BIBLICAL BASIS FOR CATECHISM

The Lord's Supper/The Eucharist

INTRODUCTION

Protestants used to say that if people only read the Bible, then they would cease to be Catholics. Well, the exact opposite actually worked in my case. Every 3 weeks I would review all the verses I had memorized over the past 30 years. This constant review and constant meditation on God's Word ultimately undermined what I had been taught about the Lord's Supper since my earliest days as a Baptist. I had been so indoctrinated in Baptist thought that I couldn't hear Scripture itself speak to me even though I was going over these passages every three weeks. But Scripture is alive because it is God's Word (Heb. 4:12). It was eventually powerful enough to correct my false views on the Lord's Supper, not to mention the mass itself. SCRIPTURE, not man-made doctrine, turned me from being a Protestant to a Catholic, especially regarding the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist.

There are three major views concerning the Lord's Supper among Christians. Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe that during the mass, the bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of the resurrected Christ. Main stream Protestant churches, such as Episcopalians and Lutherans, believe that Christ is present with the bread and wine but that they remain just bread and wine. Baptists and Pentocostals believe that the bread and wine are mere symbols of the body and blood of the crucified Christ.

For ever since I can remember, it was drummed into my head that the Lord's Supper was NOT the actual body and blood of Christ. Rather it was just a symbol of the body and blood of Christ, with the emphasis being on the word "just"--just a symbol. Later on I was intrigued with the idea that whereas the bread and wine were not the actually blood and body of the resurrected Jesus, Jesus nevertheless was present spiritually with the bread and wine.

After being hired full-time as Associate Professor of Philosophy at Navarro College, I started attending more graduate-level classes at SWBTS. There I studied not only secular philosophers but also Protestant philosophers, especially Soren Kierkegaard. As I read his philosophy, I saw that for all its emphasis on the incarnation (the Son of God becoming the man Jesus), it didn't really appreciate the incarnation like C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton did. God was breaking into history, into our space and time, not only in the person of Jesus, but also in the lives of people who are being transformed into sons and daughters of God through Christ, and also in the universe which will be radically transformed upon the return of Christ to be a suitable dwelling place for the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:18-25). As I reviewed 1 Cor. 10 and 11, I began to see the ripple effects of the incarnation not only upon people and the universe but also upon the Lord's Supper. If I was going to take these verses seriously, which I was obligated to do since they are God's Word as I believed, then I had to admit that even in the Lord's Supper God was breaking into our world.


PASSAGES ON THE LORD'S SUPPER

What brought about the change? For way too long when I thought about the Lord's Supper, only 1 Cor. 11:23-26 came to mind (they were the only verses Baptist ministers would point to when ministering the Lord's Supper): "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks [from the Greek word eucharisteo from which we get Eucharist], He broke it and said, 'This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way He took the cup also 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." On the basis of these verses alone, Baptists could make the case that the bread and wine were only symbols because Jesus was supposedly only speaking metaphorically.

Many Protestants will respond that Paul and Matthew, et al are speaking metaphorically just like Jesus speaks metaphorically in the Gospel of John: "I am the door" (10:9)." Jesus is definitely speaking metaphorically in John--no one believes that Jesus is literally a wooden door; however, when Jesus speaks metaphorically or uses a similitude in Matthew, He uses the word homoios ("like"). That word is nowhere to be found in the Lord Supper accounts in Matt/Mark/Luke. Moreover, again just looking at the Pauline verses demonstrates that Jesus is speaking way beyond metaphor.

The problem was that these are not the only verses in 1 Cor. which deal with the Lord's Supper. The other verses in chapters 10 and 11 began to trouble my mind:

    "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord" (11:27). That verse doesn't sound very metaphorical.

    "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. (11:28-30). In other words, you could actually die if you mistreated the Lord's Supper. That too didn't sound like a symbol to me!

    Earlier in 1 Cor. Paul writes: "I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?" (10:15-16). None of this language sounds metaphorical.

Symbol, therefore, seems to be ruled out in these verses. But what about the main Protestant claim formulated originally by Martin Luther that instead of transubstantiation (the transformation of the bread and wine into the literal body and blood of the resurrected Jesus), Jesus is referring to consubstantiation (Christ is spiritually with the Eucharist)? Surely, consubstantiation makes much more sense for those of us who come from an age of enlightenment. So, now are we left with those 2 options and just choose on the basis of a gut feeling?


THE CHURCH FATHERS

No, we have much more at our disposal to help us decide which of the 2 is the correct interpretation of the Eucharist: the Church Fathers. Elsewhere I have written at length about the reason the Church Fathers are authoritative in this discussion. To summarize that earlier writing, I will just say that the Church Fathers are so pivotal to determining the truth because they were either taught by the apostles who wrote these documents describing the Eucharist or else they were taught by those taught by the apostles. I sincerely believe the church fathers knew what they were talking about when they wrote about the Lord's Supper.

It is interesting that over 30 years earlier, I had actually used this same principle in determining which interpretation of Revelation was true, especially in regards to the timing of the rapture: are Christians raptured (resurrected) before or after the Great Tribulation. ALL the Church Fathers, who were taught by the apostles who wrote about the rapture or who were definitely much closer in time to the apostles than we, believed that Christians go through the Great Tribulation; as a result, the rapture would occur after the Great Tribulation. They settled this issue for me. I had never thought to apply this same principle to the issue of the Lord's Supper; I didn't even know if they had even addressed the issue. But when I did find out they had addressed it, I was stunned. There was universal agreement among the Church Fathers that the bread and wine were literally transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. They didn't argue that this was true; they just stated it. It was all like a great big "duh" to them.

  1. ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH (35-112): "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ . . . Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But is were better for them to treat it with respect" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 7 or 1:89:7).

  2. ST. JUSTIN MARTYR (100-165) is one of the earliest church fathers who mentions that the bread and wine in the Eucharist are none other than the body and blood of Christ. St. Justin Martyr was converted in Ephesus, the church dominated by the apostle John. What is stunning about this philosopher is that he, like Augustine 200 years after him, loved Plato. In fact, he exalts Plato in his writings, seeing him as a proto-Christian. Well, the last thing Plato would have ever conceived would have been bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ. He would have rejected an incarnation; he believed that only the spiritual was real, a type of secular Protestantism. In spite of Justin's love for Plato, it didn't affect his view on the Lord's Supper one bit: for him the bread and wine are definitely the body and blood of Christ. Justin writes: "For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh" (First Apology of Justin, chap. 66, or 1:66:185).

  3. ST. IRENAEUS (135-202) is huge in this discussion. Irenaeus was actually trained by Polycarp who was disciple of John, the beloved disciple who wrote the Gospel of John, the 3 letters of John, and Revelation. In St. Irenaeus we have a direct link to the apostle John. John gives us one of the clearest passages in all of Scripture about the need to eat the body and blood of Christ: "So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever" (John 5:53-58) St. Irenaeus himself writes: "When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him? . . .that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives from the bread which is His body. . . . having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ" 1:3:528.

What stuns me through all of this is that none of the Church Fathers believed that Christ's Spirit was simply with the bread and wine. Rather, they universally believed that the bread and wine were transformed into the literal body and blood of the resurrected Christ. (The only ones who denied this (the Gnostics) also denied that Jesus had a body; they believed that He was just pure Spirit who looked like He had a body. Gnosticism was the first Christian heresy.) For more examples of the Church Fathers addressing the Eucharist, see Teachings from the Early Church Fathers: On the Eucharist.

So my choice came to this: believe Luther who had lived 1500 years after the apostles and hadn't even spent one moment with the apostles, or else believe the early Church Fathers who were either taught by the apostles or by those taught by the apostles. It was a simple choice to make; it was a "duh" choice. Transubstantiation, that is the Roman Catholic and Orthodox view of the Lord's Supper, best explains the Lord's Supper. I wasn't ready to become a Catholic yet; however, only one more piece of the puzzle needed to be added and all would be complete.

One thing few Protestants fail to realize is that Luther was heavily influenced by Plato through his reading of St. Augustine. Although St. Augustine did value Plato, he nevertheless was a true Catholic in that he believed that the bread and wine were literally transformed into the body and blood of the resurrected Christ.

How did Plato affect Luther? Luther's stress on God's utter transcendence was seriously influenced by Plato's "The Cave" which argued for the "unreality" of our world and for the "reality" of the other transcendent sphere. The idea that anything in this world could become divine contradicts this Platonic notion. (See G.K. Chesteron, Aquinas.) Through Luther, Plato left a negative impact upon Protestantism with its emphasis on pure Spirit and knowledge.

Recently, I had somebody really challenge me about transubstantiation. They protested: "So you really believe the wine and bread are turned into the blood and body of Christ?" My response was, "Why not?" Like Paul said, "Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead" (Acts 26:8). Likewise, why is it incredible among you people if God transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ?" The true mystery, the true miracle is not the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In fact, Christianity is all about transformation by the invasion of God into the world. The man Jesus is none other than God the Son. God actually took human word and transformed it into God's Word. God will one day transform the world into a glorious dwelling place for the sons and daughters of God. The greatest miracle, the most wonderful mystery, the wildest mystery to believe, the transformation above all transformations is Christ literally transforming us into sons and daughters of God. Now if I can believe Christ does that to us, then I can believe He can definitely transform bread and wine into the body and blood of His resurrected body.