Retrieving the Lord’s Supper

A very common attitude that I have seen these days is that the Lord’s Supper is not a gospel issue. Therefore, issues surrounding the Lord’s Supper are peripheral, not central. I wish to challenge this assumption rather sharply. It came to a focus for me after reading this outstanding book on the Lord’s Supper. The fact is that the Lord’s Supper is gospel proclamation. Take 1 Corinthians 11:26 as proof of this: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” That word “proclaim” is a preaching word. The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the gospel every bit as much as preaching itself is, though the mode is different. Reformed theology has always tied Word and Sacrament together. Calvin believed that not only does the Lord’s Supper signify and seal the Word of God, but the preaching helps us to understand the sacrament.

A second swath of evidence is the myriad of books that the Reformers wrote on the Lord’s Supper. They wrote more books about the Lord’s Supper than they wrote about justification, Scripture, or worship. Obviously, the Reformers did not think of the sacraments as peripheral at all.

Mathison argues that one of the reason why the Lord’s Supper has become a peripheral issue for evangelicalism is that the true view of Calvin has given way to the early Zwinglian view. We have relegated the Lord’s Supper to something we do in our own minds as a pledge of our devotion to Christ, almost completely forgetting that it is a means of grace. Of course, the Lord’s Supper (abbrev. “LS”) is not something in which we are passive. However, the LS is a means of grace, not just a pledge. The LS is therefore in the same category as prayer and preaching, NOT in the same category as recitation of creeds, or profession of faith, or singing of hymns.

Mathison also posits that Calvin’s view is not something actually held much today (though he sees a resurgence), even by those who claim to hold to it. Calvin’s view can be summarized this way: 1. Jesus Christ is physically located in heaven; 2. Therefore we do not masticate Christ with the physical mouth (we don’t have bits of Christ floating around in our intestines), but the spiritual mouth, which is faith; 3. We feed on Christ’s actual body and blood, though not in the bread and wine; 4. The Holy Spirit bridges the distance between Christ and us through our union with Christ; 5. God communicates Christ to us through this means of grace; 6. The sign is connected to the thing signified, but is distinguished from it, such that unbelievers get nothing, but believers get Christ; 7. By “spiritual presence” Calvin does not mean that Christ is present to us only in a spiritual way, but rather that the whole Christ (including His physical body!) is given to us by the Holy Spirit through our union with Him.

Before you jump on this summary by saying that it is absurd, you should read Mathison’s book. It is an excellent cure for the incipient memorialist, pietist (as opposed to pious), non-means-of-grace understanding of the LS that is so prevalent today.

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37 Comments

  1. John Harutunian said,

    November 7, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    This is pretty close to my own position. I disagree of course with the Roman Catholic teaching that “the whole Christ, soul, body and divinity” is present in the consecrated elements. Neither do I believe that the elements cease to be bread and wine. But, just as the Bible is both man’s word and God’s Word, and just as Christ was fully human and fully divine, the consecrated elements are truly both bread and wine and Christ’s body and blood. (I say “truly” -I’d hesitate to use the word “literally”.)
    So on this issue I guess I’m a Lutheran!

  2. Larry Wilson said,

    November 8, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Thanks, Lee, for this plug for a good book, and your good summary. John, the Lutheran view of real presence involves the metaphysical speculation that Christ’s human nature became ubiquitous at his ascension. The “Calvinistic” view of real presence rests on our Lord’s promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to mediate his presence (e.g., John 14:16-24). While this book is very good, it does have some weak points that I hope will be shored up in a future edition — see http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=106

  3. John Harutunian said,

    November 8, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Good point, Larry. But: does one really need to believe in the ubiquity of Christ’s resurrection body to hold that it is substantially present in the consecrated elements (together with the substances of bread and wine)?
    So perhaps I’m an Anglo-Catholic on the issue!

  4. Larry Wilson said,

    November 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Hi John, I would not presume to suggest what view you hold. But if you look closely at the 39 Articles, you’ll see that Article 28 does affirm the “Calvinistic” view of the Lord’s Supper (compare Larger Catechism #170).

    A big question you might want to consider is: what do you mean by “substantially”? Calvin himself was quite firm, yet humble, in his affirmation that eating the bread in faith is a genuine participation in Christ’s body and drinking the wine in faith is a genuine participation in Christ’s blood, saying something along the lines that this is such a high mystery that he “experiences” it rather than “explains” it. And lest I be unfair to our Lutheran brethren (although I’m tempted to say that turnabout is fair play), they also regard the Lord’s Supper to be a high mystery: they say they believe that Christ is not “physically” but “bodily” present in the bread and wine of communion, that his bodily presence is somehow “in, with, and under” the elements of bread and wine, and thus they reject the “Capernaitic eating” that they deem “Calvinistic” criticisms to allege of their view. Accordingly, many Lutherans reject the term “consubstantiation” as accurately describing their view. So, I would humbly suggest that you reconsider what you mean by “substantially.” Reading Mathison’s book may be a good place to start.

  5. Martin said,

    November 8, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    I heartily agree with the recommendation. Mathison has done us a great service in this book. It’s been awhile since I read it, but if I remember correctly, the first chapter brought tears to my eyes.

  6. Keith Mathison said,

    November 8, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Mr. Wilson is correct about the weakness of the last section of my book. I would like to work on a second edition to take care of some loose ends that led to confusion regarding where I stand (I am not in favor of paedo-communion, for example). There are other sections of the book that could be improved as well.

  7. WAScott said,

    November 8, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Hello Wilson, actually Bishop Guest, an author of Article 28 in the 39 Articles, held something closer to a Lutheran view on the nature of the real presence, and he noted that his intent was for Article 28 to express this position (later he expressed his frustration at people using his language in contradiction to its original intent).

  8. Roy said,

    November 8, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    I have long marveled that, even in reformed churches, I’ve never heard of much less seen a communion table with the words “You proclaim the Lord’s death”. The typical table has two long sides. “Rememberance of Me” could go on one side, and proclamation on the other.

  9. Larry Wilson said,

    November 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Mr. Mathison, I commend you for your humility and openness, and I earnestly hope you get the opportunity to work on that second edition.

    Mr. Scott, really? Are you really saying that this statement — “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith” — is intended to be a Lutheran affirmation? If Bishop Geste intended to write a Lutheran statement, then he had the bad luck of wording it with such Calvinistic affirmations.

    According to W. Griffith Thomas, however, Bishop Geste was not the author at all, although he was active in opposing this wording, formulated by Archbishop Parker. Thomas writes: “But the question is whether Geste was, after all, the author, for we have this very sentence in Archbishop Parker’s own handwriting quite complete with the original draft, which Parker (who is well known as opposed to to the Lutheran view of the ‘real and bodily presence’) brought with him to the Convocation in 1563, as Dr. Lamb shows, and Geste tried in vain to alter this very wording” (Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles [London; Church Book Room Press Ltd, 1945], p. 401).

    In any case, what does that have to do with Mathison’s good book on the Supper?

  10. John Harutunian said,

    November 8, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Hi, Larry. I actually own the Mathison book. Can’t say that I’ve read it cover to cover but I’ve certainly read parts of it -and I find it very impressive.
    This will probably sound like a cop-out to you, but when I use the word “substance”, I think it’s best to start with a sort of “via negativa.” It has nothing to do with chemistry. I reject the modern view which implies that if you want to know what a thing Really Is, you look at it under a microscope. To do so simply tells you what it looks like when viewed through a microscope -nothing less but nothing more. Would either bread and wine OR flesh and blood appear as the things which they Really Are when viewed through a microscope? I don’t think so.
    I’d say that God has infused His created world with meaning. Seems obvious. But I think we must go further and say that “the only things that ‘really exist’ out there are atoms and molecules -all else is just ‘in our heads’ ” -this is a false position. What it seems to come down to is that everything in the created order really does posses within it something which transcends its chemical makeup. Its substance. That which ultimately makes it what it is.
    To many people today, this is a meaningless abstraction. But of course the Middle Ages didn’t see things this way. The question is: did the Early Church?
    So (and I hope this sounds refreshingly concrete to you!) I do believe that a real change does occur within the bread and wine. They really aren’t the same things they were when they were sitting on the supermarket shelf.
    Having said that, I don’t hold to transubstantiation. Wish I could give you the exact context, but I think it’s pretty well accepted that Luther regarded Aristotle as “a buffoon.”
    Thanks for the dialogue -and blessings in our Lord Jesus Christ.

  11. Todd said,

    November 8, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    It is important to remember that one does not have to agree with Calvin’s view on the real presence to hold to a reformed view of the sacraments. Just because Hodge disagreed with Calvin’s idiosyncratic (IMO) view does not make him a memorialist either.

    Charles Hodge on the Lord’s Supper:

    “In the Lord’s Supper we are said to receive Christ and the benefits of His redemption to our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. As our natural food imparts life and strength to our bodies, so this sacrament is one of the divinely appointed means to strengthen the principle of life in the soul of the believer and to confirm his faith in the promises of the gospel. By partaking of the bread and wine, the symbols of Christ’s body and blood given for us, we are united to Him as our head, our life. He then works in us to will and to do of His own good pleasure…

    To summarize the Reformed position: The Lord’s Supper is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ as a memorial of His death wherein, under the symbols of bread and wine, His body as broken and His blood as shed for the remission of sins are signified and, by the power of the Holy Ghost. sealed and applied to believers. Thereby their union with Christ and their mutual fellowship are set forth and confirmed, their faith strengthened, and their souls nourished unto eternal life.

    In this sacrament Christ is present not bodily, but spiritually – not in the sense of local nearness, but of efficacious operation. His people receive Him not with the mouth, but by faith; they do not receive His flesh and blood as material particles, but His body as broken and His blood as shed. The union thus signified and effected is not a corporeal union, not a mixture of substances, but a spiritual and mystical union due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The efficacy of this sacrament as a means of grace is not in the signs, nor in the service, nor in the minister, nor in the word, but in the attending influence of the Holy Ghost.”

  12. WAScott said,

    November 9, 2013 at 12:03 am

    Hello Wilson, Bishop Guest (Geste) did hold to a spiritual real presence similar to a “non-consubstantiation” Lutheran position and he was also an author of article 28 (that is certainly not to say that Article 28 is opposed to the Calvin’s understanding of Christ’s presence). On the other hand, Guest did initially object to article 29 because he was concerned that it denied the real presence in the consecrated elements (although shortly thereafter he affirmed article 29). All that said, I think very highly of the position of Calvin and consider the issue of the precise manner of Christ’s presence very insignificant in light of the shared affirmation that we partake on Christ-Body, Soul, and Divinity in the Sacrament. I may not be able to continue the discussion at this time bc of my schedule but it’s been interesting. God Bless

  13. WAScott said,

    November 9, 2013 at 12:19 am

    p.s. I apologize for the lack of references or citations for my statements–I’m typing from an iPhone and I’m not too handy with it…I would note that Guest specifically states that he was an author of article 28. He later desired some of the language of the article 28 bc he was concerned that people were using it to deny that Christ is spiritually present in the elements.

  14. WAScott said,

    November 9, 2013 at 12:34 am

    Er, I meant to say that “he later desired alteration of some of the language in Article 28 that he took part in authoring because he was concerned…”

  15. John Harutunian said,

    November 9, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Larry (and anyone else who’s interested), here’s a paraphrase from C.S. Lewis which might make the concept of “substance” more meaningful. (The original context is “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. p. 180.) Consider these two conceptual entities:

    a)What a thing is made of
    b) What a thing is

    The two aren’t the same, though they may overlap.
    Broadly speaking (big emphasis here!), non-sacramental Christians would equate “substance” with (a), sacramental Christians with (b).
    Hope this clarifies a bit!

  16. November 11, 2013 at 12:01 am

    […] the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  17. Larry Wilson said,

    November 12, 2013 at 8:37 am

    “I say that although Christ is absent from the earth in respect of the flesh, yet in the Supper we truly feed on his body and blood—that owing to the secret agency of the Spirit we enjoy the presence of both”
    ~John Calvin (in “The Clear Explanation of Sound Doctrine Concerning the True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper to dissapate the mists of Tileman Hehusius”).

  18. Kurt said,

    November 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Pastor Larry,
    Are you saying that a part of the human nature of Christ becomes a part of our nature?

    Thanks.

  19. John Harutunian said,

    November 12, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Larry, I recognize the quote as one of the classic passages articulating Calvin’s view of the Eucharist. And, even though I don’t consider myself Reformed, I hold that view in high respect.
    I think we’re probably approaching the issue from different directions. Calvin’s view (and yours) is perhaps more strictly theological. Mine accords a larger piece of the overall picture to philosophy than does Calvin’s. That is, for me a critical question would be: Does their exist such a thing as substance -something objectively present which transcends a thing’s chemical makeup- either with regard to the consecrated Eucharistic elements, or, for that matter, with regard to anything else? If one answers this question affirmatively, one creates a framework into which Christ’s words of institution (“This is my body; this is my blood”) fit perfectly.
    Which of course isn’t saying that it’s the only possible framework!

  20. Pooka said,

    November 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Having read it recently, I agree you could flesh out more at the end and tie it all together. But that does not diminish the value of your work. It was very important in my understanding of the supper. Therefore, thank you, Mr. Mathison.

  21. Larry Wilson said,

    November 12, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    John, thanks for the give and take. I’ve kept hoping that some brighter bulb than me would chime in to enlighten us, but I guess they’re too busy beating up on the PCA.

    Kurt, I’ll try to answer simply by paraphrasing Larger Catechism 170. The body and blood of Christ are NOT PHYSICALLY PRESENT in, with, or under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. Yet, by the Holy Spirit, they are REALLY PRESENT to the faith of the receiver, no less really and truly than the bread and wine are to their outward senses. Those who commune in a worthy manner really do feed upon the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, NOT PHYSICALLY, but BY THE HOLY SPIRIT and THROUGH FAITH.

    Accordingly — and this, it seems to me, is the main point — the Lord’s Supper is not a mere devotional tool or discipline by which WE remember Christ’s death and resolve to walk more faithfully, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps so to speak. Rather, the Lord’s Supper is a genuine means of grace by which THE LORD works supernaturally to show us that he really means his gospel promises, to point our faith to Christ crucified, to nourish our souls for everlasting life, and to strengthen us to respond with stronger faith and firmer resolve to faithfulness. In response, we rededicate ourselves to walk more faithfully with the Lord.

    Having said that, I confess that this whole subject is way over my head. With Calvin, I experience this truth much more than I understand it. I conclude by remembering the point of the original post and joining Lane in recommending Keith Mathison’s book (where you can learn a great deal more than you can from me).

  22. Jack Bradley said,

    November 13, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Glad to see your very positive review of Mathison’s great book, Lane.
    Larry, I’ve appreciated your papers on the Lord’s Supper over the years. I really like Kim Riddlebarger’s Church’s statement on the Supper: http://christreformedinfo.org/about-the-lords-supper/

  23. Jack Bradley said,

    November 13, 2013 at 9:25 am

    An excerpt from Riddlerbarger:

    The Lord’s Supper is the visible gospel. It is not a mere symbol of a Savior who is not really there, but a sign and seal of God’s promise of salvation in Christ, and the means through which Christ imparts his very flesh and very blood to us through the Spirit.

    The sacrament is not merely a reminder that Jesus died for us – it is the real, life giving communion with him, in his flesh and blood given to us by the Holy Spirit. In the Lord’s Supper, we do remember his sacrifice for us, but we also receive his grace through the spiritual sharing in the body and blood of Christ.

    . . . In the Lord’ Supper, Christ assures us that, as certainly as his body was offered and broken on the cross for us, and his blood shed for us, he himself feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life. Through faith, in the Supper we are united more and more to Christ’s sacred body by the Holy Spirit who dwells both in Christ and in us. Although He is in heaven, and we on the earth, we are nevertheless flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones, and we live and are governed for ever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul (cf. Heidelberg Catechism, questions 75-82).

  24. john k said,

    November 14, 2013 at 2:06 am

    The body and blood that we feed on in the Lord’s Supper is “Christ crucified and all (the) benefits of his death” (WCF 29:7; LC 170). The focus of the Lord’s Supper is not on the substance of Christ’s flesh and blood, but on his offering of his person (spoken of as his body broken, and his blood shed), and the benefits resulting from it. Through his sacrifice, by faith, both at and outside the Supper, we have union and communion with the whole Christ (body, blood, soul, and divinity), and all his work.

  25. Jack Bradley said,

    November 14, 2013 at 11:43 am

    John, I understand what you’re saying about the focus. We do want to avoid “real presence” in the Roman Catholic sense of the term. But Mathison maintains that Protestants have been so eager to avoid “real presence” that they forget that the Reformed confessions affirm that Christ is *really present* in the bread and the cup.

    The Heidelberg Catechism grounds the sacrament in the senses. “[As] surely as I receive from the hand of him who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, given to me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood. . .
    Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body. And so, although he is in heaven and we are on earth,we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone.”

    WLC: “As the body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, or under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses…”

    Mathison demonstrates that Calvin’s most important contribution to understanding the Lord’s Supper was his proclamation that the real presence of Christ comes through the Holy Spirit: “Through the sacrament we have access to all the blessings of our union with Christ because by the Spirit we are lifted up and brought into His presence.”

    Mathison demonstrates, scripturally, as did Calvin, that this “spiritual” presence is nothing less than a real presence; that we truly feed on the body and the blood—the humanity—of our Savior. As Riddlebarger puts it: “. . . the means through which Christ imparts his very flesh and very blood to us through the Spirit.”

  26. greenbaggins said,

    November 14, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Jack, I agree with the substance of what you are saying, but I would not be comfortable saying that Christ is really present in the bread and the cup, as you say. Calvin’s view is that the Holy Spirit bridges the gap between heaven and earth such that we truly and spiritually feed on Christ’s flesh and blood just as the bread and the wine are present to our senses. The bread and the wine are truly and sacramentally tied to Christ’s flesh and blood, but that is different from saying that Christ is really present in the bread and the cup. Christ is really present in the Supper in His complete person, to the mouth of faith, not to the mouth of the body.

  27. John Harutunian said,

    November 14, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Lee, would you feel comfortable with the assertion that Christ is really in the bread and the cup if it were qualified by “Christ is not _contained_ in the bread and the cup?”

    Jack, thanks for your thoughtful perspective. You’re probably finding yourself pulled in two directions here [!] but-

    “[As] surely as I receive from the hand of him who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, given to me as sure signs of
    Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood. . .

    Fine. But is it just a matter of these two things “happening to happen” at the same time? That’s where, I think, the concept of “substance” is helpful.

    “Through the sacrament we have access to all the blessings of our union with Christ because by the Spirit we are lifted up and brought into
    His presence.”

    Again, fine. But what’s the connection between Christ’s [presumably] heavenly presence and what’s happening here on earth? Again, I think that’s where substance comes in.

    I don’t think any one tradition has the whole truth regarding this glorious, human-category-stretching mystery. (Which is one reason why I’m not a Roman Catholic!)

    Blessings in Our Risen and Ever-Present Lord,
    -John

  28. Jack Bradley said,

    November 14, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Lane wrote: “Calvin’s view is that the Holy Spirit bridges the gap between heaven and earth such that we truly and spiritually feed on Christ’s flesh and blood just as the bread and the wine are present to our senses. The bread and the wine are truly and sacramentally tied to Christ’s flesh and blood. . .”

    Lane, you expressed what I was metaphorically/sacramentally trying to express in saying “Christ is really present in the bread and the cup.” Again, thanks for your good review of Mathison’s great book.

  29. John Harutunian said,

    November 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    OK, Lane and Jack -but if we “truly” feed on Christ’s flesh and blood, however “spiritually” [assuming this doesn't imply 'platonically'], then _something_ in the way of “substance” needs to be brought into the picture, doesn’t it?

    Lee, here’s another attempt on my part: Christ is really present in the bread and the cup -that is, His body and blood are. (His soul and divinity are not.) But He is not “contained” by it. If you think this over, it seems like you could arrive at a view of the ubiquity of Christ’s risen and glorified body. That is, by default -not as a basic theological assumption.

    Thanks to my Reformed brothers in the faith for considering the musings of this Anglican!

  30. Jack Bradley said,

    November 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    John, regarding the mystery of Christ’s real presence in the sacrament, I think we have to leave it where Calvin leaves it:

    “Now if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either the mind to comprehend or my words to declare. . . . I rather experience it than understand it” (4.17.32).

  31. greenbaggins said,

    November 15, 2013 at 7:35 am

    John, your comments are always welcome here at GB.

    A couple of questions, though. What would be the benefit of arriving at a view of the ubiquity of Christ’s risen and glorified body? How would this not be attributing divinity to Christ’s humanity, and mixing the two together? Isn’t it better simply to say that the Holy Spirit bridges the gap between heaven and earth such that Christ, who is locally present in heaven with regard to His humanity, stays there in the Eucharist, and that we are brought to Him by faith in the sursum corda? The admittedly somewhat lighthearted analogy that is coming to mind is the recalling of bees back to the hive. John 15 is coming to mind also. The virtue of Calvin’s view is that he is able to have a real feeding on the body and blood of Christ without changing Christ’s humanity into something else, which is something the Lutheran and Roman Catholic views fail to avoid.

  32. John Harutunian said,

    November 15, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    I don’t think that a view of the ubiquity of Christ’s risen body _necessarily_ confounds His divine and human natures. I’d just suggest that Christ, by virtue of His divine power, works such a miracle with respect to His human body.
    We are indeed brought to Christ by faith in the sursum corda. But,

    >The virtue of Calvin’s view is that he is able to have a real feeding on the body and blood of Christ

    -it’s hard for me to see a “real feeding on the body and blood of Christ” here without believing that the substance of the elements undergoes some kind of a change.
    A personal note (which you may find entirely subjective): I’ve attended several Christian Passover Seders. I would never claim that Jesus Christ wasn’t present there, even without a consecration of the elements per se. But it just wasn’t the same as the Christian Eucharist. The Christ Who is present at a Christian Eucharist is the risen and glorified Christ. And of course, it wasn’t that way at the Last Supper (whether or not it was a Passover meal).
    I wonder if it might be helpful to think of _substance_ as “inherent, objectively existent meaning or significance.”
    Comments, anyone?

  33. john k said,

    November 16, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Jack, thank-you for your response in #25.

    I share the view of Lutherans that there is not really a straw’s worth of difference between Zwingli and Calvin. In my opinion, Calvin focuses on the physical body and blood of Christ in heaven, but he admits that life comes to us from Christ as divine, as the eternal word of God. Calvin stresses the flesh as a vehicle, but shares with Zwingli an ultimately non-material conception of the source of blessing in the Supper:

    “For as the eternal Word of God is the fountain of LIFE (John 1:4), so his flesh, as a channel, conveys to us that LIFE which dwells intrinsically, as we say, in his Divinity. And in this sense it [Christ's flesh] is called life-giving, because it conveys to us that life which it borrows for us from another quarter.” (Calvin on John 6:51)

    I object when Reformed pastors make it difficult for Reformed parishioners and visitors to participate in the Supper by pressing the unique perspective either of Zwingli or Calvin upon the participants. “Real presence” is not confessional language, yet I have seen an affirmation of that phrase made a prerequisite for receiving communion.

    Zwinglians and Calvinians have mutually enriched one another, even though differences remain. The Consensus Tigurinus was a triumph; it promoted Reformed unity, and is fully compatible with Calvin’s view, even if it does not fully espouse it. It is painful to see the Consensus disparaged (as in Mathison, if I remember correctly) for what it never intended to do.

    By all means let the issues be more fully discussed, because the literature so often is marred by unexplored asumptions in the discussion. If the Calvinians have more knowledge, and the Zwinglians are not so much wrong, as inadequate, care should be taken not to pass judgment on divergent opinions, at least until Calvin’s distinctives are more adequately proven.

  34. Larry Wilson said,

    November 18, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Jack, thanks for your encouraging words @22.

    John k, thanks for your input. Your concern that we beware of being needlessly divisive is an important one that I hope to take to heart.

    I’d simply ask you to consider this, however. The reason Lane spoke of the Lord’s Supper as a gospel issue, I think, is because it seems that the practical, bottom-line question is this — Is the Lord’s Supper a spiritual discipline by which WE comfort ourselves or is it a means of grace by which THE LORD comforts us?

    In favour of the first understanding, Zwingli wrote:

    “To eat the body of Christ sacramentally, if we wish to speak accurately, is to eat the body of Christ in heart and spirit with the accompaniment of the sacrament…You eat the body of Christ spiritually, though not sacramentally, every time you comfort your heart in its anxious query ‘How will you be saved’…When you comfort yourself thus, I say, you eat his body spiritually, that is, you stand unterrified in God against all attacks of despair, through confidence in the humanity he took upon himself for you.

    But when you come to the Lord’s Supper with this spiritual participation and give thanks unto the Lord for his kindness, for the deliverance of your soul, through which you have been delivered from the destruction of despair, and for the pledge by which you have been made sure of everlasting blessedness, and along with the brethren partake of the bread and wine which are the symbols of the body of Christ, then you eat him sacramentally, in the proper sense of the term, when you do internally what you represent externally, when your heart is refreshed by this faith to which you bear witness by these symbols” (Fidei Expositio — Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries, pp.190-191).

    On the other hand, in favour of the latter understanding, the Reformed confessions say:

    Heidelberg Catechism (1563).

    “Question 76. What is it to eat the crucified body, and drink the shed blood, of Christ?
    Answer. It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal; but moreover also, to be so united more and more to his sacred body by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us, that although He is in heaven, and we on the earth, we are, nevertheless flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones, and live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul.
    Q. 78. Do, then, the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ?
    A. No: but as the water, in baptism, is not changed into the blood of Christ, nor becomes the washing away of sins itself, being only the divine token and assurance thereof; so also, in the Lord’s Supper, the sacred bread does not become the body of Christ itself, though agreeably to the nature and usage of sacraments it is called the body of Christ.
    Q. 79. Why, then, doth Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the New Testament in His blood; and St. Paul, the communion of the body and blood of Christ?
    A. Christ speaks thus not without great cause; namely, not only to teach us thereby, that, like as bread and wine sustain this temporal life, so also His crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls unto life eternal; but much more, by this visible sign and pledge to assure us that we are as really partakers of His true body and blood, through the working of the Holy Ghost, as we receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of Him; and that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own, as if we had ourselves suffered and done all in our own persons.”

    Belgic Confession (1566)

    Article 35: “In the mean time we err not when we say that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body and the proper blood of Christ. But the manner of our partaking of the same is not by the mouth, but by the Spirit through faith.”

    Westminster Confession of Faith (1647).

    Chapter XXIX., section 7: “Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are, to the outward senses.”

    Westminster Larger Catechism (1647).

    “Question 170. How do they that worthily communicate in the Lord’s Supper feed upon the body and blood of Christ therein?
    Answer. As the body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, or under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper; and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal or carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.”

  35. Larry Wilson said,

    November 18, 2013 at 9:19 am

    I apologize for the length of the previous comment. If I were doing it over again, I’d simply cite Belgic Confession 35 and then say “cf. (the others)”. It seems to me that Belgic Confession 35 states most clearly what the other Reformed confessions affirm.

  36. john k said,

    November 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Larry, thank you for your interaction. I appreciate being referred to the confessions.

    The question of whether we comfort ourselves or God comforts us should be set aside. All Reformed parties today agree that there is both human and divine action in the sacraments, and that God has the greater part.

    In my opinion, the more needful discussion concerns what it means to “feed upon the body and blood of Christ.” Is it a mystical participation in the material part of Christ’s human nature? I believe a close reading of the Westminster sections you cite shows that the Westminster divines explain it as receiving and applying to ourselves Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, and all benefits of his death. The “body and blood” is “Christ crucified,” his body GIVEN, and his blood SHED, the historical event, and all the resulting benefits.

    I believe a case can be made that the Belgic Confession does not bind us to the extravagances of Calvin. Article 35 says we eat “him” (Christ), when we “appropriate and receive him by faith in the spirit.” That is what it means to receive “the true body and blood…in our souls.” To eat and drink “the proper and natural body and the proper blood of Christ” is further explained by stating that “this feast is a spiritual table, at which Christ communicates himself with all his benefits to us, and gives us there to enjoy both himself and the merits of his suffering and death.”

    Even the Heidelberg Catechism continually refers us to the death of Christ, not to the material nature of Christ in abstraction, or simply in heaven: (Q 79) “his crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls.” The sacrament gives assurance that we partake of “his true body and blood,” and that “all his sufferings and obedience are… our own.”

  37. Larry Wilson said,

    November 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Thanks, John. Blessings.


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