Differences among the four main branches of the Reformation: Lutheran, Anabaptist, Reformed, and Anglican

What’s the same? 

When talking about the differences in Protestantism, it is also important to notice the similarities. All Protestants express a belief in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. That word alone is what sets Protestants apart from Roman Catholics at the most fundamental levels. No matter if it is faith, the authority of scripture, or the Glory of God, the word alone is the what sets the tone for Protestants. However, within Protestantism came the inevitable differences of opinion on how to interpret ecclesial authority in society, baptism, and the nature of the Lord’s Supper. There are many differences between the traditions however, focusing on the concepts of the Church and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper will be a good method for highlighting the differences.

Lutheran

The post-Luther Lutherans did depart somewhat from the reformer himself.  Lutheranism from the perspective of the other branches of the Reformation might be considered Roman Catholic light. They exclude the prayers to the saints and marry in both Luther’s Catechism (1529) and The Formula of Concord (1576).[1] However, Lutheranism retained Baptismal regeneration,[2] confession,[3] transubstantiation: “… is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[4] It must be made clear that all these retentions from Roman Catholicism are not intended as contrary to the concept of justification by faith alone. For example, the idea of confession and absolution for a Lutheran is that the father confessor says “Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is the forgiveness of God?”[5] Instead of the Roman Catholic idea that a Priest has been ordained with powers to forgiving sins as an ‘alter Christus’ (another Christ),[6] in the Lutheran model the father confessor plays more of the role of witness or administrator of God’s forgiveness for the persons belief in Christ.

Anabaptist

    According to Shelley, the Anabaptists are alive today as the Mennonites and the Hutterites.[7] However, Shelley also points out that Anabaptist thinking influenced the Baptists, the Quakers, and the Congregationalists.[8] The Anabaptists got their turbulent start in Zurich in 1525.[9] They were characterized by two primary things, they did not see Christianity as a means to define society. Rather,

they discovered a different world in the pages of the New Testament. They found no state-church alliance, no Christendom. Instead, they discovered that the apostolic churches were companies of committed believers, communities of men and women who had freely and personally chosen to follow Jesus. And for the sixteenth century, that was a revolutionary idea.[10]

It was a revolutionary idea because all the other expressions of the Reformation sought to incorporate faith into society. What this means is that while Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican are properly compared to the Roman Catholic, the Anabaptists have to be seen as a step beyond the Reformation. Confessional baptisms were also at the core of Anabaptist expression.[11] The Reformed, led by Ulfric Zwingli in Zurich, went as far as drowning and expelling the Anabaptist. This highlights the vast difference between all the other expressions of Reformation Protestantism and the Anabaptists. Ulfric Zwingli, Luther, and Anglican confessions saw an integration between the church and government.

Reformed

            A well-rounded way to understand Reformedness is the Westminster Confession. While the later Lutheran catechism seems to avoid harshly expressing the idea of predestination, the Reformed made it part of the central doctrinal stance.[12] Lutherans’ baptized for regeneration, Anabaptist baptized for confession, and the Reformed baptized as a “sign and seal of the covenant of grace.”[13] According to Hodge, the Lord’s Supper in the thinking of Calvin goes like this, “Calvin denied the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist …”[14] Clearly, the early Reformed believed, like early Lutherans, that the government was to be used by the church to make Christian society. Good examples of this are Zwingli’s persecutions of the Anabaptist in Zurich and Calvin’s Geneva where it was a crime to miss Sunday service. By the time of Westminster Confession, there was still a call in the confession for the “civil magistrate [to see that] … peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed.”[15]

Anglican

            The Anglican expression is a state-sponsored church and the British Monarchy still hold the title of Defender of the Faith. The particular expression of Anglicanism was an outflowing of the British Monarchy rebelling against the Papal carte blanche. The Reformed practice infant baptism as a sign of the covenant, Anglicans baptize infants but as a “promise, when they come to age, themselves are bound to perform.[16]” The Lord’s Supper is the “body and blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful” [17]

 

 

[1]. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 70-190

[2]. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 184.

[3] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 90.

[4] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 90.

[5]. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 90.

[6]. Leonardo De Chirico, “The Blurring of Time Distinctions in Roman Catholicism,” Themelios 29, no. 2 (2004): 43.

[7]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 246.

[8]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 248.

[9]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 246.

[10]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 248–249.

[11]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 246.

[12]. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 608–609.

[13]. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 661–662.

[14]. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 628.

[15]. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 653.

[16]. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 521.

[17]. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 521.

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