“I’M GLAD YOU ASKED!” (TWENTY-SEVENTH IN A SERIES)
Pastors Answer Frequently-Asked Questions
Generally speaking, all Christian churches fall into one of three categories: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed/Protestant. Though they share some teachings in common (think: Apostles’ Creed), there is disagreement in others, such as conversion, the natural condition of mankind, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and so forth.
For Luther, there were three questions about the Lord’s Supper that needed to be addressed.
For Luther, there were three questions about the Lord’s Supper that needed to be addressed. The answers needed to come not from church dogma or human reason, but from Scripture alone. These three questions flushed out critical differences among the three groups.
1. What is the Lord’s Supper? Luther answered,
“It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given to us Christians under the bread and wine to eat and to drink, as it was instituted by Christ Himself.” (see Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
How does the Catholic Church answer the question? They say that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ once the priest blesses them.
Most Reformed/Protestant churches answer, “Since Jesus has bodily ascended to heaven, receiving His body and blood in Communion is not possible. Therefore, you receive merely a symbol of His body and blood in a spiritual, but not physical, way.”
Luther did not argue. He simply stuck to Scripture. Does God have the power to give us His body and blood “in, with, and under” the bread and wine? Yes. Does the Bible tell us that we eat bread and drink wine, but receive the body and blood? Yes. Does the bread turn into His body, and the wine into His blood? No, that is not what Scripture says.
2. What purpose does the Lord’s Supper serve? Luther taught that the sacraments are pure Gospel.
“The words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that God gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through the sacrament.”
Reformed/Protestant churches, in general, teach that the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrament, but an ordinance; not Gospel, but Law; not something God does for us, but something we do for God.
The Catholic Church lists the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament, but for them, it is really a sacrifice that the priest offers for the sins of those who commune. That means that the sacrifice Jesus made “once for all,” (Hebrews 10:10) was not really once and for all.
3. How can eating and drinking do such great things? Luther:
“Eating and drinking actually do nothing. It is the words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’ which do this. These words, together with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main part of the sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: forgiveness of sins.”
Most Reformed/Protestant churches would say that the eating and drinking mean nothing because the benefit is symbolic anyway. The Catholic Church would say that the eating and drinking mean everything. The mere fact that you receive the sacrament has value, even apart from faith.
By letting the simple words of Scripture speak, Luther recognized the amazing treasure that God gives us in Holy Communion. To souls weary with sin or struggling with guilt and regrets, Jesus does more than tell us of His forgiveness and love. He lets us taste it personally with our own mouths.
When you see the Communion set on the altar, prepare yourself for an astounding miracle. Penitent sinners are soon to dine in the presence of God Himself (Exodus 24:3-11). He comes, not with the hammer of the Law, but with the pure Gospel of grace.
James Albrecht is pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Okabena, Minnesota.