Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lord's Supper

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Lord's Supper:

Q: How does the Lutheran teaching and practice regarding Holy Communion compare to that of other denominations?

The Lutheran theology regarding the Lord's Supper (a.k.a. The Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion, The Mass, or The Eucharist,) is literally unique among the many denominations of Christian churches. This unique theology consequently results in differences in practice which may also cause Communion in a Lutheran Church to look different than it does in non-Lutheran churches.

The Lutheran position regarding the Lord's Supper, most commonly referred to as the Real Presence, is that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus, and that He truly becomes present in the Sacrament. In accordance with Jesus words, "This is my Body," and "This is my Blood," Lutherans believe that the bread is Jesus' Body and the wine is Jesus' blood. However, this does not cause the bread to cease to be bread, nor the wine to cease to be wine. At the same time, the body and bread do not combine to become a distinct third substance, but remain bread and body, and likewise for the blood and wine.

This is in contrast to the Roman Catholic view, called Transubstantiation, which states that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus. Consequently, they also conclude that, even though the elements maintain the appearance of bread and wine, it is only an appearance, and they are really the Body and Blood of Jesus, and no longer bread or wine in reality. 

Lutheran teaching regarding the benefits of the Lord's Supper is that the Christian's sins are forgiven, and they receive salvation from God's punishment and eternal life as free gifts through receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. 

Roman Catholics also believe that the Eucharist delivers the forgiveness of sins, but by different means. In Roman Catholicism, the Eucharist is a way of resacrificing the body and blood of Jesus to God the Father, by which the participants merit forgiveness by their participation in the sacrifice.

A third position would be that held by many Baptist, Pentecostal, and non-denominational groups, which states that the Lord's Supper is merely a way of remembering Jesus, and that His Body and Blood are not in any way present. Accordingly, they also teach that the Christian does not receive any special spiritual benefit through the Lord's Supper. Instead of a gift of God to the Christian, the Lord's Supper is seen as an act of devotion by the Christian. 

A fourth position, which is held mostly by the theological descendants of John Calvin, is the closest to the Lutheran teaching, yet different in very important ways. John Calvin taught that the Body and Blood of Jesus are present in the Lord's Supper, but only spiritually. Instead of teaching, as Luther did, that the Body and Blood of Jesus come down to earth to be received by Christians, John Calvin articulated that the believer's heart "ascends to heaven to feed on the body and blood of Christ," which is locally confined at the right hand of the Father.

Typical Lutheran practice regarding the Lord's Supper is to use normal wine rather than grape juice and to use unleavened bread (in the form of a circular wafer) in the Lord's Supper. Traditional Lutheran practice for centuries had been also to receive the Blood of Christ from a single common cup (called a chalice) and to kneel to receive Communion.The use of individual cups became widespread only recently among Lutherans, due to discomfort with sharing the common cup and misconceptions about the likelihood of disease transmission. The reception of communion by walking by or standing at the altar has become more common in recent years because of changes in church architecture. It is not typical in the history of Lutheranism to receive Communion by passing the elements while sitting in the pew. 


  1. I would love to read your post, but the font color makes it extremely difficult.

    1. Thanks for the heads-up on that problem. The issue must have occurred when I converted the blog from an older template to a new one. It should be corrected now.