The Lord’s Supper and the Real Presence… (What Many Evangelicals Have Forgotten and Forsaken)

One of the last things I found myself accepting in the Westminster Standards was the real presence of Christ in the Supper. Looking back on it now, I cannot reason why I ever had an issue with it in the first place, but, lo, I did.

One thing we as believers need to be balanced on before we look at this issue is that we shouldn’t be trying to look for a Jesuit behind every bush… aka… Just because we are discussing the idea of Christ being REALLY present in the Supper, does not mean that we are discussing the uniquely Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, the Mass as being propitiatory, or worshipping the consecrated host. Now, what are we talking about? Let’s look at what the traditional protestant position is from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

CHAPTER 29

Of the Lord’s Supper.

“I. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein he was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of his body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in his Church unto the end of the world; for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death, the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other, as members of his mystical body.

II. In this sacrament Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor any real sacrifice made at all for remission of sins of the quick or dead, but a commemoration of that one offering up of himself, by himself, upon the cross, once for all, and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same; so that the Popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect.

III. The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to declare his word of institution to the people, to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation.

IV. Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other, alone; as likewise the denial of the cup to the people; worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use, are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.

V. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to him crucified, as that truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the thigns they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly, and only, bread and wine, as they were before.

VI. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common-sense and reason; overthroweth the nature of the sacrament; and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries.

VII. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.

VIII. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament, yet they receive not the thing signified thereby; but by their unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table, and can not, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.”

And the Westminster Larger Catechism:

“Q. 170. How do they that worthily communicate in the Lord’s supper feed upon the body and blood of Christ therein?

A. 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.”

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Okay… That is a lot to take in, I know, but it is necessary to understand 1. The doctrine of real presence and 2. How it fundamentally opposes the Papist doctrine of Transubstantiation.

Lets dive in…

What do Reformed Protestants traditionally believe concerning the Real Presence?

“V. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to him crucified, as that truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the thigns they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly, and only, bread and wine, as they were before.

VII. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.”

This is the doctrine in a nutshell. The first thing we see is the elements are set apart by the blessing of the ministers (art III & V) and have a relation to the Crucified Christ and so can be referred to as the Body and Blood of Christ. But, this is important, remain truly and fully Bread and Wine, even after they are blessed.

After they are blessed they are handed out only to worthy receivers (a topic for another time). These believers, when they consume the bread and wine, inwardly by faith, feed upon the true body and blood of Christ spiritually, not carnally or physically. Therefore, feeding on all the benefits of his death. The body and blood of Christ are spiritually present to the faith of the believer in the ordinance just as much as the elements are to the outward senses.

So, to summarize, Christ is spiritually present within the bread and wine so that when we consume the elements we are truly feeding upon his body and blood. Now, what is the scriptural proof of this:

Luke 22:19 (ESV)

19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

So Christ said “This IS my body”. I know that is what a Lutheran would normally say, but I have the personal belief that consubstantiation (using this phrase for the sake of argument) is as illogical as the Catholic position. But we hold the belief that it really is his body that we are communing with…

1 Corinthians 10:16

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

So Paul is making an argument that when we take the Supper we are really and truly participating and communing with the body and blood of Christ. We are not merely taking a memorial that is empty of his being… that is a-scriptural. Paul is arguing that the participation is real, so we argue this as well.

How is it opposed to the Catholic position?

“II. In this sacrament Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor any real sacrifice made at all for remission of sins of the quick or dead, but a commemoration of that one offering up of himself, by himself, upon the cross, once for all, and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same; so that the Popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect.

IV. Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other, alone; as likewise the denial of the cup to the people; worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use, are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.

VI. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common-sense and reason; overthroweth the nature of the sacrament; and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries.”

This isn’t all the confession as to say in opposition to the Romish Mass, but it will have to do.

First, we do not see the supper as a sacrifice. Christ is not being offered up to the Father on the alter of a priest, that is a blasphemous way to look at it. But it is something we look to in remembrance of his offering himself up, by himself, once for all time… There is no elevation of the elements or words of consecration. There is no lighting of incense, but a simple service of scripture and communion. The confession states, “; so that the Popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect.” Which is to say that it is idolatrous and heretical.

Second, we believe that we should celebrate the Supper in a corporate setting. Also, when we take the Supper, we take both elements. We do not worship them, adore them, or keep them past the time of the Supper. When the ceremony is done, they continue their ordinary use. All of these things are contrary to the purpose the Lord gave the Supper.

Third, the Confession speaks directly against the papist doctrine of Transubstantiation. It calls it Repugnant to Scripture, common sense, and reason. It says that it overthrows the nature of the sacrament and has been and still is the cause of superstition and idolatry. This is a massive charge. But it is a consistently Protestant charge.

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So we see now that the Reformed concept of real presence is not just Biblical, but also fundamentally opposed to the position that it normally gets confused with, the Roman Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation. So I hope this has been useful to you

Soli Deo Gloria!