Saturday, January 21, 2017

What Is the Reality of the Eucharist?

Both the Church of Rome and the Lutherans hold that Christ is physically present in the elements of communion, i. e., in the bread and wine. That's why, they say, that an unbeliever receiving those elements is "eating and drinking judgment to himself" (I Corinthians 11:29). If the elements remain mere bread and wine, how can there be consequences for eating and drinking unworthily, they ask.

While we Reformed deny that Christ is physically present in the elements, we gladly hold that He is spiritually present to those who receive in faith. Thus, eating and drinking judgment is not the result of having bits of Jesus in the stomach of His enemy, but is rather because that unbeliever is receiving the Gospel in visible form. He is seeing the broken body and the spilled blood of Jesus, but despising them, increasing his judgment for unbelief.

The Catholics claim that the Reformed teaching creates a false dichotomy in the eucharist, with Christ present in some portions, but not in others. However, one of their own saints, Augustine, refutes that accusation: "If thou receivest it carnally, still it ceases not to be spiritual, though it is not so to thee." The eucharist remains the means of grace that Christ intended it to be, even if an unbeliever fails to receive that grace because of that unbelief (compare Matthew 13:58).

We find these truths summarized well in the Westminster Confession of Faith XXIX:7-8: "Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament, yet they receive not the thing signified thereby; but by their unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table, and can not, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto." 

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