Theologies Of The Lord's Supper

Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor

From the early church's firm belief in the Real Presence of the risen Christ in the Eucharist have developed a variety of Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant explanations of how this mystery takes place (or, as Radical Reformation Protestants asserted, if any change at all occurs). Eastern Orthodox churches generally avoid complex theological and philosophical explanations. In the West, modern Roman Catholic theologians have searched for biblical language to explain this mystery,...

An Early Church Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

Christian writers of the first two centuries affirmed, without attempting a theological explanation for the fact, that the risen Christ is present in the eucharistic action that transforms those who receive it.

An Eastern Orthodox Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

Although Eastern Orthodox theology insists as firmly as Roman Catholics in the West that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, Orthodox theologians have not attempted the theological and philosophical explanations of how this happens that are characteristic of Catholic and Protestant controversies in the West. According to Orthodox theology, the eucharistic assembly is the essence of what it means to be the church. Worthy participants enter on the path of transformation by grace into becoming a new creature and partaking of the divine nature.

A Roman Catholic Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

The application of modern methods of biblical scholarship by Roman Catholic scholars since 1943 has been credited with renewing Catholic theology of the Eucharist. Although some early twentieth-century explanations of the meaning of the Eucharist were rejected by papal encyclicals as spiritualizing abandonments of historic belief in Christ's Real Presence, no consensus has emerged regarding language that would offer an alternative to the scholastic terminology of transubstantiation (material, substance, accidents), yet remain entirely faithful to the Roman Catholic tradition of Christ's Real Presence. Some have applied Pauline language about insertion into Christ's saving activity to both baptism and the Eucharist.

A Lutheran Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

A distinctive Lutheran theology of the Lord's Supper arises out of Luther's evangelical understanding of sacrament as well as two specific matters of controversy in the sixteenth century-the sacrifice of the Mass and the presence of Christ at the Supper. Luther's own writings and the Lutheran confessional documents of the sixteenth century are the principal sources for this theology.

A Reformed Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

For the Reformed tradition, the bread and wine are signs that point to Christ's spiritual presence, but have no power apart from the accompanying Word of God. Christ is divinely present. However since his ascension, his humanity has been localized in heaven. In order to protect the sovereign freedom of God, Reformed theology resists both Lutheran and Catholic views of the objective efficacy of the sacrament. The Lord's Supper is neither a converting sacrament, nor mere ceremony. It renews and seals Christ's promise to us, exercises Christian's faith, and incites growth in the Christian life.

An Anglican Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

Anglicans believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They reject any doctrine of a crudely material presence. The Thirty-nine Articles, the sixteenth-century Anglican statement of doctrine and polity, also rejected the less crudely materialist Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. The following paragraphs outline four ways that Anglicans explain Christ's real, sacramental presence.

An Anabaptist Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

The sixteenth-century Anabaptists followed Ulrich Zwingli, the Reformer of the city of Zurich, where the first wing of Anabaptism originated, in viewing the Lord's Supper as a memorial, or sign, of Christ's death. However, they believed that Christ was profoundly present in their hearts, even if the bread and wine were not the vehicles to accomplish that presence. Their emphasis on the Lord's Supper as a simple fellowship underscores the fundamentally communal nature of their theology of the Eucharist.

A Wesleyan Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

To John Wesley, the Lord's Supper was a powerful sacrament. He believed that even repentant unbelievers could take of the bread and cup and find salvation. Above all, Communion was a means of santification by which believers are transformed into the image of Christ.

A Restoration View Of The Lord’s Supper

Churches that make up the Restoration movement share a desire to be called Christians only, with no further label and no exclusive doctrines. Therefore, a church of the Restoration movement will call itself Christian or a church of Christ in the generic sense, not the sectarian sense. The Restoration plea is to restore the unity and practice of New Testament Christianity. Restoration churches have pursued differing options in how to carry out that plea, but all of the churches share a common heritage in the Restoration movement. Furthermore, they also share a common view of the Lord's Supper.

An Evangelical Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

Some evangelical Protestants have reappropriated central elements of the pre-Reformation church's understanding of the Lord's Supper: a memorial of Christ's death that is also a genuine means of grace and Christ's ontological Real Presence. They insist also that God's sovereignty be affirmed and that the Lord's Supper be understood as pointing toward the ultimate banquet in heaven. Laden with such profound meaning and power, this sacrament requires careful preparation to keep it from being trivialized or routinized.

A Charismatic Theology Of The Lord’s Supper

Charismatic churches affirm the importance of the Lord's Supper, although it is not always a central feature of their worship services. Many discussions about the Lord's Supper among charismatic Christians have centered around the actual practice of the Lord's Supper.