Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper, part 1

I am preparing for a sermon on the Lord's Supper, I found this article, "The Sacraments, part 1" by Sam Storms helpful.  This is a review of the Catholic and Lutheran position and his critique.  Tomorrow I will post the third position.  Sam has an uncanny ability to communicate theological truths in a simple and engaging way.  I know Sam and had him speak at our church prior to his going back into pastoral ministry.

The Roman Catholic Church affirms the doctrine of transubstantiation, according to which the bread and wine are literally transformed or converted into the literal/physical body and blood of Christ. This "miracle" occurs when the priest speaks the words of blessing or consecration: "Hoc est corpus meum" ("This is my body"). Drawing on Aristotelian philosophy, Rome distinguishes between the “substance” of a thing, i.e., its essence, and the “accidents” or external, physical features and appearance. The latter remains as bread and wine while the former is miraculously transformed into another substance.

The Lutheran tradition affirms the doctrine of consubstantiation. Whereas they insist that there is no change in the elements of bread and wine (Luther called transubstantiation “a monk’s dream”), the literal/physical body and blood of Christ do appear "under, with, and in" the elements. The natural elements of bread and wine become united (unio sacramentalis) with the body and blood of Christ by a supernatural work of God. They are not identical but they are inseparable and indistinguishable. Lutheran theologian Francis Pieper put it thus:

“In the Lord’s Supper we therefore receive with our mouth no more and no less than Christ’s body and blood, the body with the bread, and the blood with the wine” (Christian Dogmatics, III:356; emphasis mine).

A few comments are in order concerning both of the preceding views. First, both the Catholic and Lutheran doctrines are based on the ubiquity (omnipresence) of the physical body of the resurrected Christ. Scriptural support for this notion is lacking. Second, in the words of Ronald S. Wallace (quoting Calvin): “The logic of the angels is incontrovertible. ‘He is not here,’ they said. ‘He is risen.’ The assigning of one place is the denial of any other. His body cannot be present in two places at once. When Christ said, Me ye have not always, He spoke of His bodily presence. It is true that He also said, Lo I am with you always, but these latter words refer to His divinity and majesty, and not to His humanity or flesh. With regard to that which was born of a virgin, apprehended by the Jews and nailed to the cross, wrapped in linen clothes, laid in the tomb and manifested in the resurrection, the final word is Me ye have not always. The body of Christ which is the ‘substance’ of the sacrament is in heaven, remains there throughout the sacramental action, and will remain there till the end of the world” (Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, 204). Third, if the words, “This is my body,” are indeed literal, the Lutheran doctrine is incomplete. The latter view would demand something like, “This accompanies my body.” If “this”, the bread, truly “is” the body of Christ, it ceases to be bread. The Roman Catholic view, though false, is at least more consistent on this point. Fourth, what of the statement, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood”? Will the Roman Catholic maintain that the “cup” is transubstantiated into a covenant (whatever that means)? Will the Lutherans say that the new covenant is in, under, and with the cup? It would seem that both Roman Catholics and Lutherans must concede that Jesus employs figurative language, the very thing for which they so harshly criticize others.

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