Lutheran View of Sacraments

I have been curious about this for some time now, and recently read this comment. I did not want to inquire about it there because it would have been off topic.

I think that the Lutheran conception of baptism is the same as Catholic, and the belief in the Real Presence is the same, but I am interested in learning more about how and why the rest of the sacraments were re-defined.

When I went through Lutheran confirmation class, we were told that a sacrament requires two things - a physically material symbol and a spiritual acting of God. We were taught that Baptism and Communion are the only two sacraments for this reasoning. Baptism has the physical symbol of water and the entrance of the Holy Spirit onto the soul. Communion has the physical symbol of bread and wine, and the consubstantiation of Christ.

I don’t know how they came to this conclusion of what should be and what shouldn’t be a sacrament but I suspect it stems from Luther’s writings. I bet it wouldn’t be hard to Google what Luther had to say on sacraments.

I am wondering how the others got excluded. For example, Scripture is very clear on the annointing with oil. Is that rejected as a sacrament because Jesus did not do it? And if so, then why do we not do healing using mud?

I think he simply wanted less “magic”.

Rituals were downplayed overall in the reformation. That’s probably a huge part of it, putting less focus on the rituals, more on the Word. The Catholic mass certainly was in Latin these days. Luther went from a type of worship where people didn’t always understand so many fine details, to a version where people were supposed to read and understand for themselves, by the novelty of printed books - which certainly wasn’t his doing, but the reformation could hardly have occurred without the printing press.

The priest probably is even more important in Catholicism than in most Lutheran versions, since he holds all these sacraments in his hand. I think Luther wanted to diminish the importance of the priest. So less ritual, less “magic”, more Word that you can read for yourself without the priest as a mediator.

At Dawn, thanks for your well written response.

Hi guan,
I think the best source for a brief understanding on the Lutheran view of the sacraments is Melanchthon’s writing in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession.

If we call Sacraments rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to decide what are properly Sacraments. For rites instituted by men will not in this way be Sacraments properly so called. For it does not belong to human authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without God’s command are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps instruct the rude [children or the uncultivated], or admonish as to something [as a painted cross]. 4] Therefore Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God’s command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament. For when we are baptized, when we eat the Lord’s body, when we are absolved, our hearts must be firmly assured that God truly forgives us 5] for Christ’s sake. And God, at the same time, by the Word and by the rite, moves hearts to believe and conceive faith, just as Paul says, Rom. 10:17: Faith cometh by hearing. But just as the Word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart. The effect of the Word and of the rite is the same, as it has been well said by Augustine that a Sacrament is a visible word, because the rite is received by the eyes, and is, as it were, a picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore the effect of both is the same.

The confessions make a distinction between the three instituted by Christ with the promise of grace - Baptism, Absolution, and Eucharist, and the four other very important rites of the Church.
To be sure, all four, marriage, Confirmation, Unction, and ordination are maintained within the Lutheran tradition of the Church. I, myself, was confirmed with the laying on of hands after catechetical training, married in the Church, and witnessed the ordination of a pastor, with the laying on of hands.

Further, Melanchthon makes this comment on the numbering:

Lastly, if among the Sacraments all things ought to be numbered which have God’s command, and to which promises have been added, why do we not add prayer, which most truly can be called a sacrament? For it has both God’s command and very many promises; and if placed among the Sacraments, as though in a more eminent place, it would invite men to pray. 17] Alms could also be reckoned here, and likewise afflictions, which are, even themselves signs, to which God has added promises. But let us omit these things. For no prudent man will strive greatly concerning the number or the term, if only those objects still be retained which have God’s command and promises.

I continue to be believe that, for Lutherans at least, the numbering is not a significant issue, one that for us is Church dividing. I know that I have received grace through my confirmation, and my marriage, and I am regularly blessed by the grace that comes through the hands of the ministerial priesthood.


A sacrament must meet three tests:

*]Commanded by God

*]Uses a material or earthly element

*]Connected with a Divine promise (forgiveness and salvation)

An activity that does not involve all three is considered a Rite, and is still performed (the Rite of Holy Matrimony).

Life long Lutheran here, who has never heard the use of the term magic regarding the priesthood or any sacrament or rite of the Church.


Thanks Jon.

I guess it would be best for me to start at the beginning and work forward. It seems clear to me in Scripture where Lutherans would get the idea that Jesus instituted Baptism, and how that is understood to convey grace. I realize there are many Protestants that read this differently, but I don’t see where the Lutheran view differs from Catholic. My struggle is with this statement:

Do Lutherans believe, as Catholics do, that those who have received baptism are washed of all sins, original and personal?

If a person just baptized dies, will anything impede their inheritance in heaven?

Anticipating that the Lutheran perception is consistent with the Catholic, I will move on to post-baptismal sins. Lutherans speak of Confession as connected to baptism, but neither baptism or confession, in and of themselves are a straight ticket to heaven in most cases. There is much that is expected of us to build on these foundational graces, to be converted, to be sanctified. So wouldn’t it be accurate also to say “I can’t get to heaven just by being baptized or going to confession” as if that were a one shot deal?

We believe that grace is received in Baptist and the Eucharist and also that our faith comes through these sacraments. And of course, the fruit of a living faith is…WORKS! These works would be the evidence that the Holy Spirit is doing His sanctifying works within us. So these are not our works, but His.

edited to add that I am not speaking for Jon, and I apologize for butting in. I was merely responding as an average, pew-sitter Lutheran :slight_smile:

You are correct; the Lutheran and Catholic understandings of Baptism are the same.

I can certainly understand how that particular phrase could come across as a bit flippant and would lead into a discussion of post-Baptismal sins; I should clarify. That really wasn’t the intent of my statement. I was responding to a statement that accused Lutherans of jettisoning the other rites, so I explained how Lutherans determine what constitutes a sacrament. I was really speaking in a comparative way between Baptism and the other rites (or sacraments). We know that “Baptism now saves you.” The same is not true for marriage or holy orders. That’s all I meant by the phrase.

Unequivocally, yes.

We cannot judge another person, but we have been assured that those who believe and are baptized will be saved.

Right, we must have faith that works in charity.

Again, I did not mean intend my words to be used that way. Hopefully this explanation helps.

I think the issue there is that Jesus did not command His disciples to perpetuate healing/forgiveness via the use of mud henceforth until the Second Coming.

We would say that someone who has been baptized and has not rejected the graces offered in the sacrament is going to heaven. Of course, it should never be seen as “I’m just baptized.” If one believes that the promises given to him in baptism are true, then there wouldn’t be any question that if he were to die, he would go to heaven. The same would be true of confession or the eucharist.

Neither have I. That’s why I used citation marks. I am not a native speaker of English and I apologise for not being able to find the best words.

No problem. I just keep in mind that there are those out there reading posts, and I don’t want to leave what could be misconstrued to stand.


That is what I needed!

Thanks for that. Ok, so Marriage is certainly quite different from Baptism, but is it not considered a sacrament because Jesus did not preside over any marriage? Or maybe a better way to ask is…what is missing from Scripture that would clarify that marriage is a sacrament?

How do Lutherans understand this verse?:

For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (I Cor.7:14)

Not that Jesus did not preside over one, but that marriage was not instituted by Christ during His ministry. Marriage was instituted at creation. The second point would be that the institution, in and of itself, does not grant faith, forgiveness, and saving grace.

So to be considered a sacrament it would have to be something he can be seen doing in Scripture and/or commanding? The command cannot come through the Apsotles later?

Sure, it can. We just don’t refer to it as a sacrament (generally). There’s nothing unbiblical about extreme unction, the priestly office, etc. We refer to sacraments to generally mean an external sign that effects saving grace, that was instituted by Christ while on earth and given to the apostles.

As for holy orders, this was established by Christ, of course but holy orders themselves don’t effect the forgiveness of sins. Rather, the person is ordained in order to carry out the administration of the word and sacraments that forgive sin.

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