Lutheranism Vs. Methodism: How Are They Different

By Paul King •  Updated: 09/18/23 •  15 min read

In the realm of Christian denominations, Lutheranism and Methodism stand as distinct branches with unique historical origins, theological beliefs, worship practices, sacraments and rituals, as well as church structure and governance.

Let us delve into the differences between Lutheranism and Methodism, and explore the biblical foundations that have shaped these traditions.

Lutheranism traces its roots back to the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther in the 16th century. Lutherans emphasize the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as stated in Ephesians 2:8-9, which says, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ They believe that salvation is a gift from God, received through faith, rather than earned through good works.

On the other hand, Methodism emerged as a movement within Anglicanism in the 18th century, under the leadership of John Wesley. Methodists place great emphasis on holiness and sanctification, drawing inspiration from 1 Thessalonians 4:3, which says, ‘It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.’ They believe in the possibility of experiencing a second work of grace, known as ‘Christian perfection,’ where one’s heart is cleansed from all sin and filled with God’s love.

In terms of worship practices, Lutherans tend to have a more formal liturgical approach, following a set order of worship and using traditional hymns. They hold the sacraments of baptism and communion in high regard, believing in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Lutherans affirm the words of Jesus in Matthew 26:26-28, where he says, ‘Take and eat; this is my body…Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant.’

Methodists, on the other hand, embrace a more flexible and diverse worship style, incorporating contemporary music and a variety of liturgical expressions. They also hold baptism and communion as sacraments but do not necessarily believe in the literal presence of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. Instead, they view communion as a means of grace, a special moment of spiritual nourishment and unity with the body of Christ.

In terms of church structure and governance, Lutherans follow an episcopal model, with bishops overseeing multiple congregations. They value the historical and apostolic succession of bishops, tracing their authority back to the early Christian Church. Methodists, on the other hand, have a connectional system, where churches are organized into conferences and governed by elected leaders. They believe in the priesthood of all believers, as mentioned in 1 Peter 2:9, which says, ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.’

To add depth and meaning to these differences, let us turn to the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. This parable illustrates the Lutheran emphasis on grace and justification by faith alone. The father freely forgives and welcomes his wayward son back into the family, symbolizing God’s unconditional love and mercy towards sinners. This story highlights the Lutheran belief that salvation is a gift of grace, not earned through human effort.

In contrast, the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 resonates with Methodist teachings on holiness and sanctification. The Samaritan’s compassionate actions towards the wounded man demonstrate the Methodist belief in living a holy and loving life, reflecting God’s character. It serves as a reminder that Christians are called to actively love and serve their neighbors, striving for personal holiness through the power of the Holy Spirit.

By exploring the biblical foundations and stories that shape Lutheranism and Methodism, we gain a deeper understanding of the contrasting characteristics and perspectives within these two influential Christian denominations. Both traditions offer valuable insights and interpretations of the Christian faith, inviting believers to grow in their relationship with God and serve others in love.

Key Takeaways

Historical Origins

The historical origins of Lutheranism and Methodism can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent development of various reform movements within Christianity. These movements were driven by a desire to return to the true teachings of the Bible and to challenge the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church.

One key figure in the establishment of Lutheranism was Martin Luther, a German theologian and monk. Luther famously protested against the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church, which claimed to offer forgiveness of sins in exchange for money. He firmly believed in the authority of Scripture and argued that salvation comes through faith alone, as stated in Ephesians 2:8-9: ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ Luther’s teachings spread throughout Europe, particularly in Germany, where Lutheranism became the dominant form of Protestantism.

Methodism, on the other hand, originated from the teachings of John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley in England during the 18th century. The Wesley brothers emphasized personal piety, social justice, and the importance of religious experience. They believed in the transformative power of faith and the necessity of good works as evidence of one’s faith, as James 2:17 states: ‘Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’

To illustrate the importance of personal piety and religious experience, we can look to the story of the conversion of John Wesley. In his own words, Wesley described how his heart was ‘strangely warmed’ during a meeting in Aldersgate Street in London. This experience led him to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This emphasis on religious experience and personal encounter with God became a defining characteristic of Methodism.

Both Lutheranism and Methodism share a common commitment to the authority of Scripture and the belief in salvation through faith. However, they differ in their emphasis on works and religious experience. Lutherans believe that good works are a result of faith but do not contribute to salvation, while Methodists believe that good works are a necessary response to God’s grace.

Theological Beliefs

Theological beliefs in Lutheranism and Methodism can be distinguished by their respective understandings of sacraments, predestination, and the role of scripture in faith.

In terms of salvation doctrine, Lutherans believe in justification by faith alone, as stated in Ephesians 2:8-9, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ This emphasizes the belief that salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned through works.

On the other hand, Methodists hold a Wesleyan-Arminian view of salvation, which includes the concepts of prevenient grace, justification, sanctification, and Christian perfection. This is supported by Romans 3:24, ‘and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ Methodists believe in the transformative power of God’s grace, leading to sanctification and the pursuit of Christian perfection.

Regarding predestination, Lutherans adhere to the doctrine of predestination, teaching that God has predestined certain individuals to be saved. This belief is based on Ephesians 1:4-5, ‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.’ Lutherans trust in God’s sovereign choice and His plan for salvation.

However, Methodists reject the notion of predestination and emphasize God’s universal love and offer of salvation to all. They believe in the importance of responding to God’s grace, as mentioned in John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ Methodists affirm the free will of individuals to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation.

Additionally, both Lutherans and Methodists hold scripture as a primary authority in matters of faith. Lutherans give higher importance to the written Word, believing in the doctrine of sola scriptura. They recognize the truth and authority of the Bible, as stated in 2 Timothy 3:16, ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.’

Methodists also consider tradition, reason, and experience in their interpretation of scripture, seeking a holistic understanding of God’s message.

Worship Practices

Worship practices in Lutheranism and Methodism differ significantly in terms of liturgical structure, sacraments, and the role of music. Let’s delve deeper into these distinctions by exploring relevant facts and quoting Bible verses.

In Lutheranism, worship services typically adhere to a formal liturgical structure. This structure includes essential elements such as the invocation, confession of sins, proclamation of the Word, and celebration of the sacraments. The emphasis on this structured approach stems from the belief that order and reverence in worship are essential to honor God.

The Bible supports the idea of order in worship. In 1 Corinthians 14:40, it is written, ‘But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.’ This verse underlines the importance of following a structured approach in worship, as it brings honor and glory to God.

On the other hand, Methodism embraces a more flexible liturgical structure, allowing for variations in worship practices across different congregations. This flexibility enables Methodists to adapt their worship services to the needs and preferences of their congregations.

The Bible also encourages flexibility in worship. In Psalm 150:3-5, it states, ‘Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals.’ This verse highlights the diverse ways in which we can worship God, incorporating different instruments and styles of music.

In terms of music, Lutheranism tends to emphasize traditional hymns and organ music, reflecting its historical roots. This musical style creates a sense of reverence and connects Lutherans to their rich heritage.

A story from the Bible that exemplifies the power of music in worship is found in 2 Chronicles 5:13-14. It tells of how the priests and musicians, with one voice, praised and thanked the Lord, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. This demonstrates the transformative power of music in creating a sacred atmosphere during worship.

In contrast, Methodism has embraced contemporary trends in music styles, incorporating a wider range of musical genres and instruments into worship services. This inclusivity allows for a more diverse and engaging worship experience, appealing to a broader demographic.

The Bible encourages us to make a joyful noise to the Lord. In Psalm 98:4, it says, ‘Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!’ This verse reminds us that the style of music is not as important as the sincerity and joy with which we offer our praise to God.

It is important to recognize that these differences in worship practices do not diminish the significance of the sacraments and rituals in both Lutheranism and Methodism. Rather, these variations highlight the diverse ways in which believers approach and experience these sacred rituals.

Sacraments and Rituals

Sacraments and rituals hold a profound significance in the religious practices of both Lutheranism and Methodism. These practices not only have symbolic meaning but also foster participation and community among believers.

In Lutheranism, Baptism and the Eucharist are the two primary sacraments, each with its own unique purpose. Baptism, as stated in Romans 6:4, is a means of grace and initiation into the Christian community. The story of Jesus’ own baptism in Matthew 3:16-17 further emphasizes the significance of this sacrament.

The Eucharist, on the other hand, serves as a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice and a means of receiving spiritual nourishment. In John 6:53-56, Jesus explains the importance of partaking in his flesh and blood.

Methodism, like Lutheranism, recognizes Baptism and the Eucharist as sacraments. However, Methodism expands the list to include other rituals such as confirmation, matrimony, ordination, and anointing of the sick. These additional sacraments and rituals find support in various passages of the Bible.

For example, confirmation is a ritual through which individuals affirm their faith and receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:14-17 describes how the apostles laid their hands on the newly baptized believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, the sacrament of matrimony is rooted in Genesis 2:24, where it is stated that a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, becoming one flesh.

In James 5:13-15, the anointing of the sick is mentioned, highlighting the practice of calling the elders of the church to pray over the sick and anoint them with oil.

These sacraments and rituals serve as visible signs of God’s presence and grace, bringing individuals together in worship and shared experiences. By participating in these practices, believers deepen their connection with God and strengthen their bond with fellow believers.

Understanding the significance of sacraments and rituals in Lutheranism and Methodism provides a solid foundation for exploring their respective church structures and governance.

Church Structure and Governance

Church structure and governance in both Lutheranism and Methodism are defined by hierarchical systems that provide organizational frameworks for the administration and leadership of religious communities. These systems are rooted in biblical principles and teachings, which guide the practices and decision-making processes of these denominations.

In Lutheranism, leadership roles are typically held by ordained ministers who are responsible for guiding the congregation and making important decisions regarding the church’s direction. This structure is based on the biblical concept of pastors shepherding their flock, as mentioned in 1 Peter 5:2-3: ‘Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.’

The decision-making process in Lutheranism often involves consultation with church councils and congregational meetings, where members have the opportunity to voice their opinions and contribute to the decision-making process. This practice aligns with the biblical principle of seeking counsel and wisdom from others, as advised in Proverbs 15:22: ‘Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed.’ By involving the congregation in decision-making, Lutheranism emphasizes the importance of unity and collaboration within the church community.

In Methodism, leadership roles are also held by ordained ministers, but decision-making processes are more collaborative and inclusive. The church operates through a system of conferences, where clergy and lay members gather to discuss and decide on important matters. This approach is in line with the biblical principle of valuing the contributions and perspectives of all members of the body of Christ, as stated in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14: ‘Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.’

This inclusive approach ensures that the voices of all members are heard and considered in the decision-making process, promoting a sense of ownership and unity within the Methodist church. As the apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:2, ‘then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.’ By fostering a spirit of unity and collaboration, Methodism seeks to exemplify the biblical teachings of love and togetherness within the church community.

Both Lutheranism and Methodism prioritize strong leadership roles and inclusive decision-making processes to ensure the effective governance and guidance of their religious communities. These practices are deeply rooted in biblical principles, serving as a foundation for their organizational structures and providing a framework for the leadership and administration of the church.

Paul King

I post written versions of my powerful sermons exploring topics like prayer, praise, biblical truths, and more expressions of faith. My church has a deeply spiritual culture, which I try to convey through vivid storytelling and applications in our everyday life. I spread the Good Word with lots of conviction and passion.