Last month we moved deeper into the Sacraments by looking at the Sacrament of the Altar in Article X. This month we’ll continue, but will look at the Protestant view of the Supper.
Article X: Of the Lord’s Supper.
1] Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed 2] to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise.
Again, these short, succinct and direct and direct words bring up controversies that date back to the time of the Reformation. As noted last month, as written it rejects “those that teach otherwise.” This refers to those in the fully Protestant camp in these discussions. And in the end, the disagreements with the Reformed are related to the disagreements with Rome regarding the nature of the Sacraments and what place they have in our lives as God’s people.
In the essay titled “Why Luther is Not Quite Protestant: The Logic of Faith in a Sacramental Promise” author Philip Carey notes that “There are a number of points, most prominently in his sacramental theology, where Luther is closer to Catholicism than the Reformed tradition ever gets.” The Anabaptist traditions are even farther away from the historic church’s teaching.
In the Anabaptist understanding of the Lord’s Supper (in the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli) the bread and wine are no more than signs. Signs that remind us of this supper that Jesus had with His followers on the eve of His crucifixion. They remind us of His life and death. That is the extent of His presence; in our work of remembering. In a notorious incident Luther was discussing these things with Zwingli. Zwingli held to the representation of the Body and Blood of Christ, while Luther held to the simple word “is.”
Later John Calvin tried to bridge the gap between Luther and Zwingli, proposing that we look at Christ’s presence in a spiritualized manner; Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, and when we receive the bread and wine we are spiritually transported to the throne of God to receive Him there.
It does not take long to see that there are some problems with this as well – and the problems go very deep. How do we understand the two natures of Christ – being true God and true man? How are they related? What does it mean that God took into Himself human flesh. Do we have two persons or one Person? How does the divine nature relate to the human nature?
These two topics – the Lord’s Supper and the Person of Christ – continue to be a source of contention among Christians. Is Christ present in His human nature? Or is He chained to the throne at the right hand of the Father? These are discussed in two articles of the Formula of Concord (VII, VIII)
In our Lutheran understanding, we receive this mystery and believe it. In the end, we believe that Christ’s word and promise – “this is My body” and “this is My blood” – does come to pass in the Supper. We do not try to explain it as Rome does by the teaching transubstantiation that borrows from Aristotle’s philosophy, nor do we try to explain it by spiritualizing the Supper and dividing Christ into divine and human natures; the Presence of the whole Christ comes to us.
Christ comes to us; we receive Him as He promised in this Holy Meal. We receive the mystery, and trust in His Word. The One whose Word spoke creation into existence has also promised to be here. With you.
- Pastor Tim