October 21, 2014

Dr. Timothy George on The Baptist View of the Lord’s Supper

tgUPDATE: Dr. George has an article at Christianity Today this week: What Baptists Can Learn From Calvin.

As a student at Southern Seminary in the early 80’s, I was blessed beyond measure to have a young, brilliant and engaging church history professor named Dr. Timothy George. I’ve long admired Dr. George and his teaching on the Reformation ranks as some of the most formative teaching I ever received. His books and talks bear all the marks of a true Christian statesman, scholar and ecumenist. He ranks among the foremost Baptist historians in the world.

Today Dr. George continues to serve as the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham and a senior editor of Christianity Today. He is a participant in the project known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together and also serves on the International Baptist-Catholic Dialogue team.

I recently wrote Dr. George and asked for his comments on this question: “How can Baptists respond to Catholic and Orthodox Christians who challenge our view of the Lord’s Supper as having no deeper historical/Biblical roots than Zwingli?”

Dr. George was kind enough to send along this reply. I’m deeply appreciative of his generosity.

Among many Baptist Christians there is a growing awareness that the Supper of the Lord should have a more prominent (and frequent) place in the life of worship, as it certainly did in the early church. There is also the realization that a more robust doctrine of (what Calvin called) the real spiritual presence of Christ in the Supper is called for by the participationist language of the New Testament itself and is in keeping with the best traditions of Baptist life. No less a figure than Charles Haddon Spurgeon portrayed the Lord’s Supper as nothing less than an encounter with the living Christ himself: “At all times when you come to the communion table, count it to have been no ordinance of grace to you unless you have gone right through the veil into Christ’s own arms, or at least have touched his garment, feeling that the first object, the life and soul of the means of grace, is to touch Jesus Christ himself.”

For most of our history, Baptists have been more concerned with the externals of the Table—grape juice or real wine, who may preside, who may partake—rather than with the question of what actually goes on at this sacred meal. It is well known that Luther and Zwingli differed strongly, and actually broke fellowship with one another, over the meaning of the words of institution, “This is my body.” Historically, Baptists have belonged more to the Reformed (whether Zwinglian or Calvinist) side of that debate, but it is important to realize that all of the mainline reformers reacted against the displacement of the Lord’s Supper as the central focus of Christian worship in medieval Catholicism. They criticized the fact that the Eucharist had become clericalized (the service in Latin and only bread for the laity), commercialized (votive masses used as a fundraising scheme in much of the church), and scholasticized (the dogma of transubstantiation and the view of the mass as a sacrifice).

The reformers harked back to the teaching of the New Testament, the practice of the early church, and especially to the theology of St. Augustine. Augustine argued that in the sacrament the sign must be identified as a sign by a word spoken about it, thus making the sacrament itself a “visible word.” In commenting on John 6:50, Augustine wrote: “ ‘He who eats of this bread will not die.’ But that means the one who eats what belongs to the power of the sacrament, not simply to the visible sacrament; the one who eats inwardly, not merely outwardly; the one who eats the sacrament in the heart not just the one who crushes it with his teeth” (In Ev. Joh. Tract. 26.12). While Luther could speak of the manducatio impiorum, “the eating of the ungodly,” the Reformed tradition picked up Augustine’s distinction and emphasized the cruciality of faith for the proper reception of the beneficium of grace in the Supper. This same theology they found echoed in other pre-reformation figures including Ratramnus, Wycliffe, and Hus. What they rejected, in keeping with Luther, was an understanding of the sacrifice of the mass as an expression of works-righteousness, a theology which seemed to them to undermine the all-sufficiency of Jesus’s once-and-for-all death on the cross—where, as Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer put it, he offered “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.”

Since the sixteenth century, and especially in the liturgical renewal stemming from Vatican II, many of the changes called for by the reformers have been accepted in the practice of the Catholic Church. Yet important, church-dividing differences still remain and I think the Church of Rome is right to resist the kind of easy-going ecumenism that would ignore such differences in order to achieve a false unity. In our discussions with our Catholic brothers and sisters, we Baptists and evangelicals must learn to distinguish the unity we are called to affirm and the divisions we must still sustain. But this we should do in the spirit of Jesus’s high priestly prayer for his disciples in John 17—“that they may be one, Father, as you and I are one so that world may believe.”

Sources:
Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers
Steve Harmon, Towards Baptist Catholicity
Geoffrey Wainwright, Eucharist and Eschatology

Comments

  1. That is an excellent response. I especially love the last paragraph. What he is talking about there is true ecumencialism, not the wishy-washy “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you love Jesus” that so often passes for ecumencialism.

  2. Strong Amen and Hallelujah. Someone who makes perfect sense on this topic. I was going to address the issue this week as well on my blog in regards to church buildings. From the very beginning the church has emphasized the liturgy of the word and the table of the Lord. That theology eventually made it’s way into the design of the great Cathedrals where the liturgy and Eucharist was the focus of attention. Even in our spartan churches up to the late 20th century most sanctuaries reflected this theology with the open Bible resting on the communion table.
    I for one find it to be a tremendous loss to our worship by not lifting up the communion/Eucharist to the high levels Dr. George mentions. We have lost our appreciation for the holy and need to return to a theological statement that reflects the roots of the church. Liturgy and Eucharist.

  3. I agree with Dr. George’s every word here … and love that he quoted Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer — I love the language of the Eucharistic prayers in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer — they are so beautiful and yet so weighty, calling for a true belief and a heart of prayer. Coming from an evangelical background, I find the worhship practiced in the 1928 BCP to be an example of “worshiping in spirit and in truth.”

    Our evangelical church (EV Free) has been practicing weekly communion for over a year now, and the congregation responds to it. I am so glad that we get to “communicate” with Christ in the Lord’s Supper each Sunday morning. Yes, I would prefer wine and wafers to grape juice and matzoh, but it’s about the heart that communes, not the physical characteristics of what we consume.

    I have long held that Jesus is present somehow in Communion — His presence is REAL. Looking to Scripture, I just don’t understand why people who were taking it wrongly would be falling ill and dying over a mere symbol (1 Corinthians 11:27-34). Taking Communion is experiencing the light and life of Christ in a mysterious way that is as REAL as Jesus Christ Himself. I am glad to read that Dr. George also believes that the Lord’s Supper is more than mere symbol — it’s a real experience of our Savior who is present with us.

    Thanks to Michael for asking the questions, and thanks to Dr. George for responding in a way that is respectful, helpful, and ecumenical in the best sense of the word.

  4. Actually, I don’t quite get it.

    Of all the times I have taken communion I could count on less than one hand the sensation of having “gone right through the veil into Christ’s own arms, or at least have touched his garment”. I’ve had a much greater sense of the presence of Christ during times of trouble, or alone in prayer, or when hearing a testimony.

    If He is real in some way different than the way in which we daily abide in Him, and He in us, then what is that difference?

    Don’t get me wrong, I like taking communion with my Christian family, and I think it is important to do so. I just have trouble understanding what Augustine and Calvin mean. What does “real spiritual presence” mean when it is indistinguishable from daily walking in Christ? And if it is no different after all then why try and make it sound like it is?

    • Phil,

      I can only say something about the doctrine of the Real Presence, as I am not very familiar with the Calvinist understanding. According to this doctrine, the bread and the wine ARE the risen Jesus Christ Himself. Period. Someone taking Communion in the Catholic or Orthodox Churches are united with Him in an actual manner. It’s an objective presence of Christ and effective in itself, so it does not depend whether you believe, whether you’re a sinner etc. (This is also why the Eucharist can be desecrated.)

      But you have to cooperate of course in your way of life with the grace you have received. This is what Augustine is talking about here. It’s like taking medicine (actually, the Eucharist has been called the “medicine of immortality” by the Eastern Church Fathers): The medicine (=the Eucharist) is effective in itself, but if you as a sick person run around in the cold instead of keeping to bed (=continue a bad life, do not repent), you’ll not get better but worse.

      When you receive the Lord’s Supper as a Protestant, you don’t receive this objective presence of Christ I have talked about above – but if your heart is open, you still may have a powerful spiritual Communion with Christ. This does not mean that you shall feel anything – the Christian life is not about feelings, but about faith, which lies in the will and the intellect! -, but that you unite yourself inwardly with Christ and lay your life into His hands.

      It may be that this is what Calvin meant with “real spiritual presence” (if not, Reformed friends, please correct me!): Though the bread and wine are not Jesus Christ, you are still united to Christ spiritually through partaking in the Lord’s Supper.

      • “When you receive the Lord’s Supper as a Protestant, you don’t receive this objective presence of Christ I have talked about above”

        Unless your Lutheran ;)

        (Sorry couldn’t resist)

        Seriously, sense of presence is a gift, but lack of such sense does not mean the Lord’s presence is not their for you – where two or three are gathered in my name I am there (even if you don’t feel it), Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the age (even if you don;t always sense it).

        • Right – which was what I was getting at. I wasn’t saying that there wasn’t a presence or even that I didn’t feel a presence. The quote made it sound like communion was to be something more than the “two or three are gathered in my name” presence. But you also seem to be saying that it’s kind of the same thing?

          • Isn’t the important part of that phrase in my Name? If so, then the fullest sense in which that is so is in the liturgy that includes the Supper (which we rightly call the Eucharist, or Thanksgiving) where we know Christ as the mystical body of Christ, sacramentally united to him by faith and not cursed by unbelief in taking it.

      • Thanks Petra, I should have pointed out that I was raised Roman Catholic but am now Protestant, so I do not accept the Catholic sense of communion. I had assumed that Calvin was not talking about it in that sense; but in some actual discernible sense. The quote from him sure sounded like an experiential thing. But reading it again just now, perhaps it’s merely an intellectual exercise that you simply accept that there is a spiritual significance even if it seems no different from a normal sense of Him.

  5. Ran Vosler says:

    So much of this seems moot, and getting the cart before the horse, Augustine included (gasp.)

    Doesn’t it really depend on with whom we are partaking. That we may agree theological on any or all of this is irrelevant compared with sharing a (sacramental) meal with those who live a life of repentance and rest, of quietness and trust. It’s a bit like arguing over proper Christmas morning gift-opening procedures when the assumption has yet to be made as to whether the folks around the tree are really family.

    As so often is the case, questions of “what” and “how” are only answerable with a clear “who.”

    • The question was directed toward baptists, and in my experience with baptist churches they only always serve communion to baptized believers (although not usually in the closed communion sense). Now I sure understand what you are getting at here – at two visits to recent nondenom churches in the area the Lord’s Supper was served to everyone who came forward. But in Baptist contexts this is not usually an issue in my experience.

  6. I rejoice that Baptists are going to the Lord’s table more often. A church I know of has Communion 4 times a year, I do not understand that at all.
    It is not just Baptists who are concerned with fencing the table. Catholics and Lutherans also require membership.
    Is there any guidance to ” distinguish the unity we are called to affirm and the divisions we must still sustain.”? Sounds like a book, or a volume.

  7. Christiane says:

    “and scholasticized (the dogma of transubstantiation and the view of the mass as a sacrifice).:”

    Who were supposed to be the culprits? Clement, Irenaeus, and other assorted Patristic Fathers?
    Didn’t they know some of the Apostles?

    I wonder why they wrote about the Eucharist, if they were taught differently by the Apostles?

    • Either the church is infallible or mistakes were and are made along the way. No middle ground.

      The assumption that whatever is believed the the RC now is what was always taught by the apostles and always passed on accurately by their successors is simply not shared by Protestants. No one needs to be alarmed at that claim. It’s hardly new and hardly shocking.

      • Christiane says:

        That still begs the question, why would the Patristic Fathers write what they did?
        Many were martyrs for what they believed. It still must make people wonder.

      • They were martyrs for transubstantiation?

        It’s question-begging to say either we proceed with the assumption of infallibility or we don’t? Uh…how does that work? I made a simple response. You said they knew the apostles and couldn’t be wrong about transubstantiation. I said they either were infallibility right or they could be wrong.

        I didn’t cook up infallibility for you guys to defend, so I don’t have to defend it. I’ll happily assert that anyone in church history can be wrong…as a possibility. And that’s all I’m saying. It’s a possibility or it’s not.

        • Individual Church Fathers are not infallible in all their opinions, but their consensus on matters of faith and morals is. It’s called Sacred Tradition.

          “They were martyrs for transubstantiation?”

          You may know that transubstantiation is a philosophical concept that arose in the scholastic West for getting human heads a wee bit around a divine Mystery (even though it remains utterly incomprehensible in its depth – and St Thomas Aquinas knew that as well as everyone: read his hymn Adoro te devote). It’s actually the same thing as the concepts of Trinity or Person (in the theological sense), which do not figure in the Bible either, but were crucial in formulating the orthodox teaching on Jesus Christ.

          You may as well say the early martyrs weren’t martyrs for the Trinity, because the pagan Romans had nothing against the Trinity. But a martyr is always a martyr for the whole faith he affirms…

          • Why do u say that the Trinity does not factor in the Bible? Just because the word “trinity” is not used does not mean that the NT is void of trinitarian language.

          • …and just because the Bible doesn’t use the word “transubstantiation” does not mean that the NT is void of the language of transubstantiation. I think you get the essential idea of sacred Tradition, right there.

      • It is not shared by the Orthodox either.

    • “I wonder why they wrote about the Eucharist, if they were taught differently by the Apostles?”

      That question is easily answered, Christine. This website explains it all simply and clearly (link courtesy of Mark Shea):

      http://www.wayoflife.org/files/4074b9fdcb5ca916653014d7bce8cf3b-129.html

      “The fact is that the “early Fathers” were mostly heretics! …Therefore, the “church fathers” are actually the fathers of the Roman Catholic Church. They are the men who laid the foundation of apostasy that produced Romanism and Greek Orthodoxy.”

      So you see, from Ignatius of Antioch to Cyril of Alexandria, they were somewhat, mainly, or all WRONG!!!

      God bless the man; you have to love someone who thinks Leo the Great was “the first Roman Catholic Pope!” And maybe I’m just a big meanie, but I loved that he slammed Calvin as a heretic due to his slavish adherence to St. Augustine:

      “11. He taught that God has pre-ordained some for salvation and others for damnation and that the grace of God is irresistible for the true elect. By his own admission, John Calvin in the 16th century derived his TULIP theology on the “sovereignty of God” from Augustine. Calvin said: “If I were inclined to compile a whole volume from Augustine, I could easily show my readers, that I need no words but his” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, chap. 22).”
      :-)

  8. The charge was that Baptists’ view of the Lord’s Supper has no” deeper historical/Biblical roots than Zwingli” This charge could have been made by atheists, Buddhists, or anyone else. In other words, the question was not what is wrong with Catholic view of the “Lord’s Supper”. In answering the question, however, Dr. George used much of his time not in pointing out how Baptists’ view of the Lord’s Supper is biblical and historically deep; instead, he spent valuable space attacking Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.

    It is rather frustrating to observe that Protestants are almost incapable of expressing straightforwardly what they believe except to contrast those beliefs with Catholic practices.

    • Excuse me Dozie, where does Dr. George attack Catholics and where does Dr. George report the reformers issues with Rome? Since the reformation issues with Rome predate Zwingli and since Luther described himself as following Hus, who predated Zwingli, I’m a bit lost on where Dr. George attacks Catholics.

  9. “Excuse me Dozie, where does Dr. George attack Catholics and where does Dr. George report the reformers issues with Rome?”

    Did you miss this: “…it is important to realize that all of the mainline reformers reacted against the displacement of the Lord’s Supper as the central focus of Christian worship in medieval Catholicism. They criticized the fact that the Eucharist had become clericalized (the service in Latin and only bread for the laity), commercialized (votive masses used as a fundraising scheme in much of the church), and scholasticized (the dogma of transubstantiation and the view of the mass as a sacrifice).”

    How does the above help in addressing the question of the historicity of Baptists’ view of the Lord’s Supper? Could a Baptist show the correctness, biblically speaking, of the Baptist view of the Lord’s Supper without mentioning what Catholics believe?

    You may say that the good doctor was merely recounting history! Perhaps so, but he must have been selective in his account and more importantly, he was not disagreeing with the misguided analysis (by the mainline reformers) he presented.

  10. Well I knew the reformers had to be completely wrong.

    And I knew he recounted the reformer’s issues that existed before Zwingli.

    And I knew that would amount to “Dr. George attacks Rome.”

    And I knew the reformers criticisms would never be sufficient evidence for the conclusion that there was a previous form of the eucharist without the abuses mentioned by the reformers.

    Because there couldn’t be a previous form that was different in any way from the form the Reformers reacted against.

    • Okay, so was there “a previous form of the eucharist without the abuses mentioned by the reformers”?

      Can we get a version of Eucharistic theology that says “This is what we believe/practice and we take it from this (example of what is considered correct belief/practice”? Something more concrete than “Well, in Acts it says they met once a week for a love-feast”?

      I would like to see it if so. I didn’t take Dr. George as attacking Catholicism, but I did slightly go “Here we go again” when I read the usual list of ‘mediaeval abuses’.

      I think we all have a reasonable idea of what the Reformers were against. What I’d like to read is a description of what current reform tradition(s) are *for*.

    • Martha: So let me make sure I understand this.

      1) Protestants who read the New Testament as deviating in any way from the liturgy/theology of the mass are completely wrong…

      2) ….because anyone who suggested that the RC mass shows a development of doctrine from the NT to today is a) wrong (if they are Protestant and denying the church is infallible) or b) right (if they are Catholic, but Cardinal Newman gives them a pass?)

      So Protestants should, by the simple exegesis of the New Testament, come completely to the theology of the mass as it’s practiced today. Any claims that the New Testament itself shows that Rome has developed practices, language, etc that weren’t in the New Testament are immediately wrong.

      • No, I’m not saying that.

        I’m half-agreeing with Dozie: it seems to me (in admittedly limited experience) that a lot (not all, but a lot) of Protestants seem to end up saying “We don’t believe what the Catholics do – add in laundry list here of alleged Catholic beliefs, some true, some misunderstood, and some that are frankly What The Hey?” but not so much “Okay, forget the Papists, this is what we, us, ourselves, in our developed theology and practice believe.”

        That is, there is more emphasis on how Brother Billy-Bob’s First Glorious Assembly of the Eternal Saints in Christ the Victor’s Arms is not the same as the Vatican than exactly what it is that Brother Billy-Bob is preaching.

        Dr. George didn’t fall into that trap, but he did seem to veer towards the “We may not agree with other Protestants, but at least we’re not Catholic!” edge – that is, after saying Baptists had historically leaned towards Zwinglianism, there was the rush to reassurance that at least all the Reformers had been united in being agin’ the govermint (a.k.a. the Catholic Church).

        Personally, I’d like to know more about why the Baptists threw in with Zwingli, why Dr. George thinks Calvin has a better idea, how Calvin and Zwingli agree and how they differ and less about Baptists aren’t Catholics.

        That last bit, I sort of got already :-)

        • This is the bit I mean:

          “Historically, Baptists have belonged more to the Reformed (whether Zwinglian or Calvinist) side of that debate, but it is important to realize that all of the mainline reformers reacted against the displacement of the Lord’s Supper as the central focus of Christian worship in medieval Catholicism.”

          That is, the Reformers may have disagreed amongst themselves as to what exactly the meaning of the Lord’s Supper was, but they were all agreed that whatever it was, it wasn’t what the Catholics were doing.

          Well, duh (and sorry if that comes off snarky or flippant or even malicious). Of course they didn’t agree with the Catholic version – that’s why they called themselves Reformers. However, speaking as an unregenerate Papist, I’d like to know more about what you guys think and believe, especially now as distinct from the 16th century.

          Has the Baptist theology and understanding changed? developed? regressed? What are the areas of agreement and what are the areas of difference between them and other Reformed churches? What is Dr. George’s opinion of Anglicanism, for instance – something I’d love to know?

          Does he think the via media is feasible, or a fudge? Reformed and Catholic, or Protestant, or just kidding themselves?

          • Aaaand – the above was rather ungracious of me, on second thoughts.

            You did phrase the question in terms of response to Catholics and Orthodox, so yes, it makes sense then for him to say “This is our disagreement with these Catholic views”.

            Though he didn’t say anything about the Orthodox, which I’d like to hear; okay, we know the Western arguments, but what about the Eastern? What does Dr. George and/or Baptists think of what the Orthodox believe and do?

  11. “At all times when you come to the communion table, count it to have been no ordinance of grace to you unless you have gone right through the veil into Christ’s own arms, or at least have touched his garment, feeling that the first object, the life and soul of the means of grace, is to touch Jesus Christ himself.”

    The problem I had with churches which practiced communion as an ordinance rather than a sacrament was the apparent motivation: just do it, because that’s what Jesus commanded. I don’t take issue so much anymore with the differing opinions about the how (symbol, real presence, etc.) but with the why. I think that quote from Spurgeon places the focus where it belongs: meeting Jesus at the table. The next step is to realize is that Jesus meets us there with acceptance, encouragement, strength, and forgiveness – rather than judgement. That might encourage churches to approach the table more frequently.

  12. I would like to see a response to Phil M’s post. I don’t quite get it either. I can relate to a memorial and symbolism. But getting my mind and heart around “real presence” escapes me. What does that mean? What does it look like? How does that change me and my approach to the Table?

  13. Dear IM,

    thank you very much for Dr. George’s beautiful and charitable words. I also think it is important that Baptists (and all Protestants) that the Lord’s Supper is a deep and spiritual meeting with Jesus Himself. (Though the Real Presence is not present of course, it may still mean a deep spiritual Communion with Our Lord, I believe.)

    At the same time, I see the same problems with the answer as Dozie. It’s not really an answer to your question, but runs rather along the lines of reappropriating the centrality of the Lord’s Supper for Baptist identity, in keeping with the Reformed tradition about what it means. But it’s not really an answer to Catholic/Orthodox criticism about the historicity of the Baptist (or, for that matter, Reformed) view of the Lord’s Supper.

    Maybe Dr. George can try some time (if he has the leisure) to address some of these criticisms more directly? I am sure it will make worthwhile reading!

    • “…the Real Presence is not present of course”– the Real Absence?

      Memorial view: the Lord’s Supper is a time to think about Jesus, and he is “present” in our memories and thoughts about the cross, and in heaven, and perhaps in conjunction with the Holy Spirit among the church. But not bodily.

      Calvinist view: the body and blood of Jesus are not present in the bread and wine because Jesus can’t be there and be in heaven bodily, too. So Christians with faith experience the “real presence” of Jesus as we are lifted up spiritually into the heavenly realms to commune with Jesus there during the Supper. I’m personally incapable of explaining it any better because I find the position very confusing.

      Real Presence: the Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of Jesus. This is an objective reality because of God’s Word, though without faith we receive the Supper to our judgment and not to our benefit. The benefit of the Supper is the benefit of the Gospel itself: forgiveness, life, salvation, because it is Jesus’ death on the cross delivered to us personally and tangibly in the here and now.

  14. It would very much help, I believe, to keep the conversation on a charitable course if people expressed their views as their (or their church’s) views rather than as absolute fact.

    It is not conducive for Catholic commenters to say, “as a Protestant, you don’t receive this objective presence of Christ” — far better to phrase it along lines of “we believe that …” or “the Catholic Church believes that …”

    But apart from that, I don’t believe this statement is even accurate: according to Catholic teaching, if a Protestant receives the Eucharist consecrated by a Catholic priest (even though he ought not), he would actually receive Christ, otherwise the sacrament looses its objective character. And if the elements were consecrated by a Protestant minister, according to Catholic teaching even a Catholic would not actually receive Christ through and in them, because no valid consecration has taken place and the elements are still merely bread and wine.

    On Dozie’s criticism Dr. George’s recounting of history: except for the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, the other criticisms (clericalization/commercialization) have been pretty much admitted by the Catholic Church, either explicitly, or implicitly by the radical changes in practice brought about by Vatican II.-, and by the much more benign view Catholic theologians take fo the Reformers these days. So I fail to see how mentioning them amounts to an attack on the Catholic Church.

  15. Protestants don’t “just do it,” although if Jesus commands it that is certainly enough reason, even if He didn’t tell us why. But He did tell us why: “do this in remembrance of me.”

  16. ***SIGH***

    This blog has sponsored more posts on the Baptist view of the Lord’s Supper than any single source in evangelicalism. I’m bone-tired of being told I don’t believe in the real presence of Jesus. If your religion amounts to standing in church doors and saying we have more of the real Jesus in here than you do over there because of what’s written on a piece of paper or what some religious leader says, then I hope you get immense satisfaction from that view. Really, I am the first in line to say whatever you have to localize the “real” Jesus is completely fine with me. Have at it.

    But don’t come here and tell me that I have less Jesus that you have, as if Jesus is a package of bacon. Don’t tell me I have less communion with Jesus than you have. Don’t tell me that the reality of Christ in my life is derived from my relationship to your church. Don’t tell me that “real” under your system is more “real” than “real” in my faith. Don’t tell me that I believe in the “real absence.” That’s insulting and offensive, as well as considerably unaware of what my tradition affirms about Christ.

    Believe your thing, be happy about it, and talk about us poor protestants in private.

    Here’s a mind bender. Why not just let me believe that being united to the one “in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” actually gets me across all the important lines? I won’t insist you come to my church and you won’t imply that unless I join yours I’m not in communion with God. Deal?

    There’s more where that came from.

    • I empathize with your frustration, IMonk.

    • Dear IM,

      I certainly did not want to offend you or anyone! I had hoped that the tone of the above post would reflect that. If I have used some expressions that have offended you or anyone, I sincerely apologize.

      I had thought it would be clear from my post that I was writing especially about Protestants who did not believe in the Real Presence (not about Lutherans or Anglicans). Maybe I have not chosen my words to fully reflect my meaning.

      Actually, I thought the point about spiritual Communion was something non-Real-Presence Protestants and Catholics could completely agree upon! At the Lord’s Supper (of a denomination that does not believe in the Real Presence…), every communicant who receives devoutly and with an open heart is united to the Lord spiritually. Really no difference of interpretation there! Isn’t that great? ;-)

      Wolf Paul,
      of course, it’s not who receives, but what he receives. I was just presuming the usual case that one would receive from a minister/priest of one’s own denomination.

    • “don’t come here and tell me that I have less Jesus that you have, as if Jesus is a package of bacon.”

      Oh! I like that!

      Over-emphasizing the presence of body and blood sure seems to have that effect. Someone explained real-presence to my daughter’s confirmation class by emphasizing the presence of the body and the blood, but not Jesus; it sure sounded like Jesus being reduced to a slice of bacon.

      When Jesus said that he is the bread of life, he meant that HE is life. Maybe we’re missing the point in the same way as Jesus’ disciples: “How can we eat his flesh and drink his blood?”; but we’re so clever that we have figured out how!

      In one of the “That the World May Know” videos, Ray Vander Laan described Jesus’ words, “This is my blood; this is my body” in terms of a Jewish custom of how a man proposed marriage to a woman. I have never found the origin of this custom; if it is true, then I think it gets to the heart of communion. It is a love story. When you go to the communion table, you embrace the one who loves you through this mysterious veil of bread and wine. That’s what I want my daughter to hear, that she should long for that opportunity to meet the savior who loves her.

      The other part of this is God using physical elements to embrace us. It is important to ward off gnosticism.

  17. Regarding your “SIGH” Michael. I get the same feeling. I’m so tired of theologians mucking up our faith sometimes. All we end up doing is arguing over fine points of doctrine. There are times when I want to be Catholic. Then there are more times when I’m glad I’m Protestant. I’m simply glad I have the king of kings and lord of lords living in me moment by moment. Drop some of the silly Canons…maybe cannons too, and maybe we can become united in faith.

  18. Christiane says:

    “Let strife amoung us be unknown; let all contention cease;
    be God’s the glory that we seek; be ours His holy peace.

    Let us recall that in our midst dwells Christ, His only Son;as members of His body joined we are in Him made one.

    For love excludes no race or clan that names the Savior’s name;
    his family embraces all whoses Father is the same.”

    Part of an ancient hymn which pre-dates many divisions.
    Michael, many have felt your frustration and have prayed for a ‘better way’
    We understand. Thanks for letting know how you feel.

  19. What a profoundly helpful commentary. If more Baptists (and Baptistic evangelicals) expressed things in this way it would be a tremendous aid to Christian unity in the deepest sense.

  20. auroramike says:

    Sorry Michael,

    I know your offended that catholics and orthodox actually have beliefs that conflict with yours but a package of bacon?

    How does that elevate the discourse?

    • auroramike:

      No, it doesn’t. That was the point.

      When someone tells me that the evangelical/Baptist view of communion is the “absence” of Jesus- even after I post these words from Dr. George urging reformation IN OUR OWN CHURCHES- I’m apparently supposed to sit quietly while certain other Christians make the point of how bereft our worship is of true communion with Jesus. i.e. Elvis has left the building.

      But if I were to take a view of the presence of Jesus that can be weighed, measured, digested and used by the human body, then I’m being crassly literal and caricaturing.

      You are right. It’s a regrettable turn of the conversation- and is regrettable every time someone says or implies that Christ is absent in our worship, etc.

      I’d say that if we were speaking to a panel of real people, no theological training to numb the mind, they would find our discussion of absent but present, or present but absent, or my really present Jesus is more present than your really present Jesus to be completely incomprehensible.

      peace

      ms

      • Christiane says:

        If we consider the first Christians as ‘real people’, how did they start out in their understanding of the Eucharist, and under what circumstances did that understanding change?

        The answers vary, according to our faith traditions, and therein lies the division.

  21. Yep, we Orthodox believe in the objective presence of Christ. We disagree with Roman Catholics and say that their view of transubstantiation is overly defining how Christ is objectively present in the Eucharist.

    Let me put in one point. Yes, we do receive the “food of immortality” when we receive the Body and Blood, but it is also a covenant sign and symbol, which is what a sacrament is. As St. Paul warns, that means that it has two sides. It can either be a blessing or a curse. That refrain is repeated several times by Moses in the Old Testament. “See, I am setting in front of you a blessing and a curse . . .” [from Deutoronomy]

    The Eucharist can either be a blessing and the food of immortality or it can be a curse in which some are sick and some sleep. The same is true with Holy Baptism. It is the sign of new life of dying to self and rising in Christ. Unless, of course, you do not truly mean it, in which case–just like th Lord’s Supper–it becomes spiritual death to you.

    Covenant seals, also called sacraments, are truly effective. They are new life and they are Body and Blood. They are forgiveness. They are the gift of the Holy Spirit. They are healing. But, as Moses warned, they are also the other side. They are both blessing and curse.

    Too many concentrate only on the blessing and conveniently ignore the curse. Yet, both are present in a sacrament, a covenant sign and symbol.

  22. “Yep, we Orthodox believe in the objective presence of Christ. We disagree with Roman Catholics and say that their view of transubstantiation is overly defining how Christ is objectively present in the Eucharist.”

    What are you responding to?

  23. On my comment on transubstantiation, read the end of the second paragraph of the quote from Dr. George, also see the discussion that followed Christiane’s comment. Like the Reformers, we see the Roman Church as have “scholasticized” the Eucharist inappropriately. On the “objective presence,” see Petra’s reply to Phil near the beginning of the comments.

    I was trying to do a very brief two sentences that would point out that the Orthodox view is neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic per se. We agree with the Roman Catholics in that it is really and objectively Body and Blood, and it is effective no matter what. However, it is either effective for blessing or for curse.

    We agree with the Protestant critiques on the use of an “unknown” language by medieval Catholicism and on the way in which transubstantiation was defined as a dogma–and the surrounding arguments on how exactly and when exactly the transubstantiation happens and who exactly effects it. Those were inappropriate definitions of what is essentially a humanly undefinable mystery.

    • I am sorry Father but that sounds a little like you want to have your cake and eat it too.

      You agree with what we say the “object” is however you disagree with having given it a term.

      So in other words the main issue with the Orthodox is that we gave the process of the Mystery a name.

      • Not quite, it was the name that it was given, and the fact that a mystery was defined beyond the capability of humans.

        The doctrine of transubstantiation is based on Aristotelian philosophy (not because I say so, but the Catholic texts also will say that). It basically says that the accidents of bread and wine remain unchanged while the substance of bread and wine is replaced by the substance of Body and Blood. So, it happens to look, taste, and be chemically composed just like bread and wine but it is not because its identity, its substance has now been removed and replaced by the substance of Body and Blood.

        We would argue that committing oneself to a particular human philosophy as the mandatory way to explain what happened is both dangerous and unwise. As it turns out Aristotelianism is no longer widely held, which means that the Roman definition is almost nigh to not being truly understandable.

        We do say that it really is Body and Blood but say that we cannot explain with certainty the process particularly as it is as unexplainable, in its way, as the Incarnation. If you can explain the Incarnation (other than with the four negations of the Council of Chalcedon) then you can explain the Lord’s Supper. I can more easily tell you what the Lord’s Supper is not than I can tell you what it is. Since the Council of Chalcedon I can tell you what the hypostatic union is not more easily than I can tell you what it is.

        • Fr. Ernesto,

          If using the substance-accident distinction is “committing oneself to a particular human philosophy”, then so was using homoousious, and hypostasis, and physis in the first four ecumenical councils. In his 1994 book The Astonishing Hypothesis, Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA, wrote the following: “‘The view of ourselves as ‘persons’ is just as erroneous as the view that the Sun goes around the Earth … this sort of language will disappear in a few hundred years.” And the philosophical acceptance of natures is already on the wane. So, when the philosophical notions of nature and personhood disappear, would you then say that Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon shouldn’t have wedded themselves to those philosophical concepts? Or, does the Church’s infallible determination of such things show us the truth of the philosophy, at least as it applies to the particular theological doctrine in which it is used? If the latter, then this can likewise apply to the objection you raise about transubstantiation. You also said that the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation “overly defines” how Christ is objectively present in the Eucharist. But this claim begs the question, because for Catholics, these ecumenical councils (which you don’t hold to be ecumenical) *are* the standard for how defined a doctrine should be, and in them the Eucharist is defined in terms of transubstantiation. So your objections to transubstantiation ultimately come down to the schism.

          In the peace of Christ,

          – Bryan

  24. On William Willimon’s recent podcast, he noted how many protestant traditions have the sermon as the centerpiece of the worship service, to open our eyes to Christ and his work. He compared this to the disciples on the road to Emmaus: they heard the finest, most comprehensive, gospel-centered, Jesus-shaped preaching ever given covering the entire Old Testament… but it wasn’t until the bread was broken and shared that “their eyes were opened and the recognized” Jesus was in their midst.

  25. “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

    It seems to me that much of the discussion misses the point and purpose of the Lord’s Supper. In the words above from 1 Cor. 11 (isn’t it appropriate to base our arguments from the Word of God?) the focus appears to be a) the new covenant – what is that and why was it necessary? See John Owen on the atonement of Christ for sinners, b) remembering Christ, and c) proclaiming his death.

    Christ promises to meet with His people when they gather in His name and as we gather in His name to celebrate the Supper it is a means of grace to us. But why? Because, as we remember the new covenant in His blood and proclaim His death we are REMEMBERING AND PROCLAIMING THE GLORY OF THE GOSPEL; that I was born in sin, separated from Christ, without God and without hope in the world (Eph. 2) and that although I was dead in my trespasses in sins and completely worthy of condemnation, it pleased God the Father to send His Son into this world to take the form of that which He created in order to identify with them and become the perfect, sinless, spotless all-sufficient sacrifice that could atone for the sins of those elect sheep that He came to perfectly save on the cross. As I consider my own wretchedness (a suitable old word) and Christ’s love to save me in spite of my rebellion, I am overwhelmed at and by His grace and love for me. As I consider this glorious Savior and His glorious Gospel as I take the bread and cup I do experience sweet communion with my Savior and am encouraged to abide in Him in love and obedience (If you love me, keep my commandments). The point of the Supper is to remember Christ and what He has done for me, the repentant and believing sinner.

    • I agree that part of the point of the Lord’s Supper is to remember all that you said. However, our Lord did say a little more on the subject than just what is found in 1 Corinthians. Look at the Gospel of John.

      I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
      The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

      Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

      Now you may choose to argue that it is all symbolic language as has been done since the Protestant Reformation, but, the language here is even more offensive and literal than the language of 1 Corinthians. We know it was offensive because John told us it was and many disciples left. It was offensive because they knew how strong was what he was saying, and these were people who know covenant language inside and out.

      The point of the Lord’s Supper–to change your conclusion–is to receive the food of immortality, as the East says, to eat his body and drink his blood as he said was needed.

  26. “We agree with the Protestant critiques on the use of an “unknown” language by medieval Catholicism and on the way in which transubstantiation was defined as a dogma–and the surrounding arguments on how exactly and when exactly the transubstantiation happens and who exactly effects it. Those were inappropriate definitions of what is essentially a humanly undefinable mystery.”

    Sound completely disgruntled and the reason; I have no idea. I suppose that when Protestants ask you about what you believe about the Eucharist, you just throw your hands up in the air.

  27. GRIN, well sometimes I do feel like just throwing up my arms. However, let me give you a parallel example. In an earlier response to one of the comments on this post, I cited the Incarnation as a parallel example to the Lord’s Supper.

    Can you describe the hypostatic union? Jesus is fully God. Jesus is fully man. The Church Fathers were never able to describe the union. They were only able to say what it was not. The Reformers agreed with the Church Fathers. And, so, to this day the description of Jesus being both God and man is, “We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation. The distinction between natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.” Our entire description of the hypostatic union is four negatives and one positive. The positive is that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

    In the same way, the Lord’s Supper is the presence of the Son of God in an earthly vessel. But, in this case it is not a hypostatic union of divine nature and human nature. Yet, it is, similar in the sense that it is equally hard to describe. And, so, the Orthodox critique of the West is that they tried to describe in “positive” words what is only describable in “negative” words. That is, an Orthodox can tell you that Jesus is both God and man. An Orthodox can tell you that the bread and wine are Body and Blood. And, after that, an Orthodox can only tell you what the hypostatic union is not. An Orthodox can only tell you what the Eucharist is not.

  28. “We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation. The distinction between natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.”

    This is actually more than simply throwing up hands in the air.

    “And, so, the Orthodox critique of the West is that they tried to describe in “positive” words what is only describable in “negative” words.”

    It seems to me that you are not sufficienty critical of the West. Looking at your image, I could not tell if you are Western or Eastern looking like “Roman” (that thing around your neck is called the Roman Collar).

    • It is true that, in one sense, it is more than just throwing our hands in the air. But, negative theology in these areas is our admitting that some things go beyond our capability of explaining them because of our human limitations. In negative theology one states what cannot be true rather than what is true. See http://orthodoxwiki.org/Apophatic_theology

      I would not wish to be so critical of the West that I would deny any health there. After all, there was only One Church for nearly half of Christian history. There are significant amounts of shared theology. The critiques of the East do not try to destroy or utterly repudiate either the Roman Catholic Church or the rest of the West. But, because there are definitively differences in approach and theology between the East and the West, we speak our critiques. They are, however, not all that we do. We also reach out to the poor and needy. We evangelize. We teach new converts. We have youth groups. We train up chanters, etc., etc., etc. Church life is much more than just critiques.

      Finally, I would suggest that you ask Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Church of God in Christ, etc., whether they consider that collar to be a Roman collar. It has become the cultural collar that expresses ordained ministry in many (but not all) parts of the world. And so, as the Orthodox have immigrated to the “New World” they have adopted appropriate “public” clerical gear.

      • “Finally, I would suggest that you ask Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Church of God in Christ, etc., whether they consider that collar to be a Roman collar. It has become the cultural collar that expresses ordained ministry in many (but not all) parts of the world. And so, as the Orthodox have immigrated to the “New World” they have adopted appropriate “public” clerical gear.”

        On one hand, you want to maintain “Orthodox” distinctives while on the other hand, you are happy to blur the line. Just because just about everyone wears what is Catholic clerical garb; it does not destroy the fact that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

        • Well, actually, we are not personally allowed to just choose what our clerical garb will be. That was a decision made by our synod. It was based on the observation that the traditional public–or secular–Orthodox clerical garb, as worn in the Middle East, was counter-productive in this culture. As well, the personal experience of many of the Arab clergy in the first half of the 20th century led to making beards optional rather than mandatory. And, we are allowed some variety.

          However, our “Orthodox distinctives” are not linked to our “public” clerical garb. Nevertheless, if you go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clerical_collar you will read that the so-called “Roman” collar is not particularly “Roman.” You will also notice that the cassock is not just Western, but is also Eastern and that the “Greeks” also used to wear a stiff white collar under the cassock. There are many misconceptions about public clerical garb, particularly in the USA. Remember that the Church was One for 1,000 years, so it ought not to be surprising that many things are the same between Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox.

  29. Dr. George did not directly answer the stated question, which was “How can Baptists respond to Catholic and Orthodox Christians who challenge our view of the Lord’s Supper as having no deeper historical/Biblical roots than Zwingli?” I think our only honest response (as Baptists) would be to confess and agree, that on the whole, we Baptists have a very simplistic and inadequate view of the Lord’s Supper. This certainly does not include every Baptist, to be sure. It should be pointed out that this does not make us non-Christian, or sub-Christian, just frail children of dust along with the Catholic and Orthodox brethren.
    Some in the comment thread have inquired concerning the historical stance of Baptists on this subject. Historically, Baptists have held to a much more rich position. One only has to turn to the Second London Confession of Faith. In Chapter 30, paragraphs 1 and 7, it speaks of the “real” presence of Christ at the table, and of our feeding spiritually on his body and blood.
    Dr. Michael Haykin gave a lecture touching on this at Southern Seminary in February of 2008, which is very helpful and insightful. In it Haykin makes a connection between the rise of Revivalism in America, along with its associated evangelical zeal, and the decline in meaning and frequency of the observance of the Lord’s Table. Haykin’s assessment of the issue is that Baptists in that era considered that the Lord’s Supper didn’t make for very good evangelistic content. He points out that, in his assessment, the alter call replaced the Lord’s Supper as a time of renewal and re-consecration. “Come on down to the front and rededicate your life—for the hundredth time—to Jesus.” This is something we should be doing every Sunday, in response to the preached word, at the Table. Yes, Michael, there is still room for much reform.

  30. An Anglo-Catholic friend recently said something helpful for me, not that it “explains” the Lord’s Supper which (agreeing here with Fr Ernesto) is a Mystery not capable of human explanation.

    He suggested that when we take part in the Eucharist, we step outside of Time and into Eternity. The reference point is the “one perfect Sacrifice” of Calvary; the Lord’s Supper is not a “re-sacrifice”. But it is a moment where we are present at the Cross, it’s a moment where we can say with faces lit by the re-emerging sun, “it is finished”. In that moment, we belong to the reality of the “lamb slain before the foundation of the world”, completely outside of the passage of time and the long slow dying of our planet.

    When Jesus Himself said, “This is my body…this is my blood”, he was in fact alive and well at the time, sharing a meal with his disciples, possibly a Passover meal. The sacrifice had not yet occurred in time his blood was doing what ordinary human blood should do, his body was whole and not yet broken. And yet, he offered his Body and Blood to his disciples, and to us.

    So we share the meal with him, with them, and with the whole Body of Christ at a later date, entering just as they did, into a moment which is outside of Time and united not only in the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection, but with all other celebrations throughout time until Jesus comes again.

    That’s not a very scholarly attempt to explain what happens; it’s more of a way to explain what I feel about it and where some of us are at, in the hope that others may find it helpful too. I wouldn’t worry if we fail to have a “through the veil” experience of resting in Jesus’ arms, though it can happen. But we should receive with active faith all the same, and awareness of community. I like to say Amen as I receive, in the Anglican way, and also to cross myself as a sign that mind and heart, soul and strength have been blessed and can now, in turn, be given “as a living sacrifice” in Christ Jesus for the nourishment of others.

    But however we receive, and whatever the formalities may be, it’s God’s work to draw us into that place of love, forgiveness and new life. What grief it must be to God, when His beloved children fight and wound each other over the very Body and Blood of his Son.