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Round Table: Communion

Perhaps no facet of Christian theology is more important and more often debated than understandings of Communion. Instituted by the Lord Jesus the night before his death, the practice of communing with fellow Christians using bread and wine (or, in some early Christian communities, cheese and wine) reaches back to the earliest Jesus Movement and continues to form and define Christians today.

In order to demonstrate both the unity and diversity of Christian perspectives on Communion, we have asked our authors to respond to the following question: “What is Communion, and what role does it play in your faith?” There are six perspectives on Communion below, each followed by short responses by the rest of the contributors to this Round Table discussion. We invite you to join the discussion.


Anglican Perspective

Our forefathers ate manna in the desert just as the scripture says, “He gave them bread out of Heaven to eat.”To which Jesus replied, “Yes, but what matters is not that Moses gave you bread from Heaven, but that my Father is giving you the true bread from Heaven. For the bread of God which comes down from Heaven gives life to the world.”This made them say to him, “Lord, please give us this bread, always!”Then Jesus said to them, “I myself am the bread of life. The man who comes to me will never be hungry and the man who believes in me will never again be thirsty.

—John 6:31-35 (PHILLIPS)

Reading John chapter six has always been difficult for me. I find myself reading a first century text with a twentieth century mindset (as that is the century into which my parents and I were born). This means that as I begin to read this uncomfortable text, I try to shoo it away by thinking it must be figurative. Granted, Jesus spoke in metaphors and parables quite often, hiding the truth in obvious stories.

John six, however, is not like that. Jesus radically says, “Unless you do eat the body of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you are not really living at all. The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up when the last day comes. For my body is real food and my blood is real drink. The man who eats my body and drinks my blood shares my life and I share his.” (John 6:53-56, PHILLIPS)

No wonder Jesus’ own disciples call these things “a hard teaching”, wondering who could accept it. I wonder if I can accept it. “My body is real food and my blood is real drink” sounds very literal to me. My inner process of explaining away begins to whirl. Yet I cannot explain away this chapter of John’s gospel. I don’t know Greek and I don’t know Jesus well enough to read the tone to see if there is metaphor that I am missing.

Is it any wonder, then, that I attend an Anglican church? The Eucharist is not something I can explain easily or readily. It is both physical and spiritual. It is real and mysterious. Partly I comprehend; partly I partake of wafer and wine in faith. I know the Eucharist as symbol and as substance. Yes, I must be Anglican in this.

Anglicans, you see, tend to want things both ways in certain situations. In this case, the bread and wine are symbolic reminders of the last supper of Christ and His disciples. However, the bread and the wine are the spiritual food and drink for our inner man. As article XXVIII of the Book of Common Prayer points out: “…insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ…”1 In this first section we have the literal reading of John six. In the final paragraph of the same article, however, we read this: “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.”2 Are you scratching your head at Anglicans yet? The wine and the wafer stay wine and wafer, but spiritually we are feeding on the body and blood of Jesus.

Having been on the altar guild at church for a brief stint, I learned that after the service, any undrunk wine in the communal chalice was dumped directly into the ground. This wine could not be saved, yet as it had been blessed (set apart as holy); we treated it with reverence, not wanting to send it through the sewer, but pouring it directly back into the earth. It was still wine, but somehow it is also more than wine. I appreciate this reverence in the handling of the wine (and bread) that have been blessed.

All of this said, what does the Eucharist really do? Is my life changed by the fact that a wafer melts on my tongue and the wine burns down my throat each Sunday? I believe I am changed. After drinking the wine the chalice bearer says, “Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.” I am thus reminded that the word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek eukharistia, which means “thanksgiving, gratitude.” The root word being kharis, meaning “favour, grace.”3 When God shows us gracious favour, how can our response be anything but gratitude? Thus, the act of kneeling to receive the bread and wine each week feeds my spirit; but it also leads me to giving thanks for God’s grace.

If I begin my weeks with thanksgiving to God for His unspeakable gift, won’t that change the tenor of the week? Am I not more likely to stop and give thanks in all things, not just the good, but the hard, too? Some may argue that it does nothing of the sort, and perhaps it does not for someone who has grown up—or at least, grown stale—as an Anglican. Perhaps for some it is rote, but for one who has begun to celebrate the Eucharist with an Anglican mindset later in their Christian faith, this act sets the stage for the week. I am physically involving my senses in receiving the Life of Christ and in giving thanks in return. It is both physical and spiritual. It is real and mysterious…And I am grateful.

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Jody Byrkett

Senior Editor at Conciliar Post

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Catholic Perspective

The Eucharist is called the “source and summit of the Christian life.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks at length about its institution by Jesus, sacramental significance, and how we believe that the Bread and Wine, by the work of the Holy Spirit, become the Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ. It’s the focal point of Mass, which is celebrated daily all around the world, and is never separated from reading Scripture. It’s too profound a mystery and too deeply seated in Scripture for me to justly summarize here, so I will just speak from my own experience.

Recently, I went to St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne, Indiana and sat in the gorgeous church to pray. The ceiling was incredibly high, well situated around the raised sanctuary where it continued up and allowed rays of light to enter the room. Pews were angled on all sides with various places to pray on the periphery, and it was peaceful. Quiet. Fascinating paintings were along the walls, and inviting statues of the Saints sat beside kneelers and candles in various corners. And in the middle were the podium, chairs, and a tall, wooden tree in the shape of the Cross with a crucified Jesus upon it. But one important thing was missing: the Tabernacle, the locked box, of sorts, that the priest keeps the consecrated host for Mass and veneration (namely the Body of Jesus in full divinity) was missing. It’s always the first thing I look for. The crucifix is just a reminder of Who is really there.

I got up and followed a side door on the right side until I came to a small room with stained glass featuring angels on all sides, light pouring over the Tabernacle, which stood in front of a handful of pews. One young lady was there. I didn’t know what to say, but I was so excited that I had finally found Him that I sat down, taking a few minutes out of my busy day to fall on my knees and just sit with Him. Nothing else. Just sit.

Later, I told Fr. Dan what had happened, being surprised about its location, and he called my search the “Instinct of the Faith.”

I wish I could describe what that’s like to the uninitiated, but it’s not something I fully understand myself. Only God could reveal Himself in such an awesome and mysterious way. While attending non-traditional churches with hour-long sermons, huge choirs, and jubilant worship, I feel excited and even edified by what the preacher says, but it’s always been supplementary to the celebration of the Mass, which isn’t centered around human beings and what they have to say (although some priests have a knack for good homilies). I’m there to encounter Jesus, not just in some spiritual sense, but in a real and material sense, even if I cannot, at that moment, partake in Communion because of some mortal sin.

What is before me is the Living God. When I see the Eucharist, I see the victory of the Cross and its power over death. I see the Manna from Heaven, my daily bread. I see the Tree of Life, once removed from humanity. I see the Passover Lamb, standing as if slain—and so much more. My eyes which gaze upon the plain bread and wine cannot be fooled by what Scripture—and what the First Christians—celebrated as the Last Supper and the anticipation of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. It’s God hiding in plain sight.

Michael Shelton

Author at Conciliar Post

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Lutheran Perspective

When I initially started thinking about what to include in this post, I felt more than a little overwhelmed. The Lord’s Supper is instrumental in shaping what it means to be a Christian, and honestly I can think of only a handful of topics that could possibly be considered more important to our faiths and more defining of our varied denominations. However, last week when I was talking with my father (a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor) in anticipation of this post, he pointed something out me that I believe does an excellent job of really getting to the heart of things.

Even though the fact that Lord’s Supper is so fundamentally important and significant, it is also incredibly straightforward and simple.

What the Eucharist is, what it does, and what role it should play in our lives is laid out very clearly for us in the Bible:

“While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28 NASB)

“While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And he said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:22-24 NASB)

“And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; this do in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:19-20 NASB)

Matthew, Mark, and Luke use slightly different wording, but they are all recording the same message and they are recording it pretty clearly. Jesus tells us “This is My body,” and he tells us “This is My blood.” Therefore, I have no reason to believe anything different. Additionally, Jesus tells us to take His body and His blood and consume them. Therefore, I cannot legitimately justify doing anything different. Lastly, He tells us that we are given His body and His blood for the forgiveness of our sins and as a covenant with Him.

Human reason may not be able to comprehend or understand why or how these things can be true, but if God is able to make Himself man and die for the salvation of the whole world, then why would we question whether or not He could turn bread and wine into His very body and blood?

Communion is the body and blood of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it is given and shed for me and for all believers for the forgiveness of sins, and it sits at the very heart of my faith. There is certainly more that could be said, but honestly, after you have read Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s passages, what more needs to be said?

Nicholai Stuckwisch

Author at Conciliar Post

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Orthodox Perspective

The Eucharist is a Holy Mystery. It is what differentiates Christianity from every other religion, pagan cult, and secular gathering. Within it is contained the mystery of life and the economy of salvation. It is the body and blood of Christ—a partaking of the very sacrifice offered on the cross—which is the medicine of immortality,1 the food of salvation.2 When we commune in remembrance of Christ,3 our remembrance is one of actual participation (anamnesis) in His body and blood and sacrifice on the cross, not mere reminiscence (mneia).4 The carnal man cannot survive without food, neither can the spiritual man live without this Bread of God,5 which is not like common bread and drink.6 While earthly food is transformed into our bodies, resulting in temporary survival, the heavenly food transforms us into Christ’s body.7 In this very real sense, participation in the Eucharist is how we abide in Christ,8 how we become partakers of the divine nature,9 and what constitutes unity among Christians as the body of Christ.10

The Eucharist is, without question, the centerpiece of Christian life. Only recently has Christ’s Eucharistic institution been dethroned from its primary place in Christian worship. Historically, such an act would be akin to voluntary condemnation and spiritual death.11 We have it backwards. The problem with Adam was that he ate; the problem with modern man is that he does not. Christian communities without the Eucharist, regardless of their nature, are merely moral subsets of secular society which have distorted sacred scripture, ignored Paul’s exhortation to stand fast in Holy Tradition,12 and have been taken captive by the traditions of men.13 Christianity without the Eucharist is an implicit rejection of the incarnation, an eviction notice from the physical world to God, and structured on moralism. Christianity, however, is about participation in the life of Christ, not do’s and don’ts or rational assent to dogmatic propositions. His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos asks,

What is the fundamental ‘action of the church’? It is surely the celebration of the Eucharist, the divine liturgy. At the last supper, Christ instructed his apostles not say this, but do this. He gave them an action, not just words.14

We are told that, if you do not eat of the Lord’s body and blood, you have no life in you.15 What does all of this mean for the modern Christian who does not understand the Eucharist in this manner?  I do not know, but God is merciful. What I do know is that I am in much greater need of God’s mercy than anyone else. Ultimately, the Eucharist is a mystery. Just like the Virgin Birth, Incarnation, and the Holy Trinity, it supersedes all human reasoning and rationale. I cannot convince you of anything, but I am entreating you to prayerfully behold the mystery, reflect and read, and perhaps even question what you currently believe about the Eucharist. And finally, to taste and see that the Lord is good.16

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Ben Cabe

Editor-in-Chief at Conciliar Post

BenCabe.com

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Reformed Perspective

Growing up, I always thought it odd that certain types of Christians placed so much emphasis on the Lord’s Supper (silly Catholics). After all, Christianity is fundamentally about Christ dying for my sins and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (right?). However, I was raised with a sense that Communion was a serious matter, a symbol with real significance. My father, during our once-a-month ritual, would always solemnly pray following the meal, mouthing his repentance for past sins and gratefulness for Christ’s sacrifice.

Coming to college, I began to attend a Presbyterian church. Here, the ritual was at the climax of the service, and was eaten each week! It was as if the entire liturgy, worship, and preaching were leading up to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Further, the congregation is urged to worship as they partook, not merely to confess sin and recognize Christ’s atoning sacrifice. From the feel of the ritual, I intuitively understand a celebration of Christ’s victory, a mourning of my own sin, and a nourishment by the grace of God. Now within a congregation that serves the meal each week (!), I wake up on Sunday excited about the emotions, significance, and nourishment that result from the service.

For the rest of this response, I hope to elucidate the theology of the Reformed tradition that undergirds my experience of Communion each week. I by no means consider myself an expert on the disagreements between the traditions (that’s why we do Round Tables, right?), nor do I feel qualified to present any definitive “Reformed” answer to the question. However, in this response I will be presenting the Reformed understanding of the Supper, as well as arguments as to why the Reformed view is correct, utilizing Herman Bavinck (19th century Dutch Reformed theologian) and Michael Horton (21st century Westminster Seminary).

Horton summarizes the Reformed view of Communion as “a meal in which God ratifies his covenant of grace by feeding believers with Christ’s true body and blood in heaven through the power of the Spirit.”1 The purpose of the Supper is, according to Bavinck, “above all a gift of God, not our memorial and confession…It must first of all be regarded as a message and assurance to us of divine grace signifying the mystical union of the believer with Jesus Christ.”2 The benefits that result are “foremost the strengthening of the believer’s communion with Christ,”3 for we share in Christ’s benefits—the forgiveness of sins and “hope of eternal life and of a blessed resurrection on the last day.”4 “Finally, the Lord’s Supper also serves as the confession of our faith before the world and strengthens the communion of believers among themselves. Believers are one in Christ and therefore also one among themselves.”5 Horton, against a Zwinglian view, clarifies the “remembering” that occurs in the sacrament, one that is not mere recollection, but is “participating here and now in certain defining events in the past and also in the future.”6

The primary Reformed critique of Catholics and Lutherans (and Orthodox, it seems) lies in eschatology. Christ has been resurrected by God and is ascended at the right hand of the Father. The church is the people of God who live between the “already” of salvation through faith by the Holy Spirit and a “not yet” Kingdom of God in which Christ will descend and finally reign. Horton interprets John 14-16 in this light, “over and beyond all of the post-resurrection meals that Jesus shared with his disciples, the meal that we now share occurs on this side of the ascension and Pentecost. In the power of the Spirit, we not only recognize Jesus as the Christ; we receive a foretaste of the eschatological feast (the marriage supper of the Lamb). Yet it is not the fully consummated reality. If “Zwinglian” views tend to eclipse our present participation in the eschatological feast, Roman Catholic and Lutheran views exhibit an overrealized eschatology of the Eucharist, resolving the productive tension between the “already” and “not yet” that this covenant meal not only reveals but intensifies.”7 Bavinck summarizes the argument, “[The Lord’s Supper] is a communion with the person of Christ that does not consist in a physical descent of Christ from heaven, nor even in a mixture or transfusion of the flesh of Christ with our souls, but in the elevation of our hearts heavenward, in a union with Christ by the Holy Spirit.”8

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George Aldhizer

Author at Conciliar Post

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Searching Perspective

Before answering our Round Table question, I feel a brief word is in order regarding my status as a “Searching” Perspective. My wife and I are in the midst of a multi-year Church Search, where we have been learning about, visiting, and engaging numerous different churches and denominations in an attempt to determine where we best fit within the People of God. This process has led us to think and consider (and rethink and reconsider) many facets of what we believe and why we have believed it. Accordingly, though my perspective may (in some respects) be similar to those of the other Round Table contributors, I do not (yet) have a specific tradition which I may officially affiliate myself. Yet I wanted to write something for this Round Table, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that those of us at Conciliar Post do not all pretend to have the answers, that we are all still on journey’s of faith, and that some of us are at a stage of change and transition on the journey.

Now, onto speaking about Communion: What is it and how does it impact my faith? For me, Communion is the sacramental participation in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, a visible and real “joining together” with our Lord that, among other things, is a foreshadowing of our eventual union with Him in the new Heaven and new Earth. I think a good explication of this are the three English terms that are often used to describe this Christian meal: Communion, the Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist. The term “Communion” reminds us that through this meal we are in relationship, not only with God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but also with our fellow Christians. And not only the fellow Christians with whom we commune at our individual churches or within our specific denomination, but Christians of all times and places. This is where I often have concerns with “Closed Communion”, where churches only allow members to participate—this is one of the saddest examples of the Church not being united. Through Communion we unite, not only symbolically, but in some deeper sense as well, with the Invisible Church.

Likewise, the “Lord’s Supper” indicates important aspects of the how we should understand this meal. First, we should remember that the Lord Jesus Himself established and commanded the breaking of bread on the night of His betrayal. That is, Communion is not some ritualistic “corruption” of Christianity that the “papists” or “heretics” inappropriately made a central part of the Christian faith. Rather, the Lord’s Supper was given by our Lord to His people as a means of grace, forgiveness of sins, and remembrance of his sacrifice. Second, speaking of the Lord’s Supper should remind us about what the Lord said at the institution of this supper, namely, “Take; this is my body” and “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14.22, 24). While different traditions debate the precise meaning of “is” here, there is something to be said for a childlike faith that takes Jesus at His word rather than trying to play un-contextualized semantic games to make these words sound less paradigm-altering than they are. Additionally, I find unconvincing arguments concerning “symbolic” representation within the First Century context, where this concept presupposed something real and beyond the immediately visible of which a symbol meaningfully partook, not as the ontologically empty, abstract “reminisces” that symbols are often understood as today.

A third term applied to this sacrament is “Eucharist”, which is derived from the Greek εὐχαριστία and means “thanksgiving”, an indication of Christian thankfulness for Christ’s once and for all, time-transcending sacrifice on the cross. Our participation in the Eucharistic meal demonstrates our continual thankfulness for Christ’s grace, and serves as a reminder of our need to love and make sacrifices for others (1 John 4.19). The historic use of this term should also cause us to consider the Church’s historic stance upon the Eucharist, which has been spoken of from the earliest days as the “medicine of immortality”1 and the body and blood of Jesus for the power of those who follow Him.2

Hopefully my digressions into each of these three terms have indicated the manner in which I hope communion impacts my faith, as a communal meal that encourages us to unite with our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as a reminder of the historic reality of Christ and all that pronouncement means, and as a means of grace participating in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus the Anointed. To conclude my thoughts on Communion and its importance, I affirm the words of Irenaeus of Lyons from Against Heresies 5.2.2:

“If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body. There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance, and this the Word of God actually became: it was with his own blood that he redeemed us. As the Apostle says: In him, through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.”

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Jacob Prahlow

Managing Editor at Conciliar Post

Pursuing Veritas

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Zwinglian Perspective

I love remembering Christ, His sacrifice, and His promise to come again. I grew up in a non-denominational church with Baptist leanings, and, in that context, we took the bread and cup in hand at regular intervals–almost always monthly, and at times more often than that. Our communion was open, prayerful and reflective.

However, I confess that sometimes I treated these moments lightly, or as mere ritual, or a matter of “fitting it in before the final hymn,” and in that respect, I often failed to honor Jesus. I have repented of that negligence. I love what Communion means; I love even more the Savior to whom this symbolic ordinance is dedicated, and I want my participation in the sacred meal to bring Him honor.

As a pastor, I often worried that my people were missing the heart of Communion, or going through rote motions without really “considering” the body and blood of the Lord. Our church began addressing this question with more focused observances, and, in some cases, entire events dedicated to them. For example, we set aside the Thursday of Easter week to celebrate the Last Supper–with an elegant evening dinner, confession and prayer around tables, literal breaking of bread loaves, and (as best as we knew how), times of rich, Cross-centered worship, readings and exhortations.

Those moments were rich with love and grace. We were seeking to bring the plain interpretation of the Scriptures to bear in our real world experience. This led us to joyful song, tearful consideration of the Cross, hearty fellowship and humble confession of sin and prayer for each other.

I always look for the Bible’s obvious meaning, unless deeper interpretation is called for based on the literary genre of the biblical passage in question. Thus far on my spiritual journey, my studies into the primary texts regarding the breaking of bread have led me to what some call the “memorialist” position. These texts are Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:17-34, and, possibly, Acts 2:42-47. (Although John 6 could also be referenced here, the passage seems to more plainly address our need for salvation, and does not in my view appear to be a prescription for a “literal” feast on Christ’s body and blood at Last Supper observances).

Jesus commands us to remember Him through this special meal, in the same way the nation of Israel was commanded to remember their salvation through the Passover meal. The meals themselves were not the issue–they were means by which to remember the great rescue God had provided! Christ’s work on the Cross is to be remembered, never repeated. Jesus sacrificed himself for me in real space-time, about 2,000 years ago, a perfect Lamb, once for all. This became the legal basis for my justification before God (Romans 3:20-26).

I praise my resurrected Savior for making this unrighteous soul right, for redeeming what was broken, condemned and lost. In celebration, then, I partake of bread representing His broken body, and a cup symbolizing His shed blood, with a thankful heart. By His wonderful grace, I have been saved. Thank you, Jesus!

Dan Jarvis

Guest Author

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photo courtesy of Timothy J. Ritter

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  • George Aldhizer

    Here’s a fun question, What is the litmus test for allowing someone to take communion from your church? Do we believe the “test” is that one has to be united to Christ (Reformed tradition)? Or does someone have to have a particular theology of the Eucharist (Catholics excluding Protestants for example) in order to be included at the table?

    I guess my question revolves around this. If we believe in the church catholic, that is, that Christians across the spectrum are united to Christ, saved by grace through faith, etc, then why do we exclude some from the table? It seems to me that, if I were Catholic, I would believe that Protestants were receiving the transubstantiated body and blood of Christ, even though they do not believe it. Was curious what y’all think of this.

  • Ben,

    Thanks for your response to my “Searching Perspective”. You are, of course, exactly right that I am trying to be especially attentive to the history of Eucharistic theology. And I understand and respect the Orthodox tradition of closed communion (the marriage imagery is especially enlightening), even confessing that it feels more appropriate for me to be withheld from Orthodox communion because of the (at times) vast cultural divide between East and West. And yet I want to advocate a form of “open communion” that is very much along the lines of what Justin is suggesting in the passage from the Apology that you quoted: those participating in communion need to confessing Christians (as I noted in my response to Nick, I think the Creed is a good place to start for this), baptized, and living as Christ has commanded (which would include, I hasten to emphasize despite my current position, membership in a church). These are not criteria that many people in any given Church on Sunday can affirm, but they are criterion which, applied to inter-Christian fellowship, I think could go a long way in healing the rifts between denominational divides. Obviously there has been faithful development of the practice of communion since the time of the early Church, but I still think taking a relatively simple approach to Justin’s criterion would be a super step toward the unity of the Church. Certainly your point about not shaving the Gospel down to it’s “base minimums” is correct–but I think there is something to be said for the importance of the simplicity of faith.

    As for the Invisible Church, I think I’m taking a position closer to what you note at the end (about those not ‘formally’ Orthodox not going to hell) than anything else. While in Oxford I had the privilege of hearing Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware speak on Augustine, C. S. Lewis, and Hell, and one of the things he said in the Q&A
    time afterwards was the Orthodox affirmation of Lewis’s basic perspective at the end of The Last Battle, that as Aslan allowed a Carlorman enter “heaven” even though he had followed Tash, so also they may be those outside the Church who may be saved. That really resonated with me. And so, as I think about communion, it makes sense for me to try and hold myself to a similar position of intellectual humility, where communion is limited and yet open at the same time.

    I should also note that, as we are on this church search, I’m attempting to be perfectly willing to accept correction of my thinking and theology from the Church that we join. And, thus, is we are led to a church that affirms closed communion, that will either be something I have to deal with or rationalize/explain. Thanks for weighing in and explaining the Orthodox perspective more for me Ben. JJP

  • Jacob

    Dan,

    Thanks for responding to my perspective and (again) for being willing to contribute to this Round Table– I greatly appreciate your willingness to engage in what has been, apart from yourself, a stridently non-memorialist discussion of communion.

    Your point about authoritative premises is spot on: what one presupposes or finds to be a useful source of authority does serve as a foundational aspect of our worldview. I was raised very much on the rhetoric of “sola scriptura”, both during my time in the Lutheran Church and then subsequent journey through a non-denominational-functional-Baptist church. Yet my own study and reflection (now in its doctoral stage) has raised a number of questions regarding the tenability and sufficiency of any “sola” position that is not “sola Christi” (as authority, Savior, and Lord). Indeed, a major part of this Church search (and doctoral work) involves understanding and answering this issue of authority for ourselves. Thank you for highlighting Dan, and for your contribution. JJP

  • Jacob

    Nicholai (and Ben, indirectly),

    Thanks for weighing in on my concern with “Closed Communion”. I should note that, as a long-time member of the LCMS (well, at least long-time relative to my life), I understand where the LCMS, Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, and other denominations who practice closed communion are coming from. Yet my experience at churches around the world has shifted my thinking significantly on this topic–it truly is a wonderful experience to be able to meaningfully fellowship and commune with Christians who affirm (for example) the Nicene Creed, whether they be in a small Scottish country church, a Cathedral in Germany, or a revival meeting in Colorado. For Christ’s body to be one in our present context, I think there needs to be a bit more emphasis on Christian charity and bit less emphasis on Christian individuality– that is, we need to expand our conceptions of “Christian” to be something more like this blog and something less than what I’ve heard in several LCMS churches, that if you don’t attend that particular church, you needed to talk with the pastor before service to make sure you can take the sacrament. That’s not Christian communion in any
    meaningful sense of the word.

    I also want to highlight something you wrote in your response: “What the Eucharist is and what it does is not dependent on those receiving it, but rather on the Word of God that says it is His Body and His Blood, but the act of partaking the meal is an act of confession and a declaration of faith as well as a receiving of the Sacraments and the forgiveness of sins.” We nerds call this ex opere operato (formed out of the “Lapsed”
    controversy of St. Cyprian and Donatist controversy of St. Augustine)– that the efficacious nature of the sacraments does not depend on us, but on God, and that we therefore partake of the sacrament no matter who gives it (even if they were ordained by a lapsed bishop) and no matter the extenuating circumstances.
    Obviously, as you note, we need to approach the table appropriately, with love, reverence, and respect for that whom we are partaking in and those we are communing with.

    The doctrine of “closed communion” really broke down for me while I was attending a Lutheran Church in Southwest Michigan, where the practice of communion was “closed.” Yet in Sunday School discussions about the meaning of communion it was clear that people who belonged to the Church were far from holding the same beliefs about communion. And it’s been the same everywhere else I’ve been able to ask what people actually believe about the Eucharist–everyone’s theology is very different. This being the case, “closed” communion feels far less charitable and Christ-like than it should when other Christians are excluded from the table due to the “title” or “denomination” of their confession.

    That’s just a bit more of my thinking on “closed communion”, and not entirely directed at you Nick– your response just made me think of those concerns. Thanks for weighing in. JJP

  • Jacob

    Michael,

    Thanks for your question about whether or not communion is a public declaration of faith or not. I would say yes, participating in communion is definitely a profession of faith, though what kind of profession is something I’m still wrestling with. At the very least, I think communion is a profession to follow Jesus and belong to His body, to affirm the good news that “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, and Christ will come again” and that He is the Son of God and Savior of the World. How much else that profession includes I’m not sure, but (as I note about my concerns with closed communion, and I’m sure I’ll get to in a comment below in responding to Ben and, I think, Nick) I don’t think we necessarily need to take the profession-aspect of communion to be a profession of the totality of faith, but rather the substance of that faith. Thanks for the question Michael. JJP

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  • Jody, thank you for your question: “could you explain a bit more what you mean by “becoming partakers of the divine nature” via the Eucharist? We are made in the image and likeness of God as humans, doesn’t that mean that we already image the divine? Do we somehow become divine by receiving the bread and wine?”

    We are, indeed, made according to the image and likeness of God—which is Jesus Christ, the archetype. But this is not a static fact—it’s dynamic (just like relationships are not static but are dynamic). We are called to communion with the Holy Trinity—to partake, as created beings, of the divine, uncreated nature.

    When we participate in the Eucharist, we receive Christ. Remember when Moses came down from the mount with a veil over his face? His face shone like the sun because he was with God. Similarly, it has been said that when we participate in the life of Christ (which, from the Orthodox point of view, is fully realized within the Orthodox Church) we are like iron heated by a fire: the iron takes on the properties of the fire but does not, itself, become fire. This is the Orthodox understanding of Theosis.

    When we participate in God, when we get close to God, we are transformed. When we are brought into the life of Christ, we become, by grace, everything that God is by nature. We should not understanding this in terms of the Hinduism, where we are dissolved into God like salt is dissolved in the sea. Our distinct person-hypostasis are not dissolved—we remain ourselves but take on the Divine Nature (this is what the saints achieved!). The person is created eternal, whether we achieve our goal of thesis or not.

    In this sense, those who die without this participation in the life of Christ will not be able to look upon him (just like the Israelites could not look upon the face of Moses)—and in this sense, they will be in hell. (Think the Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis, where heaven was hell for some).

    It is important that we participate in the life of Christ. Certainly participating in the Eucharist does help achieve this process.

  • Nicholai Stuckwisch

    Dan,

    I think before I can really address the meat of your response, I have to ask what your main basis or reasoning for interpreting the Words of Institution metaphorically is. Why can’t we interpret Christ’s “this is my Body” and “this is my Blood” literally? Over the years, I have heard various arguments, but I don’t think I have actually heard anyone articulate the Zwinglian reasoning behind taking a metaphorical interpretation of the Last Supper.

    Sorry everyone for flooding the comments section, but hopefully I addressed some of the concerns and questions with my initial post. Please do continue critiquing and questioning me!

    ~ Nicholai

    • Dan Jarvis

      It is difficult to speak for the so many denominations/concepts at one time (my understanding is that most evangelical Protestant denominations are on the memorialist or Reformed side of this spectrum). A few things that come to mind (but I don’t think will provide an overall answer, but more “here is what is going through their minds”….

      1. There is an honest difference in opinion here on what the plain reading of Scripture leads toward. Jesus held up bread and broke it, then took a cup and shared it. He said, “This is my body…” then he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood…” And in another place, “This is my blood…” In that moment, he did not literally share his blood and body, he was physically standing right there in the midst of the disciples. He did not tell his disciples something mystical was occurring. The idea of shed blood and broken body were literally a metaphor for what was about to happen the next morning. A plain reading, without reference to subsequent centuries of tradition, would seem (in the mind of Zwinglian perspective) to be metaphorical, an object lesson of sorts (just like Passover meal), in a similar category to John 4’s “living water” and Nicodemus’ “born again.” Nicodemus actually considered a literal interpretation of Jesus’s words, and Jesus specifically challenged him as Israel’s teacher, that he should understand such things. (I realize this is not apples-to-apples comparison, but this is part of the thought process.) This is why a Memoralist is not meaning disrespect to the Eucharist, but rather trying to explain that an over-literal understanding of it actually changes the meaning of Jesus’ words.

      2. The Protestant tradition is deeply opposed the uniting of Catholicism and political power in the Middle (Dark) Ages, which we see as an unfortunate consequence of Constantine’s Christianity and associated edicts. We fully expect post 400 AD writings to reflect this increasing politicization of church life, and thus, using things like the Eucharist and excommunication as weapons of state political power. So, some of the “Protest” in Protestantism is to flee from any concept that smells of “church-based authority,” and faith is instead put in the Bible. I realize there is a logical problem here, in that the collection of the Bible itself was a church issue. Protestant theologians have answers to this, which I recall from seminary, but I’ll leave it on the table for another day 🙂

      3. A major doctrinal question Protestants are concerned about when it comes to “Real Presence” is the whole idea of the re-sacrifice of Christ, again and again, when clearly Hebrews 10 instructs us that the sacrifice for sin was once for all, in contrast to the OT system of needing a reoccuring sacrifice in the temple. I recognize this is probably somewhat of a straw-man, but it is definitely on the minds of Memorialists as they reckon with other traditions. For us, the idea that the body and blood of our Savior would or could be re-sacrificed, re-eaten, and in the hands of fallible and many-times-corrupted priests, is both disturbing and, for us, feels far outside the biblical narrative. The Catholic/Orthodox approach, we would see as actually taking focus off of the Cross by zeroing in on the symbols designed to call it to remembrance, and imputing to them the kind of power and vision that actually was accomplished at the Cross, once for all.

      4. We realize that church history is full of examples of people who took the Catholic/Orthodox understanding of Communion. However that same history also has numerous examples of church leaders from those groups burning at the stake any who disagreed with the Church (at least this was true in the West, I’m not as informed on Eastern traditions/history). There are examples in Foxe’s book of martyrs of individuals burned and condemned to hell specifically because they denied the Catholic interpretation of Communion and took a memorialist/related position. (John Frith, William Hunter are two examples). Thus, it comes as no surprise that surviving written documents, sainted figures from history, etc. would align with the Catholic viewpoint, until two major things occurred during the Reformation era: 1) the printing press made the distribution of ideas possible on a wide scale, outside the umbrella of church/state authority and 2) the Bible itself was translated into common tongues, meaning that people were able to read Scriptures for themselves – interpretation was no longer limited to a church hierarchy that used fear of excommunication to keep adherents in line. (If the Eucharist is the primary/central way to participate with Christ, and the Church is the only place I am allowed to receive those elements, that puts the church in an incredibly powerful position in my life, a situation very ripe for abuse and the sinfulness of man to pollute that which is of good intention. Hence, the 95 theses.) New thoughts, new questions, and ultimately, new denominations, were formed (for better and for worse, obviously). This took Western Civilization in an entirely new direction.

      • Responses in order:

        1. Your response here forces us to ask the question, “If two people can read the same passage of scripture and come away with two different interpretations of it, how do we know which interpretation is correct?” There is no reading the Bible without interpretation. Unfortunately, the Authority of Scripture often (in the Evangelical / Protestant realm) gets confused with the “Authority of my interpretation of Scripture.” The Scriptures are certainly authoritative but how do we read the scriptures? Since variances in interpretation exist (which impacts entirely different kinds of Christian practices), how do we know which interpretation is the right interpretation?

        1b. Concerning this statement: “In that moment, he did not literally share his blood and body, he was physically standing right there in the midst of the disciples.” This statement reveals a misunderstanding of what we are talking about here. When we participate in the Divine Liturgy, and the Eucharist, we step outside of what we know as “time” and into the Kingdom of God. This supersedes rational understanding. This being so, how are we suppose to know whether or not the same thing happened at that moment with Jesus and the Disciples? Christianity is mystical—it is a mystical understanding of the world. We believe that there is “more than meets the eye.” If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be Christian.

        1c. Concerning this statement: “He did not tell his disciples something mystical was occurring.” This can easily be flipped back around. He also did not tell them it was “not mystical” or that it was “merely a symbol.” It’s not like Jesus said, “Okay, okay, not literally but symbolically.” What he did say is, “This is my body. This is my blood.” and when he said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (as pointed out earlier and conspicuously not addressed in your comment) he used the Greek, Anamnesis (which has a mystical connotation / invocation) and not the Greek word, Mneia (which means mere recall).

        1d. Both the memorialist / zwinglian and the Orthodox / Catholic hearken back to a tradition in order to interpret the scriptures (and this topic in particular). The difference is that the Zwinglian / Memorialist perspective is only 500 years old and is not in keeping with the way Christians have always (note that I say always) interpreted this: as the body and blood of Christ.

        Which brings us to the second point.

        2. Even if you abjure everything post-Constantine (which, I think, is a poor understanding of history) you still have to deal with 400 years of universal attestation that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. Point 2b on Church authority is interesting to me, since the Zwinglian / Memorialist hearken to their own kind of authority (see 1b), which, under the guise of the “Authority of scripture” hearkens back to the personal opinion of Zwingli (which was also different from the opinion of Luther, who posted the 95 thesis, and even Calvin). The real difference is that Post-Reformation we begin seeing the radical rise of the individual, and individualism. The Protestants grasped on to this and placed the “Authority to Interpret Scripture” in the hands of the individual (quite dangerous—much more dangerous than the “Conciliar approach” of the Church).

        3. Neither Roman Catholics nor Orthodox believe that the Eucharist is a re-sacrificing, so for me, that is a moot point. We participate in, and partake of, that sacrifice which was offered “once and for all.”

        3b. Concerning this statement: “For us, the idea that the body and blood of our Savior would or could be re-sacrificed, re-eaten, and in the hands of fallible and many-times-corrupted priests, is both disturbing and, for us, feels far outside the biblical narrative.” This kind of thinking obliquely hearkens back to a heresy that developed after the persecutions of the Christians by Diocletian in the early 4th century. The heresy is called Donatism. Adherers to donatism believed that the Bread and Wine, when served by corrupt priests (or those who denied Christ during the persecution) did not become the body and blood of Christ (which means, if there was a corrupt priest in a church, no one was actually receiving the Sacrament). Our understanding is that God’s grace and love works through even corrupt persons for his purposes.

        4. As far as I know (Jake correct me if I’m wrong) there is not any record (at least within the first 4 centuries, I do not know about later) of people being burned at the stake for not believing in the Real presents of Christ in the Eucharist. Not only that, early Christians who believed, or developed, heresy were not killed. They were excommunicated. This is true (as far as I know) of people like Marcion, Novatian, Arius, Sabellian, et

        In closing, I would like to note two verse about the Church:

        Matthew 16:18 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

        1 Timothy 3:14-15 “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to your shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

      • Nicholai Stuckwisch

        Dan, thank you for your response. I will get back to you as soon as I can, but I want to make sure I have time to adequately address everything you say.

  • No Methodists! How sad.

    • Care to elaborate the Methodist views on the Eucharist? There is room at the table for you. 🙂

      • Great! How do we make this happen?

        • Drew, we did not have a Methodist contributor for this round table. If you would be interested in contributing in the actual post in the future, please visit our about and contact page. For now, we would love for you to elaborate the Methodist position here int he comment section.

          • Ben took the words right out of my figurative mouth. 😉

  • Nicholai Stuckwisch

    Jacob,

    When you refer to John and Paul, I am guessing that you are specifically referring to John 6 ad 1 Corinthians: 11. Pardon me if A) I am incorrect or B) if this should be obvious enough that I shouldn’t have to clarify, but I’m going to operate (for now) under the assumption that those are the chapters you are indicating in your question.

    With Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 11, my understanding (from my father) is that he is specifically addressing a concern where the Lord’s Supper was being carried out, not as a service or a part of the Church, but within private homes and as part of ordinary meals. Along with this went a division where the wealthier and higher class citizens of the community were partaking in the Lord’s Supper separately from their poorer brothers and sisters in Christ. In order to address this issue and abuse, Paul is admonishing the people of Corinth to understand that the celebration of the Eucharist is a part of the Church, and that is should in fact be an act of communion and unity rather than defined by individuals in their homes and their socioeconomic status within the community. Obviously he too references the Words of Institution and Christ’s declaration that the bread and wine are indeed his Body and Blood, but he references that in a very specific context, and the overall message is that Communion is a part of the Church and its celebration should therefore be a part of the Church life rather than in the private homes of individuals, and that it should involve the community of the Church rather than be used as a tool for segregating the congregational body.

    John 6 doesn’t directly reference the Last Supper, but supports that Communion is Christ’s Body and Blood as much or more thoroughly than the passages that contain the Words of Institution. I think John 6 strongly depicts the Lutheran confession of what Holy Communion actually does and its purpose within the Church. The eating and drinking of Christ’s Body and Blood is actually what gives us life (flashback to the Old Testament, the life is in the blood!), and by consuming the real Body and Blood, we are brought into Christ and the Church. Life, eternal life, is explicitly stated to be found in eating and drinking of the Eucharist.

    Additionally, I feel like this might be a good place to share the Lutheran confessions on the Sacrament of the Altar as described in Luther’s Small Catechism.

    “What is the Sacrament of the Altar?”

    It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.

    “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?”

    These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins,there is also life and salvation.

    “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great hings?”

    Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given ad shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what hey say: “forgiveness of sins.”

    “Who receives this Sacrament worthily?”

    Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” but anyone o does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you require all hearts to believe.

    (All of the above are taken out of the Luther’s Small Catechism contained at the beginning of the Lutheran Service Book published 2006)

    That probably would have been more at home in my original post, but your response made me think of it and I decided it should go in here at some point. Hopefully somewhere above I managed to address what you were looking for, but if not, let me know!

    ~ Nicholai

    • Jacob

      Nicholai, That is indeed what I was looking for (sorry for not being specific), and was very clearly explained, thank you. I think your perspective on 1 Corinthians 11 and John 6 are contextually correct, and (at the same time), I appreciate your willingness to draw useful principles out of both of those situations that are applicable to our wider context. Thanks for sharing your perspective! JJP

  • Nicholai Stuckwisch

    George,

    I can’t claim to know the full depth of Protestant opposition to the Real Presence, but I don’t doubt that for many (if not most) it is more complicated than simply saying “there is no way that bread and wine could be the Body and Blood of God.” I do know that there are those who make that arguments, but I think that sort of derogatory and mocking approach is more in line with the way atheists view Communion rather than how Protestants who reject the Real Presence see things. So, I apologize if I presented an unfair or unjust portrayal of Protestants as a whole. I do think that those arguments that simply disregard the idea that the Lord’s Supper can be the Body and Blood of Christ should be addressed, but I am not trying to imply that it is the only argument out there or that it is even the strongest for that matter.

    As for backing up the Lutheran perspective further, I am not sure I can provide much more in the way of support without knowing what your specific objections (and the objections of the Reformed church as a whole) are. Personally, I think that pointing to the plain reading of the text is a pretty substantial argument, but I understand that the way I presented things was probably not very sophisticated or convincing. So, if you could point out some specific objections to the Lutheran perspective, or provide some additional reasons for why the Reformed argue against the Real Presence, I would probably have a better shot at providing a satisfactory answer. Unfortunately, I can’t promise a swift response at this point, but I would be happy to address any specific concerns you might have at the earliest opportunity.

    ~ Nicholai

  • Nicholai Stuckwisch

    Ben,

    I really appreciate your response to my post. The Old Testament is most certainly an excellent place to draw upon for a discussion of the Lord’s Supper. As my father and pastor frequently says, everything in the Old Testament is pointing towards Christ, and that includes how we receive him in the Lord’s Supper. He is the fulfillment of the sacrificial lamb without blemish consumed at the passover and whose blood protects the people of God. As the Israelites were guarded by the blood of the lamb in Egypt, we are guarded by the Blood of the perfect lamb through Communion.

    Likewise, the mana from heaven that sustains the people of Israel through their years in the dessert points forward to the bread of heaven that is the Body of Christ that sustains us in our lives here on earth.

    These are just two of many examples that we can look at in the Old Testament that point us toward Christ, is sacrifice, and the Lord’s Supper. Thank you for bringing it up and drawing that into the discussion.

    ~ Nicholai

  • Nicholai Stuckwisch

    Michael,

    As a member of Emmaus Lutheran Church, I have a personal appreciation for that passage of Scripture as well. I think it continues to help support the significance of the Lord’s Supper and the role that it plays in our faith as a whole.
    ~ Nicholai

  • Nicholai Stuckwisch

    I don’t know if I’ll be able to address all the responses to my post tonight, but here’s a shot at getting started…

    Jody,

    In response to your question about how the Catholic and Lutheran views are distinct, I can’t claim to be anything close to an expert in Catholic doctrine (I can’t actually claim to be an expert in any doctrine), but my understanding is that there is one particular distinction that sets the two denominations apart. Roman Catholics, as I understand it, assert that when Communion becomes the Body and Blood of Christ it is no longer bread and wine while Lutherans argue that the Lord’s supper is both the Body ad Blood of our Savior and bread and wine at the same time.

    From the Lutheran perspective, we can observe that the wafer and liquid in the chalice that receive maintain all the physical properties of bread and wine even though we confess and truly believe that they are also the true and physical Body and Blood as well. Likewise, when there is an excess of the Blood after the congregation has gone through Communion, what is left will be distributed between the ushers and pastors because we acknowledge the fact that consuming a large amount of the Blood will have the effects of consuming a large amount of alcohol… because there is still alcohol present, and because it is still wine while it is also the Blood.

    I think the best comparison I can make is that we believe and confess that Christ is both God and man at the same time. He is wholly Divine and in no way inferior because of his humanity, but he is also wholly man at the same time and subject to the physical needs for food, drink, and sleep. I can’t say how this works, or provide a scientific explanation, but that’s part of the mystery. We confess that the Blood and Body of Christ are present because that’s what he says, but we confess that the bread and wine are also present with the Body and Blood because that is what we witness and experiences.

    The Catholics however, as far as I know, would say that we are incorrect in this and would insist that the bread and wine are no longer present once they become the Body and Blood. Perhaps Michael or another one of our Catholic contributors could expand upon that further, but I believe that is the case.

    Thank you for the question, and I hope my answer was helpful!
    ~Nicholai

  • George Aldhizer

    Jake, I hope I can find time to read more of what the Reformed tradition believes is “off” when they look at Orthodox/Catholic/Lutheran views. I think I’ve laid out pretty clearly why the tradition does not like Zwinglian views.

    As for right now, the one critique would be that Orthodox/Lutheran/Catholic blur the lines between the “already” and “not yet” of the Kingdom of God. As it stands, Christ has come, bringing forgiveness of sins, rescue to the oppressed, defeat of death, etc. etc. He has also ascended, now our advocate to the Father, etc. etc. We now experience union with Christ (as Jesus says in John 14) through the Helper, the Spirit who convicts of sin, brings us to repentance, spurs us to righteousness, etc etc. Within this “already,” we await the “not yet,” the descent of Christ from Heaven, while we already have spiritual union with Him. This will bring the final defeat of sin and death, where justice, mercy, and righteousness will finally reign.

    What the Reformed say is that the Lord’s Supper will exist both within the “already” and the “not yet.” Within the “already” in which we now live, the Supper is a means of grace by which the Spirit unites us to the body and blood of Christ in heaven. We then receive all the benefits of Christ as I outlined above.

    The Supper of the “already” foreshadows the wedding supper of the Lamb. In this Supper, as the hymn goes, “faith will be sight, prayer will be praise.” Christ’s very body and blood will have descended from Heaven to restore all things, and we certainly will feast with Him! It is the blurring of the distinction of the “already” and “not yet” that the Reformed tradition is so concerned about, for we do not yet have a Christ who has descended to make all things new, but a “down payment,” a Holy Spirit that currently justifies and sanctifies.

    • Jacob

      George, Thanks for responding to my query (and I apologize for not responding in a more timely manner). I think the Reformed perspective draws an important distinction within the “already/not yet” paradigm, though I guess I’m curious about *why* that is the methodological paradigm for thinking through Communion and *why* the application of ‘special presence’ better fits that paradigm than, say, a ‘consubstantianal’ view where there is body/blood and bread/wine. To my mind, at least, that seems to provide a very tangible and symbolic example of the “already” and the “not yet.” Thanks, JJP

  • George Aldhizer

    Nicholai, I don’t want my “non-literal” interpretation of the Supper to mean that I am denying the authority of Scripture. By no means. I also am not appealing to reason or logic to argue my case. I’m not sure I’d be a trinitarian or a resurrection believing Christian if I appealed to reason and logic at every turn. Like I said, I certainly believe Christ could turn the bread and wine into his very body and blood, but I’m not so sure that is the case.

    I’d be interested to hear more of how you perceive my hermeneutic to be dangerous, or a slippery slope. I’m attempting to be faithful to scripture, not to deny things I don’t like whenever I can find a loophole.

    • Nicholai Stuckwisch

      George, I hope my response didn’t come across as an attack or an implication that you undermine the importance of Scripture. I just get concerned when interpretations of Scripture are made on the basis that what is said can’t be a literal explanation for what actually is. Whatever the reasoning behind saying that Communion cannot be/isn’t the body and blood of Christ is, it necessitates that we, as fallen and sinful human beings, make a call to read numerous chapters of Scripture the support each other in a non literal fashion. Whether the argument is that communion being the body and blood of Christ is scientifically impossible, logically impossible, horrendous because it implies we are eating human and divine flesh and blood, or any other objection to the physical divine presence within Communion, it stems from a decision on our part to say “This doesn’t mean what it says it does.”

      I think this is a slippery slope to take for anyone regardless of their denomination, because once we start questioning the interpretation of one Scriptural passage or declaration, room is opened up to question any and all of it. Human reason begins to take the priority in situations where what Scripture says doesn’t mesh with our understanding of how the world works.

      It leads to people saying everything from “seven days actually means seven billion plus years” to “the fact that John is described as the one Jesus loves actually means that Jesus was gay.” I’m not suggesting that you or the Reformed denominations as a whole necessarily adopt either of these standpoints, but the same vein of logic that I typically see used to explain away the real physical presence in Communion is used to strike down literal interpretations of the Bible in other very important ways.

      Again, I’m not trying to imply that you believe yourself or any human being more of an authority than the Bible, but that is the danger that I feel is present typically in this line of thinking. I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why we really shouldn’t believe that Communion is precisely what Jesus tells us it is.

      Hopefully that makes my stance a little clearer, and I hope I am not coming across unfairly aggressively.

  • George Aldhizer

    Jody, thanks for your clarifying questions. 1) I believe the nourishment of the Supper is all of those things you mentioned (spiritual, emotional, mental, physical). That’s the beauty of tasting and seeing the Lord is good. And also, I might add, of the holistic nature of the future resurrection as a restoration of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. 2) I apologize for not being clearer here. Christ has inaugurated his Kingdom in the here and now (“repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!). However, it is not fully realized, for we await Christ’s return when sin and death are ultimately done away with. This is my main critique of the Orthodox/Lutheran/Catholic perspective, for it blurs the already and the not yet. Christ is ascended, and as John 14-16 say, we are united to Christ by the helper, the Holy Spirit, that has come while Christ is away from us bodily.

    (As an aside, I too recognized the stark similarities between Ben and my response)

  • David Brown

    Thanks to all for your contributions. Makes me so thankful for being a Christian and makes me look forward to going to church!

    Somewhere in the discussion I was reminded of how closely tied eschatology is with ecclesiology. As an Orthodox Christian, I believe in a one-storey universe, that the Kingdom of Heaven (and the choices of heaven and hell) is here and now, every moment, and that the Divine Liturgy, with the Eucharist as it’s pinnacle, is the Eschatological Now. I don’t think it is over-realized. If anything, I don’t realize it enough. Lord have mercy!

    May the Holy Spirit move and lead us all!

  • Nicholai Stuckwisch

    Thank you everyone for your thoughtful and well written responses to this Round Table! I look forward to responding to as much of the conversation here as possible, but my responses my be somewhat delayed as I attempt to address the topics discussed here faithfully and adequately while juggling a number of other responsibilities. Rest assured however, I am interested in and eager to respond elaborate further.

  • Jacob

    George, I’m curious about your response to my post, namely that I have “not come out and said, ‘I agree that the Supper is the body and blood of Christ.'” From your perspective, how could I make more clear the fact that I do believe that the Supper is the body and blood of Christ?

    • George Aldhizer

      Sorry Jake. I misread you. I thought “Searching Perspective” meant that you weren’t quite sure where you stood (between various Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox perspectives), and you were (in your response) laying down first principles that you are building off of in your searching. I guess I also thought when you said “There is something to be said for a childlike faith that takes Jesus at his word,” I thought that was a sentence of searching, if you will, not saying that you had settled on that. Sorry, I think reading your response as a “searching perspective” threw me off, as you didn’t line yourself up with a specific tradition.

      • Jacob

        George, my apologies for not being more clear. In using the term “searching” I meant that I don’t affiliate with any particular tradition right now (as everyone else does), not that I don’t have some formulated views on Communion. That is indeed a major concern of our ongoing Church Search, that we figure out the relationship between ‘what’ we believe and what we should believe, where what we think and believe can be developed and (if necessary) corrected.

  • Michael R. Shelton

    I love this quote from JJP: “I don’t want to take some time off from telling my wife that I love her,
    just so it can be more special and I can ‘consider’ what I’m saying
    more fully. Some things are worth doing again and again.”

    • Jacob

      *Shameless upvote for myself*

  • Dan, I am troubled by your use of circular reasoning—particularly in your responses. Concerning your response to Nick’s Article, The Lutheran Perspective, it is worth noting that Church Tradition is a result of how the Disciples’ understood Jesus’ words in John 6 . . . To ask if they would have believed him literally without the tradition is nonsense.

  • Dan concerning your response to my contribution: the hermeneutic you describe is off-base because it assumes that, if we take one thing literally, we must take all things literally. We do not take everything literally. In fact, you ask in one of your responses above (I actually think it was in Nick’s contribution—the Lutheran Perspective) how or when we are suppose to take Jesus literally (since he also says, “I am the gate, I am the door,” etc). This is exactly the starting point for why Christian Tradition (which is lauded in scripture by the way—2 Thessalonians 2:15) is so important. How do you know your interpretation of anything Jesus said is correct?

    As a Pastor, I am sure you are familiar with looking scripture passages up in commentaries to get a better grasp of what the author meant. For us Orthodox, we wonder: why not go back to the original commentaries—the early Christians who sat at the Apostles feet and died for their faith? The same culture, the same context, hearing directly from the apostles . . . It seems like their interpretation would be a better place to start. And the really interesting part is, on this subject in particular, the witness is universal: the Eucharist is a partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Christian history has nothing to offer in support of critique or current understanding of the Eucharist—not until the 16th century.

    It seems to be a theme that you “take issue” with respect to John 6. But it’s not just in John 6 that we find this understanding of the Eucharist. In each of the scripture verses you cited (John 6 being notably absent) we also see a reference to this understanding of the Eucharist. The Greek words even attest to this (in Luke, the Greek word used for remembrance is anamnesis which means more than just “recall” (mneia) but rather calls forth a real participation through remembrance—the word anamnesis differs from what we would commonly understand as remembrance.)

    So how do you reconcile your view with the Historic Church and the witness of Scripture? The way I see it, you can either disregard the the history of Christianity entirely (until the 16th century) or seriously reconsider what you are propounding. After all, the men throughout history who deliver this (Liturgical / Orthodox, et al) understanding of the Eucharist are the same men who elucidated the humanity and deity of Christ, the Trinity, and delivered to us what we now call the Bible—and the same men who kept, and passed on, these sacred Traditions, even unto martyrdom.

  • Dan concerning your response to my contribution: the hermeneutic you describe is off-base because it assumes that, if we take one thing literally, we must take all things literally. We do not take everything literally. In fact, you ask in one of your responses above (I actually think it was in Nick’s contribution—the Lutheran Perspective) how or when we are suppose to take Jesus literally (since he also says, “I am the gate, I am the door,” etc). This is exactly the starting point for why Christian Tradition (which is lauded in scripture by the way—2 Thessalonians 2:15) is so important. How do you know your interpretation of anything Jesus said is correct?

    As a Pastor, I am sure you are familiar with looking scripture passages up in commentaries to get a better grasp of what the author meant. For us Orthodox, we wonder: why not go back to the original commentaries—the early Christians who sat at the Apostles feet and died for their faith? The same culture, the same context, hearing directly from the apostles . . . It seems like their interpretation would be a better place to start. And the really interesting part is, on this subject in particular, the witness is universal: the Eucharist is a partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Christian history has nothing to offer in support of critique or current understanding of the Eucharist—not until the 16th century.

    It seems to be a theme that you “take issue” with respect to John 6. But it’s not just in John 6 that we find this understanding of the Eucharist. In each of the scripture verses you cited (John 6 being notably absent) we also see a reference to this understanding of the Eucharist. The Greek words even attest to this (in Luke, the Greek word used for remembrance is anamnesis which means more than just “recall” (mneia) but rather calls forth a real participation through remembrance—the word anamnesis differs from what we would commonly understand as remembrance.)

    So how do you reconcile your view with the Historic Church and the witness of Scripture? The way I see it, you can either disregard the the history of Christianity entirely (until the 16th century) or seriously reconsider what you are propounding. After all, the men throughout history who deliver this (Liturgical / Orthodox, et al) understanding of the Eucharist are the same men who elucidated the humanity and deity of Christ, the Trinity, and delivered to us what we now call the Bible—and the same men who kept, and passed on, these sacred Traditions, even unto martyrdom.

  • Dan, I am troubled by your use of circular reasoning—particularly in your responses. Concerning your response to Nick’s Article, The Lutheran Perspective, it is worth noting that Church Tradition is a result of how the Disciples’ understood Jesus’ words in John 6 . . . To ask if they would have believed him literally without the tradition is nonsense.