A Reformed Understanding of Communion
What does Scripture have to say about the Sacrament of Communion?
The Lord’s Supper is…
- Thanksgiving. Acts 2:46
- Remembrance. I Corinthians 11:24, Luke 22:19
- Unity in the Body of Christ, the universal Church. I Corinthians 10:16-18
- Sacrifice. Matthew 26:28, Luke 22:20, I Corinthians 11:25
- Christ’s presence. Matthew 26:26,28
- Activity of the Holy Spirit. John 14:26, 16:13
- Anticipation of God’s reign fulfilled. Luke 22:16, Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, I Corinthians 11:26
- Nurture for mission. John 6:51 (bread for the life of the world)
- Justification. Mark 14:24
- Focus on Christian discipline and ethical discernment. I Corinthians 11:20-22, 27-34
Did you know?
- The sacrament is referred to in at least three popular ways: Communion, the Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist (Gk. to give thanks). They all mean the same thing.
- Supposedly the Reformation leaders Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli agreed on most points of contention at the time and might have actually formed one big protestant denomination, but their beliefs regarding Communion kept them divided.
Some historical viewpoints of Communion:
- Traditionally, Roman Catholics believe in transubstantiation. At some point during the Mass, the bread (host) and wine actually transform into the literal body and blood of Christ.
- Close to it, most Lutherans believe in consubstantiation. This is the belief that the bread and wine still maintain the properties of bread and wine, but that all the “empty space” within those two things become filled with the literal body and blood of Christ. In other words bread and wine, body and blood are intermixed.
- Reformer Ulrich Zwingli emphasized that Christ was speaking metaphorically, not literally, and that the bread and wine did not transform into anything. Communion for him was effectively a memorial service, a time for Christians to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us.
Our theological viewpoint by way of John Calvin:
Calvin believed that the bread and wine of Communion are symbols. He did not believe in transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or that Communion was merely a time to remember.
He defined a symbol as:
- A symbol points to something but is not the thing itself. The bread and wine witness to Jesus but are not him.
- A symbol is a symbol because it participates in what it symbolizes. A good example of this is the American Flag. It is much more to us than material or cloth. The flag has participated in the history of this nation. Likewise, the bread and wine participate in our Christian history. They mean more to us than just bread and wine.
- Ultimately, the elements of Communion are made effective by the Holy Spirit, who helps us to experience the risen Christ when we partake of the Sacrament.
Regarding all of this, we Presbyterians believe:
- Communion is the sign and seal (assurance) of eating and drinking in the spiritual presence of the risen Lord.
- During the Lord’s Supper we remember the past, recalling God’s work in creation, especially through Christ and the Holy Spirit.
- We recall the present, that around the Communion Table we are in communion (unity) with Christ and each other, including all the members of the universal Church.
- We look to the future, as we believe that the Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the Messianic Banquet. It is an old Jewish/Christian belief that when we are all gathered at the end time, we will dine with our Savior in person, not just in spirit.
- The Sacrament of Communion is not a right earned by the worthy, but rather a gift given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love.
At St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, we have an open table and invite all who trust in Christ to share in the meal that he has prepared.