I would have thought this would be clear by now, but I encounter people all the time who think that “we (Lutherans of the Missouri Synod variety) really believe the same things” about the Lord’s Supper as other Christians. May this post forever put that conception to rest (if only!). The reason for this post is not to bash other Christians; they are free to choose their congregations. But let’s not have any papering over of real, substantial differences–in this case, the most substantial of them. (Remember that Luther was willing to compromise with Zwingli on nearly every article of the Faith which they discussed at Marburg, but not on the Lord’s Supper. That should tell us something.)
An ELCA pastor recently told me that the United Methodists (with whom the ELCA is in altar and pulpit fellowship) had changed their stance on the Lord’s Supper, saying that they now believe that they eat Jesus’ Body and Blood. The Methodists must have missed that memo. Here’s what their website says:
The Lord’s Supper (Communion, Eucharist)
- The Lord’s Supper is a holy meal of bread and wine that symbolizes the body and blood of Christ.
- The Lord’s Supper recalls the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and celebrates the unity of all the members of God’s family.
- By sharing this meal, we give thanks for Christ’s sacrifice and are nourished and empowered to go into the world in mission and ministry.
- We practice “open Communion,” welcoming all who love Christ, repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another.
Oops. “Symbolizes” doesn’t quite rise to the standard of the Lutheran Confessional teaching on the Lord’s Supper. But one could see how people might be confused. This is from a Methodist booklet on the Lord’s Supper:
Jesus Christ, who “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3), is truly present in Holy Communion. Through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, God meets us at the Table. God, who has given the sacraments to the church, acts in and through Holy Communion. Christ is present through the community gathered in Jesus’ name (Matthew 18:20), through the Word proclaimed and enacted, and through the
elements of bread and wine shared (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The divine presence is a living reality and can be experienced by participants; it is not a remembrance of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion only.
This paragraph points out explicitly the problem with Lutherans talking about the “real presence” in the Sacrament. We mean that Jesus’ Body and Blood are eaten along with the bread and the wine. Methodists and others believe that Jesus meets us in Communion, even at the altar, but you will never see or hear any official statement that says “We believe that when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are eating and drinking the same Body and Blood of Jesus that were crucified and raised from the dead.” If they can’t say that, they believe differently from Lutherans.
What about the PCUSA, with whom the ELCA is also in fellowship? From their website:
In eating the bread and drinking the cup offered by God, our memory of the promises are made present by the Holy Spirit.
This, then, is the Presbyterian understanding of Communion: Is Jesus physically present in the elements of the Eucharist–have the molecules of bread been changed into molecules of the body of Jesus? No.
Is Jesus spiritually present in the elements of the Eucharist, authentically present in the non-atom-based substance with which he is con-substantial with God–that is, is he genuinely there to be received by us, and not just in our memories? Yes.
The Presbyterian position (Calvin’s position) is not the Lutheran position. Though we don’t believe that “the molecules of bread [have] been changed into molecules of the body of Jesus,” we do believe that “Jesus [is] physically present in the elements of the Eucharist.”
How about the United Church of Christ? (Are you sensing a pattern? Yes, the ELCA is in altar and pulpit fellowship with, perhaps, the most liberal Christian–the word almost requires quotes–denomination in the United States. By the way, the ELCA pastors with whom I was discussing these things doubted that Rev. Jeremiah Wright was a member of the UCC. Think again.) From their website:
The breaking of bread and the pouring of wine reminds us of the costliness of Christ’s sacrifice and the discipleship to which we are all called. In the breaking of bread, we remember and celebrate Christ’s presence among us along with a ‘cloud of witnesses’ – our ancestors, family and friends who have gone before us. It is a great mystery; we claim it by faith.
Just not all of it.
There are also the Moravians (do you even have to ask if the ELCA is in fellowship with them?). From their website:
In respect to the sacrament of holy communion, the Moravian Church does not try to define the mystery of Christ’s presence in the communion elements, but recognizes that the believer participates in a unique act of covenant with Christ as Savior and with other believers in Christ.
That’s an nice way out of having to struggle with Christ’s words.
I’m not even going to try with the Episcopalians. Probably some of them believe what we believe. Or what Rome believes. Or what the Baptists believe. There is this, however. Hard to know how they understand the “the inward and spiritual grace.”
Please, no one tell me that we “all believe the same things.” Not true, and if people would take ten seconds to search their websites (the UCC took me a little longer; had to get past all their social justice programming), they could compare that with even the Small Catechism and realize that there is no unity. I’ll take the Episcopalian apostolic succession over false teaching and false unity in the Supper any day. “I’d rather eat the Body of Christ with the Pope than mere bread with Zwingli.”