Lutherans follow the historic Christian understanding that God works His grace and salvation through tangible means, called sacraments. These are the visible words of God to which we may cling and know assuredly that God is forgiving us and working in us His grace. Lutherans traditionally have borrowed their sacramental understanding from St. Augustine, which is composed of three necessary things. In order for a sacrament to be a sacrament it must possess three things: 1) an explicit command of God, 2) an earthly element, 3) a promise of God. Lutherans then recognize chiefly two sacraments Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, along with recognizing a third, Confession and Absolution. It is important to note that Lutherans have never numbered the sacraments in the way the Roman Church does with its seven sacraments. Lutherans have Confessionally-speaking been open to more sacraments than only Baptism and the Eucharist, ordination is given the potentiality of being a sacrament in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession.
From the Rite of Holy Baptism in Lutheran Book of Worship:
"In Holy Baptism our gracious heavenly Father liberates us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are born children of a fallen humanity; in the waters of Baptism we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life. By water and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the Church which is the body of Christ. As we live with him and with his people, we grow in faith. love. and obedience to the will of God."
Baptism, which has the command of God (Mt 28:19), an earthly element- water, and to which a God's promise of salvation is added (Mk 16:16) is a sacrament and the first sacrament a Christian receives. It is Holy Baptism that unites a person to Christ and washes away the guilt of original sin. Holy Baptism is the entry of every person into the Church of Jesus Christ.
From the Small Catechism:
What is baptism? Answer. Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God's command and combined with God's word.
Which is that word of God? Answer. Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Mt. 28:19)
What benefits does Baptism give? Answer. It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are these words and promises of God? Answer. Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mk. 16:16)
How can water do such great things? Answer. Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God's word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus chapter three: "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom HE poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a worthy saying." (Titus 3:5-8)
What does such baptizing with water indicate? Answer. It indicates that the Old Adam in us should be daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written? Answer. St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Rom 6:4)
Lutherans have always retained the use of Confession and Absolution, even private Confession before a priest/pastor. We have because we see this as a great gift of God's grace that we can speak directly to someone about the sins that are troubling us, so that we can hear God's clear direct word of forgiveness about those sins. As Christians we know that we are not perfect, nor will we ever be this side of glory, we are daily beset by sins which wound our neighbor, our selves, and the heart of God. As St. John says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 Jn 1:8) For these sins we need to repent, to confess, and to be be forgiven of them. That is the great gift of Confession and Absolution, that we can hear God speak His word of forgiveness directly to our sins to directly heal our souls.
From the Small Catechism:
What is Confession? Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.
What sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord's Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.
Which are these? Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?
What is the Office of the Keys?* The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?* This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." (Jn 20:22-23)
What do you believe according to these words?* I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
*These questions were not composed by Luther, but were included in editions of his catechism during his life.
As Lutherans, we believe that Holy Communion is the real and true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. What we receive each Sunday is the very same body and blood that was Crucified on Calvary and that was raised on the third day. We believe this simply because it is Jesus clear word that says it is. "This is my body. This is my blood." Jesus gives us this sacrament so that we may receive the assurance for the forgiveness of our sins and for the strengthening of our faith. It is a pure gift and sign of His grace. Holy Communion because of its sacredness is only for baptized Christians who share in our confession that it is the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. We welcome each Sunday all baptized Christians who believe this to share with us in the Lord's Supper.
From the Small Catechism:
What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.
Where is this written? The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write: Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: "Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me." In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.