Baptist vs Lutheran is a common denomination comparison. Do you ever pass a church while driving down the road and wonder what that denomination believes?
The Lutheran and the Baptist denominations have distinctive differences in doctrine and how their faith is practiced. Let’s look at what these two denominations have in common and where they are different.
What is a Baptist?
History of Baptists
An early influence on Baptists was the Anabaptist movement of 1525 in Switzerland. These “radical” reformers believed the Bible should be the final authority for what a person believes and how they practice their faith. They believed that babies should not be baptized, because baptism should be based on faith and understanding. They began to “rebaptize” each other because when they were baptized as babies they didn’t understand or have faith. (Anabaptist mean re-baptize).
About 130 years later, the “Puritans” and other separatists began a reform movement within the Church of England. Some of these reformers strongly believed that only those old enough to understand and have faith should be baptized, and baptism should be by immersing the person in water, rather than sprinkling or pouring water over the head. They also believed in a “congregational” form of church government, which means that each local church rules itself, chooses its own pastors, and elects its own lay leaders. This group became known as Baptists.
Although there are various types of Baptists, most Baptists adhere to several core beliefs:
1. Biblical authority: the Bible is God’s inspired Word and the final authority for what a person believes and practices.
2. Autonomy of local churches: each church is independent. They usually have a loose association with other Baptist churches, but they are self-governed, not governed by the association.
3. Priesthood of the believer – every Christian is a priest in the sense that each Christian can go directly to God, without needing a human mediator. All believers have equal access to God, and can pray directly to God, study God’s Word on their own, and worship God on their own. Salvation comes only through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins.
4. Two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion)
5. Individual soul liberty: each person has freedom to decide for themselves what they believe and do (as long as they are obeying Scripture) and take responsibility for their own actions. Government authorities should not attempt to force or interfere with individual religious beliefs.
6. Separation of church and state: the government should not control the church, and the church should not control the government.
7. Two (or sometimes three) offices of the church – pastor and deacon. Deacons are members of the church and elected by the entire congregation. Some Baptist churches now also have elders (who assist the pastor in spiritual ministry) along with deacons (who assist with practical ministry, like visiting the sick, assisting families in distress, but usually also have governing authority).
What is a Lutheran?
History of lutheranism
The origin of the Lutheran church goes back to the early 1500s and the great reformer and Catholic priest Martin Luther. He realized that the teachings of Catholicism did not agree with the Bible’s teaching that salvation comes through faith alone – not works. Luther also believed that the Bible is divinely inspired and the only authority for belief, while the Catholic church based their beliefs on the Bible along with church traditions. Luther’s teachings led to leaving the Roman Catholic church to form what eventually came to be known as the Lutheran Church (Martin Luther didn’t really like that name – he wanted it to be called the “Evangelical Church”).
Like the Baptists, Lutherans have different sub-groups, but the core beliefs of most Lutherans include:
- Salvation is entirely a gift of grace from God. We don’t deserve it, and we can’t do anything to earn it.
2. We receive the gift of salvation only through faith, not by works.
3. Of the two main Lutheran denominations in the U.S., the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) believes that the Bible is God’s Word and without error, and it alone is the only authority for faith and actions. The LCMS also accepts all the teachings of the Book of Concord (Lutheran writings from the 16th century) because they believe these teachings are in complete harmony with the Bible. The LCMS regularly recites the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as statements of what they believe. By contrast, the more liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) believes that the Bible along with the creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) and the Book of Concord are all “teaching sources.” This implies that they don’t necessarily consider the Bible to be inspired by God or without error or fully authoritative. You don’t have to completely believe all of Scripture or all of the creeds or all of the Book of Concord to be a pastor or member of an ELCA church.
4. Law and the Gospel: the Law (God’s directions in the Bible for how to live) shows us our sin; none of us can follow it perfectly (only Jesus). The Gospel gives us the good news of our Savior and the grace of God. It is the power of God for salvation of all who believe.
5. Means of Grace: faith is worked by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word and the “sacraments.” Faith comes by hearing the good news of salvation in God’s Word. The sacraments are baptism and communion.
Similarities between Baptists and Lutherans
Baptists and Lutherans agree on several key points. Similar to the Baptist vs methodist denomination article, both denominations agree that salvation is a free gift of God that is received through faith. Both agree that none of us can successfully follow God’s laws perfectly, but faith comes from hearing the good news of Jesus coming to earth and dying for our sins. When we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we receive salvation from sin, from judgment, and from death.
Most Baptists and the more conservative Lutheran denominations (like the Missouri Synod) also agree that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, that it has no error, and that it is our only authority for what we believe and what we do. However, more liberal Lutheran denominations (like the Evangelical Lutheran Church) don’t hold to this belief.
A sacrament is believed to be a way to receive God’s grace through performing a certain rite to receive a blessing from God, either for salvation or for sanctification. Lutherans believe in two sacraments – baptism and communion.
Baptists give the name “ordinance” to baptism and communion, which they believe symbolize the believer’s union with Christ. An ordinance is something that God commanded the church to do – it is an act of obedience. An ordinance does not bring salvation, but rather is a testimony of what one believes, and a way to remember what God has done. Although both Lutherans and Baptists practice baptism and communion, the way they do it, and what they think happens while doing it, is vastly different.
1. Baptism: only adults and children old enough to understand the concept of salvation and who have received Christ as their Savior can be baptized. When baptized, a person is completely immersed in water – representing the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Only those who have believed in Jesus for salvation and have been baptized can be a church member.
2. The Lord’s Supper or Communion: Baptists usually practice this about once a month, remembering the death of Jesus for our sins through eating the bread, which represents Jesus’ body and drinking the grape juice, which represents His blood.
3. Baptism: anyone – babies, older children, and adults can be baptized. Almost all Lutherans perform baptism by sprinkling or pouring water over the head (although Martin Luther preferred immersing the baby or adult three times in water). In the Lutheran church, baptism is considered a miraculous means of grace that God uses to create faith in the heart of a baby, in seed form, which requires nurturing from God’s Word, or faith will die. Baptism begins the faith that will grow as the child grows in knowledge of God. In the case of older children and adults, they already believe, but baptism strengthens their existing faith.
4. Communion: Lutherans believe that when they eat the bread and drink the wine during communion, they are receiving the very body and blood of Jesus. They believe faith is strengthened and sins forgiven when they take communion.
Baptists: As already stated, each local Baptist church is independent. All decisions for that church are made by the pastor, deacons, and congregation within that church. Baptists follow a “congregational” form of government where all significant decisions are decided by a vote of the church members. They own and control their own property.
Lutherans: In the U.S., Lutherans also follow a congregational form of government to some degree, but not as strictly as Baptists. They combine congregationalism with “presbyterian” church governing, where elders of the church can make some of the important decisions. They also yield some authority to regional and national “synods.” The word synod comes from the Greek for “walking together.” The synods come together (with representatives of the local churches) to decide matters of doctrine and church polity. The synods are meant to serve local congregations, not manage them.
The individual Baptist churches choose their own pastors. The congregation decides what criteria they want for their pastor, usually based on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 as well as specific needs they feel need to be met within their church. A Baptist pastor usually has a seminary education, but not always. The church body will usually nominate a search committee, who will review candidates’ resumes, hear them preach, and meet with the candidate(s) to explore points of doctrine, leadership, and other matters. They then recommend their favored candidate to the church body, who votes as an entire congregation on whether to accept a potential pastor. Baptist pastors are usually ordained by the first church in which they serve – the ordaining is done by the church leadership itself.
Lutheran pastors are usually required to have a 4-year college degree followed by a Master of Divinity, preferably from a Lutheran seminary. Before pastoring a church on their own, most Lutheran pastors serve a one-year fulltime internship. Usually, to be ordained, Lutheran pastors must be approved by the church that calls them as well as the local synod. This involves background checks, personal essays, and multiple interviews. The actual ordination service (like the Baptists) takes place at the time of installation in the first church that calls the pastor.
Before calling a new pastor, local Lutheran churches will review their strengths, weaknesses, and vision for ministry to help them understand what leadership gifts they need in a pastor. The congregation will appoint a “call committee” (similar to the search committee for the Baptists). Their district or local synod will provide a list of pastoral candidates, which the call committee will review and interview their preferred candidate(s) and invite them to visit the church. The call committee will then present the top nominee(s) to the congregation for a vote (they may consider more than one at a time). That person voted on will be extended a call from the congregation.
Famous Baptist and Lutheran Pastors
Famous Baptist pastors
Some well-known Baptist preachers of today include John Piper, an American Reformed Baptist pastor and writer, who pastored Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for 33 years and is chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. Another famous Baptist pastor is Charles Stanley, who pastored the First Baptist Church of Atlanta for 51 years and served as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1984-86 and is a well-known radio and television preacher. Robert Jeffries, Jr. is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a prolific author. His sermons are broadcast on the Pathway to Victory TV and radio programs. David Jeremiah pastors Shadow Mountain Community Church in the San Diego area, and he is a famous author and founder of Turning Point radio and TV ministries.
Famous Lutheran pastors
Lutheran pastors of note include John Warwick Montgomery, an ordained Lutheran pastor, theologian, author, and speaker in the field of Christian Apologetics (which defends the Christian faith from opposition). He is the editor of the journal Global Journal of Classical Theology, and he taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois and was a regular contributor to Christianity Today magazine.
Matthew Harrison is a Lutheran pastor and has been president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod since 2010. He served in relief work in Africa, Asia, and Haiti and also addressed issues of urban decay in the U.S. In 2012, Harrison testified before the U.S, House Committee in opposition to contraceptive mandates imposed on parachurch organizations by the Affordable Care Act. Elizabeth Eaton has been the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 2013. Previously she pastored Lutheran churches, served as bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, and serves on the National Council of Churches.
Do you think a Christian can lose their salvation? Did Jesus die for everyone, or just the elect?
Most Baptists believe in the perseverance of the saints or eternal security – the belief that once one is truly saved and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, they will remain in the faith their whole life. Once saved, always saved.
On the other hand, Lutherans believe if faith is not nurtured, it can die. This would especially be true of babies who are baptized (remember Lutherans believe that baptism implants faith in the baby). Lutherans also believe that older people can lose their salvation if they willfully turn away from God.
Reformed or Arminian?
Reformed Theology, or 5-point Calvinism teaches total depravity (all people are dead in their sins), unconditional election (salvation is definite for the elect, but not because they meet any special conditions), limited atonement (Christ died particularly for the elect), irresistible grace (God’s grace cannot be resisted), and preservation of the saints.
Arminian theology believes that Christ’s atoning death was for all people but effective only for those who respond in faith. They believe a person can resist the Holy Spirit – both when the Spirit woos them to initial faith in Christ as well as rejecting Christ after being saved.
Most Baptists are at least 3-point Calvinists, believing in total depravity, unconditional election, and perseverance of the saints. Some Baptists believe in all five points of Reformed theology.
The Lutherans view is distinct from both Reformed and Arminian theology. They do believe in total depravity, in predestination, unconditional election and reject the free will of man (especially the Missouri Synod). However, as mentioned above, they believe it’s possible to lose one’s salvation.
In summary, we can see that Lutherans and Baptists have much in common, yet significant areas where they would disagree. Both denominations have a diversity of beliefs, depending on the specific Baptist or Lutheran denomination they belong to and even the specific church they belong to (especially in the case of Baptists). The more conservative Lutherans (like the Missouri Synod) are closer to the beliefs of many Baptist churches, while more liberal Lutheran churches (like the Evangelical Lutherans) are light-years away. The predominant differences between Baptists and Lutherans rest on their doctrines of baptism and communion.