"Concord" is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers' knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them "with one heart" to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.
Baptism, Supper, and Confession are unique gifts of God, yet they all share something in common. They are instituted by God as visible, tangible signs of His grace toward us. “Sacrament” is the word that the Church has used from ancient times to describe such rituals. Sacrament means pledge, but it’s easy to confuse who’s pledging what in the sacraments of the Church. That’s why the thirteenth article of the Augsburg Confession is included after Baptism, Supper, and Confession.
“Of the Use of the Sacraments they teach that the Sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but rather to be signs and testimonies of the will of God toward us, instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. Wherefore we must so use the Sacraments that faith be added to believe the promises which are offered and set forth through the Sacraments. They therefore condemn those who teach that the Sacraments justify by the outward act, and who do not teach that, in the use of the Sacraments, faith which believes that sins are forgiven, is required” (Augsburg Confession, article XIII).
It is true that the sacraments are signs among men, an outward profession of faith. But that’s not the pledge of the sacraments. The pledge is from God to us. They are Christ’s sacraments for His Church. Baptism, Supper, and Confession are each unique ways in which Christ pledges His forgiveness and salvation. They reveal His will toward us.
The correct use of the sacraments, therefore, is not that we make a pledge or a vow or a profession to God or to men. Rather, the proper use of the sacraments is faith. Faith is receiving the gift of the sacrament, submitting to the promises contained in them. Faith grasps the forgiveness of sins that is attached to water, bread and wine, and word. It’s not simply by performing the ceremonies—the “outward act.” Faith finds God’s pledge in these outwards acts, and receives what they promise: the forgiveness of sins.
You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard serves as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.
Created: March 28th, 2017