Lutherans/Lutherans and Calvinists in The Netherlands
As a child of Dutch protestant parents I was wondering about the following: the Lutheran Church in The Netherlands has merged with the Dutch Reformed Church (Calvinist). I am glad about the (re)unity in the main Dutch protestant church, but how was it possible? I mean, Luther and Calvin greatly differed on predestination. Now the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) has as its base the Three Forms of Unity and those forms bear a very Calvinist stamp. How can this be explained? What exactly is the difference between the Luther's and Calvin's point of view about predestination?
Thank you for your reply.
Stephen, thanks for your question.
It appears the merger you reference occurred in the year 2004, when three denominations (One Lutheran and two Calvinist) merged to form the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. Prior to this merger, the Lutheran group had been known as "The Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands."
Not only did Luther and Calvin differ on Predestination (even while together rejecting the Arminian/Semi-Pelagian position), but they also had what might be even more significant differences regarding Christology (specifically, regarding which and to what degree the divine attributes are communicated to Christ's human body) and about both Sacraments (whether Jesus body is truly present in the Lord's Supper and whether Baptism actually forgives sins.)
Specifically regarding predestination, I'll speak more regarding Lutherans and Calvinists than about Luther and Calvin particularly, because I'm becoming convinced that the "5 points" of Calvinism that emerged from the Synod of Dort do not necessarily reflect Calvin's personal view of predestination precisely. However, I am not far enough in my research to state clearly and concisely how Calvin's view differs from that of later generations of Calvinists.
Luther and Lutherans hold that when anyone is saved, God gets 100% of the credit, but when anyone is condemned, the condemned person takes 100% of the blame. This is often referred to as "single predestination," and reflects the Lutheran tendency to allow paradoxes to stand in doctrine without attempt to solve them. This is often called "single predestination" when people are comparing theologies.
The Calvinist view is typically understood as "double predestination" and is often described with "Five Points" - Total Depravity (people are born completely sinful), Unconditional Election (God elects people solely by His own choice without their contribution), Limited Atonement (Jesus only died for the people who are actually saved, not for those who are ultimately condemned), Irresistible Grace (If God has elected someone, they are not able to reject it), and Perseverance of the Saints (The elect cannot lose or give up their salvation).
The name "double predestination" comes from the idea that God chooses people for both salvation and condemnation, rather than choosing only the saved and giving the condemned the blame for their own situation. There is disagreement between various types of Calvinists regarding the order of these events (Election-Fall-Redemption, Fall-Election-Redemption, Fall-Redemption-Election).
In order to understand these sort of ecumenical agreements, it is important to note that Lutherans can be broadly divided into two camps:
The first of these are typically called Confessional Lutherans. These are Lutherans who insist on complete agreement with all of the documents of the Book of Concord "because" it is in complete agreement with Scripture (and typically insist on the original version of the Augsburg Confession it contains, called the "Unaltered Augsburg Confession"). They tend to view the Bible as "being" the completely accurate and authoritative Word of God to man and to take conservative positions on moral issues and church fellowship. They are joined together in a group called the International Lutheran Council. There are a very small group of Confessional Lutherans world-wide who consider even the International Lutheran Council to be too liberal and therefore maintain their own worldwide council for those within their own fellowship.
The other group would typically be referred to as mainline, progressive, or liberal Lutherans. These are Lutherans who insist on some lesser portion of the Book of Concord (usually just the Augsburg Confession and perhaps the Catechisms, but never the Formula of Concord) as necessary for agreement (and often they use a later edition of the Augsburg Confession called the "Variata"), and they only state their agree with this document "in so far as" it agrees with Scripture. They tend to view the Bible a record of Human impressions about God, which "contains" the Word of God and to take liberal positions on moral issues and be permissive regarding church fellowship. They are joined together in a group called the "Lutheran World Federation."
This is the group to which the Lutherans belonged in the Netherlands. (Confessional Lutherans, as far as I can gather from my research, are not to be found in any organized group within the Netherlands. Neighboring Belgium reportedly has a Confessional group of 150 souls in two congregations served by one pastor.
What you see occurring between the Lutherans and Calvinists in the Netherlands is actually occurring throughout the world. Their U.S. counterpart, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has "full communion" agreements with Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist, Moravian, United Church of Christ, Episcopalian, and other denominations, which allow them to share clergy among their congregations. What essentially occurs in these agreements is that both groups (but typically the Lutherans to the greater extent, as seen here) agree to the things they have in common and deem their differences to either no longer exist or not to be significant enough to divide them any longer. It is only the progressive, LWF member, Lutheran groups who participate in these sorts of ecumenical endeavors. The Confessional, ILC member, Lutherans only engage in church fellowship when complete doctrinal agreement exists.