The Doctrine of the Church (part 8)

September 20, 2009     Time: 00:20:26

Let's go ahead and go to our lesson today. We were looking at the doctrine of the Lord's Supper. Last time we looked at the first theological interpretation on my list of different ways of interpreting the Lord's Supper, which was the Catholic view of transubstantiation. As someone rightly noted last week, I did not offer, in fact, any critique of this view other than by my intonation and my wording which probably made it obvious that I, myself, do not accept this. But nevertheless I tried to lay it out fairly and accurately in terms of what the doctrine is.

We want to continue to look at the other interpretations without, again, offering critique. Then we finally will get to a point where we offer some evaluation. I do want to make one correction, though, in response to a question last week. I said that I did not think that Ignatius referred to the blood and flesh of Christ. In fact, he does. This is from his Epistle to the Philadelphians, chapter 3. Ignatius says,

Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to show forth the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants . . .

So he does, in the context of the Eucharist at least, refer to the flesh and the blood of Christ, though it is a question of what that means. Does he mean this metaphorically? Does he mean this literally? There is no mention of transubstantiation. But in any case I did want to correct what I said about that.

START DISCUSSION

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes. That is from the Letter to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 7. Since you read that, I won't read that again. But there again, against the Docetists and Gnostics, it is important to understand the context there. He was writing against people who denied the incarnation. They denied, not just that in the Eucharist you take the flesh of Christ, they denied that Christ had a physical body or really became incarnate at all. The Gnostics and the Docetists thought of God as pure spirit and the realm of material was evil and fallen and therefore they denied that there could be a real incarnation. John already in the New Testament in his epistles talks about people like this. He says, he who denied that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh . . . this is the spirit of antichrist. These seem to be the same kinds of people that Ignatius is reacting against, but he does do so in the context of the Eucharist, which is true.

END DISCUSSION

Let's turn now to the Lutheran view which can be called consubstantiation. Remember we saw the Catholic view is transubstantiation. I think the title “consubstantiation” is a good descriptive term for the Lutheran view because just as “trans” connotes movement – one thing into another, “con” has the notion of something being with something else. As we say that something is concomitant – that means it is happening at the same time, it is happening with it. Consubstantiation is the doctrine that in the Lord's Supper, along with the bread and the wine that are there and remain there, there comes to be really present the body and blood of Christ. So the communicant eats not only the bread and drinks the wine, but he also eats and drinks the body and blood of Christ. The bread and the wine are not changed into the body and blood but rather the body and blood of Christ are said to be within and under the elements.[1]

The Formula of Concord, which is one of the chief Reformation documents of the Lutheran Church, rejects on the one hand transubstantiation. They deny that doctrine that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. But they also reject the merely Reformed view that this is just a spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Rather, they hold to the real presence of the body and blood of Christ. Luther emphasized in very graphic, earthy terms that the communicant chews the body of Christ. You mash his body with your teeth when you take the Lord's Supper. This is a real physical eating of the body and blood of Christ even though the bread and the wine remain there unaltered.

How could this be possible that the body and blood of Christ can be present in the Lord's Supper anywhere that the Lord's Supper is being celebrated throughout the world? How could Christ's physical body be present everywhere in the world? This leads to a very peculiar doctrine of Luther's which says that certain attributes of the divine nature of Christ were communicated over to the human nature of Christ when Christ was exalted. Following his state of humiliation during which he was here on Earth in his earthly ministry, Christ was exalted and went back to heaven. With the exaltation some of his divine attributes (or properties of his divine nature) were communicated over to his human nature. One of these would be the attribute of omnipresence. Christ in his divine nature is omnipresent – he is everywhere. This attribute was communicated over to the human nature so that Christ's body and blood now become ubiquitous. If you don't know this word, this is a good one to learn to impress your friends and family. Ubiquitous means “everywhere.” So, for example, you could say that, “Hilary's decline in popular opinion is ubiquitous throughout Iowa.” Something like that. Or, “The bad weather during the storm was ubiquitous throughout Canada” or something of that sort. It means it is everywhere. Luther believed in the ubiquity of the body of Christ. When the communicant takes the bread and the wine he also eats and drinks the body and blood of Christ because Christ's body has become ubiquitous in his exaltation.

START DISCUSSION

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes, I am glad that you brought that up. You remind us of the famous colloquy that took place between Martin Luther and the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli did not believe in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Luther and Zwingli got together to try to come to some sort of meeting of the minds on this. Luther was absolutely intransigent. He would not budge. He would pound the table with his fat finger and say, This is my body! And just repeat the words of institution from the Last Supper when Christ said, “This is my body.” It was on these words that Luther took his firm stand, and Zwingli could say nothing to persuade him. No argument would move Luther simply because he would repeat the words of Christ at the Last Supper. That is a very famous incident in church history that is often remembered.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: You mean Luther? The scriptural support would be the words of Jesus at the Last Supper. In other words, he refused in a sense to go beyond the text. He just said this is what the text says, and he wouldn't, in a sense, probe beyond it.

Student: [inaudible][2]

Dr. Craig: I think you are pulling a thread there that I think is very problematic for any doctrine of the real presence. Jesus is physically present right there saying that. So how could he mean it in the way that Luther interpreted it. I think that is a real problem.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question was: why didn't Luther accept the doctrine of transubstantiation? I am not absolutely sure why he didn't. I knew that he was very unhappy with scholastic philosophy and with Aristotle and didn't appreciate what he called a theologia gloriae – that is a theology of glory – where you claim to know everything about how all this happens. It may be that Luther's anti-philosophical bias in that sense thought that you simply couldn't probe mysteries in that way in order to provide a detailed account of how this happened. So he didn't accept it but I am not exactly sure what his reasons would be for rejecting transubstantiation and holding to consubstantiation instead.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: In the sense that he has a physical body that is sitting across from them at the table, and then here is another body that they are ingesting. I think it is hugely problematic. That is my own view. When we get to the critique part this is going to be one of the things I'm going to say. I think that is problematic.

END DISCUSSION

Let me say something about the Reformed view (this is number three on our list). This would be the view, for example, propounded by John Calvin, the great French-Swiss Reformer in Geneva. The Reformed view is a kind of a spiritual parallelism, if you will. That is to say, the body and blood of Christ are not present in the Eucharist in a real way, but rather Christ is really spiritually present in the Eucharist and you feed on him spiritually. So the communicant does in a sense feed on Christ but in a spiritual sense not in a physical real sense. So there isn't really any drinking of blood or eating of flesh. You feast on Christ in a spiritual sense because Christ in his spiritual nature and divine nature is present there. So it is a real feasting in a sense. There is a real feeding on Christ, but it is a spiritual feeding and not an actual, physical eating.

The last view (the fourth view) would be also Reformed but it would be Zwingli's view which is that the Lord's Supper is simply an ordinance. It is not a sacrament at all. It is simply a commemorative rite that you perform in obedience to Christ to remember his death and sacrifice for our sins. We do so until he comes again. This view that Zwingli had would probably be the view that I think most Baptists would hold to – simply an ordinance and a commemorative rite that the church celebrates.

START DISCUSSION

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question was: why, on the Zwinglian view, does Christ say this at all and why is there in 1 Corinthians 11 these warnings about discerning the body and so forth? I can say something about that more in a moment. But I think that if we speak for Zwingli he would say the original words were spoken to set up this commemorative feast but it wasn't meant to be taken literally. These were metaphorical words that Jesus said, and that he instituted this commemorative feast to remember his sacrifice – his sacrificial death on our behalf. When a person takes communion lightheartedly or would sin in his life with an unexamined life, you are doing something that is sacrilegious because this is a solemn ceremony in which you are to examine yourself, to remember the Lord's death, to look forward to his coming again.[3] We shouldn't think that because something is symbolic that it is therefore trivial. Symbols have tremendous meaning and importance. Think of the symbol of the wedding ring, for example, and all that connotes. Or other symbols that are invested with deep meaning. I think on this Zwinglian view he would say certainly if anyone is going to participate in this rite he needs to do so with utmost seriousness and to understand its meaning, otherwise he will be dishonoring the Lord in doing so.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I don't know what the Mormon viewpoint is on the Lord's Supper, quite honestly! Sorry, that one is out of my field. Is there anyone here that knows about that? No? That question we will have to let pass.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I said that the Reformed view is a sort of parallelism. This is the way it is often described. There is a spiritual parallel to what is happening physically. Just as you eat the bread and drink the wine, spiritually you eat and drink Christ as you commune with him in this act. So there is a kind of parallelism between the physical and spiritual that is going on there.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I hear what you are saying. We shouldn't think that just because people have brought it up that that means there is a debate throughout the church. But these issues had been raised earlier – as I say in the 9th century as well as in the 11th – and you go back even further to people like Augustine and Origen and Clement and Cyprian and, I don't think there is unanimity of the church on this doctrine. I appreciate that you do, but it seems to me that there is plenty of dissent to say that the church's mind wasn't settled on this issue entirely until later. So I don't think of people like Berengar and these others as heretics or as unorthodox. I see them as raising legitimate theological questions in my view.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Maybe those who are from Catholic or Lutheran backgrounds can speak to this, but what I was told was they didn't want the laity to be handling the actual body and blood of Christ because if there were an accident (say, somebody were to drop it on the floor or in some other way) dishonor or defile it, so it is handled just by the priest so this would be a reflection of the real presence and the sort of honor that is due to the host that is there. Is that right? That's right. OK.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: In the Lutheran church you were able to take the bread?

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: All right, so there isn't unanimity of practice on that.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Really? OK. She said that the American churches received a dispensation from the Vatican for the bread to be received into the hands rather than placed on the tongue, but she says this isn't done anywhere else in the world, which is interesting. I never heard that before.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: So you think that prior to Nicaea the people were not allowed to handle the elements either? OK. I am not aware of that but that could well be the case.

END DISCUSSION

I think what we will do is rather than launch into an evaluation at this point and have to cut it short after about two minutes we will just let out early. The next time we meet we will give some evaluation of these four different views and try to come to some settled opinion on them. So we will see you next time.[4]



[1] 5:10

[2] 10:04

[3] 15:03

[4] Total Running Time: 20:26 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)