Lutherans believe that the Bible identifies two special ceremonies as sacraments. They are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are special because Jesus established each of them and gives us forgiveness in both. What are the reasons Lutherans emphasize the use of these sacraments?
* A sacrament is what God does for us, not what we do for God. A sacrament is not a ceremony like a wedding or a confirmation. Those ceremonies do not forgive sins. Nor do the sacraments involve a sacrifice, as when we bring our offerings to the Lord. Sacraments ask nothing of us. They give something to us. In Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, God comes to us to give us forgiveness.
* The power of the sacraments lies in the Word of God. Both sacraments include earthly elements—water for Baptism and bread and wine for the Lord’s Supper. These earthly elements, by themselves, are nothing. But when they are connected with the Word of God, they give us forgiveness. For example, there is no such thing as “holy water.” What makes Baptism powerful is the Word, which is used with the water. The Bible calls Baptism the “washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:26, italics added). Likewise, there is nothing special about bread and wine. But in the Lord’s Supper, those elements are connected with Christ’s promise, “Take and eat; this is my body. This is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:26,28).
* God works in our human hearts through the sacraments. God gives forgiveness in both sacraments. Because God works through the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus, the Holy Spirit works through the sacraments. God can create faith in the heart of an infant in Baptism because he is the almighty God of all creation and promises to work through Baptism. God also strengthens faith when we receive the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper.
* The sacraments are for our benefit. A husband tells his wife, “Honey, I love you.” A husband gives his wife a bouquet of flowers and says, “Honey, I love you.” In both cases the husband’s love is genuine. The flowers don’t make the love more real. They make it more vivid. God created us; therefore, he understands human beings like to use all their senses to help them understand something. So God’s endless love connected the forgiveness of sins to something we can see and touch in the sacraments.
Why do Lutherans emphasize the sacraments? They are the means by which God gives us forgiveness, and they are the means by which God creates and preserves our faith.