Means of Grace – Ways in which God delivers grace to us. Grace comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (His blood shed on the cross). But how does that blood come to us today? Through the Gospel, through baptism, and through communion.
Sacrament – This Word is not in the Bible, so you can define it however you want or not use it at all. Lutherans define it as a sacred act, instituted by God, that has the promise of forgiveness of sins attached to an external, visible element. This means, from Scripture, that baptism and communion would be sacraments. You would need to look at Scripture to see if these are just ordinary acts, or if they are sacred. Were they instituted by God? Do they have the forgiveness of sins attached to them? Do they have a physical element within them?
Going through and answering these questions in class, everyone in my class seemed to be in agreement that baptism and communion met the criteria for being a sacrament under the Lutheran definition of sacrament.
Here were some questions that still lingered received in an online questionnaire:
1. Why do Lutherans have a different definition of sacrament than other denominations?
It’s not a Biblical word, so there is freedom to define it as you choose, or choose not to use it at all. The important part is to focus on what Scripture teaches concerning baptism and communion. Roman Catholics have more sacraments than Lutherans. If they are using the same definition, then we should check to see if marriage ever has the promise of forgiveness of sins attached to it in Scripture, as well as their other sacraments. We should see if they have external elements, etc. We should check and see if the Roman Catholic definition of sacrament varies and if it does, we should check to see if what they label to be sacraments fit their definition in Scripture.
2. What do other religions believe to be the means of grace?
Other religions don’t have means of grace. Their adherents must perform certain rituals or rites regularly and correctly as their means of attaining their religion’s highest goal.
3. Are the means of grace absolutely necessary to be saved or are they just helpful in that they help us remember that we are saved and welcomed into the kingdom of God?
Yes, and no. From what God has revealed to us in his Word, hearing the Gospel is necessary for salvation! Read Romans 10. Could God save apart from the Gospel? He is God and he is not limited by any means, but we should not speculate that he saves apart from the Good News of Christ’s saving work. If a person has heard the Gospel, receives it in faith, they are saved. If they are not baptized, they are saved. If they never receive communion, they are saved. Proof – the thief on the cross next to Jesus who was promised salvation for trusting that Jesus was the Messiah. The power for baptism and communion to save come from the Gospel!