“We preach faith, and any person not willfully resisting obtains faith.” – C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between the Law and Gospel, p. 15.
Lutheranism is neither Calvinistic nor Arminian. But what is it? There are at least three soteriological views I’ve heard ascribed to modern Lutherans:
1 . Salvation is a paradox. God desires all (each and every) person to be saved, yet not all will be saved. Man does not contribute to his salvation, but God does not contribute to reprobation. Why some are saved and not others is a great unsolvable paradox.
2. Salvation is the default, and must be actively combatted to be lost. This view, I had heard ascribed to Lutheranism, but had never seen in print until coming across the quote above by C.F.W. Walther, the founder of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. According to this view one loses salvation by “willfully resisting” faith. Instead of an active necessity to come to faith as emphasized in Arminianism, all one needs to do is not actively work against faith. That is, the holy spirit brings faith to all, but it is resisted by some.
3. Lutheranism is Arminian. This seems to be the understanding of Lutheranism of many Calvinists. By “Arminian” it is meant that salvation is according to a persons choice to have faith. Rather than salvation being the default, either condemnation is the default or a blank slate is the default from which man actively chooses one direction or the other – heaven or hell, faith or unbelief. Calvinists, who often believe that Lutherans hold this position, also believe that Luther himself was essentially a Calvinist in his soteriology.
I believe, regardless of which of these three views the Lutheran church actually holds, that all three of them are false.
The Bible is clear that salvation is not of man, but of God. We might not know why God chooses some people for salvation and other for reprobation, but that He does so is clear from Scripture. “So then, it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.” – Romans 9:16. If salvation were lost through “willfully resisting” then all people would be lost because all people willfully resist. That is, we resist until and unless the holy spirit comes in irresistible power to gift us faith. Let us praise the Lord for the gift of His salvation!