Sacrament? How about Covenant, Celebration, Feast!

I won’t take too much of your time with this.  I could bore you really quickly with the Reformation and the ideas about the Sacraments (Lord’s Supper and Baptism) in the minds of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, specifically.  I have a long, long way to go in understanding the course of human history since the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom here on earth!

I’m doing a case study on Luther and the sacramental views he had.  Specifically, it’s the argument of the 1500’s over “real presence” – what the Catholics referred to as Transubstantiation.  It is the idea that the body of the Lord Jesus somehow penetrates the loaf and the wine at the supper, some sort of mystical embodiment not in physical terms… but in some sort of “essence” within the elements of the Lord’s supper.  You see there was a humongous argument going on in those days over the doctrinal position one took on such things, and Luther fell into a camp more of “consubstantiation” than transubstantiation.  Basically, Luther’s take was that the Lord could not possibly “embody” the elements, but though there is no physical change in substance, Christ is present in the bread that we eat.  Luther didn’t care “how” Jesus was present in the eating of the supper, but he just wanted him there in the elements of the eating.

What is the point?  I come from a Restoration heritage, a position that came down through the ages and was a product of the hundreds of years of attempt to Reform – all the way back to Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and others.  Though Luther is still thoroughly Catholic here, he is trying to reform, or bring back the truth of the New Testament Christian doctrines.  Where I came from, was the heritage that came down through Lutherans, Scottish Presbyterians, Methodists, and many other combinations of denominational craziness.  So by the 1800’s, there was a simple plea to break loose from the chains of dogma and doctrine – not true Christian doctrine, but in fact the dogma of “the Church” (Catholic Church).  Things that they value as authoritative as the text of the Bible itself; Church history, which they would argue is more valuable than the text in many cases, because the text was compiled finally by the late 200’s, or 300’s.  Church history stretches back all the way back to Pentecost and the Apostles.

I digress – the point is this; How do we celebrate the supper?  The sacraments of the church were doctrines and became holy in and of themselves.  But how would Jesus have intended it to be memorialized?  We seem to have a western world take on “memorials” and the Lord’s supper is no exception.  What about our observing what Jesus said to observe?  “As I have washed your feet, so you should wash one another’s feet.”  When Jesus said that, was he laying down a commandment for the Lord’s supper from now on?  Or was he laying down a principle of service, of self-sacrifice, of genuine understanding of WHO and WHAT Jesus was!  The eating of the meal together was a celebration of his love, sacrifice, and resurrection – but how often have we made it an occasion of morbid silence?  His dying was sad, in fact it was brutally evil, and the work of Satan.  But it was the plan of the Creator!  It was God’s plan for his son to die, and rise up to save us from sin.  To defeat death once and for all!  Our eating of the supper must be sacred and holy.  But it should be understanding the covenant Jesus set up as well.  That “you should love one another, even as I have loved you,” and our celebration of the Lord’s supper should be a feast of celebratory occasion!  Praise God for the steps of the journey that led to where we presently are.  And though those men of 500 years ago served God with a deeply Christocentric lifestyle, they were simply steeped in dogma and tradition to the point that even their steps “OUT OF” the dogma, – to reform – the Church, were still deeply Catholic in nature.  Praise God for the memorial, and may he help us to understand what he wants us to understand when we “discern the body rightly,” as in I Corinthians 11.


7 thoughts on “Sacrament? How about Covenant, Celebration, Feast!

  1. What may have led Luther to believe in the Eucharist may have been Isaiah 55:11 which states the word of God does not go forth and return void. We find in several Gospels, Jesus, the Lord God, holding bread and saying the words “This is my body”. Now, per Isaiah 55:11, what happened? Nothing? Bread turned into a symbol?

    I have always found the arguement that nothing is impossible for God, except turning bread and wine into the body of Christ, a bit foolish. Why limit God?

    God bless…

  2. Thanks Timothy! As I have been reading Luther’s writings, particularly, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” I find that even though at this time he was still profoundly Catholic in his doctrine, he had courage to question the motives that they observed in the Sacraments. What powerful strength!

    I will be sure and visit your site and get some other perspectives on church history as I have time. More than anything, in regards to the Lord’s Supper, I admire Luther’s challenge to all that our faith must be full and Christocentric to truly observe the Supper rightly. While I don’t believe Jesus authorized the sacramental “idolatry” the Catholic church has observed, there are great things they have kept in their traditions. I try to take the good with the bad… none of our Christian roots are without blemish.


  3. Drew,

    Luther was wrong. But, so was the medieval Church, to some degree, at least. What is interesting in this whole discussion is that we are so strongly held captive to western ways of thinking and arguing, and seem to forget that the Church was begun in the East, by people who thought quite differently from the scholastics and Luther and the later children of the “Enlightenment.”

    I think most in our heritage would be stunned to find that, almost unanimously, the early martyrs and saints and bishops witnessed to the universal view of the Eucharist as the pinnacle of the Church’s worship, as a Sacrament. From the very earliest days…. even in the NT…. if we understand it in the mind of the early Christians… we see the Eucharist as something more than a “mere memorial.” Only by disregarding the constant voice of the Church for the first few centuries, and applying modern hermeneutical principles to premodern writers, can we come up with a non-sacramental view of the Eucharist.

    I should say (as I think you know), that I am Eastern Orthodox, so my position may be a bit biased by my Tradition (but, aren’t all of us in that boat?). But, in our Liturgy, we still use the same prayers, and speak of the Eucharist with the same words as used by Saints’ Paul, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Cyril, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great…. etc., etc.

    From my perspective, there is a reason why there is so many disagreements over the Eucharist today (and so many disagreements even within our very secluded fellowship, speaking of my Stone-Campbell heritage)….. (did you know that in the days of Luther and Zwingli there was a book circulated that was titled somethign like “100 possible interpretations of “This is my body””?)… When the Scriptures are interpreted by “scholars” rather than within the continuous mind and life of the Church, we are bound to see divisions and disagreements.

    The Scriptures, and the Faith, are the property not of every armchair theologian out there, but of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all…

    Btw, would LOVE to get together with you! Please do come visit!


  4. Kevin – thanks for the note. I just finished a case study for John Mark on Luther and the Council of Trent. I totally agree with you about the western way of thinking. I’ve noticed that the whole idea of “memorial” in our way of thinking is skewed from what the Master likely intended in a table feast/memorial.

    There is much to talk about. in peace –

  5. Drew,

    my first sentence was awfully short and pointed and, well, it sounds quite cocksure of myself. Didn’t mean for it to come out that way… that’s what I get for not proofreading my post.

    I think both Luther and the Church of his environment were a bit off on things, was what I meant to be saying. That sounds a bit less bullheaded. Sorry.


  6. No worries, mate. I am often quite sure of myself, too – to my own detriment and I have to take it back. Big news on our front – talk soon.

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