Since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Saxony 493 years ago, Protestantism has spread around the world with great gusto. However, in the nearly half of a millennium that has passed, some of the differences that have separated the Protestants from Catholicism have led to splits within the Protestant faiths themselves.
This article will explore the differences and similarities between the more doctrinal and traditional Lutheran church and the much more charismatic Baptist faith.
Both demoninations started in unique circumstances and have followed unique paths. Lutheranism started in the 16th Century with a strong medieval Catholic Church that strongly attempted to shut it down. It spread to countries in northern Europe, and then made it’s way to the United States, especially with the influx of German immigrants in the 19th Century.
There is disagreement as to how the Baptists emerged. Some believe that their faith has been around since Christianity began, and follows traditions from that time (these Baptists balk at being referred to as Protestants). However, most place the Baptists in the Netherlands and England, entering the United States in the form of the Puritans. Modern missionary Baptist practice as we know it today spread throughout the country as part of the 19th Century Revivalist movement.
The structural arrangements of both denominations certainly have some similarities. Both Lutherans and Baptists share the lack of a centralized structure as the Catholic and Orthodox churches do. Each faith is congregationally based, and there are several organizations that provide guidance, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) in Lutheranism and the Southern Baptist Conference (SBC) and American Baptist Churches USA on the Baptist side.
These organizations do not own or control their churches, as does the Catholic Church, but instead provide leadership and resources.
Also, in both denominations, there can be some differences in practice and theology between the different organizations. On the subject of homosexuality, for example, the LCMS is conservative, being completely opposed to the practice, while the ELCA is encouraging a dialogue on the topic. Similarly, the SBC strongly condems homosexuality as sin while the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists includes all forms of sexuality among its members.
Baptist services tend to be longer than Lutheran services, but what happens can vary from congregation to congregation. Generally, however, there is plenty of singing (the style of which varies), and the centerpieces of the service are reading of the scripture and the sermon. Baptists do not receive sacraments in the sense that Catholics do, but they do receive communion from once a month to four times a year, depending on the congregation (and there is grape juice instead of wine). Also, you may see a Baptism performed during a service.
Lutheran services are very similar to Catholic masses. Really, the key differences are in the songbook and in the fact that some Lutheran churches give the option of grape juice instead of wine (also, some Lutheran churches do not give Communion every week). You say the creed, listen to the sermons, stand and kneel mostly at the same times, and ELCA services even use the same Scripture readings each week as the Catholic Church.
Both denominations can be found all over the country, but there are higher concentrations in certain sections. Lutheranism in the United States is largely centered in the Midwest, where there are populations descended from Nordic countries. The ELCA is based in Chicago, while the LCMS is based in St. Louis.
Baptists, on the other hand are huge in the South, with the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention as the largest organization. But they also maintain a presence in the Mid-Atlantic and New England, as the American Baptist Churches USA is based in Valley Forge, Pa. Both of these regions have populations that largely descend from the Baptists and Anabaptists that emigrated from the Netherlands, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Both believe in the Trinity, the Resurrection, and the purposes of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s death. Other than some differences in beliefs in predestination and free will, there are not too many differences in the core beliefs of the two denominations.