The Lord's Supper: It's Not Just Catholic vs. Protestant

In theology, as in life, it seems that we often want to simplify things into a choice between two alternatives. This is exactly what often happens with regard to the Lord's Supper. On the one hand there is the Roman Catholic teaching of transubstantiation: that the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ. On the other hand, it is assumed, is the Evangelical/Protestant view of memorialism: that the bread and wine are simply reminders of Christ's body broken and blood shed on the Cross.

However, what comes as a surprise to many, is that the Evangelical/Protestant view is not necessarily memorialism; there are other Protestant views of the sacrament. In fact right back to the time of the Reformation there have been at least three views of the Lord's Supper among evangelical Protestants.

Each of these three views is associated with one of the major reformers. Memorialism is associated with Huldrich Zwingli, the Reformer of Zurich. (Hence it's sometimes called Zwinglian memorialism.) But not all the reformers agreed with Zwingli.

Martin Luther did not accept that the Lord's Supper was simply a reminder of Christ's death. Yet neither did he accept the Roman Catholic teaching that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Rather, Luther taught that the bread and wine remained bread and wine, but that the body and blood of Christ were present 'in, with and under' them. Sometimes the Lutheran view is known as Consubstantiation.

John Calvin didn't agree with Luther, Zwingli or the Roman Catholics. Rather he taught that Christ is Spiritually (not physically) present in the Lord's Supper. Thus, as we partake of the bread and wine, we feed on Christ by faith through the working of the Holy Spirit. The Westminster Larger Catechism summarizes Calvin's teaching:

Question 170: How do they that worthily communicate in the Lord's Supper feed upon the body and blood of Christ therein?

Answer: As the body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, or under the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper, and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.

Calvin's teaching on the Lord's Supper is often referred to as the Spiritual Presence.

So, it's not just a straight choice between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. There are three views which can all justifiably claim the title Protestant.

But that will do for today. Tune in next time for a bit more of a look at Zwinglian Memorialism, Calvinistic Spiritual Presence, D.P. Williams and Apostolic theology.