Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Reformation Gave Us a Seat at the Table

Next to justification, there was no issue more fiercely debated during the Reformation than the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Although the Reformers did not always agree among themselves as to the meaning of the Supper, they were unified in their opposition to the Roman Catholic notion of transubstantiation. Using categories from Aristotle, Catholic theologians taught that the substance of the bread and wine were changed, while the accidents remained the same. Thus the elements were transubstantiated into the actual body and blood of Christ, but still retained the outer appearance of bread and wine.

According to Catholic teaching, when Jesus held up the bread and said “this is my body” he meant “this loaf of bread is my actual, real physical flesh.” The Reformers all agreed in deriding this view as nonsensical (the seventeenth century preacher John Tillotson was the first to speculate that there was a connection between the Latin phrase hoc est corpus meum [“this is my body”] and the magician’s formula hocus pocus). Protestants have argued that Jesus was employing a figure of speech in the Upper Room. Just as “I am the good Shepherd” did not mean Jesus tended little animals that go baa-baa, and “I am the gate” did not mean Jesus swung on hinges, and “whoever believes in me…out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” did not mean that the disciples would rupture a valve with H20, so “this is my body” did not mean “this loaf is my Aristotellian defined flesh and bone” (cf. 1 Cor. 10:4). Read more

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