ: How do the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church compare in the areas of theology, Scripture, Sacraments, and clergy?

A: To get the details, it might be best to read the original sources, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church and such Lutheran documents as the Augsburg Confession, the Defense of the Augsburg Confession, and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, all included in the Lutheran Book of Concord.

I do have some general comments in these areas to help your study.

Theology: Lutherans’ central belief is in Justification by Grace through Faith in Christ as the only means of salvation. Tied to this are other teachings, including the truth and infallibility of Scripture and our sacramental theology. Tradition can be properly used in understanding doctrine, but only as a servant of faith and Scripture, not as a master.

Scripture: While some liberal Lutherans disagree, orthodox Lutheran teaching is that Scripture is divinely inspired and inerrant and that all Scripture, Old and New Testament, can only be understood as it testifies to Christ (which flows from our understanding of Justification). When Scripture and reason disagree, the true Lutheran position is to accept the testimony of Scripture over the testimony of reason.

Vatican SealSacraments: While Lutherans often speak of either two (Baptism and Holy Communion) or three (also Absolution) Sacraments, we do not give an absolute number, but rather focus on what we mean by “sacrament” and asking if what we are talking about meets that definition. In many cases, we’ll say “the Sacrament” when speaking of the Supper. We emphasize the forgiveness of sins in our sacramental language, and will often use the term “means of grace,” addressing how God conveys forgiveness through Gospel and certain words, acts, or vocations.

Clergy: The methods of selecting and training clergy vary widely among Lutherans. Overall, however, there is less top-down direction than in the Roman Catholic Church, even among those Lutherans who have an episcopal (bishop-led) form of governance. In matters of placement, our general practice is that congregations issue a call to a man who has been trained and certified by the body and he then gives prayerful consideration as to whether or not he will accept that call or remain with his current flock. Within our congregations, the congregation is supposed to listen to the pastor in doctrinal matters (and obey when that is called for) as long as the pastor remains faithful to Scripture and to the Lutheran Confessions. Otherwise, congregational matters are settled in accord with whatever the polity of the specific congregation states.

Note: Lutheran-Catholic Differences, a subsequent post, continues this topic and touches on some different points.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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