I would heartily recommend this book. It is 95% fantastic. He lays out twenty-five thesis about the proper distinction between law and grace. I love how he comforts those who are oppressed by their sin and guilt and hammers those who feel at ease. But I can’t help thinking like the old Seseme Street gig, “one of these things is not like the other…”
“The Lutheran Church speaks of the Sacraments in terms of such high esteem that fanatics become disgusted with it. The Lutheran Church holds to the word of the Lord: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved.’ That is the reason why it condemns all false teachers who say that Baptism is merely a ceremony by which a person is received into the church. According to Lutheran teaching, Baptism ‘works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe, as the words and promises of God declare.’ The Lutheran Church maintains that Baptism is ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit’; that the water in Baptism, as Peter says, ‘saves us’; and that those ‘who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’ As regards the Lord’s Supper, the Lutheran Church, resisting all attempts to mislead her into doubt, maintains the truth of the Lord’s words when He says ‘This is My body, which is given for you.’: ‘This is My blood, which is shed for you.’ The Lutheran Church regards the holy sacraments as the most sacred, gracious, and precious treasure on earth. When God commands a sacramental act, He commands something upon which our salvation depends.”
Walther says all of this in and then qualifies by saying
“However, at no time has the Lutheran Church asserted that men are saved by the mere eternal use of the Sacraments.”
His point overall is
“What I am being told by means of preaching I behold in the external element of Baptism. The Word and the Sacrament produce the same effect in the heart.”
Walther’s language here is incomprehensible especially when you look at his point in the context of reformation debates. I find it almost impossible to reconcile the sola fides principle of the reformers with the necessary aspect of the sacraments. If Walther were here I would ask him some questions for clarification. Can a person be saved without Baptism? In what sense is Baptism a cause of salvation? Necessary, but not sufficient? It’s not that I don’t understand a sacramental system which confounds me so much, but rather that one who has for the entirety of the book talked so passionately about the faith that saves doesn’t see the inconsistency of his writing on the sacraments. Does baptism really act in the same way as preaching (that is to generate faith) to a several week old baby? I’m glad Walther says doesn’t espouse an ex opere operato view with regard to sacraments, but the unfortunate part is I think he does.