Main article: Lutheran sacraments
Lutherans hold that sacraments are sacred acts of divine institution. Whenever they are properly administered by the use of the physical component commanded by God along with the divine words of institution, God is, in a way specific to each sacrament, present with the Word and physical component. He earnestly offers to all who receive the sacrament forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. He also works in the recipients to get them to accept these blessings and to increase the assurance of their possession.
Martin Luther defined a sacrament as an act or rite:
- instituted by God;
- in which God Himself has joined His Word of promise to the visible element;
- and by which He offers, gives and seals the forgiveness of sin earned by Christ.
This strict definition narrowed the number of sacraments down to two or three: Holy Baptism, the Eucharist, and for some, Holy Absolution, with the other four rites eliminated for not having a visible element or the ability to forgive sin. Lutherans do not dogmatically define the exact number of sacraments. In line with Luther's initial statement in his Large Catechism some Lutherans speak of only two sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist, although later in the same work he calls Confession and Absolution "the third sacrament". The definition of sacrament in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession lists Absolution as one of them. It is important to note that although Lutherans do not consider the other four rites as sacraments, they are still retained and used in the Lutheran church. Within Lutheranism, the sacraments are a Means of Grace, and, together with the Word of God, empower the Church for mission.