Our Calvinist friends invest a lot of time, discussion, and effort into something called the Lapsarian debate. Ever heard of that Lutherans? I'm guessing some of you have, but many of you haven't. So in this blog I'm going to cover what the Lapsarian debate is, as well as the varying positions that are held. I'll wrap it up by how Lutheran theology views this in-house discussion amongst Calvinists.

The Lapsarian debate or discussion has to do with God's decrees in eternity past, before the foundation of the world. Traditionally, Calvinists take one of two stances in this discussion, but there are some nuanced versions of Lapsarianism as well. That being said, we'll leave the nuanced versions alone for our purposes here.

John Calvin
Reformed theology speaks of the logical order of God's decrees in eternity past. They're not so much speaking about the temporal order here. Keep in mind that all of these positions hold that all of these decrees occurred in eternity past, before the foundation of the world. In short, none of them have God decreeing something as a reaction to what man does in time.

The five topics that are ordered in this discussion are election, creation, sin, Christ's atonement, and regeneration. The four positions I will outline here all order the decrees differently. The two standard positions are called Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism. These are the two traditional Calvinist positions. There are two other decretal orders called Sublapsarianism and then of course, Arminianism. Traditional Calvinists reject Sublapsarianism as being something other than Calvinism (it's 4 point Calvinism) and of course reject Arminianism as heretical (see the Synod of Dordt, 1618-19).

Supralapsarianism logically orders God's decrees as follows.

1. Elect some and reprobate the rest.
2. Create the universe.
3. Decree the fall of man.
4. Send Christ to die for and save the elect.
5. Regenerate the elect via the inward call of the Spirit.

You can pretty clearly see in Supralapsarianism, that election comes before everything. The other thing that is important to notice here is that election is logically decreed prior to the atonement. In other words, this order of God's decrees has a limited atonement for the elect alone.

Supralapsarianism is generally equated with a "high" Calvinism of sorts.

If you are interested in learning more about the Supralapsarian position, I would recommend my friend Andy Underhile's blog found here: Contra Mundum. Andy is a staunch Supralapsarian and presents the position well.


Infralapsarianism logically orders God's decrees as follows.

1. Create the universe.
2. Allow the fall of man to occur.
3. Elect some sinful men and pass over the rest.
4. Provide Christ's atonement for the elect.
5. Regenerate the elect via the inward call of the Spirit.

The main difference between Supra and Infra is that God is electing people in Infra *in view of their sin.* In other words, in Supra, God elects first, then creates the necessary conditions to bring about His election; including sin and the fall. The Supra argues that God is sovereign over everything, including sin. The Infra counters that this makes God the author of sin. And round and round the Calvinists go.

However, it still is important to point out that Infralapsarianism also places election prior to atonement and therefore has a classical Calvinist limited atonement.


Sublapsarianism, also known as Amyraldism, is another hat in the ring of God's decrees.

Moise Amyraut - Four Points
1. Create the universe.
2. Allow the fall of man to occur.
3. Provide Christ's atonement for the whole fallen human race.
4. Elect some and reprobate the rest.
5. Regenerate the elect via the inward call of the Spirit.

Here we have Christ's atonement preceding election. Therefore, the atonement in Sublapsarianism is universal and provisional. Then this theory proceeds to say that since man is dead in sin, none will freely choose Christ and therefore God must elect some to take hold of that universal atonement.

Traditional Calvinists reject this theory as illogical and inconsistent. Many even go as far as to say that it is warmed over Arminianism.


Arminianism is the theology that came out of Calvinism in the late 16th century and into the early 17th century.

1. Create the universe.
2. Allow the fall of man to occur.
3. Provide the atonement for the whole human race.
4. Offer Christ indiscriminately to everyone.
5. Elect those who believe.

Obviously, in this theology, it's not Calvinistic at all. It has God, in essence, looking through time and electing those who He sees will believe in Christ. Election is something done in response to human freewill here and not something that is a cause of salvation.


So, how should we as Lutherans approach this discussion? In fact, I am guessing that some of you Lutherans who read this blog wonder why I even wrote it. And to be honest, that's completely fair. I wrote it for informational purposes alone. I am of the opinion that we ought to know about other theologies. And, as a former Calvinist, that is the other theology that I can expound upon.

So again, how should we as Lutherans approach this? Where do we fall in this debate?

This should not surprise you, but we don't fall anywhere here. In fact, we reject the whole Lapsarian debate outright. But why?

Simply put, these ordering of decrees is an attempt to peer into the hidden God. From our perspective, the whole discussion really is not worth having and worth taking a stance upon. To put it in Lutheran terms, it's a theology of glory and not a theology of the cross. Instead of being focused on Christ crucified for you, it's focused on decrees in eternity past. Instead of focusing on the revealed God given for you in Christ, it's focused on the hidden God, not revealed to us to much extent in Scripture. Yes, for sure the people in these different Lapsarian camps use Holy Scripture to defend their positions. But from my perspective, none of them are slam dunks anyways. It's speculation for the most part. And speculation can be a bad thing sometimes.

So, as Lutherans, we simply do not engage in these sorts of debates most of the time. We would rather stick to the revealed Christ given for us at Calvary and then received in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

We may get labeled as irrational or simplistic by some of those in Reformed Theology, but really, we shouldn't care. We're not irrational or simplistic, we just have no desire to go beyond the Word into hidden topics. Or in another way, we affirm ministerial usage of reason, but not magisterial. Not all Calvinists use magisterial reason over Scripture, but sadly many do.

Hopefully this article was helpful for Lutherans to understand some of the stances out there.

Looking under Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. ~Hebrews 12:2

+Grace and Peace+


What Does God Expect?

How good must one be to enter glory with Christ? It's a royally important question, and Christianity itself hinges on the answer to it. It hinges first on how we answer the initial question: Just how good do we have to be? What is the standard of righteousness that God requires? The second manner in which we must answer then is: How is this standard fulfilled?

From the outset, all Christians agree that there must be some standard for eternal life. Likewise, there also must be some manner in which that standard is met. Since no one believes that ultimately everyone is condemned (and we won't deal with universalism here), then the two preceding conditions must have answers to them that result in some people being saved.

1. Just how good do we have to be? What is the standard that God expects?

This one should be pretty easy for all Christians to answer. I say that with reservation though, since it's answered incorrectly by many people now days.

Christianity is not a religion of "just do your best." God doesn't accept that. Your best is never good enough, nor can it be.

We all agree that God is perfectly and infinitely Holy, Righteous, and Just. And if we don't, what we worship is less than God. Therefore, the answer should be obvious: God requires a standard that is completely in-line with His perfect holiness, righteousness, and justice.

He requires absolute perfection.

To relax that standard would be for God to relax His attributes and God does not do that. To relax them would be to not hold to them in a sense. In another sense, He cannot relax them because relaxing them would mean that those attributes are not perfect and infinite in the first place.

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount gives us insight into this very truth. He states:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew 5:17-20)

And then Jesus gets even more blunt later in His sermon, stating:

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (St. Matthew 5:48)

To speak plainly, we must be perfect. We must keep God's Law to perfection. Top put it another way, God demands that we be sinless.

What is a good definition of what it is to be sinless? Well, we could go to the decalogue (10 commandments) and say; keep those perfectly. But I am going to go to Jesus' summation of the decalogue found later in the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (St. Matthew 22:36-40)

But wait a second. Aren't we all sinners? Yeah, we are. That is why the next question and answer is so vital to the Christian faith.

2. How is this standard of righteousness fulfilled?

Does God demand that we fulfill this standard? Yes, He does, we already addressed that in the last section. He demands that we be perfect and then tells us that we must love the Lord our God with our everything, all the time. And also love our neighbors as ourselves.

Have you done that today? Have you loved the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, strength, soul, and everything of yourself for even one second? I would assert that if you say you have, you're breaking the 8th commandment regarding bearing false witness.

So, pretty clearly we as sinful humanity cannot meet this standard that God states and commands all in one fell swoop. Ironically, the theological camps that think they can meet these standards have quite a low view of sin, despite the fact that they talk all the time about not sinning!

Therefore, there must be another way, lest we all be universally condemned. Thanks be to God, the other way is the Gospel.

In other words, we have a substitute. We have an advocate. We have another who has fulfilled these demands on our behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, and He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (St. John 1:29).

You must be in Christ. If a person is in Christ, they are perfect on account of the work of Christ and His righteousness being imputed to them (Romans 4, 2 Corinthians 5:21). The only way that a person can be perfect is to be counted righteous on behalf of Christ. For you have died, and your life is hidden in Christ with God (Colossians 3:3). Not by works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:9).

Our works cannot ever save us. Our obedience can't either. Only the perfect Lamb of God can do that. Not because we are perfect obedient servants -repentant as we are, as Christians live a daily life of repentance- but that Christ is the perfect obedient Servant.

Such is the way of being simul iustus et peccator. Or in English: Simultaneously justified and sinful. Or, we are both sinner and saint.

Thanks be to God for His saving work in Christ!


Christ is Life. And Doctrine Reveals Christ

Downplaying doctrine in Christianity is just plain dumb. There, I said it. To relegate doctrine to a status that is unimportant is, to put it nicely, unchristian. To whine about people disliking bad theology isn't too bright either. That response is usually nothing more than pride.

Doctrine, you see, tells us about Christ. It's not enough to say we love Jesus and that's it. Who is Jesus? What did He do for us? How does He save us? As soon as you start answering those questions, you've entered the realm of doctrine.

Think about it for a minute. Who claims to love Jesus? Well, Jehovah's Witnesses do. So do the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Are those groups Christian? If loving Jesus is the standard and doctrine is unimportant, we would have to answer yes. What about Muslims? Jesus is a prophet in Islam, is He not? Do they love Jesus? They might. But what if all these groups get Jesus completely incorrect and therefore have a different Jesus? Then what?

The "just love Jesus" stance has a glaring problem: it's based on our feelings and works. It has nothing to do with who Jesus is and what He has done. In this paradigm, "love God and love your neighbor" is the Gospel. The problem is, Jesus tells us that is the law, not the Gospel.

So, if we can agree that doctrine is important, where is that line drawn? What is necessary? What is debatable? And where do we go to figure these things out? You might say Scripture alone. Well, I would agree to an extent. Sola Scriptura means that Scripture is our only infallible source of doctrine. But if we say that we go to Scripture alone for doctrine and then we all end up with different interpretations of Scripture, then what?

Therefore, we are wise to listen to those who have gone before us. We are wise to study church history; to see what has been ruled heretical over and over again. And we are wise to see what the church catholic has always taught about certain topics. It's a good idea to look at the early church ecumenical councils. It's a good idea to look at theologians from all eras and see where they align and where they contradict each other. It's a smart thing to check out St. Athanasius, St. Irenaeus, St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, the Council of Trent, John Calvin, and Confessions of faith like the Book of Concord, the Westminster Confession, and the Catholic Catechism.

Check them out, it's a good idea. The church catholic has never been a bunch of theological liberals, as is so common today. Doctrine has always been supremely important in the life of the church. The ecumenical councils have always been about doctrine. Confessions of faith are always doctrinally driven. And the "no creed but Christ" crowd is a cop-out. They refuse to say who Jesus is or what He has done. Sorry, but that bird doesn't fly.

There are numerous very core doctrines that are part of the Christian faith and always have been for 2000 years. An excellent place to start are the three major ecumenical creeds (Apostle's, Nicene, Athanasian). I suspect that the majority of mainstream Christian churches now days cannot even affirm those three creeds. Move out from there to the early church ecumenical councils. Check out some Confessions. Read some church fathers. Immerse yourself in history. Read the Scriptures and also read how the more learned greats of the Christian faith interpreted the Scriptures. Look at how the different churches today compare to the Creeds, the councils, the fathers, and Holy Scripture.

I'll tell you what, you aren't left with many options. Most churches now days are completely innovative in their doctrines. And that, as they say, is not a good thing.

For my money, the place that contains the fulness of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints is Confessional Lutheranism. Look it up and compare it to all these things.

All of the history and none of the heresy.