I received a question as to how the Lutheran understanding of the Sacraments, and particularly the Eucharist, differ from other church bodies. The Lutheran Church explain the Sacraments as means of grace — that is, something God, from beginning to end, does for us — but all other church bodies, to varying degrees and in some form or another, ultimately explain the Sacraments as something we do for God.

For example, those who follow in the steps of Zwinglian thought (An extreme reformer in contrast to Luther and even Calvin. His doctrine is leaning towards Rationalism), which would mainly be Baptist, Charismatic, Pentecostal, non-denominational bodies and most contemporary evangelical churches, reject the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They don't understand the Eucharist as a means of grace, but view it as purely symbolic and simply as a memorial-rite, commanded by Jesus. Because of this, they in effect only celebrate it because they were commanded to, and so it becomes something to obey rather than something to trust in. But Christ gave us a promise in the Eucharist, as it's His last will before He was crucified, that He gives us His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. We don't obey a promise, but we trust in it.

The Roman Sacramental system is quite complex. I don't mean this in a negative sense, for although we disagree on many points, there are still many good aspects that Lutherans would agree on. However, it's difficult to do it justice in a few words.

The purpose of the Sacraments in Roman thought is to "apply the fruit of our Saviour's redemption to men by conveying, through their means, to our souls either the 'habitual grace' of justification or an increase of the same and a pouring in of other graces or the recovery of justification when lost." So, already it's very different from the Lutheran understanding, because Roman Catholics use terms like "increase of justification", whereas Lutherans understand justification to be binary; that is, we either are justified or we are not; we either believe or we don't. But in the Roman system justification is understood as a process by faith and works, and the Sacraments serve as fuel for their salvation. This is different from the Lutheran system, whereby we are justified by grace, once and for all, but we are continually sanctified, but this has no bearing on our salvation, but rather it is the fruit of salvation. So in this way, the Sacraments are directly linked to "salvation by faith" VS "salvation by faith and works".

Roman Catholic theology insists that the Sacraments have their power "ex opere operato", which means by the simple performance of the act, and regardless of the recipient's faith. That is, in Roman thought, the believer and the unbeliever alike receives God's grace in the Sacrament. Lutherans reject this idea because it becomes mechanical and we believe it goes against Scriptures, which say that, although we agree on that the Sacraments are objectively true (their existence are not subject to our faith, but they exist and are true on account of God's own word and promise), we hold that the believer receives the benefits of the Sacraments, but the unbeliever receives the Sacrament to his own condemnation and judgment.

Roman Catholics define the Eucharist as a sacrifice in at least two different senses. One of which Lutherans agree on, which is that when we receive the Eucharist, we offer to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. In fact, the word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek "eukharistia", which means "thanksgiving". However, the other sense in which Roman Catholics understand the Eucharist as a sacrifice, Lutherans disagree on. That is, the Roman doctrine of "sacrificium propitiatorium", which is the teaching that in the Mass there is a real sacrifice being offered to God. That is, the priest is continually offering up Christ's body and blood to the Father, just as how the Levitical priesthood in the OT offered animal sacrifices to the Lord. And this sacrifice (which is understood to be the same as the one sacrifice by Christ and not a repetition of the sacrifice, which many protestants accuse Roman Catholics of) is offered both for the living and the dead, to shorten their time in purgatory. Needless to say, Lutherans disagree.

While Catholics recognise that the Eucharist is a gift from God and that it indeed is the very true body and blood of Christ, which we Lutherans rejoice in, the Roman Eucharist becomes a kind of work the priests do. And from this, many questionable practices have flowed, such as private Mass and endless repetition of Masses to merit grace or purge the dead of sins etc. The practices were perhaps more blatant and extreme in the middle ages, but the theology is still the same in our day.

So, while although the Baptist and the Roman Catholic are very far apart theologically, they both operate under some kind of obedience or work. Lutherans don't. We believe simply that God has given us a wonderful comfort for when we are burdened with sin, and that the Eucharist is nothing else but a tangible Gospel; God's grace for us.

Peace of Christ +