Another interpretation of the connection between the signs of the Lord’s Supper and the things signified is denoted by the term consubstantiation. It is not exactly a Lutheran term, although it is accepted by the Lutherans as being substantially correct as a representation of their view. According to this termconsubstantiation, the Lutherans teach, in distinction from the sacramentarians, as they call the Reformed, and also in distinction from the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation, that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is really and substantially present in, with, and under the signs of the bread and wine on the table of the Lord. It is well-known that at the time of the Reformation a schism arose between the Reformed and the Lutherans about the question of the Lord’s Supper. And although the Reformers agreed on all the great and fundamental doctrines taught in the Holy Scriptures, they could not agree on the view of the Lord’s Supper. Several attempts were made to heal the breach on this point and to effect a reconciliation; but all these attempts failed. The controversy at this time and on this point was rather bitter, especially on the part of the Lutherans. This is evident from the very language of the Formula of Concord, a Lutheran confession adopted in the year 1576. For there we read in the introduction to the article on the Lord’s Supper: “For a solid explanation of this controversy it is first to be understood that there are two sorts of sacramentarians. For some are exceedingly gross sacramentarians; these in perspicuous and plain words openly profess that which they think in their heart, to wit: that in the Lord’s Supper there is nothing more present than bread and wine, which alone acre distributed and received with the mouth. But others are astute and crafty, and thereby the most harmful of all the sacramentarians: these, when talking of the Lord’s Supper, make in part an exceedingly high sounding use of our mode of speaking, declaring that they too believe in a true presence of the true, substantial, and living body and blood of Christ in the holy supper, which presence and manducation, nevertheless, they say, to be spiritual, such as takes place by faith, and yet these latter sacramentarians, under these high sounding phrases, hide and hold fast the same gross opinion which the former have, to wit, that besides the bread and wine, there is nothing more present or taken with the mouth in the Lord’s Supper. For the term (spiritualiter) signifies nothing more to them than the Spirit of Christ or the virtue of the absent body of Christ and His merit, which is present; but they think that the body of Christ itself is in no way whatever present, but is contained above in the highest heaven, and they affirm that it behooves us by the meditations of faith to rise on high and ascend into heaven, and that this body and blood of Christ are to be sought there, and in no wise in union with the bread and wine of the holy supper.”
It is not easy to understand clearly just exactly what is the meaning of the Lutherans in their doctrine of consubstantiation. Do they teach that the literal and natural flesh and blood of Christ are masticated by the teeth and swallowed by the mouth together with the signs of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper? Some of their statements indeed leave the impression that this is their view. But in other parts of the Lutheran confessions it is emphasized that this eating and drinking is after all something spiritual and a supernatural process. The Lutherans base their view, of course, especially on a literal interpretation of the words spoken by the’ Savior at the institution of the Lord’s Supper on the night in which He was betrayed: “Take, eat; this is my body.” And again: “Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood.” These words must be taken in the literal sense of the word, according to them. This is insisted on in all the Lutheran confessions, such as the Formula of Concord and the Saxon Visitation Articles. And proceeding from this literal interpretation, the Lutherans teach the following:
1) That the body and blood of Christ is really and substantially present in the signs of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper.
2) This real and substantial presence of the body and blood of Christ in the signs of the Lord’s Supper must not be explained from any words of consecration spoken by man, but rather from the omnipotence of Christ, Who sitteth at the right hand of God, by the union of the two natures in Christ. Cf. Formula of Concord, Article 5.
We must remember that the Lutherans teach, as is well-known, the ubiquity of the human nature of Christ. Christ is not confined to heaven, but is everywhere according to His human nature after His ascension. By this they do not mean the same as the divine omnipresence or immensity, but they signify that Christ, not only by His Spirit and grace, but according to His human nature is not confined locally to heaven, but is able to be present wherever He wants to be. And therefore it is possible, according to them, for Christ to be present in and under and with the signs of the bread and wine on the Lord’s table.
3) The Lutherans emphasize that the body and blood of Christ are received not by faith only, but also by the mouth, so that together with the signs of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper they also eat literally the body and blood of Christ.
4) Finally, the Lutherans teach that not only believers but also unbelievers receive, eat and drink the body and blood of Christ.
All this is taught in the Formula of Concord, as well as in the Saxon Visitation Articles.
Now as to the final Scriptural basis of this whole conception, namely, the literal interpretation of the words of the Lord spoken at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, it is quite impossible to take these words literally, for the simple reason that at the moment these words were spoken at the institution of the Lord’s Supper the Lord Himself was still present on earth with His disciples in His natural body and blood. His body was not yet broken, and His blood was not yet shed. It follows that the Lord cannot have meant to say that the bread, which at the same time He held in His hand, was identical with His body, and that the wine, which at the time He offered to His disciples in the cup, was identical with His blood. Hence, the figurative interpretation, “this signifies my body and blood,” not only gives good sense, but is the only possible interpretation. Besides, the natural flesh and blood of Christ are no more. In the Saxon Visitation Articles it is stated “that the true and natural body of Christ which hung on the cross, and the true and natural blood, which flowed from the side of Christ, are exhibited and received.” But this is impossible. The natural body and blood of Christ as He received them from the Virgin Mary exist no more in that form, and therefore cannot be exhibited and received. His body was broken and His blood was shed; and after His resurrection and ascension into heaven, He received an altogether different, spiritual, heavenly body. And this spiritual, heavenly body belongs to heaven and is locally in heaven. Moreover, the eating and drinking of the flesh and blood of Christ is an act of faith alone. This is evident from John 6, a chapter that is often referred to as indirectly having reference to the supper of the Lord. Now from this chapter it is very evident that eating of the flesh of Christ is equivalent to believing. In John6:35 we read: “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh unto me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” And again, in verse 51: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” But in verse 40 Jesus had said: “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” And once more, in verses 53-58 we read: “Then said Jesus unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is the bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” And again, in verse 47: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.”
It is very evident, therefore, that eating the bread of life and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ are identical. It is therefore not by literal manducation, but by faith alone that we can eat and drink the flesh and blood of Christ.
Besides, it is well-known that in Scripture the word “is” must frequently be understood in the figurative sense. Thus, for example, in the sentence, “The seven ears are seven years.” The sense evidently is: “The seven ears signify the seven years.” And the same is true of such propositions as, “I am the living bread,” and again, “The field is the world.” And therefore it is certainly thoroughly Scriptural to interpret the words of Christ in the figurative sense of the terms.
The conception of the Lutheran church concerning the supper of the Lord constitutes a curious mixture of the physical and the spiritual. For after all, natural eating and drinking is a purely physical act. Yet, by this physical act, according to the Lutherans, we are supposed to eat and drink the real and substantial body and blood of Christ. But at the same time they reject the idea that we can literally manducate the body of Christ and swallow His blood by that physical act, but insist upon it that in the Lord’s Supper we perform a spiritual and supernatural act of eating and drinking. Again, according to them, unbelievers and those that are unworthy receive the body and blood of Christ as well as believers and those that are worthy. It is certainly difficult to see how unbelievers can perform a supernatural and heavenly act, even apart from the fact that the literal eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood could not possibly be to the condemnation of the partakers. And therefore we must reject the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper as unscriptural and also as impossible. And, as we remarked in connection with the Romish view of transubstantiation, also the Lutheran view is principally exposed to the error that grace is in things. And the living Christ and all His grace can be received only by the spiritual act of faith, and in no other way.
Before we explain the Reformed conception of the relation between the signs and the things signified in the Lord’s Supper, we must still call attention to the Zwinglian view. The traditional and generally accepted representation of the Zwinglian view is that this reformer did nor really see a sacrament at all in the Lord’s Supper. According to him, it was a mere feast of commemoration. In the Lord’s Supper there was really no operation of God in Christ, but rather an act on the part of the church. Now it is doubtful whether this representation of the view of that reformer does complete justice to him. It is true that he seems to belittle the supernatural element in the sacrament. Sometimes he rather stresses the act of believers rather than the work of God and the operation of Christ through His Holy Spirit in the Lord’s Supper. And so he leaves the impression that to him the supper mainly serves the purpose to commemorate the death of Christ. Nevertheless, there are also expressions in his writings that seem to prove the very contrary. Hence, it is not impossible that the above representation of his view concerning the supper of the Lord is not quite correct.
It is not easy to understand always the significance which Calvin attached to this second sacrament. Sometimes he even seems to teach that in the Lord’s Supper there is an influence of Christ’s glorified body on believers, although this is probably to be taken in the figurative sense of the word. For in other passages the reformer clearly teaches the presence of the body and blood of Christ is in the signs only spiritually, and can be eaten and drunk not by the mouth, but only by faith. He emphasizes that every imagination of a local presence is to be entirely rejected. Christ as Man is now present only in heaven, and not upon earth; and therefore His communion in the Lord’s Supper is to be sought only by faith. Christ cannot be included in the earthly elements.
This is the teaching of the Reformed confessions.
The Heidelberg Catechism asks the question: “Why then doth Christ call the bread his body, and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood; and Paul the ‘communion of the body and blood of Christ’?” And the Catechism answers: “Christ speaks thus, not without great reason, namely, not only thereby to teach us, that as bread and wine support this temporal life, so his crucified body. and shed blood are the true meat and drink, whereby our souls are fed to eternal life; but more especially by these visible signs and pledges to assure us, that we are as really partakers of his true body and blood (by the operation of the Holy Ghost) as we receive by the mouths of our bodies these holy signs in remembrance of him; and that all his sufferings and obedience are as certainly ours, as if we had in our own persons suffered and made satisfaction for our sins to God.”
(to be continued)