Francis Pieper says that Lutheranism teaches both monergistic election and a salvation that can be lost:

What Scripture teaches on final perseverance may be summarized in these two statements: 1. He that perseveres in faith does so only through God's gracious preservation; the believer's perseverance is a work of divine grace and omnipotence. 2. He that falls away from faith does so through his own fault; the cause of apostasy in every case is rejection of God's Word and resistance to the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Word. (Christian Dogmatics Volume III, pg. 89)

Hebrews 6 speaks of a loss of salvation:

It is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

The author of the paper The Lutheran Doctrine of Apostasy (where I found the Pieper quote) says:

James also writes of the possibility of falling away and future restoration: "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." This demonstrates that not all acts of apostasy necessitate a state of permanent departure from the faith as the book of Hebrews discusses.

So my question is, does Lutheranism teach that some acts of apostasy necessitate a permanent departure from the faith, and others do not? When can apostate believers be restored, and when can they not?

  • This appears to be a truth question, as not all Lutherans believe that Salvation can be lost.
    – BYE
    Jan 5, 2015 at 13:55
  • 5
    The Augsburg Confession states: "They condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those once justified can lose the Holy Ghost." I would take the confession to be a summary of the "Lutheran position" even if a small minority of Lutherans disagree with it. And I think it would be absurd to have to add a million qualifiers to my post just to make that point. Jan 5, 2015 at 14:15

4 Answers 4


Paul Kretzmann, the son of a Lutheran pastor, wrote his Popular Commentary of the Bible, which "has been a favorite among confessional Lutherans since publication of the first volume in 1921."

In his comments on Hebrews 6, he called attention to the characteristics of the one who is spoken of in the passage: they were once enlightened, tasted of the heavenly gift, were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come. The description, he says, could only apply to those who were actually saved.

If persons to whom this description applies, people that have undoubtedly accepted Jesus as their Savior, placed their trust in His salvation, and anticipated the joys of eternal life by reason of the power given to them through the Word, now fall away in spite of this saving knowledge, by a deliberate denial of that knowledge, then their return to repentance is excluded. The reason for this fact is not to be sought in God, as though His gracious intention and will in their behalf had not been sincere, but in the people themselves. If their apostasy takes place as here described, with a deliberate, malicious denial of the truth, then they crucify to themselves the Son of God and set Him forth to shame and ignominy before men. They purposely and willfully deny all connection with the Lord, who was crucified for them, they brand Him as a criminal, as a false Messiah, who suffered the disgrace of death on the cross. All this they perpetrate against Him whom they formerly acknowledged as the Son of God, whom they knew to be the Savior of the world. They cannot plead ignorance, or that they acted in foolish unbelief. For that reason their behavior brings upon them judgment, eternal condemnation. Therefore the reason why their hearts become hardened, why it becomes impossible for them to return and to be renewed unto repentance, is to be found in the character of their transgression. They steadfastly and persistently persevere in their antichristian, blasphemous conduct, they harden their own hearts against all attempts of the Word to find an entrance, and are thus finally given over into their hardness of heart.

The writer does not say that his readers have reached this stage; he merely states the possibility that it may happen to them as it has to others, thus warning them to beware of spiritual sluggishness, of lack of diligence in the use of the means of grace. ... If, therefore, any persons that have received these blessings harden their hearts and bring forth fruits of blasphemy and malicious denial of grace, they have sealed their own doom. For the behavior here described is the sin against the Holy Ghost, for which there is no forgiveness, neither in this world nor in the world to come.

In other words, the passage is not describing a mere "falling away" -- Kretzmann's position is that "they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame" is not a characteristic of all apostasy, but of a special kind of apostasy: the sin against the Holy Ghost.

Regarding the sin against the Holy Ghost (spoken of in Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 12), he writes:

The sin is committed, not against the person, but against the work of the Holy Ghost, which consists in calling sinners to Christ and giving them the assurance of their salvation. Not the mere blasphemous thoughts, but the actual speaking, the open mockery of the work of the Holy Ghost, is condemned in these passages. If the work of the Holy Ghost is believed to be, and is openly declared to be, the work of Satan, then the blasphemy is directed against the Spirit. Such blasphemy is uttered in full consciousness and with the most perfect comprehension of the import of the blasphemy; the blasphemer glories in his blasphemy. ... Man having gotten into this condition of continual blasphemy by his own fault, repudiates all attempts of God to influence Him for good. The soil of his heart has become cursed, and will bear nothing but thorns. The sin against the Holy Ghost is therefore one which cannot be acknowledged; a confession of sin and a desire for forgiveness is excluded by its nature.

The person living in this sin will continue in his stubborn resistance, with blasphemous, outspoken mockery of the work of the Holy Ghost, until the end. The sin is not unpardonable on account of its greatness, but on account of its nature of rejecting all pardon. No one has committed the sin that still seeks repentance.

Pardon is excluded not by God, but by the apostate himself, as Kretzmann said in both of the sections I've quoted. "Restoration unto repentance" is excluded because such a person will not seek repentance.

So an act of apostasy is permanent if the apostate wills it to be so by continually rejecting and blaspheming the Holy Spirit. An apostate can be restored upon repentance, but one who never repents is never restored.


I was raised as a Lutheran. Christened and confirmed. I will speak from my personal experience in the hope that it may shed some light on what can be a fearsome question; one that is fraught with the temptation to judge others.

I was raised in a home that I'm pretty sure did not enjoy "the heavenly gift" or "share in the Holy Spirit". So the fact that my whole family fell away from belief is not a reason to give up hope for their salvation.

The text in Hebrews is a very grave warning to those of us who think that we have tasted of the heavenly gift not to fall away.

It can also be read in light of the story of Jacob and Esau ("Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" Romans 9:13, Genesis 25-28) which is referred to later in Hebrews at 12:17. We who have received a birthright by being born again into God's family must not sell our birthright for "a single meal".

All throughout God's word to us is hope, and guidance to accept his discipline. I don't think that any one of us could know another's heart so well as to say that he had the spirit of God and now he has rejected it. Some may turn away from a congregation or even from doing works that previously expressed their faith. Who but God can say what is going on in their heart?

For us, we are to see that no one misses the grace of God (Hebrews 12:15). An evangelical reading of this (there are evangelical Lutherans) would say that we are to show the grace of God to all. Primarily that means forgiveness of sins. There is not a single case where a person can say there is no more hope for another.

However, "be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16 NIV). There are "wolves" (Matthew 7:15) to be wary of, who will be known by their fruits.

Therefore, my answer, as a person raised in the Lutheran church, is that I was not made aware of any list of acts that would make one permanently apostate. Supposedly such a list would consist of sinful actions. These must be put to death by the Spirit of God. Sometimes that will involve church discipline, even to the extent of excluding a person from church, yet as I understand it, always with the hope that God will bring them to repentance.


I'm a Lutheran pastor, so I'll answer from that perspective. I see Hebrews 6 as a warning and admonition. In the previous chapter, the author calls his readers "dull of hearing" and says that they ought to already know more than they do. Then, in chapter 6 he says it's impossible for those who have fallen away to be restored. Yet, in verse 9, he tempers this by saying: "Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation."

So, I see it as a warning not to neglect the faith and the things you have been taught. If you do, you may fall away and never be restored. Therefore, remain in the faith, keep close to God's Word, continue repenting for your sins, and continue learning so that you don't fall away.

I don't take this verse (or anything else in the Bible) to mean that we can never be sure of our salvation. The whole point of the Gospel is that you are most definitely saved, because Jesus Christ died and rose for you. So, you can be sure of it. Yet, don't allow yourself to neglect the faith because of this assurance, because you may fall away due to continued unrepentant sin or failure to nurture your faith through the means God has provided (Word and Sacrament).


From a Lutheran perspective, does Hebrews 6 mean that some who fall away can never be restored?

I also was raised Lutheran. Hebrews chapter six seems to offer two possibilities

Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

  1. Once a person becomes apostate, he can never be restored.
  2. A saved person cannot become apostate because to be restored would require a second crucifixion.

The writer could be offering a warning of the danger of becoming apostate or he could be writing an encouragement in that for those who are saved apostasy is impossible.

In context, I see the support for the second view. The writer starts by addressing the immaturity of the Hebrews and follows with an encouragement that their previous works should be taken by them as an assurance of their saved status and that the should continue in those works.

In context, I do not see these verses as supporting a view that salvation can be lost.

I do not see the idea of eternal security as being such a minority Lutheran view as to be excluded. Consider this quote from item 4 of section 11 (Election) of Epitome of the Formula of Concord from the Book of Concord in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church.

  1. The predestination or eternal election of God, however, extends only over the godly, beloved children of God, being a cause of their salvation, which He also provides, as well as disposes what belongs thereto. Upon this [predestination of God] our salvation is founded so firmly that the gates of hell cannot overcome it. John 10:28; Matt. 16:18.

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