If You Dismiss The Sacraments, You Lose Lutheranism!

June 13th, 2013 Post by

1196217_upper_colour_sessionEarly on in my ministry I downplayed the sacraments of baptism and communion. I believed the church growth ideologies that said the sacraments were stumbling blocks to the growth of the church and that if I wanted to be a successful pastor I needed to downplay these supposedly controversial Lutheran teachings. The problem with de-emphasizing the sacraments though, as many Lutheran pastors have done and are tempted to do, is that you may lose Lutheranism. Yes, the sacraments are inseparable from Lutheranism, for they are not secondary doctrines or a matter of adiaphora.  Rather, the sacraments have a primary place in our church’s material principle.  Otherwise stated, if they are removed, Lutheranism is lost.  This means it is impossible to have Lutheranism without the sacraments.

In a recent article on the Gospel Coalition, Gene Edward Veith expounds on this topic saying,

“To understand Lutheranism, it is necessary to recognize that the Lutheran understanding of salvation by grace and justification by faith cannot be separated from the Lutheran teachings of baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. These teachings are all intimately connected with each other in Lutheran theology and spirituality. If you play them off against each other, thinking you can have Lutheran soteriology without Lutheran sacramental theology, you might have Calvinists or Baptists or Calvinist Baptists or something else, but you cannot have Lutherans. Nor can you have Lutheran Calvinists or Calvinist Lutherans or Lutheran Baptists or Baptist Lutherans.” (emphasis added)

My friends may we hold steadfast to God’s precious means of grace. May we be soberly aware that if we diminish the sacraments, we will not only diminish the sacramental character of the divine service but lose Lutheranism as well!


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  1. Jason
    June 13th, 2013 at 09:29 | #1

    Hmm, kinda puts the House Church idea in a pickle. But then I have never liked the lay led, let’s pretend to be a church, house model anyway.

  2. Nathan Redman
    June 13th, 2013 at 12:50 | #2

    I’m not sure why anyone would want anything but the Word of God and the sacraments. The things God gives to us…his word and sacraments are such a blessing. The sacraments strengthen us in this fallen world. Why do people search for things of this world or in themselves when God already supplies us with everything we need? Thanks for the article Pastor Matt, we must be continually reminded of this. Even “confessional” lutherans forget these truths.

  3. Carl Vehse
    June 13th, 2013 at 13:20 | #3

    1. “The Biblical Teaching on Conventicles and Small Groups” by Rev. Dr. Timothy A. Rossow, Bethany Lutheran Church and School, Naperville, Illinois, Approved by the Pastors and Elders – May 10, 2006 (updated May, 2007).

    2. From “The Proper Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Congregation Independent of the State” by Dr. C.F.W. Walther, translated by Dr. Th. Engelder (in Walther and the Church, Trs. W.M.T. Dau, Theodore Engelder, and William Dallmann, CPH, 1938):

    25. In order that the Word of God may have full scope in a congregation, the congregation should lastly tolerate no divisions by way of conventicles, that is, of meetings for instruction and prayer aside from the divinely ordained public ministry, 1 Cor. 11:18; Jas. 3:1; 1 Cor. 12:29; 14:28; Acts 6:4; Rom. 10:15: “How shall they preach except they be sent?”

  4. Brad
    June 13th, 2013 at 14:54 | #4

    I would offer, that as Lutherans lose either the Word or the Sacraments, they lose their catholicity– Christ’s Word being the central catholic principle of the One, Holy, Church. What I think many Lutherans forget, is that to be Lutheran, is to be authentically and fully catholic. It seems to be our tendency to prostitute ourselves to protestantism that motivates Lutherans toward Calvinism, Enthusiasm, or other heretical movements.

    As Pr. Richard points out, to lose the Sacraments is to lose the Lutheran confession of the faith… and I would add, is to distance us ever further from the Una Sancta that our Confessions are at pains to keep us united to.

  5. Carl Vehse
    June 13th, 2013 at 15:33 | #5

    Lutherans who lose, (i.e., abandon or reject) Word and Sacraments do indeed become non-Christian, that is, outside of the one holy Christian (or catholic) and Apostolic Church.

    People, claiming to be Lutheran and who are congregational members of an Evangelical Lutheran church, are members of the true visible church. However, some of these members may be hypocrites and unbelievers; they are not really Lutheran, and they are not part of the invisible Church, that is, the Una Sancta, the one holy Christian (or catholic) and Apostolic Church.

  6. June 13th, 2013 at 18:15 | #6

    Hmmm, I don’t think pastors take out the Sacraments, but as you Pastor Richard noted (whatever movement hit you at the time); “it is not easy” bringing to the Christian a right view of the Sacraments. It takes time, teaching, and more time and teaching. Yet I must agree, and we need to know this as we bring a right knowledge to the sinners around us, Sacraments are a tough sell at times.

    As many pray in the Divine Service (LSB setting two for example) the collect after the Holy Supper, “You have given us a foretaste of the feast to come”. When you pause and take that in (and how many really do, OK, I hope all), we just had Jesus present …OK, you all know what I mean. But to to many, they just don’t get it, and we teach, catechize to it. In reality, we should all either be crying for joy, or jumping up and down “high fiving” after the Holy Meal. OK, no, that would take away from the liturgical setting, but you know what I mean.

    Yet we still preach and bring the Gospel to them, so they will by the power of the Holy Spirit embrace a saving faith, AND take a joy and love for the Sacraments that sustain faith (and yes, create (Holy Baptism)).

    I don’t think they are intentionally downplayed because they are controversial, in today’s world to the “millennials” growing up, all aspects of religion is controversial, not just Sacraments, etc.

  7. Carl H
    June 13th, 2013 at 18:28 | #7

    “Yes, the sacraments are inseparable from Lutheranism, for they are not secondary doctrines….”

    By what criteria do you distinguish primary doctrines from secondary doctrines? Aren’t the things that are essential to salvation of primary importance?

    If, at the site of a terrible accident, you had only moments to bring hope to a dying unbeliever, what would you say? How much of that precious time would you spend explaining baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence?

    Does God ever establish saving faith before baptism? How do we define that faith? On the other hand, what does baptism without faith achieve for the one baptized? Does that say something about which aspects of our faith and doctrine are more important?

    Does God bring into His everlasting Kingdom Christians who do not subscribe to the Lutheran view of the sacraments? Why does he save them? What does that tell us about what doctrines the Lord himself counts as of utmost importance?

  8. June 13th, 2013 at 18:50 | #8

    @Carl H #7
    Hmmm, let me try and help (or cause more problems). I know what you are getting at, but I will let others like Carl Vehse explain primary and secondary (he can find sources faster than myself).

    But you sound like a Christian, but non Lutheran. So yes, the right knowledge of the Holy Supper does not save in itself, but yet it does forgive sins, and that saves.

    In a terrible accident and a non-believer lies dying, I cannot teach them Salvation, I can pray, recite Scripture, I could even look to heaven and implore God to save them, but I cannot do what only the Holy Spirit can, I cannot save them. Yet if they ask me about the Blood of Christ, faith in Him who died on the Cross, and they say they believe, then I can feel a bit better and ask, Do you believe in this Jesus?”

    Certainly God establishes saving faith before baptism (Infant Baptism not counting) but as an adult, God does command to go and get baptized after you have faith through the spoken Word of God. And don’t say, “I accepted Jesus”, the Holy Spirit and Jesus really accepted you a long time ago.

    And yes, there will be non-Lutherans going to heaven that do not ascribe to our view of the Sacraments. But we will not change a right teaching of them as we glean from Holy Scripture.

    But please don’t list importance. I guess I would say, the Cross, most important as number 1, all else, tied at 1b.

  9. Joshua
    June 13th, 2013 at 21:28 | #9

    With the original article, “Why there are Calvinist Baptists, but no Lutheran Baptists”, I guess that the Baptists don’t like people like me (e.g., former Baptists who are now Lutheran).

  10. Brad
    June 14th, 2013 at 07:57 | #10

    @Carl H #7

    The real problem at point, is the Word of God. An honest Baptist doesn’t think he’s ignoring the Word of God, but having to reconcile it to the theology he brings to it… much the way Calvinism attempts to fit Holy Scripture into the theology that is brought to it.

    Lutherans refuse to work this way. We allow our theology to be formed by the Word. Thus, while we may note that some doctrines are more fundamental than others (i.e., as the dogmatists will say, that some more directly affect saving faith, others less directly,) there is no Word of God which we are free to ignore or discard. An honest Baptist or Calvinist may have rationalized away the Scriptures where they speak to the Sacraments due to their pre-formed theology, but a Lutheran does not have that luxury. The Lutheran is forced to read the Word, and receive it as his theology.

    In this way, there is no Lutheran who abandons the Sacraments… because, for us, it is abandoning God’s Word. To knowingly reject the Word of God dances dangerously close to what our Confessions identify as Mortal Sin– the willful, knowing, persistent embrace of sin over the Word of God. That there are ignorant Christians out there does not absolve us from keeping what we know to be true. There may be Christians out there suffering under a deficient heterodox theology, living out the “happy inconsistency” of saving faith despite the logical consequences of their system, but that does not become our permission to embrace their error.

    Truth can be a lonely road, and as Solomon has said, with much wisdom comes much suffering. The Lutheran blessing and suffering, is to hold the entire Word of God by our Confession, though many may repudiate us for it.

  11. June 14th, 2013 at 09:28 | #11

    @Brad #10
    Well said, well said…sad when you read your note about being lonely, even fellow Lutherans (ie, ELCA), are abandoning a proper view of Scriptures (Gay issues, women’s ordination). It is tough to stay with God’s Truth.

  12. Carl Vehse
    June 14th, 2013 at 09:38 | #12

    See the Christian Cyclopedia‘s explanation of Fundamental Doctrines, as well as the CTCR’s 1967 Report, “A Review of the Question, ‘What Is a Doctrine?’,” which discusses primary and secondary fundamental articles and nonfundamental articles.

  13. helen
    June 14th, 2013 at 10:19 | #13

    @Joshua #9
    I guess that the Baptists don’t like people like me (e.g., former Baptists who are now Lutheran).

    Well, I suppose they would prefer a former Lutheran who is now Baptist. :)

    I think the point of the article was that, if you keep to the Lutheran teaching about the Sacraments… “Baptism now saves you” (as Scripture says) & “This is my Body…Blood” (as Scripture says) you cannot become a faithful Baptist because these are the core difference between our denominations.
    If you join the Lutheran church, but have not been convinced of these [Lutheran] doctrines, you are not really a Lutheran. Sadly, some congregations in the LCMess are not really Lutheran. :(

  14. Joshua
    June 14th, 2013 at 14:45 | #14

    @helen #13

    I wasn’t talking about the many response articles out there. I was talking about the original article which encourages people who become Lutheran to stay in Baptist churches, pretty much (just like those Calvinist Baptists).

    However, I am a Lutheran, and have been for quite some time. However, I have only “officially” joined a Lutheran Church on Pentecost Sunday of this year. I feel like I’m the target on the original article, “Why there are Calvinist Baptists, but no Lutheran Baptists” because I refused to stay in a church body which officially confesses heterodoxy.

    Now to the response articles, the Lutherans have did a fantastic job, but the person who wrote the original article won’t listen to it.

  15. helen
    June 14th, 2013 at 15:02 | #15

    @Joshua #14
    I was talking about the original article which encourages people who become Lutheran to stay in Baptist churches, pretty much (just like those Calvinist Baptists).

    I read this on geneveith; if there was something earlier, I missed it.
    I’ll go back; he usually links to the subject of his comments.

  16. Elizabeth
    June 14th, 2013 at 15:34 | #16

    “Baptism now saves you” (as Scripture says).

    Um, no.

    HERE is what scripture says: “21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

    All one sentence. Jesus’ redeeming work saves us, of which baptism is a figure. The invitation to believe is offered to the infant of believing parents, but not all of them DO believe, clearly. Ergo, not all of them are ‘saved’.

    IN no place does Scripture say, “Baptism now saves you” full stop. NO WHERE.

    To pick this bit about baptism out of the context of Scripture is akin to Baptists picking out re: teh Lord’s Supper, “Do this in remembrance of Me” and saying that THAT statement contains all Scripture truth re: communion. IOW: ’tis only a memorial meal, nothing more.

    This, without a doubt, is the dumbest bit of Lutheran Scriptural ‘condensing’.

  17. Elizabeth
    June 14th, 2013 at 15:43 | #17

    I was looking through the Confessions, and I don’t see the statement “Baptism now saves you.”

    I see it placed in it’s proper Scriptural context/importance, but nowhere do I see that phrase.

    When did this idea (taking a phrase out of Holy Scripture and making it something different than in its context)creep into Lutheranism?

    Is it purely and American take on the matter? I know WELs holds to it(Baptism now saves you.), as well.

  18. Jim Pierce
    June 14th, 2013 at 16:33 | #18

    @Elizabeth #17


    Lutherans confess Mark 16:16, Titus 3:5, and 1 Peter 3:21, “baptism now saves you” (baptismal regeneration). We understand these scriptures to mean as what is written in the following from the Book of Concord:

    “51] The Ninth Article has been approved, in which we confess that Baptism is necessary to salvation, and that children are to be baptized, and that the baptism of children is not in vain, but is necessary and effectual to salvation. 52] And since the Gospel is taught among us purely and diligently, by God’s favor we receive also from it this fruit, that in our Churches no Anabaptists have arisen [have not gained ground in our Churches], because the people have been fortified by God’s Word against the wicked and seditious faction of these robbers. And as we condemn quite a number of other errors of the Anabaptists, we condemn this also, that they dispute that the baptism of little children is profitable. For it is very certain that the promise of salvation pertains also to little children [that the divine promises of grace and of the Holy Ghost belong not alone to the old, but also to children]. It does not, however, pertain to those who are outside of Christ’s Church, where there is neither Word nor Sacraments, because the kingdom of Christ exists only with the Word and Sacraments. Therefore it is necessary to baptize little children, that the promise of salvation may be applied to them, according to Christ’s command, Matt. 28:19: Baptize all nations. Just as here salvation is offered to all, so Baptism is offered to all, to men, women, children, infants. It clearly follows, therefore, that infants are to be baptized, because with Baptism salvation [the universal grace and treasure of the Gospel] is offered. 53] Secondly, it is manifest that God approves of the baptism of little children. Therefore the Anabaptists, who condemn the baptism of little children, believe wickedly. That God, however, approves of the baptism of little children is shown by this, namely, that God gives the Holy Ghost to those thus baptized [to many who have been baptized in childhood]. For if this baptism would be in vain, the Holy Ghost would be given to none, none would be saved, and finally there would be no Church. [For there have been many holy men in the Church who have not been baptized otherwise.] This reason, even taken alone, can sufficiently establish good and godly minds against the godless and fanatical opinions of the Anabaptists” (Ap IX, 51)

    “23] In the second place, since we know now what Baptism is, and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is instituted; that is, what it profits, gives, and works. And this also we cannot discern better than from the words of Christ above quoted: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. 24] Therefore state it most simply thus, that the power, work, profit, fruit, and end of Baptism is this, namely, to save. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words declare, that he be saved. 25] But to be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and to enter into the kingdom of Christ, and to live with Him forever.

    26] Here you see again how highly and precious we should esteem Baptism, because in it we obtain such an unspeakable treasure, which also indicates sufficiently that it cannot be ordinary mere water. For mere water could not do such a thing, but the Word does it, and (as said above) the fact that the name of God is comprehended therein. 27] But where the name of God is, there must be also life and salvation, that it may indeed be called a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water; for by the Word such power is imparted to Baptism that it is a laver of regeneration, as St. Paul also calls it, Titus 3:5.

    28] But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith, as we shall hear still further. 29] But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it. Now, if I believe this, what else is it than believing in God as in Him who has given and planted His Word into this ordinance, and proposes to us this external thing wherein we may apprehend such a treasure?

    30] Now, they are so mad as to separate faith, and that to which faith clings and is bound, though it be something external. Yea, it shall and must be something external, that it may be apprehended by the senses, and understood and thereby be brought into the heart, as indeed the entire Gospel is an external, verbal preaching. In short, what God does and works in us He proposes to work through such external ordinances. Wherever, therefore, He speaks, yea, in whichever direction or by whatever means He speaks, thither faith must look, and to that it must hold. 31] Now here we have the words: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. To what else do they refer than to Baptism, that is, to the water comprehended in God’s ordinance? Hence it follows that whoever rejects Baptism rejects the Word of God, faith, and Christ, who directs us thither and binds us to Baptism” (LC, Holy Baptism, 23-31)

  19. Diane
    June 14th, 2013 at 16:44 | #19

    @Elizabeth #17
    Hi Elizabeth,

    Note from the TLSB, page 2155 on 1Peter 3:21:
    ‘Baptism…now saves you. The flood is a figure of Baptism. In each case, water saves. The world was cleansed when Noah and his family were lifted up by the flood. Baptism cleanses and raises us to a new life. By grace, Baptism is a means of salvation through which the Holy Spirit produces faith (cf Eph. 5:25-27). Luth: “Now baptism is by far a greater flood than was that of Noah…Baptism drowns all sorts of men throughout the world, from the birth of Christ even till the day of judgment…{Noah’s flood} was a flood of wrath, this is a flood of grace” (AE35:32). See p. 1369. an appeal to God for a good conscience. We are forgiven and holy because of Christ. That forgiveness is applied to us in Baptism. See note, Heb. 10:22, through the resurrection. The life we are given in Baptism was earned by Christ. See note, Rm.6:4.’

    AE – Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works. American Edition.

  20. Michelle Morra
    January 23rd, 2015 at 15:08 | #20

    @rev. david l. prentice jr. #8
    Regarding the Real Presence: common protestantism (Baptist, Bible, EV Free, Presbyterian) would look at the Catholic practice of transubstantiation as heresy because it is a re-sacrificing of Christ after He proclaimed, “It is finished.”

    Please help me to understand how this is not true in Lutheranism. We have been through ELS teaching but have not confirmed because we perceive an unwillingness (or inability) to address this with us. I am not trying to be confrontational, but need help to arrive at a clear conscience about this.

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