Methodism and Lutheranism are two of the largest and most influential Protestant Christian denominations. Many of their core beliefs are the same, yet they have important theological differences as well.
Methodism is about 200 years younger than Lutheranism. Methodism is Arminian and Lutheranism isn’t. Regarding the Lord’s Supper, Methodists believe is the real presence of Christ and Lutherans hold to consubstantiation. The traditions agree about the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, and inspiration of Scripture.
How do Methodism and Lutheranism’s founders, denominations and social worldviews compare? How do their beliefs about God, Scripture, and spiritual gifts compare? Keep reading to learn more.
Methodism and Lutheranism Comparison
Methodism and Lutheranism are both branches of Protestant Christianity, yet they originated in different centuries, in different countries, and challenged different authority structures. (Also see Methodist vs Anglican: What’s the Difference?)
Luther challenged the Catholic church. Wesley challenged the Church of England. The roots of these denominations are firmly planted in the convictions of their founders, yet present-day churches in these traditions are undergoing change.
|Founder||John Wesley (1703-1791)||Martin Luther (1483-1546)|
|Origin||18th-century England||16th-century Germany|
|Early influencer(s)||Other than John Wesley, Charles Wesley (1707-1788) and George Whitefield (1714-1770) played key roles in the denomination’s formation||Other than Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560)|
|Significant writing outside the Bible||The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed; Wesley edited the 39 Articles of Religion, removing the Calvinist teachings in it; he also edited the Book of Common Prayer after the Revolutionary War; the United Methodist Hymnal||The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed; Luther’s shorter and large catechism, the Book on Concord, the Augsburg Confession|
|Organization||The term “connectionalism” describes the network of relationships among Methodist churches. “Bishops” lead churches within the framework of Episcopalian polity.||Churches exist in “synods,” i.e. conferences or districts; some denominations have bishops, some don’t; congregations typically vote on pastors|
|Divisions||There are many denominations in the Methodist tradition. The United Methodist Church (UMC) is the largest. The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) is the second largest.||There are many denominations in the Lutheran tradition. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is the largest. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) is the second largest.|
|Theological and social worldview||It depends on the denomination. Many churches in the UMC denomination have adopted liberal perspectives on many social and theological issues in recent decades. Other smaller denominations maintain conservative positions, such as the Evangelical Methodist Church (EMC).||It depends on the denomination. The LCMS is conservative; the ELCA is moderate to liberal depending on the congregation.|
Methodist and Lutheran beliefs: similarities and differences
Methodism and Lutheranism find common ground on several core teachings, including the Trinity, the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, the inspiration of Scripture, and the Second Coming of Christ. They are also united in rejecting certain Catholic teaching like transubstantiation, i.e. the bread and cup at communion literally becomes the body and blood of Christ, and the papacy.
|Theology (general)||Methodists are Protestant. They believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, and not according to works.||Lutherans are Protestant. They believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, and not according to works.|
|Theology (specific)||Methodists are Arminian. Within the framework of Arminianism, their doctrine is sometimes called “Wesleyan theology” or “Wesleyan-Arminian theology.”||“Lutheranism” isn’t just the name of the tradition of Luther, but also the theological system within it.|
|God||Methodists believe in the Trinity. There is one God who exists in three persons.||Lutherans believe in the Trinity. There is one God who exists in three persons.|
|Is Jesus God?||Yes||Yes|
|Is the Holy Spirit God?||Yes||Yes|
|The Bible||The Bible is inspired, according to traditional Methodist teaching. Some conservative Methodist denominations in America accept and use the term “inerrancy,” which means that Scripture is without error.||Conservative synods affirm the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scripture; moderate-liberal synods view the Bible as a helpful guide to belief and practice, but an imperfect one at best.|
|View of the atonement||Moderate-liberal denominations view Christ as a martyr and his death as a form of activism for marginalized people. Conservatives believe Christ died in the place of sinners and as a punishment for their sins.||Conservative synods affirm the truth of the gospel and believe that Christ took the place of sinners and paid their penalty on the cross; moderate-liberal synods see the death of Christ as an example of dying for something you believe in.|
|Salvation||Methodists are Arminian, as opposed to Calvinists or Reformed.||Neither Calvinist or Arminian, but “Lutheran”; conservatives believe in election, but don’t define it the same way as Calvinists|
|Spiritual gifts||Some Methodists are cessationists, others are continuationists.* Pentecostal expressions have been associated with revivalism in the Methodist tradition, which has historically been a topic of internal debate and tension.||Most Lutheran synods and churches are cessationist, meaning they don’t practice charismatic and Pentecostal expressions of Christianity.* Some small movements like Lutheran Renewal advocate for continuationism.|
|Baptism||Pastors baptize infants as a sign of regeneration. Adult converts can be baptized, often by sprinkling.||Pastors baptize infants who receive the gift of regeneration of the Holy Spirit; faith is necessary for grace to be conveyed (unlike Catholicism). Adult converts can be baptized, often by sprinkling.|
|Communion||Methodists believe in the real presence of Christ, making it more than a memorial like in some Protestant traditions, but they don’t believe in transubstantiation like Catholicism teaches.||The real body and blood of Christ are believed to be “in, with, and under” the bread and cup; this view is often called “consubstantiation”|
|Eschatology||The Second Coming of Christ is a primary doctrine; the millennium is understood according to amillennial theology; meaning, it interprets the 1,000-year period described in Revelation 20:1-6 figuratively and defines it as the time between Christ’s first and second coming (i.e. the Church Age)||The Second Coming of Christ is a primary doctrine; Lutheranism is amillennial|
* Continuationism and cessationism: Continuationism is the belief that all spiritual gifts, even speaking in tongues and the gift of healing, “continue” today and are operational in the Church. Cessationaism is the belief that some spiritual gifts have “ceased” because God only intended their use for the establishment of the Church in the first century. (Also see Do Methodists Speak In Tongues?)
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