Have you ever been in a discussion with a Christian who is part of a church body which denies the sacraments? Perhaps they were a Baptist, a Pentecostal, or some sort of Reformed. In discussions with them, you may come to a point where it is said, “Well, at least they preach the Gospel. At least they are preaching Christ for the forgiveness of sins.” Indeed it is good that Christ is preached instead of not preached. But that’s still insufficient.
Below is a citation taken from the sermon which Luther preached at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529. Luther treats this subject in commenting on Deut. 4, 28. He writes (St. L. Ed. 111, 1691 ff.) :
“See whether our new schismatics and fanatics are not leading the people to trust in their own works. Take the Anabaptists: what are they doing, and what do they teach? They declare that Baptism is worthless; they remove from Baptism the element of grace, so that there is no grace and mercy of God, no forgiveness of sin, in it, and baptism becomes an evidence of my own godliness, prior to my baptism, or a mark that I now possess godliness. They separate grace from Baptism and leave us a mere external sign, in which there is not a grain of mercy; all grace has been cut away. Now, if the grace of Christ has been removed from Baptism, there remains nothing but a mere work. Likewise, in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper the fanatics remove the promise offered us in this Sacrament; they tell us that what we eat and drink is nothing but bread and wine. Here, too, the proffered grace is cut away and renounced. For they teach us that the only good work that we do by communing is professing Christ; as to the rest, we merely eat and drink bread and wine in the Supper, and there is no grace in it for us.”
“That is the result of falling away from the First Commandment: a person promptly sets up an idol in the form of some meritorious work, in which he trusts. Therefore Moses says: My dear children, have a care to abide with God and follow Him. Otherwise you cannot avoid idolatry; you will fall into that sin, no matter how much you struggle against it. For the devil at all times assaults the grace of God; no heresy can bear the teaching of divine grace. The fanatics of our day all urge the First Commandment, saying: We, too, proclaim grace and mercy through Christ; we do not reject the doctrine of the First Commandment. They charge that I, Luther, am telling lies about them. However, put them to the test: True, they confess Christ who was crucified and died for us and thus saved us; but they renounce the means by which we obtain Him; they demolish the way, the bridge, and path leading to Christ.”
“Also the Jews believe that there is a God, but they spurn the way that leads to God, namely, Christ, the Man Christ Jesus. The Turks confess God, but they renounce the means, or bridge, by which we come to God, namely, the grace of God. They refuse Christ and any sacraments by which a person obtains grace. They act just like people to whom a preacher says, ‘Here I have a treasure,’ but who does not put the treasure plainly before them or give them the key to unlock it. Of what benefit would the treasure be to them? They lock up the treasure from us, which they ought to lay plainly before us, and lead us upon a monkey’s tail. They deny me access to the treasure and refuse to hand it over to me that I may have and use it.”
“Granted, then, that the fanatics talk a great deal about God, forgiveness of sins, the grace of God, and the death of Christ, still, when the question is raised how to come to Christ and obtain grace, how to effect a union with Him, they tell me that the Spirit alone must do this. They make me step on a monkey’s tail by saying that the external and oral proclamation of the Word, Baptism, and the Sacrament [the Lord’s Supper] are worthless. And yet they preach grace. That amounts to proclaiming the existence of a treasure in fine terms, but taking away the key and bridge that would put me in possession of the treasure. Now, God has ordained that this treasure is to be offered and conveyed to men by means of Baptism, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and the external Word. These are the means and instruments by which to obtain the grace of God. They deny this truth.”
I state these matters because the devil is so cunning that he professes the words of this truth, but renounces the means by which we obtain what the words declare. The fanatics do not renounce the treasure, but the use and benefit of it. They deprive us of the method, of the ways and means for getting at the treasure, so that we could enjoy it. They shut us out from the grace which we would very much like to have. They tell us that we must have the Spirit; but they will not concede to me the means by which I may have the Spirit. How can I receive the Spirit and believe when the Word of God is not preached and the Sacraments are not administered to me? I must have the means; for ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ Rom. 10, 17.
“To sum up, there can be no schismatic but must run counter to the First Commandment and stumble at Christ Jesus. All heretics meet in a grand ensemble at this article. Let us, then, abide by this article: ‘Thou shalt have no other gods,’ and let us diligently bear in mind its object and scope. For if we put it out of our sight, we are opening the doors wide to all schismatic spirits. God never proposed to set up His worship in this world without external means.”