Hello! I had a question about absolution. In your "What We Believe" statements on "The Means of Grace," I got the impression that only Baptism and the Lord's Supper are sacraments, since it does not mention absolution. However, in Article XIII in the Apology in the Augsburg Confession, it says, "The genuine sacraments, therefore, are Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and absolution (which is the sacrament of penitence), for these rights have the commandment of God and the promise of grace, which is the heart of the New Testament." My question is this: Do you consider absolution as one of the sacraments? If so, why is it not in your "Means of Grace" section of "What We Believe"? If not, are you contradicting the Book of Concord's teaching, or is there definition of a sacrament different from yours? Thank you!
The last phrase of your last question is key to addressing your questions. Because the word “sacrament” is not in the Bible, there can be different definitions of the word.
Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession states: “If we call Sacraments rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to decide what are properly Sacraments. For rites instituted by men will not in this way be Sacraments properly so called. For it does not belong to human authority to promise grace…Therefore Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution, which the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God’s command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament.” [Concordia Triglotta, page 309] Philip Melanchthon wrote the Apology of the Augsburg Confession in 1530-31.
In his early years as a Roman Catholic, Martin Luther held to the church’s teaching that there are seven sacraments. In his early years as a reformer, he trimmed the number of sacraments to three: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Absolution. By October 1520, with the writing of The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, he no longer considered absolution a sacrament. When Luther published his Large Catechism (1529), he wrote of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “our two Sacraments” [Concordia Triglotta, page 733].
The definition of a sacrament in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession is “rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added.” Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Absolution can fit that definition. Luther acknowledged the three Sacraments listed in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession and the accompanying definition of a sacrament.
The definition of a sacrament that Lutherans ordinarily use points to three characteristics. “A sacrament is a sacred act that Christ instituted or established for Christians to do. A sacrament is a sacred act that includes the use of earthly elements (water, bread, and wine) connected with God’s Word. A sacrament is a sacred act through which Christ offers, gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins and, so also, life and salvation.” [Luther’s Catechism. Milwaukee, Northwestern Publishing House, 2017, page 299] Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—and not absolution—fit that definition.
I hope that this clarifies matters for you.