Protestant vs Lutheran: What’s the Difference?


“Protestant” and “Lutheran” are two terms associated with Christianity, but for many people it’s not clear what the differences are between them. While both names describe Christians who have certain shared beliefs and practices, there are important differences between them.

“Protestant” is the name of the 16th-century reform movement born in Europe that decried abuses and excesses in the Catholic church. “Lutheran” is one of the traditions that was born out of the Protestant Reformation. Lutheranism’s founder, Martin Luther, is often credited with igniting the Reformation.

How did the Protestant movement and the Lutheran tradition start? What are the differences between their beliefs and worldview? Do both believe in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the Holy Spirit? Keep reading to learn more.

Lutheran church minister
Is the Lutheran tradition liberal or conservative? See below

Protestant vs Lutheran: Overview

Because the Lutheran tradition is part of the Protestant movement, there is a significant amount of overlap when it comes to their origins, beliefs, and practices. However, though all Lutheran denominations and churches are Protestant, not all Protestants are Lutherans. Traditions like Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Assemblies of God are also Protestant.

LutheranismProtestantism
OriginMartin Luther (1483-1546), 16th-century Germany16th-century Europe, especially Germany under the reforms of Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Meaning of the nameThe term “Lutheranism” is based on the last name of Martin LutherThe word “Protestant” comes from the Latin word protestari, meaning “to bear witness”
Early influencerPhilip Melanchthon 1497-1560), 16th century GermanyMartin Luther, John Calvin of France (1509-1564), and Ulrich Zwingli of Switzerland (1484-1531)
Significant writing outside the BibleLuther’s shorter and large catechism, the Book on Concord, the Augsburg ConfessionWritings and sermons of Martin Luther, especially the 95 Theses, Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christians Religion; many others
OrganizationChurches exist in “synods,” i.e. conferences or districts; some denominations have bishops, some don’t; congregations typically vote on pastorsProtestant churches can be organized in different ways such as congregationalism, presbyterianism, or episcopalianism
What are the largest denominations in the tradition today?Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS)
see charts below
Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and the Assemblies of God (see more below)
Theological and social worldviewIt depends on the synod; the LCMS is conservative; the ELCA is moderate to liberal depending on the congregation
see charts below
Protestants may be liberal or conservative theologically or socially.

Because Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation, all Protestant denominations trace their roots to him. Not all Protestants agree with all aspects of Lutheran theology, but they agree about the foundational convictions of the Protestant movement, such as the authority of Scripture and that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone.

Lutheran church building
What is the largest Lutheran denomination? See below

Protestantism and Lutheranism Beliefs Compared

Lutheranism shares many beliefs with other Protestant traditions, like the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, and that there are two sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and water baptism. Lutheranism also has some views that are unique among Protestants, the foremost of which is consubstantiation.

What is consubstantiation? From the Latin words con, meaning “with” and substantia, meaning substance, consubstantiation describes a view of the Lord’s Supper. Consubstantiation, which is the view Martin Luther taught, argues that the bread and cup don’t change into the body and blood of Christ, like in the Catholic view called transubstantiation.

Instead, the elements co-exist: the bread with Christ’s body and the cup with his blood. A common way to describe consubstantiation is to say that Christ is present “in, with, and under” the bread and cup.

LutheranismProtestantism
View of the BibleConservative 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.One of the hallmarks of Protestant tradition is the authority of Scripture, over and above church tradition. Protestants historically believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture.
View of GodLutherans believe in the Trinity; there is one God who exists in three persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully divine.Protestants believe in the Trinity; there is one God who exists in three persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully divine.
View of ChristJesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is God in human flesh. He is 100% God and 100% man. Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died as an atonement for sin, and physically resurrection on the third day.Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is God in human flesh. He is 100% God and 100% man. Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died as an atonement for sin, and physically resurrection on the third day.
View of salvationNeither Calvinist or Arminian, but “Lutheran”; conservatives believe in election, but don’t define it the same way as CalvinistsProtestants believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone.
View of the Holy SpiritThe Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is fully divine. The Spirit applies the salvation that the Father planned and that the Son earned for sinners. He bestows spiritual gifts on believers that they are to use for the edification of the Church. Lutherans are historically cessationist, not Pentecostal.The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is fully divine. The Spirit applies the salvation that the Father planned and that the Son earned for sinners. He bestows spiritual gifts on believers that they are to use for the edification of the Church. Some Protestants are Pentecostal and some aren’t.
View of the SacramentsThere are two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper or communion; they don’t automatically convey grace like in CatholicismProtestants believe there are two sacraments: water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Protestants do not always agree on who should be baptized or the nature of the bread and cup.
View of the Lord’s SupperThe real body and blood of Christ are believed to be “in, with, and under” the bread and cup; this view is often called “consubstantiation”Generally, Protestants believe the Lord’s Supper is a continual practice that Christ started before his death and resurrection. Protestants don’t agree about the nature of the bread and cup.
View of the BaptismPastors baptize infants who receive the gift of regeneration of the Holy Spirit; faith is necessary for grace to be conveyed (unlike Catholicism)Generally, Protestants believe baptism identifies a person with the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-5) and obedience to Christ. It also signifies their inclusion into the church community (Acts 2:38-47). Protestants don’t agree about who (children or adults) should be baptized and how (sprinkling or immersion).
View of the end timesLutheranism is amillennial, 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)Protestant churches may be premillennial, postmillennial, or amillennial

What are the largest Lutheran denominations?

NameMembers/
Churches
Founded
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America4.1 million; 9,8001988
Lutheran-Church Missouri Synod2.2 million; 6,1001847
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synodover 385,000; 1,2001850
Lutheran Congregations in Missouri for Christover 300,000; over 7002001
North American Lutheran Churchover 140,000; over 4002010

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source

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