When I studied Reformation History in seminary, Dr. Frank James was always clear in defining the distinctions that arose during the Reformation. He was always careful to differentiate the various traditions. One clear distinction was the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. Calvin became the patron saint of Reformational theology, whereas Luther took another direction, thus establishing a Lutheran tradition that continues to this day.
What is unique about Lutheranism is its rigid divide between law and gospel, its understanding of the Eucharist (what some scholars call “consubstantiation,” though Lutherans generally do not like that language due to its philosophical connotations), and its two-kingdom model. The Reformed community has recognized that the disputes between Calvinists and Lutherans in the last four centuries are genuine disputes, in light of the vast theological differences between the two traditions. It must be stressed, however, that in some respects Reformational theology and Lutheran theology share some similar concerns. One can think of their opposition to the unsacramental theology of the Anabaptists, and the pernicious Roman doctrine of penance and purgatory. Though there are some similarities, some in the Reformed community have assumed that there is almost universal agreement between these two traditions. As a result, there has arisen a form of pan-confessionalism. Dr. Mark Garcia addresses pan-confessionalism in his article in the following manner:
…pan–confessional phenomenon is an effort to offer a theological response to problems or proposals from the perspective of what two or more confessional traditions hold in common, accenting areas of agreement and minimizing (and sometimes denying) areas of disagreement (see No Reformed Doctrine of Justification? by Mark Garcia).
Advocates of pan-confessionalism are more than willing to blur the differences of both traditions. The underlying motivation behind this desire for confessional unity is not catholicity (that would be a fine reason) but a distinct definition of justification. One defender of pan-confessionalism argued that to attempt to find any differences on the doctrine of justification in these traditions is highly questionable; another wrote that Lutheran and Reformed are in full agreement on justification and faith alone (No Reformed Doctrine of Justification? ). In a reactionary manner, these scholars–in order to fight the recent scholarship on Lutheran and Reformed differences on justification– have essentially abandoned Reformed formulations for Lutheran ones, thus undermining their own tradition they claim to cherish.
As examples of how Lutheranism has won the day in these circles, these scholars deny Christ’s active work through His church to subdue culture to the glory of the Father (this stems from the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms); they also deny the unity of law and gospel through Biblical revelation, hence not allowing “evangelical obedience” to be an integral part or even secondary necessity to saving faith.
While catholic creeds are essential unifying propositions of the Church universal, pan-confessionalism denies the existing differences of particular traditions, thus erasing lines that ought never to be erased.