Martin Luther and the Seven Sacraments

A Contemporary Protestant Reappraisal

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This introduction to Martin Luther's sacramental theology addresses a central question in the life of the church and in ecumenical dialogue. Although Luther famously reduced the sacraments from seven to two (baptism and the Lord's Supper), he didn't completely dismiss the others. Instead, he positively recast them as practices in the church. This book explores the medieval church's understanding of the seven sacraments and the Protestant rationale for keeping or eliminating each sacrament. It also explores implications for contemporary theology and worship, helping Protestants imagine ways of reclaiming lost benefits of the seven sacraments.

1. Penance: The Once Third Protestant Sacrament
2. Confirmation: A Ceremony for the Laying On of Hands
3. Marriage: A Public Ordinance
4. Ordination: "A Man-Made Fiction"
5. Extreme Unction: "Anointing the Sick"
6. Baptism: The "Untouched and Untainted" Sacrament
7. The Lord's Supper: "The Most Important of All"


"The later medieval Western church's narrow scholastic definition of the term 'sacrament' and its selection of seven rituals of the church for this nomenclature were problematic for the scriptural renaissance of the sixteenth century. In this study Brian Brewer presents a thorough and balanced study of Luther's contribution to the debate and offers scholars of sacramental and historical theology a most useful, authoritative work. This book will be crucial reading for scholars and students alike."

Bryan D. Spinks, Bishop F. Percy Goddard Professor of Liturgical Studies and Pastoral Theology, Yale Divinity School and Yale Institute of Sacred Music

"With characteristic robustness, Martin Luther dismissed all but two of the seven sacraments of the medieval church. Yet Luther valued the spiritual support that people received from the ceremonies associated with penance, confirmation, marriage, ordination, and even extreme unction. He devised ways of capturing the beneficial purpose of each rite while insisting on the absolute priority of faith as the way of salvation. In Martin Luther and the Seven Sacraments, Brian Brewer reviews Luther's teaching in this field, compares it with the opinions of subsequent reformers, and recommends methods of reviving the legitimate purposes of the seven sacraments in Protestantism today. This book is a model of the use of historical theology as a resource for the contemporary church."

David Bebbington, professor of history, University of Stirling, Scotland; distinguished visiting professor of history, Baylor University

"This excellent volume by Brian Brewer is an important exploration of Luther's sacramental theology. Brewer not only offers a convincing historical portrayal of how Luther reframed the sacraments but also probes possibilities for enriching contemporary Protestant practices. For those seeking greater understanding of the Lutheran Reformation and for those involved in contemporary ecclesial life in an ecumenical context, this stimulating study is essential reading."

Ian Randall, senior research fellow, Spurgeon's College, London; International Baptist Theological Study Centre, Amsterdam

"In Martin Luther and the Seven Sacraments, Brian Brewer delves into the Protestant traditions around the sacraments to suggest that the modern church is impoverished by the loss of its own rich heritage, and he proposes doctrinally and pastorally sensitive roads to recovery of that treasure."

R. Ward Holder, director, Honors Program, professor of theology, Saint Anselm College

"Martin Luther and the Seven Sacraments is both a historical review and a practical retrieval--a must read for anyone interested in how the sacraments and rituals of the church have been and are to be understood. In leading us through the remains of medieval Catholic and early Protestant church towers, Brewer not only offers us a banister with which to steady ourselves but may have even got hold of the bell rope."

David Wilhite, associate professor of theology, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University

"In this searching and carefully researched book, Brian Brewer wears his considerable learning lightly. His thorough--but thoroughly Protestant--appreciation of Christian practices thought by Roman Catholics to be sacraments reveals their value even for Protestants. That marriage is not a sacrament does not mean it is trivial; that ordination is not a sacrament must not hide its importance. Brewer's work is ecumenical in the best sense of the word. Rather than pretending that no differences remain among Christian communions, it mines the depths of our traditions for nuggets of wisdom and insight. As the church observes five hundred years of Reformation, this book will help us remember what must be retained and what can be let go."

Derek Nelson, associate professor of religion and chair of the department, Wabash College

The Author

  1. Brian C. Brewer

    Brian C. Brewer

    Brian C. Brewer (PhD, Drew University) is associate professor of Christian theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, in Waco, Texas. He is a seasoned pastor and the author or editor of several books.

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