Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST009/11 The Lord`s Supper


The Lord`s Supper.

The Lord's Supper.

A number of terms were used in the New Testament and in the Apostolic Age to explain the meaning and express the purpose of this ceremony. It was called the Eucharist. This word is only the Greek word for "thanksgiving" and refers to our Lord's giving of thanks at the taking of the cup and the breaking of the bread. 

The service was one of thanksgiving at the remembrance of the Lord's death. It was also called the Communion, Paul, in 1 Cor.10:16, speaks of the cup of blessing as the communion of the blood of Christ, and the broken bread as the communion of the body of Christ.

From the words of the institution in chapter 11 of the same epistle it is also referred to as a memorial feast. "This do in remembrance of Me". It was likewise a remembrance of this coming again, "till He come". The expression, "The Lord's Supper" is self-explanatory, referring to the fact that our Lord instituted it Himself at the time of the last Passover.

Very early in the history of the church two other terms began to be used which later came to be severely misused. One of these is "mystery" or "presence" and referred to the unseen presence of the Lord in the bread and wine. This sacramental presence, while originally innocent in itself, became the basis of the theory of transubstantiation. The other term was "sacrifice".

This was united with "the sacrifice of praise" and though the expressions were sometimes extravagant, they were almost certainly only the devoted utterances of hearts thrilled at the thought of Christ's sacrifice. Later, however, it gradually changed to the idea of the sacrifice of the Mass.

As was mentioned above, the Lord's Supper was instituted by the Lord at the time of the last Passover. In Luke's Gospel the words read as follows, "And He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of Me." Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you." (Luke 22:19,20). 

It seems quite clear that this had become the recognized basis of the Lord's Supper by the time of the writing of First Corinthians, and Paul gives his own doctrinal interpretation of our Lord's action in these words. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 

For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread"(1 Cor.10:16,17). And again, "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you. That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, "Take, eat: this is my body which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me." 

After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, "This cup is the New Testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come" (1 Cor.11:23-26).

Before explaining briefly how this sacrament is administered in different branches of the Church now, it is necessary to give a short account of the various views concerning the nature of the Lord's Supper. 

There are four main ones,

  1. The Roman Catholic.
  2. The Lutheran.
  3. The Zwinglian.
  4. And that of Calvin and most of the Reformed Churches. This difference between the various doctrines arises from the different interpretations placed on the words - "This is my body" and"This is my blood".

1.The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation.

According to the Roman Catholic Church the words quoted above are to be taken absolutely literally. It is held that when our Lord said these words, He actually changed the bread and the wine into His own body and blood. In addition to this the priests since then, through the apostolic succession, have the power likewise to change the bread and the wine into the actual body and blood of our Lord. 

The accidents of the bread and wine are said to remain, which means that both still taste the same as they did before, but in actual fact they have been changed, and the bread has become the body of Christ and the wine, the blood. As the body includes the blood, it is sufficient that the laity receive the bread, whereas the priests have the wine. 

The statement of the doctrine in the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent is as follows -

  • Canon 1. - "In the Eucharist are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ."
  • Canon 2. - "The whole substance of the bread(is converted) into the body", and "the whole substance of the wine into the blood",
  • Canon 3. - "The whole Christ is contained under each species, and under every part of each species, when separated".
  • Canon 5. - "The principal fruit of the most holy Euchurist is the remission of sins".
  • Canon 6. - "In the Eucharist, Christ is to be adored."

(ii) The Lutheran Doctrine of Consubstantiation.

Luther wanted to preserve in an objective way the meaning and the saving significance of the sacrament. He strongly objected to the idea of the actual changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of our Lord, but felt that there must be some objective idea in the elements.

Thus came the idea of consubstantiation. The word means that the substance is with or alongside. His teaching was that, while there was no literal change in the bread and wine, the body and blood of the Lord was present in, with and under the bread and wine. 

Therefore the body and blood of Christ was present in this way for all partakers. Also it was not only so for believers; it was for unbelievers likewise and those partook to their condemnation. The Augsburg Confession states as follows:- "We confess that we think, that in the Lord"s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present, and are truly offered, with those things which are seen, the bread and wine, to those who receive the sacrament." 

While the doctrine no doubt avoided the worst abuses of the Roman Catholic doctrine, it was far too close to it, and by no means free from falsehood. It seems to have been bound up with Luther's Christological teaching concerning the glorified body of Christ, in which he says that it was to be found everywhere. Luther was a child of his age and, while he broke free in connection with the doctrine of justification, he found it difficult to break completely free along other lines.

(iii) The Zwinglian Doctrine.

Zwingli objected to Luther's literal interpretation of the words of institution and went to the opposite extreme. He maintained that the words used by Christ were only meant to be signs of the absent body and blood of the Lord. The Lord's Supper is therefore nothing but a commemorative feast to remind us of the meaning and purpose of the death of our Lord.

It is not quite certain that Zwingli was quite as rationalistic as this or that he held such a view all his life. It is the doctrine usually associated with him, however, and is also the view usually held by the Socinians. It seems to fall short of the full truth.

(iv) The Doctrine of Calvin and the Reformers.

Calvin held that there was a real, though spiritual, feeding on the body and blood of Christ. He says, "The chief point is that our souls are nourished by the flesh and blood of Christ, just as bread and wine preserve and support bodily life. For the analogy of the sign would not hold good unless our souls found their food in Christ, which cannot be, unless Christ really unite with us and although it seems impossible, considering the distance of space, for the flesh of Christ to reach us, so as to be our food, let us remember how far above all our senses the secret power of the Holy Spirit shines, and how foolish it is to measure His vastness by our limits. 

What then our mind comprehends not, let faith conceive, that the Spirit really unites things disjoined in space." (Quoted from 'A Manual of Christian Doctrine' by J.S.Banks p.281/283). 

The Reformed Church generally followed this teaching and it is the general teaching of Evangelical Christians today. The Helvetian Confession reads as follows on this matter "The body of Christ is given, taken and eaten in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner; and the means whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith."

"Exploring Our Christian Faith" (published by the Beacon Hill Press) states the significance of the Lord's Supper in four ways.

  1. It is, first, a visible symbol of Christ's presence;
  2. Secondly, it is a constant reminder that the only source of spiritual sustenance is in Christ;
  3. Thirdly, it is a symbol of unity in the church;
  4. Fourthly it is a symbol of fellowship. The Supper points back to the atoning death of our Lord and on to HisSecond Coming. It is peculiarly the believer's service and evangelicals mostly would hold that only such should be admitted. They would, however,put the onus on the participant. Some would say that true repentance and
    a yearning for faith in Christ alone is sufficient grounds for partaking of the sacrament.

The manner of the Communion Service seems to be discussed fairly thoroughly in the first Epistle to the Corinthians. There does not appear to be any justification for maintaining that only certain ordained men or church officers should administer the sacrament or take the service. It is a fellowship supper which may be conducted in an informal way or under more formal regulations as may seem best to the worshippers under the Guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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