Denomination Differences

Catholic vs. Lutheran Beliefs

Martin Luther speaking while his ninety-five theses are nailed to the door of All Saints' Church

Lutherans and Catholics have one of the most historically contentious histories of all Christian denominations. Lutheranism was born out of Martin Luther's theological disagreements with the Catholic Church. His bold nailing of his Ninety-Five Theses against indulgences to the door of All Saints' Church is considered to have begun the Protestant Reformation, and thereby eventually led to most modern Protestant denomination to have come out of the Catholic Church. The division of Europe into Lutheran and Catholic states would contribute to the Thirty Years' War, which left millions dead in the fight for European dominance.

More than political division, Lutherans and Catholics have expansive theological differences. Although Luther initially sought to reform the Catholic Church to what he saw as correct doctrine, the differences eventually lead to an irreconcilable schism.

While Luther's initial complaint was concerning indulgences, this eventually would be considered minor compared to the two main issues of salvation and human nature.

On the former, the Catholic doctrine says that "all salvation from Christ…through the [Catholic] Church". As then one joins the Church through baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist, he is moved into a state of grace. Lutheran doctrine, however, says that one need only repent of his sins, believe in Jesus Christ, and get baptized personally to be saved. This difference of view of salvation is indeed the core issue between Catholics and Protestants as a whole.

Furthermore, while Lutherans agree that one can lose his salvation by disregarding the faith, they believe in a far more permanent assurance of salvation than Catholics and do not believe that one will generally be condemned to hell if he dies shortly after falling victim to even a serious temptation.

The other major dispute is regarding human nature. While Catholic doctrine acknowledges that mankind is inclined to evil, it denies that man is totally corrupt. Luther, however, believed that mankind was so fallen and tainted with original sin that men are incapable of choosing God but for His grace alone.

The other, potentially obvious, difference that the denominations ended up with are that Lutherans rejected church tradition as a necessary authority on matters of faith, in favor of the Bible alone, and Lutherans do not recognize the pope as the head of the church.

Belief Table

CatholicLutheran
Number of Members1,360,000,000[1]77,000,000[2]
How does one get saved?Repent of your sins, believe in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection to save you, be baptized, participate in the Eucharist, and don't die with any unconfessed mortal sins.[3][4]Repent of your sins, believe in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, and be baptized.
Who gets saved?Anyone who chooses by his own free will to believe and accept God's gift of grace will be saved.Those who God chooses to call will be saved and no one else.
Can one lose his salvation?Yes, a Christian can lose his salvation by apostasy or by committing a mortal sin.Yes, a Christian can lose his salvation by apostasy.
Who gets baptized and why?The unsaved, typically as infants, get baptized as the first sacrament of Christian initiation, cleansing them of all sins.The unsaved, typically as infants, get baptized as the first sacrament of Christian initiation, cleansing them of all sins.
How should baptism be done?Baptism should be by pouring water on the head.Baptism should be by pouring water on the head.
When does one receive the Holy Spirit?The Holy Spirit is received at baptism.The Holy Spirit is received at the moment of salvation.
What is the trinity?The Trinity is God existing as one god in three equal, eternal, cosubstantial persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit.The Trinity is God existing as one god in three equal, eternal, cosubstantial persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit.
What is the human nature?Human nature is not totally corrupt but is wounded and inclined to evil.[5]Bondage of the will: Human nature is corrupt, naturally inclined to evil, and incapable of choosing God on his own.
Are we guilty of Adam's original sin?No, we are not guilty of Adam's sin, but we did inherit the consequences and a corrupt human nature from him, causing us all to sin.[6]Federalism: Yes, Adam represented all of the human race, and all are guilty of his sin.
Are Christians required to keep the Old Testament ceremonial laws?No, the ceremonial laws of Judaism were fulfilled and done away with by Jesus.No, the ceremonial laws of Judaism were fulfilled and done away with by Jesus.
Can Christians become sinless in this earthly life?"Christian perfection" is attainable in this life, but this does not mean one is sinless, as one will always commit minor "venial sins".No, although Christians can and should sin less, they can never become sinless in this life.
Do the elements of communion become the body and blood of Christ?Transubstantiation: Yes, the bread and the wine change into the body and blood of Christ.Sacramental union: No, the elements do not become the body and blood of Christ, but Christ's body and blood are non-physically joined to the elements.
Can one be baptized of behalf of someone who has died?No, the dead cannot be baptized.No, the dead cannot be baptized.
What happens if a saved person dies without being perfect?Christians who die imperfectly purified must be purified through purgatory.[7]Once Christians leave their sinful bodies, nothing else is needed to receive glorified, sinless bodies.[8][9][10]
Did Mary ever sin?Immaculate conception: No, Mary was free of original sin and remained sinless throughout her life.Most believe that, yes, Mary sinned like all other humans except Jesus.
What spiritual gifts are available today?Most believe that all spiritual gifts are still available to believers.Most believe cessationism: Spiritual gifts used for serving are available today, while gifts used as signs have ceased.[11]
What is the gift of tongues?The gift of tongues is the ability to speak foreign human languages without knowing how.[12][13]
What are the requirements for clergy?Priests must be unmarried men over 25 ordained by bishops.Varies widely
How many church ordinances/​sacraments are there?The church has seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.[14]The church has two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion.
To whom do Christians need to confess their sins?Mortal sins must be privately confessed to a priest at least annually.[15][16]General sinfulness should be confessed to a priest. This is usually done as a group during a service.
How should a church be structured?Episcopal: Churches should be governed by the bishop in that diocese, who in turn is governed by an archbishop, who is governed by the Pope.Varies widely
What day of the week should Christians worship?Christians worship on Sunday.Christians worship on Sunday.
How does God's revelation come to us today?Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition have equal authority and comprise one finished deposit of faith.Sola scriptura: The Bible is the only infallible source of God's revelation, sufficient for all faith and practice.
How was the Bible written?Varies widely[17][18]
How many books are in the Bible?There are 73 canonical books of the Bible: 39 protocanonical books, 7 deuterocanonical books, and 27 New Testament books.There are 66 canonical books of the Bible: 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books.
Is the Bible inerrant?No, the Bible was written inerrantly on matters of salvation but may contain errors in other matters.Varies widely[19][20]
Who can speak with God's authority today?The Pope speaks infallibly with God's authority when speaking ex cathedra.[21][22]The church as a whole speaks with God's authority at ecumenical councils.[23]
How was the earth created?The earth was formed by gravity pulling dust together, which ultimately came from the Big Bang.
What is marriage?Marriage is a covenant before God between one man and one woman.[24]Varies widely[25][26][27]
Is sex permissible outside marriage?No, sex outside of marriage is not permissible.No, sex outside of marriage is not permissible.[28][29]
When is divorce permissible?Divorce is never permissible.Divorce is permissible for adultery or desertion.[30][31]
May a Christian remarry while his former spouse is still alive?Divorce is never permissible.The innocent party to the adultery may remarry.
When does a fetus become human?Humanity begins at conception.[32]Most have no established doctrine. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod believes life begins at conception.[33][34][35]
Is contraception permissible?No, contraceptives are not permissible.[36]Yes, contraceptives are permissible.[28][37]
Are blood transfusions permissible?Yes, blood transfusions are permissible.Yes, blood transfusions are permissible.
Should women cover their heads?No, head coverings are no longer required due to cultural changes.[38]No, head coverings are no longer required due to cultural changes.[39][40][41]
Should Christians drink alcohol?Yes, drinking alcohol is fine as long as one does not get drunk.[42]Yes, drinking alcohol is fine as long as one does not get drunk.
Should Christians fight in wars?Yes, Christians should fight in just wars.[43][44]Yes, Christians should fight in just wars.[45][46]
Whom does the Holy Spirit come from?The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.[47]The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.[48][49]
Do icons glorify God?Yes, icons are holy and should be venerated.
Where does a Christian's soul go after death?Some Christians first go to purgatory to be purified when they die.[7]Christians immediately go to heaven when they die.[8]