"God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish,
but have eternal life."
-- John 3:16 (ESV)
When we gather before the altar to share The Lord's Supper, we believe Jesus is giving us His true body and true blood in, through and under the bread and wine. This understanding of "real presence" following the Words of Institution, does not mean the bread and wine turn into the real body and blood (transubstantiation) but rather the elements become one with Christ's body and blood.
During His last Passover, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ shared a meal with His disciples. This was no ordinary Passover meal. Something divine and unique was happening around that table.
What exactly does Jesus say? "This is my body...this is my blood." He is claiming that He possesses a human body like anyone else's, recalling that incredible night in Bethlehem when God took human flesh and was born to Mary and Joseph. That's why our Confessions say that "in the article of our redemption we have the mighty testimony of Scripture that God's Son assumed our nature, though without sin, so that in every respect He was made like us, His brethren, sin alone excepted" (FC SD I, 43).
The baby grew up, was baptized, battled alone against the devil, was tempted, proclaimed the Gospel, healed the sick, raised the dead, instituted the Sacrament, bled, died and rose again on the third day. Jesus, the human being, is "the Word made flesh" and "all things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3, ESV).
But why is it necessary to trust that His true Body and Blood are really present "under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink"? (Small Catechism VI, I) Is it not enough just to believe that the Lord's Supper is a nice remembrance, a memorial of a significant event in Jesus' earthly life without getting into the "hocus-pocus" of the Real Presence? Are Lutherans guilty of saying too much?
During the Reformation, Luther's enemies accused him and the reformers of denying the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar, a position held by "sacramentarians" who believed the Supper to be a memorial meal or containing the "spirit" of Christ. The Formula of Concord addresses this issue, including Confession of the Pure Doctrine of the Holy Supper Against the Sacramentarians. In ten statements and explanations, the authors explain the Lutheran position beginning with "we believe, teach and confess that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present and are truly distributed and received in the bread and wine" (FC 1, VII, 5).
Jesus said that His body and blood, under the bread and wine, were given for you. "Drink of it, all of you." At the time He was addressing His disciples. These were not perfect men; they were weak and fearful sinners—body-broken and soul-sick. When we were baptized we were told that Baptism washes away the penalty for sin. It also saves us from death and protects us from the power of the devil. The trouble is, we are forgetful, and what is bad can sometimes crowd out the good. So our Lord made another promise we can hear over and over: "Take, eat, this is My body...Drink of it, all of you; this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins" (Words of Institution, LW). Our Lord is speaking to us as flesh and blood sinners, inviting us to use our hands and mouths to receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We have been baptized, and now we have the opportunity to come and use our hands and mouths to receive Jesus' cure—His really present Body and Blood.
The Real Presence is not a marginal doctrine to be tossed into a corner. It is at the heart of our worship and our Christian life. When we receive the Sacrament with a repentant and joyous heart, Jesus joins Himself to us so intimately that He can assure us that our earthly suffering will end, and we will spend eternity with Him. When we receive the Lord's true Body and Blood as a seal of our redemption, we can endure our cross and our temptations for one more day.
Our Lord instituted Holy Baptism when He commanded: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19).
"Baptize means to apply water by immersing, washing, pouring, and the like" (Explanation of Small Catechism). For some that definition is sufficient because that is all they believe happens when someone is baptized. They view it as merely a symbolic act. What about Lutherans? What do we believe happens when someone is baptized? Why do we baptize babies? They can't believe anything—can they?
The Lutheran Confessors take up these questions in the Book of Concord. In succinct fashion the Augsburg Confession states: "Concerning Baptism, our churches teach that baptism is necessary for salvation (Mark 16:16) and that God's grace is offered through baptism (Titus 3:4-7). They teach that children are to be baptized (Acts 2:38-39). Being offered to God through Baptism, they are received into God's grace."
Lutherans believe baptism is not a mere symbolic act by the person being baptized, but that God instituted it and is in fact an act of God Himself! In the Large Catechism we read, "So also I can boast that baptism is no human plaything, but it is instituted by God Himself." and "To be baptized in God's name is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself." Lutherans believe it is God at work in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism!
We also believe that when one is baptized it is not a mere washing of the body, but a cleansing of one's sin! Luther teaches us regarding baptism in the Small Catechism: "It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this." In Holy Baptism the merits of Christ's life, death, and resurrection are applied to you and received through faith.
Those who reject infant baptism do so with the understanding that one must have faith before being baptized. They argue that infants cannot have faith therefore they should not be baptized. However infants are not baptized because they believe; infants are baptized because of Christ's clear Word! Infants are included in "all nations." They are baptized because of God's grace not because of their faith. As Luther writes in the Large Catechism, "...my faith does not make baptism, but receives it."
Some will remark, "Pastor, are you saying the cute little bundle is a sinner needing forgiveness?" Yes. David writes, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psa. 51:5). St. Paul writes, "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Infants are in need of salvation like everyone else. Out of God's grace and love in Christ, He provides it for them in Holy Baptism.
But can an infant receive the benefits of Holy Baptism through faith? Yes! Faith is not intellectual assent. One does not "figure it out." Faith is a gift of God wrought by the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul writes, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Can an infant have faith? Yes! If the Holy Spirit can bring a stubborn adult to faith then why would we limit the Holy Spirit's work in an infant's heart? It is as much a work of God that an adult has faith as an infant.
The picture we see in infant baptism is a wonderful picture of God's grace. We see a helpless child unable to feed, change, or do anything for himself. This helpless child is brought to the font with nothing to offer to God and God reaches out to the sinful child through the blessed waters of Holy Baptism, applying the merits of Christ's life, death, and resurrection and claiming the child as His own. We do not come before God in Holy Baptism because we have something to offer Him; we come before God because He has everything to offer us—forgiveness, life, and salvation for the sake of Christ. Through faith we receive these wonderful gifts from God in Holy Baptism—no matter our age!
From Lutheran Church - Canada what we believe