Q: #223. Can you explain the different views on the Lord's Supper (Communion)?
By: Steve Shirley
A: In essence, there are 3 prevailing views: the Symbolic, Consubstantiation, and Transsubstantiation. Let's look at each.
#1. The Symbolic view
(Held by most Evangelicals including Baptists, Presbyterians, Reformed, and many independent churches.)
This view states that the bread and wine presented in Communion are symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus, but in no way turn into His actual body or blood as the Catholic view states below. The elements are to remind us of the atonement Jesus made for our sins on the cross: "it is finished" (Jn 19:30). We are also following Jesus command to take Communion "in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19). (Also see: 1 Cor 11:23-26)
Amongst Evangelicals, this view can historically be broken down into two categories. The first was proposed many years ago by Swiss reformer Ulrich Swingli. He held that the Communion ceremony was purely symbolic and that is all. John Calvin, a contemporary of Swingli, agreed with him that the ceremony should be considered symbolic, however, he added more meaning to it by stating that when we partake of the bread and wine, we receive spiritual nourishment from the Holy Spirit and that helps strengthen and increase our faith. We are actually "communing" (Communion) with the crucified Christ.
#2. Consubstantiation (Held by Lutherans)
This view was proposed by Martin Luther in response to the views of the Catholic Church on Communion. He stated that the bread and wine do not change into the actual body and blood of Jesus as Catholics held, but rather, Christ's body and blood are present "in, with, and under" the elements. He explained this using the analogy that in the same way heat is present in a piece of hot iron, so Christ is present in the elements
(Held primarily by the Catholic Church, and some Orthodox and Anglican religions.)
This view holds that the bread and wine presented at Communion (Catholics call this the Eucharist) becomes the ACTUAL body and blood of Jesus after a priest consecrates them. This view is taken so seriously by the Catholic Church that it was proclaimed at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) that if anyone did not believe that the elements turned into the actual body and blood of Jesus, they were "anathema" (meaning accursed). This is sometimes also called an "unbloody sacrifice," and is said by most Catholics to have both saving merit and the ability to take away sin. It is also believed that through the Eucharist, the benefits of Christ's death on the cross are being given over and over for the payment of each person's sins. In other words, Christ is being sacrificed anew each time. As such, the elements are worshipped by many. The Catholic Catechism also states that the Eucharist can be taken to help those who have died (#1371, #1689), and can actually actually preserve people from sin (#1393, #1395).
In my opinion, the first view that the body and bread are symbolic is correct. My biggest problem is with Transubstantiation. There are several reasons for this.
First off, we need to understand is that Christ cannot be, nor should He ever be, offered up over and over for the payment of sins. The Bible is quite clear that Jesus sacrifice on the cross was a one time offering and payment for sins that never needs to be repeated. Let's look at some verses.
(Heb 10:10-14) By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all. (11) And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: (12) but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; (13) from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. (14) For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
(Heb 7:25-27) Wherefore he (Jesus) is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. (26) For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; (27) who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.
(Heb 9:28) so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many...
Also see: (Heb 9:12)(Rom 6:10)(1 Pet 3:18)
As we said above, this is what Jesus meant when He said on the cross, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). He was saying that His work of atonement to pay for the sins of man was complete. It was paid forever! In addition, the Bible is quite clear that Christ cannot be crucified over and over.
*** Note: Did you ever wonder why Moses wasn't allowed into the Promised Land for striking the Rock when God told him to speak to it in (Num 20:1-12)? It is because Moses had struck the Rock to get water previously, and because the Rock pictured Jesus (1 Cor 10:4), Moses had struck Jesus twice and that cannot be done (Heb 6:6).
We take Communion to remember Christ's sacrifice, but NOT to re-sacrifice Him. In addition, there are several reasons why I don't believe Jesus was saying the bread and wine were His actual body and blood:
1. When He said it, His body and blood had not yet been sacrificed for our sins.
2. He was standing right there before them... How could He have literally given them His body to eat and His blood to drink?
3. It was made quite clear in the Old Testament it was a sin to eat blood (Lev 17:12)(Gen 9:4).
Jesus often used symbolism when referring to Himself. He called Himself: living water (Jn 4:10-15), a good shepherd (Jn 10:11,14), a door (Jn 10:7,9), and a Rock. Is Jesus literally water, a shepherd, a door, or a rock? No... They are symbolic pictures of Him. They represent what He is. The same is true of His body and blood, of which we are to partake. They are symbolic of His body and blood shed for us.
The Lord's Supper is most certainly something that we should not partake of lightly, however. We are told to examine and judge ourselves. If the Lord's Supper is taken in an unworthy manner, it can lead to sickness and even death (1 Cor 11:27-32)!