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Religion Library: Lutheran

Rites and Ceremonies

Written by: Ted Vial

The Lutheran minister stands behind the table facing the congregation so they can see and hear what he or she is doing.Luther believed that the body and blood of Jesus were physically present with the elements in the celebration of the Lord's Table.But he rejected language of substances because it came from Greek philosophy and was un-biblical.(Catholics describe the miracle of the bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Jesus with the phrase "transubstantiation," which means that the substance of the bread leaves and the substance of Jesus takes its place, while the "accidents" (taste, texture, etc.) remain the same.) Without being able to offer any philosophical explanations, he trusted the words of Jesus as he held up the bread, "This is my body . . . ."For Luther, the miracle of real presence did not require an additional miracle that the essence of the bread left.The bread and wine remain bread and wine, in addition to being the body and blood of Christ.The Lutheran formula that captures this doctrine is that Christ is "in, with, and under" the elements.(Some people call Luther's formulation "consubstantiation," because for Luther the bread and the body are both present.While both are present for Luther, he would reject the term because of his rejection of the philosophical category "substance.")Luther argued that there was no biblical justification or authority from early church practice for offering the laity only the bread and not the wine.He offered the Lord's Supper in both kinds.

Luther did not believe that baptism was strictly necessary for salvation-God could save an unbaptized infant if God wanted.He ended the practice of emergency baptisms by midwives if a child was born sick and no priest was available.(Along with shutting down convents in which women could take on leadership roles, the restriction on midwives had the side effect of stripping away one important source of power available to women in the 16th century.)Nevertheless, because we are fallen beings, we needed not just oral promises but physical manifestations of God's grace.When he felt challenged by the devil Luther calmed himself by remembering that he was baptized.Luther was challenged by some radical reformers who argued that, if salvation was through faith alone, only adults who could understand sin and forgiveness should be baptized.Luther continued to practice infant baptism as the ultimate sign that salvation was entirely God's matter, and had nothing to do with human actions, including humans' ability to understand.


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