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The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus Christ before His death on the cross. It is a Christian practice that has been observed for a long time. The history of this practice dates back to the Old Testament days, during the Passover.
The Lord’s Supper is one of the Christian doctrines that have been marred by a lot of controversy. Since it is a major ordinance in the Christian practices, it has attracted a lot of attention from various Christian scholars and denominations.
Consequently, various views have been developed to address the controversy surrounding the Lord’s Supper. There are three views of the Lord’s Supper held by different groups of Christians.
They are the Symbolic, Consubstantiation, and Transubstantiation. This paper shall discuss these views of the Lord’s Supper.
The paper shall also outline a brief synopsis on the history of this doctrine and also the application of this doctrine for the church today.
A brief synopsis on the history or development of this doctrine
In 1529, there was a meeting between n 1529, Martin Luther, and Huldrych Zwingli. The two met in Marburg to try and reconcile the differences that existed in the various views of the Lord’s Supper. Although the two reached an agreement on various issues, it was hard to agree on the true meaning and nature of the Eucharist6.
Although the two disagreed on some of the issues regarding the Holy Communion, they were in agreement that the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation was not correct. Luther was ready to believe partly in the Roman Catholic view but Zwingli held a different view.
Although Luther believed in the presence of Christ during the Lord’s, he differed with the Catholic view that the Lord’s Supper was a sacrifice.
He also disagreed with the belief that the elements used during the Lord’s Supper were changed to become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ at the point that the priest consecrated them in prayer.
He actually condemned the Catholics for holding such a wrong belief when the Bible was very clear about the Lord’s Supper. On the other hand, Zwingli did not see the need to believe that the real presence of Jesus was there during the Lord’s Supper.
His belief was that it was an ordinance and not a sacrament. This means that the Lord’s Supper is something that was ordained by Jesus himself for the purpose of commemorating His death and resurrection.
The Roman Catholics responded to the reformers’ view during the Council of Trent. They pronounced a curse upon all those who did not believe that the Eucharist is a sacrament and is also necessary for the salvation of an individual.
The Catholics believed that once the priest prays for the bread and the wine, they become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ8. Therefore, they viewed the Eucharist as a sacrifice.
The Lutherans refuted the fact that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice but agreed with the notion that Christ was indeed present during the Holy Communion. Due to the differences in the views held by Luther, Zwingli and the Roman Catholics, the three views of the Lord’s Supper emerged.
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Application of the doctrine for the church today
There has been no single universally acceptable view of the Lord’s Supper in the history of the church. There is still no single doctrine that is unanimously held by all Christians globally. Different churches have settled this issue differently, with each one adopting the view that favors them.
The Lord’s Supper and baptism are some of the ordinances observed by the church. It is a doctrine that has a lot of controversy around it. Therefore, it is not right for one to consider the doctrinal issues surrounding this ordinance as something minor.
The history of the Lord’s Supper dates back to the Bible’s Old Testament days. It was started during the Passover7. During the Passover, the Israelites commemorated how God delivered them from bondage in Egypt.
They were supposed to kill a lamb and smear its blood on the doorpost so that the angel of death would pass over their houses as he destroyed the Egyptians firstborns.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is referred to as the Lamb of God. Therefore, He is the Passover lamb. The death of Jesus Christ took place during the Passover signifying that he was indeed the Passover lamb4. The blood He shed guarantees those who are saved that they will escape the wrath of God.
Christians remember this when they observe the Eucharist. The blood of Jesus is very important in a believer’s life since it is the one that establishes and seals the new covenant.
The Lord’s Supper constantly reminds the believers of this New Covenant. The bread and the wine used during the Lord’s Supper signify how the body of Jesus would be broken and his ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind.
The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is important because it was instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Despite the numerous controversies surrounding this doctrine, the Bible has clear guidelines on what is right and what is not applicable to this doctrine.
The memorial view
The symbolic view is held mostly by the evangelicals. The view suggests that the blood and the body of Jesus Christ are symbolized by the elements present during the Lord’s Supper.
The view refutes the common misconception by some Christians that these elements turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. The symbolic view suggests that these elements are a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
This view is further broken down into two. The first view was proposed by Ulrich Zwingli, who was a Swiss reformer. His belief was that the Holy Communion was purely something symbolic.
The second view was held by John Calvin. He was one of the people who believed in Zwingli’s view but had additional meaning on this belief1. He stated that apart from the elements being symbolic, they were also a source of spiritual nourishment to the partakers.
They also helped to strengthen the partakers’ faith through the working of the Holy Spirit who is present during the communion. He viewed the Lord’s Supper as an actual communion with Jesus Christ.
This view insists that the presence of Jesus Christ is not found in the elements. The Lord’s Supper is merely a remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Those who take part commemorate the death of Jesus and the benefits of salvation and remission of one’s sins that one gets after they put their faith in Jesus.
The Lord’s Supper is partaken in obedience to Jesus Christ’s command to His disciples that they should partake of it in his remembrance as they await His second coming. This view, however, has been criticized since it does not recognize the presence of Jesus Christ during the Holy Communion.
Zwingli viewed the position held by some Christians that the lord’s supper entails the actual eating of the body of Christ and drinking his blood as absurd. He viewed the Lord’s Supper as food of the soul as well as an ordinance instituted by the Christ himself as a memorial of what he was to go through during the crucifixion.
Consubstantiation view of the Lord’s Supper was proposed by Martin Luther. He did this to respond to the views held by the Catholic Church concerning the Lord’s Supper.
Luther argued that the bread and the wine used as elements during the Lord’s Supper are not transformed to become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ3. This is contrary to the beliefs held by the Catholics. Luther argues that the bread and the wine merely represent the body and the blood of Jesus.
He illustrated this using a piece of hot iron. He said that Christ in merely present in the Lord’s Supper the same way heat is present in the piece of hot metal.
The consubstantiation view suggests that Christ is found in the elements used during the Eucharist. The problem with this view is that the assertion of Christ being physically present during the Lord’s Supper suggests that it is possible for the body of Christ to be in several places at a go.
This brings about confusion between the human and the divine nature of Jesus Christ.
Luther also believed that when an individual partook of the Lord’s Supper, they received the benefits regardless of whether they had faith or not. This view was strongly refuted because of suggesting that Christ is present during the Holy Communion.
This alluded to the fact that it was possible for Christ in his human form to be present in many place at the same time. It is a view that fails to recognize that the presence of Christ in his human nature could only be in one place at a time. Further, this was seen as something that undermined the divine nature of Jesus Christ.
Some of the Christian groups that hold this view include the catholic church, orthodox and the Anglicans. Those who hold this view believe that the elements used for the Lord’s supper (bread and wine) are transformed into the actual body and blood after the priest prays for them.
The Catholics are ardent believers of this view. This view is very important to the Catholics to an extent that the Council of Trent discussed the repercussions that would befall those who did not believe in this view.
The council declared that those who did not believe that the elements used in the Lord’s Supper turned into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ after they were consecrated by the priest were accursed. The Catholics who believe in transubstantiation refer to the Lord’s Supper as an ‘’unbloody sacrifice’’ 2.
This is because the Catholics believe that it has the capacity to take away the sins of a person. They also believe that it has the saving merit. Moreover, they believe that Jesus Christ is sacrificed over and over again every time the Eucharist is taken.
Because of such strong beliefs about the Eucharist, most of them end up worshipping it. In addition, the Catechism that is used by the Catholics states that the Eucharist has the ability to help those who have died and can be taken to help people stay away from sin.
There are many times that Jesus Christ used symbolic words when referring to himself. For instance, He called Himself the Living water, the good shepherd, the door and the way. These are all symbolic and do not literally mean that Jesus is all those things He used symbolically.
The same case applies to his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. They are used symbolically to represent His body and blood that were sacrificed for the remission of the sins of mankind. The problem with the doctrine of transubstantiation is the fact that it denies the biblical view of the Lord’s Supper.
The Roman Catholics often insist that we should take the words of Jesus Christ literally. However, this is not right since Christ used several terms figuratively while talking about himself4.
The transubstantiation view is seen by its critics as a denial of the doctrine that Jesus Christ taught in the bible.
Firstly, Jesus was fully God and fully man. One should not view these two natures as if they are not in agreement. Transubstantiation strips Jesus of His godly nature and makes Him appear as a mere human being.
This is depicted when the view suggests that his human body, represented by the elements in the Lord’s Supper, can be found all over the world at the same time during the Lord’s Supper.
The issue of the Lord’s Supper has been the center of controversy among various Christian denominations. The three most dominant views of this doctrine are the Symbolic, Consubstantiation, and Transubstantiation.
Each of these views arose because of the differences in the doctrines that the founders of these views held concerning the Lord’s Supper. It has been very hard for all the Christians to come to an agreement concerning the correct doctrine concerning the Lord’s Supper.
However, there is a view that is the most dominant among the three. The view held by most Christians is that the Lord’s Supper is symbolic. Most of them have a big problem with the transubstantiation view.
First, it is important for those who hold this view to understand that Christ was offered once and for all for the remission of our sins. Therefore, He cannot be offered over and over again every time there is the Lord’s Supper5.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the cross was a one-time event that does not need to be repeated many times for one to be forgiven their sins.
The Holy Communion is taken to commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross but not to sacrifice Him again as transubstantiation view suggests.
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McGrath, Alister. Historical Theology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998, 2000. p197
Phillips, Richard. What is the Lord’s Supper? Phillipsburgburgh: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2005.
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6 Alister McGrath. Historical Theology. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998, 2000), 197.
8 Thomas Watson. The Lord’s Supper. (Edinburgh: The banner of truth trust, 2004), 42.
7 Richard Phillips. What is the Lord’s Supper? (Phillipsburgburgh: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2005), 99.
4 Andrew Gray. The works of Andrew Gray. (Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria publications, 1992), 200.
1 John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian religion. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), 78.
3 Walter Elwell. Evangelical Dictionary of theology. (Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 114.
2 John Dagg. Manual of Theology, second part: A Treatise on Church Order (Harrisonburg: Gano Books, 1990), 100.
4 Andrew Gray. The works of Andrew Gray. (Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria publications, 1992), 250.
5 Charles, Hodge. Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 57.