Full Text for Pastoral Theology and Practice- Volume 11 - Why are the Sacraments so Important to Lutherans (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY LUTHERAN PASTORAL THEOLOGY & PRACTICE LPTP-11 Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 www.captionfirst.com *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *** >> NICK: May I switch topics a bit? As we are all well aware, one of the important tasks we will be given as pastors is to share the sacraments with our parishioners. We even speak of word and sacrament ministry. Why does the Lutheran church view the sacraments as so important? It is certainly clear to me that not all churches or denominations place the same amount of emphasis on the sacraments. >> DR. WARNECK: Nick, you have addressed a very important question and one which many Lutheran Christians raise. People are curious in our churches about the sacraments and what they are and what blessings we may expect from them. A topic sentence and a very short answer and I submit a precise answer would be for Lutheran Christians, the sacraments are important because they are the word of God's grace and forgiveness of our sins as surely as these blessings are proclaimed in preaching from the pulpit. I think that's the place to start. The sacraments, in our view in the Lutheran church, are the very word of God's grace and his forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And then we added similarly to the Gospel proclamation from preaching from the pulpit. That's how St.�Paul discusses the subject in address to your question, Nick. It seems that he anticipated your question when he considered the Lord's Supper to be a proclamation, a showing of the Lord's death on the cross. 1 Corinthians 11, verse 26. Now, our understanding of a sacrament -- and, by the way, the term is an ecclesiastical or church term, not a biblical term. But, nevertheless, the term "sacrament" conveys meaning from the scriptures and from our Lord's institution of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper. A sacrament is an action commanded by our Lord with attending outward signs. And our Lord teaches that the sacrament is an action proclaiming the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins as certainly as does the sermon. So Philip Malanchthon, one of the reformers of the 16th century, states, "Thus, it agrees well with our position, namely, that the one minister who consecrates"�-- in reference to the Lord's Supper -- "gives the body and blood of our Lord to the rest of the people just as a minister who preaches sets forth the Gospel to the people as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4 verse 1." For Martin Luther the sacraments are Christ's visible word. This is to say the church gathers to hear the sermon but never to the neglect of the sacrament. This would be a senseless separation. Luther emphasized the Word proclaimed and visible is one. In sermon and sacrament, therefore, Christ and his word comprise what is essential. Both are indispensable�-- the preaching of the word and the giving of the sacrament. We should understand that our people, however, are somewhat confused about the meaning of a sacrament. And, principally, because there are different understandings among Christians of various churches and various traditions. There are all kinds of notions that abound about the sacraments. For many in the Protestant tradition, the focus is not on the word but elsewhere. Usually on the outward signs which they interpret as symbols of a changed mind and a redeemed life. The more discerning persons in that Protestant tradition comprehend not only symbols but seals, as they say, through which the spirit seals to believing recipients the blessings of the new covenant. So we have symbols/seals. And they concede that in some way the sacraments convey Christ to the believer. They also state, "Similar to the word of God, the sacraments become for us the divine revelation and vehicle of his grace." Now, those sentiments expressed by the friends of our Lutheran people, friends who are in the Protestant tradition, are well and good as far as they go. And those kind of sentiments are somewhat helpful. But Lutheran Christians observe that the general understanding expressed by our Protestant friends seldom gets around to what is essential about the sacraments as we cited in a moment ago that the sacraments are the very word of Christ. Whatever one says about symbols or seals or even Christ's presence, when his word is marginalized to a certain extent, a question arises with regard to the significance and power and blessing of the sacraments. For those things Christ and his word are the essentials. Much is made in other traditions of water and bread and wine as things of this world which Christ took and caused to signify the things of heaven. This is the expression. This is their vocabulary. Is this a proper and adequate way to frame the matter? We plead that such discussions are somewhat pointless, if we may say, except we cling to the word of Christ instituting the sacraments and by his word assuring that real blessings are for us there in baptism and the Lord's Supper. Our Protestant friends press to explain the outward visible elements, what they signify, what they could mean. Lutheran theology always begins with what Christ says and clings to his word which defines the sacraments and gives them his intended meaning. That, after all, is what's really significant. Not the visible elements, per se, but rather the word of Christ is our starting point when we teach the meaning of the sacraments to our people. So we would encourage you, Nick, to begin there and help persons in your congregation or inquirers about the Christian faith, as the Lutheran church proclaims it, to help them focus on what is essential at the outset, namely, Christ and his word instituting the sacraments with the blessings he says are there for those who are baptized and those who commune at his altar. Now we should say something about particular marks of the sacrament. Very possibly, Nick, this is all in your background, I'm sure, as you teach children and adults from your catechism. Nevertheless, let's just focus here for moment. The marks of the sacraments�-- the first mark is that they are commanded by God, commanded by our Lord. They are is sacred actions, rites and ceremonies -- there are such rites and ceremonies in the church which have no divine command and constitution, yet we cherish them. Confirmation is one of those rights, ordination into the ministry another. The sacraments, however, come by direct institution and command of the Lord Jesus Christ. That makes them somewhat different than rites and ceremonies in the church at large. According to His institution, the sacraments convey His word of grace and forgiveness as we have emphasized already, which we call, therefore, a word of promise. This is the second mark. And the visible sign connected to the word "water" in baptism, "bread and wine" in the Lord's Supper -- the signs, these are comprise the third mark. So we have the institution and command of our Lord; we have His word of promise attached to the signs or the signs to that word. And those three things comprise the marks of the sacraments as we refer to them in our Lutheran theology and practice. And, according to those marks, if we may, the sacraments are principally baptism and the Lord's Supper, though Luther for a time would have recognized Holy Absolution as a sacrament. This needs to be said. Later beginning in 1520, the reformer preferred to limit the notion of a sacrament to baptism and the Lord's Supper for the reason that the three particular marks inclusive of the visible sign were apparent in baptism and the Lord's Supper, the signs being not, apparent in Holy Absolution. This is discussed, of course, in our Confessions, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, article 13, paragraphs 3 and 4 would be a handy reference. *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***