What are the main differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism?

I know both are considered Protestant but what are the theological differences between the two?

I guess that really depend on if you are talking about what Calvin and Luther taught or if you mean what falls under Calvinist and Lutheran teaching in the present day.

Here are some high level differences from what they taught, though I don’t know if it is still taught this way. This is based on what I remember from being raised by a Lutheran mother and Presbyterian father so I might be slightly off.

Predistination and salvation
Luther taught that there was only predestination to heaven whereas Calvin taught predestination to both heaven and hell. Calvin also beleive that Christ only died for a select group whereas Luther taught that Christ died for all mankind.

Calvin taught that Christ existed in a spiritual way at communion (called the Lord Supper when I was growing up), but he was not in the bread and grape juice because that would limit/localize him. This is different from the purely symbolic understanding that some other protestants have. I still struggle understanding how Luther viewed the Eucharist differently than Catholics, but he did beleive that Christ was associated with the elements and not just in the room for lack of a better term.

If I understood my father correctly Calvin taught the total sovereignty of God. All good and evil were to God’s purpose. Man’s sole purpose was to give glory to God. Those who refused were reprobate and destined to hell. This is where Calvinist teaching gets murky for me because it implied that humans did not truely have free will, but my father said that Calvin did teach that man had free will because God does not coerce our decisions and sin is a personal act done through free will choice. :shrug:

Like I say this is based on what I remeber from growing up so others might correct my understanding (or lack of). Those are the 2 or 3 things that seemed to be the things that stuck out to be the greatest difference between my parent’s respective religious heritages.

To start with, from the LCMS:

Q: What are the major differences between the Missouri Synod and Reformed churches?
A: Just as there are many significant differences in theology and practice between Lutherans of varying denominations, the same is true when it comes to different churches within the Reformed tradition.
Differences exist among Reformed churches even regarding such fundamental issues as the authority of Scripture and the nature and centrality of the doctrine of justification.
Historically, however, most Reformed churches adhere to the five points of Calvinist theology commonly summarized by the acrostic “tulip” as these were set forth at the Synod of Dort (1618-19). On page 41 in his book, Churches in America, Dr. Thomas Manteufel reviews these five points and explains how they compare and/or contrast with what Lutherans believe regarding these matters.
**T (Total Depravity) **The Calvinists rightly teach that all descendants of Adam are by nature totally corrupt in spiritual matters. People do not have freedom of the will to turn to God in faith or cooperate in their conversions (Eph. 2:1; John 3:5-6; Rom. 8:7).
U (Unconditional predestination) Scripture does teach that it is by grace that God has predestinated the elect to eternal salvation and given them justifying faith. It is not because of any condition fulfilled by them (2 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 1:4-6; Phil. 1:29). However, the Bible does not teach, as do the Calvinists, that some are predestined for damnation. God wants all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).
L (Limited atonement) It is true that Christ died for the church and purchased it with His blood (Eph.5:25; Acts 20:28). Furthermore, His atoning death does not mean that all people are saved (1 Cor. 1:18). However, Jesus died for all (2 Cor. 5:15).
I (Irresistible grace) We agree that God makes us alive by His mighty power, without our aid (Eph. 2:5; John 1:13). But Scripture warns that we can resist God’s gracious call (Matt. 23:37; Acts 7:51; 2 Cor. 6:1). And some people do resist God’s grace, or all would be saved (1 Tim 2:4). Furthermore, God warns us not to resist His grace (2 Cor. 6:1; Heb. 4:7).
P (Perseverance in grace) We affirm with Scripture that those who are predestined to salvation cannot be lost but will continue by God’s power to a blessed end (Rom. 8:30; 1 Peter 1:5). Scripture does not teach, however, that those who come to faith cannot lose that faith (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-29; Ps. 51:11). God urges His people not to continue in sin but to live in repentance and faith (Rom. 6:1-4).

Churches in America by Dr. Thomas Manteufel; p. 41 (St. Louis: CPH, 1994)

Here is the view from a Reformed writer

There are other differences, as well, including the way we view the Eucharist. Historically, Lutherans have rejected iconoclasm. And others.

For this Lutheran these differences are of such significance, that I could never find myself in communion with a Reformed/Calvinist church.


One of the most significant differences is in varying understandings of the applicability of Old Testament Law. Luther taught that the Old Testament only applies to the Israelites (he called them “Jews”) and states that for Christians, “Moses is our teacher, not our lawgiver.” Technically speaking, even the Ten Commandments do not apply to non-Jews.

Calvin, on the other hand, famously established a theocracy in Geneva based on Old Testament Law. He and subsequent Calvinists believed/believe that the moral laws of the Old Testament still apply to Christians and his views on this topic would align fairly well with Aquinas’s.

In a related sense, most Calvinists believe that Covenant Theology is the basic organizing principle for understanding the Bible. (Incidentally, is why people like Scott Hahn, an ex-Calvinist, continue to import and utilize Covenant Theology extensively in their theological writings as Catholics.)

Other differences include variant understandings of the Real Presence, differences in Christocentric theology and worship, and different ideas about church polity.

That having been said, Calvinism has had a big influence on Lutherism both in Europe and perhaps even more so, in the U.S. Many of the historic and traditional differences have been significantly diluted.

The following Marin Luther and us Lutherans believe that the reformed oppose

  1. Theology of the cross
  2. Sacramental Union
  3. General Atonment
  4. Distinction between Law and Gospel
    5.Falling away is possible.
  5. Predestination to heaven not to hell .
  6. Lutheran Confessions.
  7. Still use tradition in a secondary way.
  8. Drinking in moderation and dancing is allowed .
  9. The Catholic Church is a real church even with its multiple errors.
  10. Means of grace .
    12.closed communion .
    13.perpetual Virginity of Mary the theotokos ( the mother of God ) .
    14.Holy Absolution is a Sacrament .
  11. Scholastic Lutheran Christiology , ( omnipresence of Jesus human nature.) .
  12. 73 book canon.
    Both us Lutherans and The Reformed believe monergism , grace alone through faith alone , scripture alone , universal preisthood of believers , both are pro life , and support marriage between one man and woman , both oppose papal primacy and infallibility, oppose 7 sacraments , oppose prayers to the saints and oppose prayer to Mary .