The quote in the title is taken from paragraph 16 of the JOINT DECLARATION ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. Is such a statement consistent or inconsistent with Reformed doctrine? If judged to be consistent, is it necessary to qualify the statement for it to fully harmonize with relevant doctrines?

2 Answers 2


A typical reformed response on this statement would be like that found in Matthew 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

A typical reformed expositor writes:

The gospel call goes forth far and wide. It reaches ever so many. Most of them are like the man in the parable: they hear but do not heed. In comparison with those many that are lost there are but few that are saved, that is, few that are chosen from eternity to inherit life everlasting. Salvation, then, in the final analysis, is not a human accomplishment but the gift of God’s sovereign grace. Cf. Luke 12:32; John 6:39, 44; Eph. 1:4. (NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY, WILLIAM HENDRIKSEN Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew)

Regarding the article on Justification that is linked in your question, historical reformed teachers would most likely find it intellectually dishonest. The Protestant view of Justification occurs in a 'single moment' prior to any kind of moral ability to be had. A Catholic view of justification is that it is a life time process similar to what a Protestant calls sanctification. The article entirely glosses over this division, while grouping statements which both agree to under vary different senses. The Reformers would condemn this article and probably accuse the authors of deceit. The Reformers were not that interested in unity when it came to the central doctrine of the gospel which they believed the Catholic church to have utterly corrupted by denying the justification of a sinner 'in a moment' prior to sanctification.

  • So, since the Lutheran World Federation are co-signatory, do you view them as having departed from their historical Protestant legacy? (Modern Lutherans =/= Luther's Lutherans?) May 25, 2014 at 14:18
  • Would you be able to point out the most egregious paragraphs from your point of view, or should I pose another question for that? May 25, 2014 at 14:27
  • @bruisedreed - I actually can't comment on the Lutheran World Federation as I know little about them. Luther is my favorite person in History and favorite overall theologian but I have little knowledge about modern day Lutherans. I suspect that it is similar to the church I go to, one local church can be very good and another one just a few blocks over can be apostate. Just guessing though.
    – Mike
    May 25, 2014 at 23:42

This statement, by itself, is in line with the main strands of Reformed theology,1 when the word "call" is understood to mean external call.

The Scriptures, therefore, in the most explicit terms teach that the external call of the gospel is addressed to all men. (Charles Hodge, ST, 3.4.1)

[External calling] comes to both the just and the unjust, the elect and the reprobate. (Louis Berkhof, ST, 4.5)

the Reformed as a rule maintained the universal offer of grace. (Herman Bavinck, RD, 4.1.1)

Why the emphasis on external? Reformed theologians distinguish between an external and internal call. Berkhof explains the former:

The external call consists in the presentation and offering of salvation in Christ to sinners, together with an earnest exhortation to accept Christ by faith, in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.

On the other hand, the Reformed teach that the internal or effectual call is a work of the Holy Spirit through which a sinner is transformed and made able to come to faith.

So in short, the phrase "All people are called by God" is perfectly in line with Reformed theology so long as we understand "called" here to mean external calling, because the gospel is to be preached to all people. It could not mean internal calling, as that would indicate that all men are saved, which is universalism.

1 One of the distinctives of hypercalvinism, a minority view in Reformed theology, is that the call of the gospel goes only to the elect. For them, the statement in question would not be accurate. For additional information, including quotes, see What is the Calvinist and Hyper-Calvinist understanding of the “whosoever will” from Rev. 22:17?

  • This is accurate enough for just taking the phrase in question at face value and using terms the way Protestants would define then, but the article itself seems to conflate various meanings and Catholics in general don't tend to mean the same thing by this statement a Catholic would. While I agree it could be rendered consistend when spoken from inside a Reformed framework, I think Mike's answer is more useful in pointing out the discrepency in overal approach this phrase is born out of.
    – Caleb
    May 10, 2016 at 19:35
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    @Caleb Yes; unlike Mike, I am limiting myself to analysis of the particular phrase, and not delving into the various issues with the declaration itself. His expansive approach is certainly useful, but in my defense, the overall declaration is not the focus of the question, so I thought a more extensive treatment of the specific phrase would be worthwhile as a supplement. May 10, 2016 at 19:45
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    Thanks for this, it clarifies this particular question. What it also does though, to my mind at least, is prompt a revisitation of this question in the form: "Why does a Reformed perspective view refusing an internal call as incompatible with God's sovereignty when refusing an external call is not?" Do you think that question is sufficiently different to the linked question to be worth asking, or could it alternatively spur a revision of your answer there? May 11, 2016 at 15:33
  • @bruisedreed I think it's the same question. I'll soon reevaluate my answer there. May 11, 2016 at 15:40

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