Heaven breaks into earth during the Lord’s Supper

The presence of the Lord’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper is real though spiritual and mysterious. This koinonia, communion by intimate participation (Cf.1 Cor. 10:15-17), with the body and blood of Christ  is not a mere object lesson or heightened remembrance about a gift, it is the body and the blood.

When we gather for Lord’s Day worship, we have a mystical experience with our union with Christ. In worship we are ushered into the heavenlies by the Holy Spirit having come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem where innumerable angels gather festively, this is the assembly of all who are enrolled in heaven (Heb 12.22-24). This is not a spatial transportation of our disembodied souls into heaven, but a breaking in of the age to come upon this present age by the Holy Spirit who indwells and maintains our union with Christ in heaven. Already we are mystically united to the body and blood of Christ through faith so our participation in His body and  blood in the supper is an experience of this mystical union.

In the Lord’s Supper, we feast on Christ by the person of the Holy Spirit, partaking of Him not by the mouth, but by the Spirit through faith. But make no mistake, we really are partakers of His true body and blood by the working of the Holy Spirit. Now you might ask, how does this exactly happen? Well, with John Calvin, we will say, “It’s a mystery. We cannot explain it, but we believe it.” Our partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a spiritual connection with the past work of Christ on the cross but also with the present spiritual work of Christ, alive in Glory. So while Christ is not bodily or locally present in the Supper (His Body is only locally in heaven since His Ascension), the entire person of Christ is yet spiritually present and His Body and Blood are enjoyed in true fellowship with Him.

The Lord’s Supper is a life-giving, grace-imputing influence to the believer by the  power of the Holy Spirit which is accessed by the believer’s faith recognizing the Body of the Lord in the elements and accompanied by real cautions against a casual or indifferent attitude (cf. 1 Cor. 11:27-29). While it is quite a mystery something very real, spiritual and efficacious is happening in the grace received in the Supper of an ever closer fellowship with Christ and ever increasing assurance of Salvation.

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3 comments

  1. Martin Cothran

    John,

    Interesting posts.

    It seems to me you are engaging in an equivocation here to get to the doctrine you wish to affirm. When you use the term “real,” you don’t use it in the sense that is in common usage–nor do you use it in any technical sense that I know of (other than maybe in Reformed theology). In any context I know of, “real” means substantive–in the sense “substance” is used in philosophy: to mean the essence or nature of a thing.

    If one is going to use the term “real” in some other sense than “nature” or “essence”–in other words “substance” (in which case you’re back to Transubstantiation), then it seems to me there ought to be some clear definition provided. As it is, it seems to me that you are simply using the good vibe provided by the term “real” without its actual substance. You are, in fact, using the outer shell of the term to smuggle in a non realistic view here.

    The doctrine of Transubstantiation is the doctrine that the bread and the wine retain their accidents (the nine Aristotelian Categories out of ten that you can change in a thing without changing what a thing is) while changing in substance (the one of the Ten Aristotelian Categories what you can’t change without changing what the thing is). You have kept the accidents of the term “real,” but changed its essence.

    You have, in fact, performed a linguistic transubstantiation of the term “real” in your argument in order to deny the metaphysical transubstantiation in the Eucharist. You get points for cleverness, but while it works rhetorically, it doesn’t work philosophically–or theologically.

    In the Calvinist view as you have explained it, the only aspect of the Eucharist that is “real” is the effect it has on the subjective individual (a belief typical of Protestantism), but as to the bread and wine itself, there is no “Real Presence.”

    And using the term “Real Presence” for the Calvinistic view which denies the reality of Christ in the bread and wine further complicates the issue. It is the Catholics who refer to their view as the “Real Presence,” whereas I know no Calvinists who use this term (other than you).

    While your account of Calvin’s view suggests that it is something different from a representational view, Calvin clearly believes in a representational, not a real view of the Eucharist, and he says it over and over again in his Institutes:

    It would not be of much importance to us that the body and blood of the Lord are now distributed, had they not once been set forth for our redemption and salvation. Wherefore they are represented under bread and wine, that we may learn that they are not only ours but intended to nourish our spiritual life; that is, as we formerly observed, by the corporeal things which are produced in the sacrament, we are by a kind of analogy conducted to spiritual things.

    Thus when bread is given as a symbolof the body of Christ, we must immediately think of this similitude. As bread nourishes, sustains, and protects our bodily life, so the body of Christ is the only food to invigorate and keep alive the soul. When we behold wine set forth as a symbol of blood, we must think that such use as wine serves to the body, the same is spiritually bestowed by the blood of Christ; and the use is to foster, refresh, strengthen, and exhilarate. For if we duly consider what profit we have gained by the breaking of his sacred body and the shedding of his blood, we shall clearly perceive that these properties of bread and wine, agreeably to this analogy, most appropriately represent it when they are communicated to us.

    … I hold then, (as has always been received in the Church, and is still taught by those who feel aright,) that the sacred mystery of the Supper consists of two things – the corporeal signs, which, presented to the eye, represent invisible things in a manner adapted to our weak capacity, and the spiritual truth, which is at once figured and exhibited by the signs.

    … I say then, that in the mystery of the Supper, by the symbols of bread and wine, Christ, his body and his blood, are truly exhibited to us, that in them he fulfilled all obedience, in order to procure righteousness for us, first, that we might become one body with him; and, secondly, that being made partakers of his substance, we might feel the result of this fact in the participation of all his blessings.(Institutes, Bk IV, ch. 17, no. 3)

    [Emphasis added]

    I don’t know how Calvin could make it clearer. Likewise, he explicitly rejects any real view of the sacrament:

    … we are not to dream of such a presence of Christ in the sacrament as the artifices of the Romish court have imagined, as if the body of Christ, locally present, were to be taken into the hand, and chewed by the teeth, and swallowed by the throat.

    … As we cannot at all doubt that it is bounded according to the invariable rule in the human body, and is contained in heaven, where it was once received, and will remain till it return to judgement, so we deem it altogether unlawful to bring it back under these corruptible elements, or to imagine it everywhere present.

    [Emphasis added]

    You are fairly clear in this latter point, but less so on the former point. The only thing the term “real” could sensibly mean in your explanation of the Calvinistic doctrine (and the only application it seems to have to Calvin) is what happens to us, not what happens to the bread and wine. They are merely symbolic, representative, analogous.

    There are only four possible views you can have on the Eucharist:

    1. That both the elements are transformed (the Catholic and Lutheran view)
    2. That only the recipient is really transformed but not the elements (The Calvinist view)
    3. That only the elements are really transformed, but not the recipient (no one holds this view)
    4. That neither the elements or the recipient is transformed (Zwingli’s Anabaptist view).

    There are no others.

    In terms of the bread and wine, Calvin’s view is indistinguishable from Zwingli’s. The only difference between the two is its effect on the partaker: Calvin says it has a real effect and to Zwingli it’s just a memorial.

    The Calvinist Protestant affirms the “Real Presence” only in the subjective individual, not in the bread and wine. The Catholic affirms both–in accordance with the Scriptures. When Christ inaugurates the sacrament, he is referring to the elements, not the subjective individual: “This (referring to the bread, not the subjective individual) is my body” and “This (referring to the wine) is my blood.”

    If the bread and the wine only “represent” or are “analogous” to flesh and blood, then there is no mystery.

    To say that the bread is “my body” only spiritually is to say that it is not “my body.” It is either His body or not His body, but to say it is His body, but not bodily His body makes no sense whatsoever.

  2. Martin Cothran

    Oh, and check out John 6 and ask yourself the question why did many among his disciples leave when he told them that they had to “eat of his flesh” and “drink of his blood”.

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