I have been officially a Lutheran since around 2005, but had the privilege to read a little of Dr. Martin Luther’s writings during Bible School and Seminary. As most know, Dr. Martin Luther was the “father” of the Lutheran Reformation, and some would say, even of Protestantism as a whole.
The first people to use the term “Evangelical” were the Lutherans. In fact, the full name of the Lutheran Church is: Evangelical Lutheran Church. The point of using the word “Evangelical” is an indicative of how important the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone) was to traditional Lutherans.
The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are very important to Lutheranism, but unlike medieval Roman Catholicism, we do not ascribe to the Sacraments any graces other than that which is received through Faith in the written Word of God.
This is an important matter…because even among Lutheran Pastors, there is the extra-Evangelical belief that the Sacraments are efficacious for anyone, even if they do not believe the Scriptures.
In his book titled: “The Pagan Servitude of The Church” (also known as the Babylonian Captivity), Dr. Luther clearly teaches that the Sacraments have no efficacy unless a person exercises Faith in the promises attached to them in Scripture. Rather than going on a diatribe, why not just quote Luther directly?
(The Sacrament of Baptism, 2.5,6- as found in Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings, Anchor Books, 1962. Ed. John Dillenberger, pg. 300)
“…Baptism justifies nobody, and gives advantage to nobody; rather, faith in the Word of the promise to which baptism was conjoined, is what justifies, and so completes, that which the baptism signified… The Sacrements are not fulfilled by the ritual, but only when they are believed.
Therefore it cannot be true that there resides in the Sacraments a power capable of giving justification, or that they are the ‘signs’ of efficacious grace. All such things are said to the detriment of faith, and in ignorance of the divine promises. They must be called ‘efficacious’, however, in the sense in which when faith is indubitably present, they most assuredly and effectively impart grace.
That this is not the sense in which the Romanists say they are efficacious is proved by the assertion that Sacraments do good to all, even to wicked and unbelieving men, provided these latter impose no obstacle to them. But this contention is as much as to say that unbelief itself is not the most obstinate and hostile of all obstacles to grace.”
In other words… at least from Luther’s perspective, the Sacraments are efficacious in so far as a person believes the Word of God. Otherwise, Baptism is just a bath without power to save (1 Peter 3:21) and Communion, just a stale wafer. (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)