Life Journal

If you're interested in reading my reflections on the Life Journal Bible readings, check out Ian's Life Journal blog.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

And now for something completely different: Holy Communion

Normally, this blog is all about my kids, but this time, an old friend of mine asked me:
Would you be able to tell me with the holy communion is it like the Catholic said as transubstantiation of the body of Christ or it is a symbol of the body of christ, I mean the cup and the wine. Is it that we are actually eating and drinking His flesh and blood which seems a bit disturbing.

The way I was taught was it is a symbolic act, but if you can give me some or your point of view?
So, since I took the trouble to explain to her my view, I thought I might as well share it here with whoever is interested. ジ

There are two major views within Christianity: the sacramental Protestant churches, the Orthodox Churches, and the Catholic Church all consider the body and blood of Jesus to be in some manner present in the bread and wine, while the Anabaptist churches (i.e. Baptists and most Evangelical and Charismatic churches) consider it to be purely symbolic and done only in remembrance of Christ.

There are 4 passages in the Bible which describe this incident:
  • Matthew 26:26-29: 26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.
    27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
  • Mark 14:22-25: 22 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
  • 23 Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. 25 Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
  • Luke 22:14-23:14 When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. 15 Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
    17 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
    19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
    20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. 21 But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table. 22 And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”
    23 Then they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing.
  • 1 Corinthians 11:23-32: 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
    26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.  
    27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
As you can see, from the 4 passages, only two say "do this in remembrance of Me" while all four emphasize that it is really His body and blood. The 1 Corinthians passage really drives it home: "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." (Sleep is a euphemism for death.) If it were purely symbolic, why would Paul have stated it like that?

There is also John 6:41-70, which foreshadows it:
41 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 42 And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
43 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”
53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.  
60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”
61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”
68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” 71 He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.
When many people stopped following Jesus because of the teaching "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him", Jesus didn't quickly call them back and say "Wait, it's only symbolic!" He allowed them to leave because they couldn't abide by the idea that we would eat His flesh and drink His blood!

The Anabaptist view came about only in the 16th century, when, in an effort to correct the abuses of the then corrupt Catholic church, they threw out a lot of things that had been practiced by Christians since the time of the apostles, including baby baptism and a sacramental view of Holy Communion. All other churches, except those Protestant churches influenced by Anabaptist ideas, reject the purely symbolic interpretation, though most churches do not go and make such definitive detailed statements about transubstantiation like the Catholic church does. (Note: the Catholic church went through a major cleanup after the Reformation and so the modern-day Catholic church, especially in their official teaching, is much better than it was during the time of the Reformation, though, being a large organization, of course there are still parts that are messed up, just as with many Protestant churches.)

In fact, the only people who called themselves Christian in the first centuries who rejected the sacramental view of Holy Communion were the Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that all matter was evil and only spirit was good, so they rejected the concept that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Hence, they rejected the sacramental nature of Holy Communion because the bread and wine are matter and not spirit. We don't accept any of the other Gnostic ideas, and in fact the Apostle Paul wrote against it in 1 Timothy 6:20 , "O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen." The word "knowledge" is "gnosis" -- which is what the Gnostics claimed to have -- they claimed to have "secret knowledge" from Jesus not known by the church at large. But the real Christians have always affirmed that the true Gospel was taught openly by the Church from the very beginning.

So why is it that the symbolic view is so common around Christians today?

The Anabaptist-inspired churches, i.e. most modern Evangelical churches, have been the most faithful in keeping Jesus' Great Commission in the 20th and 21st century, and so they have done the most evangelism in the last 150 years or so. So, that's why Anabaptist ideas regarding Holy Communion, although not supported by the Bible nor by the practice of Christians from the beginning until the 16th Century, have become so prominent that a large percentage of Christians think that it is the correct way.

I myself started with the symbolic view but later, as I studied the issue myself, have changed my mind and now embrace the sacramental view.

So, I now believe that the Body and Blood of Jesus is in some mystical way present in the bread and wine of communion. However, in what precise manner, I am not sure, and it doesn't bother me that I don't understand the details, because I know that God is so much transcendentally beyond what we are, so it's not surprising that there're aspects of Him that we cannot fully grasp, just like we don't fully grasp the Trinity.

However, I still belong to a church that subscribes to the symbolic view -- Community Baptist Church -- because I also understand that this issue is a secondary matter. The primary matter is the Gospel, and it is not helpful to break fellowship with Christians who believe different things about secondary issues. God gives grace and all of us have things that are not right. Nobody's perfect.

So, if you disagree with my view, that's fine, I'm not going to hit you over the head with a Bible about it! ジ


Michael said...

The book of John was written in the Greek Language. And when the author recorded things down - when he said you must eat my flesh - he used the Greek word "trogo."

Now in the Greek language, many words can be used for "eat". However, the word "trogo" was chosen; it's a very special word because it cannot be taken symbolically. When that word was chosen - when you trogo something, you actually gnaw on it. The definition is to aggressively or loudly munching, gnawing and chewing, as an animal would eat.

This cannot be taken symbolically, and the author chooses this word so that later on when people read this - it's not a soft word - it's meant to actually gnaw and to eat. It's very important; it cannot to be taken symbolically.

Ian said...

Hi, Michael. Didn't know about the specificity of the original Greek word. Thanks.

I just looked it up in the Greek Lexicon and the definition there does seem to support your interpretation.

So, here's another supporting piece of evidence for the traditional Christian view, as opposed to the symbolic view propagated by the Anabaptists since the 16th century which has now spread to a large percentage of Evangelical Christians.

Ian said...

Interesting, Matthew and Mark did not use this word, but instead used esthio in his narrative of the Last Supper. This word, according to the Greek Lexicon, is used both literally and figuratively.

Luke just said "take" and didn't say "eat".

Paul in 1 Corinthians used Greek Lexicon.

So the words used in Matthew, Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians can be interpreted both literally and figuratively, but the word used in John can only be interpreted literally, if the Greek Lexicon's descriptions are accurate.

Ian said...

Hmm, I must have messed up on the HTML in the previous comment. It should have said:

Paul in 1 Corinthians used phago, which also can be interpreted figuratively, according to the Greek Lexicon.

Michael said...

Dear Ian,
Jesus was very clear in what we must do in order to have Him ABIDE in us and we in Him.

He left this command for us in John 6:53-57, and it is the only place in Holy Scripture in which you will find it:

53 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (the taken away branch); 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 HE WHO EATS MY FLESH AND DRINKS MY BLOOD ABIDES IN ME, AND I IN HIM. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me."

What does "Truly, truly" mean to you in verse 53? What does "unless" mean?

The body lives because it receives real food sustenance. Starve the body and it will die.

Just as the body needs real sustenance, so does the soul, else it will not bear fruit.

The soul lives by real Divine sustenance, the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.