We’re all familiar with the words instituted by Christ on the evening of the First Lord’s Supper. Paul gives these words in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26,
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Historically, the church has developed different understandings of the meaning of Christ’s words, “This is my body.”
- The Roman Church teaches a view called transubstantiation where the substance (what the thing is in essence) of the bread and wine transform into the physical body and blood of Christ. In Rome’s view the essence of the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ while its accidents or appearances to our senses remain like bread and wine. So, even though it looks, smells, and tastes like bread and wine, it is, according to Rome, in its essence the physical body and blood of Christ, miraculously transformed.
- In his view of the Supper called Consubstantiation, Martin Luther attempted to describe the nature of the bread and wine in concrete metaphysical terms by saying that the fundamental “substance” of the body and blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread and wine, which remain present. In this view, the substance of Christ’s body and blood exist in, with and under the simultaneously-existing substance of regular bread and wine. Thus, the body and blood of Christ are truly received in the Lord’s Supper making it a means of grace for the Christian’s sanctification.
- Most evangelicals hold to a view espoused by Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli which is called the Memorial view. This view denies the bodily presence of the Lord in the Lord’s Supper and seeks to give a figurative interpretation of the words of institution. The Lord’s Super is seen primarily as a commemoration or a heightened remembering, but is virtually an empty memorial. It is not an experience with the body and blood which are in heaven and therefore not a means of grace.
- Most don’t realize that there is at least one other important and widely- embraced view of the Lord’s Supper that just might capture the real intentions of the Savior’s words. This is the view articulated by French Theologian and Swiss Reformer, John Calvin called the Real Presence which is more of an intermediate view between Rome and Luther on one side and the Memorialists on the other. Importantly, Calvin’s view of the Real Presence keeps Christ’s body in heaven at the right hand of God until His glorious return therefore rejecting that there is a transformation of substance or essence of the elements. But he also rejects that all we are doing is remembering a past event using merely empty symbols and figurative language. Calvin’s view insists on the real, though spiritual presence of the Lord in the Supper. The Lord’s Supper is an actual means of grace which is a way or agency that the Lord uses to impart His sanctifying grace to the Believer who in faith enters the Lord’s Supper. The Real Presence teaches that the believer does receive Christ’s body and blood in the Supper as Scripture plainly teaches. This is not a mere figurative or metaphorical receiving, it is a REAL RECEIVING. Only Real Faith can conceive That the Holy Spirit unites Christ’s body and blood with the elements even though they are separated by space.
More on the REAL PRESENCE tomorrow….