THE LORDíS SUPPER
This topic is not as debated as much as baptism, but it has had its time when it was the main debate. It was probably the topic that kept the early reformers from uniting. There was an attempt to get the two earliest reformers, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, to unite their movements, which they probably would have been able to do if it had not been for their disagreement on this topic. Most fundamentalist theology on this subject has more in common with Zwingliís position than it has with Lutherís. Zwingli, an ex-Roman Catholic priest, rebelled against the doctrine of transubstantiation and what he considered to be the idolatry behind the Roman Mass. He came up with what I will call "symbolism theology" which has trickled down into most of the Fundamentalist communions. All of the Fundamentalist literature I have read on the Lordís Supper always boasts that their theology opposes the Roman theology. I think it would be prudent to summarize the four main theories on the Lordís Supper.
Transubstantiation: This theory had itís beginning in the ninth century with man named Radbertus, but the term wasnít used officially until 1215 A.D. by the Roman Church. It has had a lot of time to develop and I could not find an official teaching or definition that was short enough to reproduce here, nor could I find an official teaching or definition that was all that understandable. One book that had the "Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur" described it as "the bread and wine used at Mass are turned into the actual Body and Blood of Christ."* My best attempt on a definition will be this. At the time of the blessing by the priest, the bread and wine change their substance from bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ while retaining the appearance, taste, and character of bread and wine.
Symbolist: There is no change in the nature of the bread or wine. They are used as simple symbols of a memorial of Christ sacrifice. They in no way have any mysterious or supernatural nature.
Consubstantiation: This is a term that was used to label Lutherís theory. Luther rejected both Zwingliís symbolism and Roman transubstantiation. He theorized that the body and blood of Christ are in, with, and under the bread and the wine.
Spiritualist: This was Calvinís contribution to the debate. It could be summarized as: The body and blood are present in the bread and wine but only in a Spiritual manner.
Q. So which is the correct theory? A. None. This is not to say that all these theories are 100% wrong. If you will allow me to use a metaphor to describe my opinion of each one, I will do so using golf.
Transubstantiation is like a golf shot that flies over the green and lands in the woods behind it. The Symbolist theory is a shot that falls well short of the green. Consubstantiation hits the green but rolls off into the sand trap. The Spiritual theory hits the green but has not yet gotten into the hole.
My personal belief is that the body and blood of Christ are present in a true or real sense as opposed to an actual sense, for lack of better terms. I think that if I were to receive the Lordís Supper rightly, and for some reason I had to go and get my stomach pumped, if the elements were analyzed, I think they would still be bread and wine. I donít reject symbolism but find strict symbolism somewhat repugnant, so I avoid the term.
Arguments that symbolist usually present are the following. Christ used many metaphors about himself. Jesus proclaimed that "I am the vine" (John 15:5), "I am the door" (John 10:7,9) He was also called "the Rock" (I Corinthians 10:4) and "the corner stone" (Ephesians 2:20), but we would not think for a second that he was an actual vine, door, rock or corner stone. Likewise when he said that "this is my body" and "this is my blood" he was giving our mind images we could comprehend, so he was speaking metaphorically and not actually.
I have no problem with Christ invoking an image when he said "this is my body," but I do have a problem with the elements being void of anything else. The big difference I see is that Christ did not say, I am this door or I am this Vine, but he did say "this is my Body," so I think we must look for something deeper than a mere metaphor.
The next argument is that when Christ instituted the Supper it was before he suffered on the cross and had spilled any blood. Likewise after his ascension he was physically taken up into heaven and is at the right hand of God. The logic behind their argument is that it would be impossible for Jesus to be present in the elements for he would have to disappear and then reappear in the elements otherwise he would be present in two places at once.
The big problem I have with this argument is that it assumes a limited power of God. But I have read, "With God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27, Mark 14:36). God is described as "almighty" in too many verses to quote. To say something is impossible, when addressing the workings of God, slanders his deity. Note that Christ said during the Great commission that he would be with them always (Matthew 28:20) and that he also said "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20) I think this is accomplished in part by a real and true presence in the Lordís Supper. If Christ is at the right hand of God, by our friendís theory, then he could be nowhere else and thus he was lying in the last two verses I quoted. If that is not enough, consider this. Paul in I Corinthians Chapter fifteen passionately argues the reality of Christís fleshly resurrection. He gives several accounts of witnesses who can testify to this fact. In his list of witnesses he includes himself.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. 1 Corinthians 15:8
It is a well-known fact that Paul did not see the risen Lord until well after his ascension. Also consider this verse.
And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. Acts 23:11
It reports that the Lord stood and spoke. This was not a vision or a dream. So our Savior was able to be physically present here on our planet all the while being at the right hand of God!
Another thing that symbolists will attach themselves to, are the words "do this in remembrance of me." Their logic behind this is that if Christ said to do it in remembrance then a true presence could not logically be congruent with this statement thus the elements are truly symbolic. For why would he have us do it in remembrance if he was actually there?
Please bear with me on this one. Letís say one afternoon I am going through and cleaning up some stuff in my closet. Letís say I happen upon a picture of an old friend. You can rightly say that the picture would be an image or symbol of the old friend and many, many memories could be invoked by it. I could sit down and fondly recollect past times. But letís say on the other hand that one day I am cleaning out some stuff in my closet and there is a knock on the door. And lo and behold it is my old friend come to pay me a visit. Could not we have a better session of remembrance in person than just holding a mere symbol? Is this not a big part of why there are class reunions?
Most of the arguments I have read appeal to a personís sense of reason to prove their point. Such as the appeal to oneís sense of time and space. When Christ instituted the Lordís Supper he had not yet suffered on the cross, so reason dictates that the elements could not contain the body and blood of Christ for he had not yet shed any blood, etc. Likewise if we believe in a true presence, we sacrifice Christ over and over again.
I have no problem in general of appealing to oneís sense of reason when discussing theological matters. I do have a problem, though, using reason as the sole basis for making a point. Scripture is very plain on man and his sense of reason in respect to Godly wisdom.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, for it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. I Corinthians 3:19
Man can comprehend some of Godís wisdom but he cannot take in and digest the total of Godís wisdom. Many times a Christian must be content to accept the concept of mystery when dealing with theological matters, even if they tend to offend oneís sense of reason.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! Romans 11:33
Jesus had no problem with offending the reason of man.
When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? John 6:61
Letís take a look at the argument that Christ is sacrificed over and over again. Hebrews plainly states.
By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God. Hebrews 10:10-12
This passage is often quoted in arguments against a true presence. It stands to reason that if Christ was sacrificed "once and for all" that there is no need to do it again. I agree with this reasoning. But letís look at Revelation 13:8
And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8
If Christ was sacrificed from the foundation of the Earth and again in A.D. 33 (more or less) how can this be done only once? We must learn not to limit Godís work to a time line because he is eternal and does not exist in time. If I believe in a true presence in the elements of the Lordís Supper, I do not sacrifice Christ over and over again, but I am intrinsically connected to Christís one sacrifice on the cross every time I celebrate it.
At this time I will warn you to be careful about labels. Many of the people who say they believe in a Spiritual presence are actually symbolist. Many times I have read an author who says that he believes in a Spiritual presence and then item-by-item tries to disprove any presence at all. I believe that if the Spirit is present in anything, that thing will be profoundly changed.
It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. John 6:63
You may think that this is an odd verse to quote here but I think it gives good insight into the true nature of the Supper. Most symbolists claim this verse proves their point because of the statement "The flesh profiteth nothing," but if we took their argument to its logical end, we would have to state that Christ becoming a man would have been of no benefit and unnecessary for that would have profited us nothing. Hopefully we are not silly enough to entertain such a notion. The focus should be on the first phrase. "It is the spirit that quickeneth;" the Spirit gives life. Without the Spirit the flesh is dead. Without the Spirit we are dead. The flesh (by itself) is useless. But the flesh that has the Spirit is alive. It is useful. Jesus was of the Spirit.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. Matthew 1:20
This is the means by which God the son became flesh and thus was able to become the perfect sacrifice and thus was able to complete the law and bring us into grace. If Christ had never become flesh, we would never have enjoyed grace. So we cannot say that all flesh is unprofitable. But if we become carnally minded and forget the Spirit, we will avail to nothing. When we read John chapter six in context I think you will see that this is the attitude that Jesus was combating. With that in mind, letís look at a good portion of this chapter.
Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst... I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve. John 6:26-71*
I appreciate your patience to read through all this Scripture, but I feel that it states the contrast between the temporal, carnal view as opposed to the eternal better than any way I could explain it. It is understandable that when we get bogged down in our daily lives, we can have difficulties seeing beyond our immediate needs. I think the above passage shows that as we feed our bodies, we must also feed our mind, spirit, and soul as well as our neighbors. Some symbolist I have read protests that Jesus was not speaking of the Supper here because, for one thing, he did not institute it here or say that he was going to. I think this is a weak argument, for anybody with a lick of sense can see that he is obviously foreshadowing it here. John does not mention the institution of the Supper in his Gospel, and this is something that many symbolists will claim as to their favor, but we must remember that John wrote his gospel decades after the other three gospels and I believe it was his object in writing his gospel not to mirror the others but to tie up many of the loose ends and address many of the heresies that had manifested at that time. To me this is an obvious contribution to the Supper theology and without it I think I would have less appreciation for the Supper. To me it shows that we cannot look at the Supper with a lack of dimension. When Jesus speaks of his flesh and his body, he speaks of many things, not just one. The body of Christ can be all of us who believe. It can be the words spoken by our Savior. It can also be his actual flesh, and it can be the bread that I chew and digest. Does the image of chewing Christ flesh disgust you? The word translated "eateth" in the King James is the Greek word "trogo," which literally means to "gnaw or chew." When I partake of the Supper I rightly eat his body and drink his blood to its fullest meaning, but I cannot do it rightly if I donít receive and digest his words and if I am unaware of my fellow Christian who is also a member of the body of Christ. We must also remember that without the Spirit nothing I have mentioned comes to any avail. If I have not the Spirit I cannot understand his words:
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. I Corinthians 2:14
Without the Spirit there could be no body of Christ.
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. I Corinthians 12:13
Without the Spirit, Christ could not speak his words.
the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. John 6:63
Also notice that when Christ spoke these words in John 6, he was at his height of his popularity. In the course of one sermon he lost the majority of his congregation. How many preachers do you know today that are willing to lose their congregations in order to tell the truth? It must have been an important subject in order for him to stick to his guns. I have read a few treatises on these verses of John 6 in which the authors claim that Jesus was speaking in terms that were familiar to those who were listening to him, but they must not have read on because it is very apparent that they were unfamiliar with and disgusted by with the words of our Savior. If we read on further we can see in the next chapter.
After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him. John 7:1
Not only did he lose his following but also he put his life in danger to preach his message.
O.K. If I am busy telling you what the Lordís Supper is not, I guess I should tell you what it is. I think the key to understanding the mystery of the Supper is contained in the mystery of Christ. Jesus was the God/man. He was 100% God and 100% man. He was not symbolic of man, he was man. He was not symbolic of God, he was God. Maybe this will earn my place in the Hall of Heresy, but I will assert that the bread that is broken is 100% bread, it is also 100% Christís body and likewise the cup that is blessed is 100% wine, but it is also 100% Christís blood. Look at I Corinthians Ch. 10
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 1 Cor 10:16
Notice that Paul did not say that the bread has changed into or become the body of Christ and he did not say that it was symbolic of the body of Christ but that it is the "communion" of the body of Christ. The word-translated communion is the Greek word " koinonia" which can be defined as participation, intercourse, fellowship, or coming together. So the nature of the Supper is "koinonia," a coming together of his body and the bread. So I think it is safe to say that I believe in a true and real presence without joining the Roman camp. The nature of elements has changed and this is why I think that symbolist theories fall short. Consider the nature of the regenerate man. He is flesh and in that sense he is indistinguishable from other men. His flesh, though, is a temple for the Holy Spirit. The regenerate man has the Spirit thus his nature has changed though his flesh remains flesh. So as I read on in I Corinthians, verses like these make more sense.
Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 1 Cor 11:27 30*
If the bread and wine are mere symbols, then how can the Supper cause sickness and death? If their nature had not changed would they not simply bring me nourishment? Well, enough of this. Letís go on about the other aspects of the Supper.
What kind of bread should be used? The answer is undoubtedly unleavened bread. Leaven was on occasion a sign of impurity.
Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor 5:6 8
I view this as a direct reference to the Lordís Supper. It testifies that unleavened bread was used. Unleavened bread is used as a sign of sincerity and truth. It was also a sign of purity. Christ shares all these natures. If you consider this passage from the Old Testament, the use of leavened bread can become scary.
Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning. Exod 23:18
The bread should also be broken.
And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 1 Cor 11:24
Broken bread testifies to the abuse of the body that Christ endured for our salvation.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. Isa 53:4 5
It also gives us a gift not unlike what St. Thomas was given by Jesus.
Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. John 20:27
As far as the cup is concerned, it should be just that. Read all the accounts of the Supper. They all testify to the use of a common cup that was shared by all the partakers.
And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. Mark 14:23
I believe that sharing a cup testifies to the unity of Christís body. It shows a common bond between all that partake of it. Likewise, I believe that the "fruit of the vine" should be fermented wine. If for any reason we should do this to emulate what was used at the first Supper. This is disliked by almost all of our fundamentalist friends but I think they err in preferring grape juice. This may be repeated again in another chapter, so I will only briefly mention it. To me it has always been a silly debate whether or not Jesus used wine or grape juice at the Last Supper. And the lengths some people have gone to in order to disprove the use of wine such as having large boiling pots, etc., have often caught my funny bone. One thing one must consider is that at that time there was no refrigeration, canning or bottling. These are things we take for granted today. Grapes usually become ripe in the summertime. The Last Supper occurred in late March or early April. Any grape juice, unless it had been preserved by fermentation, would have gone bad many months earlier.
Lastly, it is sometimes debated when the Lordís Supper should be celebrated. Practice varies from denomination to denomination and sometimes from congregation to congregation. Some will do it once a year, once a month, once every two months, once a week, and so forth. Many will assert that their practice is the most scriptural. Scripture does give testimony to this subject. There is no direct command about when to celebrate the Supper, but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to give us a good idea.
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. Acts 20:7
This testifies that the early Church had a regular weekly practice. I think this also testifies that those who regularly practice the Supper less than once a week do not follow the general testimony of Scripture.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. Acts 2:46
This testifies that even daily partaking of the Supper is perfectly acceptable. I have found it ironic that many of the criticisms against the Roman practice of denying the Cup come from many who deny the whole Supper by their practice of infrequent celebration. Likewise those who deny a true and real presence tend to fall away from a regular practice of the Supper. This is really nothing new. If we look at the writings of St. Ignatius we will see it happened in the second century as well.
"They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ,"
I think if you want to get to the bottom of this, then the lessons of John Ch 6 should be considered. Christ is the bread of life. Christ declares that the bread is his body. We are the body of Christ. Paul teaches that "koinonia" is the nature of the Supper. As we learned earlier, koinonia can mean a "coming together." I think that when the body of Christ comes together or assembles,
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matt 18:20
and the body of Christ (that is his teaching) is shared; then it is good and right to share the body and blood of our Savior in the forms of bread and wine. I think this is what Paul is talking about in I Corinthians.
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. 1 Cor 11:26
Whether it is evening, morning, afternoon, Monday, Sunday, or Wednesday, but a good, regular, scriptural practice is to do it on the Lordís day (every Sunday).
Lastly, I would like to point out that many of those who infrequently celebrate the Lordís Supper often make up for it in other ways. I think a lot of the craziness that goes on in the Charismatic groups has some of its source with an intense desire to commune with God. The established mode of communing with God is the gathering of the Body of Christ participating in the physical motion of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, not convulsing on the floor being out of control of your body functions.
*Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Karl Keating, C. 1988 Ignatius Press P 145