We now continue with our quotation of Art. VII of the Lutheran Confession of the Formula of Concord which treats the Lutheran conception of the Lord’s Supper:
“IX. We believe, teach, and confess that no true believer, so long as he retains a living faith, receives the holy Supper of the Lord unto condemnation, however much weakness of faith he may labor under. For the Lord’s Supper has been chiefly instituted for the sake of the weak in faith, who nevertheless are penitent, that from it they may derive true consolation and a strengthening of their weak faith (Matt. 9:12, 11:5, 28).”
When this ninth chapter declares that no true believer ever receives the holy Supper of the Lord unto condemnation, the meaning undoubtedly is that no true believer ever receives this sacrament unto his eternal condemnation. The apostle Paul, in I Cor. 11:27-34, speaks of those in the congregation of Corinth who eat and drink damnation unto themselves. It is evident that he addresses this word to the church at Corinth, that he is speaking of believers; this is evident from the fact that he addresses them as “brethren” in verse 33. And because they eat and drink unworthily, eating and drinking damnation unto themselves, not discerning the Lord’s body, they are weak and sickly, and many of them sleep, according to verse 29 and 30. It is evident from this passage of the Word of God that believers are able to receive the holy Supper of the Lord unto their condemnation, provided that we understand that this condemnation does not refer to eternal condemnation but to a temporary condemnation in this life. Our form for the administration of the Lord’s Supper also refers to this.
“X. We believe, teach, and confess that the whole worthiness of the guests at this heavenly Supper consists alone in the most holy obedience and most perfect merit of Christ. And this we apply to ourselves by true faith, and are rendered certain of the application of this merit, and are confirmed in our minds by the sacrament. But in no way does that worthiness depend upon our virtues, or upon our inward oil outward preparations.”
In these ten chapters of Art. VII of the Formula of Concord, the Lutherans present their view of the Lord’s “supper, their affirmative statement of this doctrine. In this positive statement, they affirm, first, the true and substantial presence of the body and blood of Christ in this sacrament. Secondly, it affirms that the words of institution are to be understood literally, so that the bread does not signify the absent body, nor the wine the absent blood of Christ, but on account of the sacramental union panis et vinum vere sint corpus et sanguis Christi. So, when Jesus declares that “this is My body,” the meaning must be that this bread is My body; the bread and wine, therefore, do not signify the body and blood of Christ that may be far away, in heaven; but these words must be understood literally, in the sense that this bread IS My body and this wine IS My blood. Thirdly, it affirms that the cause of this presence is not the consecration by man (as advocated by Rome; Rome declares that this presence of the actual body and blood of ourr Lord takes place through a priest), but is due solely to the omnipotent power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Fourthly, the prescribed words of institution are on no account to be omitted. Fifthly, the fundamental principles on which this doctrine rests are, (1) That Jesus Christ is inseparably true, essential, natural, perfect God and man in one person. (2) That the right hand of God is everywhere, and, therefore, Christ, being truly and actually at the right hand of God is, as to His humanity, everywhere present. (3) That God knows, and has in His power various modes of presence, and is not bound to that particular mode which philosophers are accustomed to call local or circumscriptive. To this argument of the Lutherans we will call attention later, the Lord willing. Sixthly, that the body and blood of Christ are received not only spiritually by faith, but also by the mouth, yet not capernaitice, but in a supernatural and celestial way, as sacramentally united with the bread and wine. And, in the seventh place, that not only the worthy and believing, but also the unworthy and unbelieving communicants received the body and blood of Christ in this sacrament. To this conception the Lutherans must come if and when they say that the body and blood of Christ are received through the mouth and not merely in the sacramental sense of the word. Such are the most important affirmations of the Lutheran view concerning the Lord’s Supper.
However, the Formula of Concord also sets forth the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper in a negative statement. We will quote only those paragraphs of that negative statement that are pertinent to the differences between the Lutherans and the Reformed. We need not quote, for example, when the Formula of Concord rejects the doctrine of papistical transubstantiation and the papistical sacrifice of the mass, or when it designates the withholding of the cup from the laity as a sacrilege and a direct contradiction of the words of our Lord, Who surely commanded His Church not only to eat of the bread but also to drink of the wine. And as we quote these various negative statements of the Formula of Concord we will add our personal comments and criticism of them. We believe that this will be of interest to our readers. We will number each rejection and then add our comments and critical analysis.
I. “The dogma whereby it is taught that the words of the Testament of Jesus Christ are not to be understood and embraced by faith in simplicity as they sound, on the ground that they are obscure, and that therefore their true sense is to be sought from other places of Scripture.”
In this statement the Lutherans refer to the words of Christ, “This is My body.” Here the Lutherans declare that they who object to the Lutheran interpretation of these words declare that they are not to be understood and embraced by faith in simplicity as they sound. Jesus declares that “this is My body.” The words, therefore, are plain enough. Understood by faith in simplicity as they sound, this saying of our Lord must surely mean that Jesus’ body and blood are actually present there. But the sacramentarians (the Calvinists and Zwinglians were called sacramentarians by the Lutherans) said that these words are obscure, and that therefore their true sense is to be sought from other places of Scripture. Is this so strange? Is it not true that there are places in the Word of God that are more obscure and difficult to understand than other places? And is it not true that an obscure’ passage of Holy Writ must be explained in the light of other Scriptures that relate to this particular passage? When the Bible declares that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” and then, “I pray not for the world,” is it not sound procedure that these passages be explained in the light of other Scriptural passages? Besides, who is presenting an obscure interpretation of these words of Christ: “This is My body?” What is more difficult and obscure, to explain these words in the sense that “this bread” represents Christ’s body; or to explain them in the literal and natural sense, that “this bread IS My body?” Is it more obscure to teach that “this bread” represents Christ’s body, than to teach that Christ’s body is actually present there, and this in spite of the fact that Christ Himself had not yet been glorified?
II, III, IV. “That the body of Christ in the holy Supper is not received by the mouth together with the bread, but that only bread and wine are received by the mouth, while the body of Christ is taken only spiritually, to wit, by faith . . . That the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are only symbols or tokens whereby Christians mutually recognize each other . . . That the bread and wine are only figures, similitudes, and types of the body and blood of Christ, who himself is very far distant from us.”
We wish to remark the following. To begin with that very last statement, Christ here is presented as very far distant from us. In a certain sense, this is true. Christ is in heaven, and He is not upon the earth, as far as His human nature is concerned. Our Heidelberg Catechism also teaches us this. Yet, it is also true that, in a very real sense of the word, Christ is present with us in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Only, of course, Christ is present with His Holy Spirit. When the Lutherans declare that they reject the proposition that the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are only symbols or tokens whereby Christians mutually recognize each other, they refer particularly to the Zwinglians. But we surely believe in a very real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at our partaking of the bread and wine. Our observances of this supper of our Lord are not merely remembrance feasts.
V. “That unbelieving and impenitent Christians in the Lord’s Supper do not receive the true body and blood of Christ, but only bread and wine.”
It makes no difference whether one interprets these unbelieving and impenitent Christians as one group or two group, the unbelieving referring to those who are not Christians and the others referring to the people of God who temporarily walk in the way of sin and impenitence. Unbelieving and impenitent Christians, then, are Christians who are walking in the way of impenitence. “Here the Lutherans assert that, whether we approach the table of the Lord in faith or in unbelief, all partake, very really, of the body and blood of the Lord. This is surely very strange, is it not? We read in I Cor. 11:28-29: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” Here we read of people of God who eat and drink unworthily, therefore eat and drink damnation to themselves. That he writes this to the people of the Lord is evident from verse 33 where he addresses them as “brethren.” Now the apostle writes in verse 29 that they do not discern the Lords body. To receive the body and blood of the Lord, in the actual sense of the word, without discerning the Lord’s body, must mean that faith has nothing to do with the actual receiving of the body and blood of the Lord. Fact is, we can receive this body and blood of the Lord, according to Lutheranism, without discerning the Lord’s body. And this must mean that the body and blood of the Lord are actually inseparably connected with the bread and wine of the sacrament. To partake of the bread and wine means that we automatically partake of the actual body and blood of Christ. However, in verse 20 we read: “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” Notice, the apostle is speaking in this context of God’s people as coming together to partake of the Lord’s Supper but as characterized by divisions. Now, when God’s people eat and drink of the bread and wine in that spirit of division, the apostle declares that their eating and drinking (and he surely refers here to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper) is not the eating of the Lord’s Supper. Hence, not discerning the Lord’s body, one does not partake of the Lord’s Supper, and the statement of the Formula of Concord to this effect is surely in error.