Early 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!