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What is your view on Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper?

Today’s Question: I want to know your interpretation of John 6:51-58 as it relates to communion or the Lord’s Supper?


Bible Answer: This is a great question and needs a good, biblical, solid answer. There are three basic views on Communion, sometimes called the Lord’s Supper:

            1. Transubstantiation is the view that the elements of bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ, although the elements appear as bread and wine. Generally speaking the first view is held by the Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, and in some quarters the Anglican Church. However the Orthodox Church prefers not to discuss in detail how the bread and wine are changed and they avoid any philosophical and theological explanations of this doctrine and wish to accept it as a mystery. Most Anglicans would reject this view but some believe in it.

            2. Consubstantiation is the view that the elements of bread and wine remain the same while the real presence of Christ is with the bread and wine. The second view is often held by Lutherans and other sacramental churches. Since this view teaches that the body and blood is present at communion yet the elements do not change, they see no need to keep the elements after the ceremony is ended, while those who hold to transubstantiation keep the elements at the altar for another mass or for personal devotion.

            3. Transignification is the view that the bread and wine do not confer any special presence of Christ and that the elements are simply representations of the body and blood of Christ and are served to remind of us Christ past work. The third view is one that most Protestants and Evangelicals hold to, and they see communion as a “memorial” only. They look at the elements as being purely symbolic and are meant to remind us of what Christ already accomplished. You might assume since I am evangelical that I would hold to this view, however, I do not, and I’ll explain why.

            I have always been committed to believing in the Bible regardless of tradition. Catholics have tradition, Protestants also have tradition. It seems to me that many Protestants accept the prevailing view of communion without looking into the Scriptures themselves. Fortunately there is much written in the Bible concerning communion, and we can allow the Word of God to open up our eyes to this glorious mystery.

            Let’s look at our Lord’s first words on this subject, and I believe, Tony, you pointed them out. Jesus said to the disciples, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:53-55).

            The word “real” makes it clear that the Lord did not intend to give us “symbolic” food. Evangelicals always claim to “literally” believe in the Bible, yet, when Jesus plainly uses the word “real” many evangelicals sputter at the thought that we could “eat” and “drink” real flesh and blood.

            Someone might object, “Yeah, but Jesus didn’t mean that. He was only trying to open their eyes to some deeper meaning.” Consider the result of this teaching. "On hearing it, many of his disciples said, 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'” (John 6:60). Jesus did not respond saying, “I’m speaking in symbols.” Instead He said, “Does this offend you?” (John 6:61).

            The disciples were so offended by His teaching that the Bible says, "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (John 6:66). They took Him literally because Jesus meant it literally. There is no way to interpret the words “my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” except literally. There is no wiggle room when someone says something is “real”.

            Now does that mean the doctrine of substantiation is true? Not really, because the first two views teach that the real presence of Christ is there at communion. The question remains, which view is closer to the biblical truth?

            Let’s continue looking at this passage. Prior to the disciples leaving He wanted them to make sure they understood totally what He was actually saying, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).

            Here Jesus shows how the flesh can be present. He exclaims that His flesh does not mean anything if the Spirit is not there, and the Spirit is carried by the words of Christ. In other words, Christ words at communion make the food His body and blood. Without the Word, there is no life in the flesh. Jesus actually exalts His words above the flesh, for the flesh is dependant on the words of Christ in order for it to become real food. This is the great problem with the majority taking communion. They take it without really accepting Christ’s words into their heart. How many Christians in sacramental churches really know the Word of God? They know their church’s doctrine, but concerning the Word of God, they know so little, and without the words of Christ, communion will “count for nothing.” This is why many have come to my church from liturgical churches and have never been born again. They took the bread, but it profited them nothing, because they did not receive the Word of Christ. They knew nothing of the Bible. 

            It was Jesus’ clear teaching in John 6 that helped me to see that communion could only be valuable when the people know, accept and receive the Word of God. This is why in my church you will see the pulpit in the center of the platform and the communion table on the side. I do this on purpose so that the Word of God would always take “center stage” in people’s lives. Yet in the sacramental churches the pulpit is often on the side of the stage while the communion altar is in the center. I believe we have it in reverse. Jesus Himself warned, “The flesh counts for nothing” without “the words I have spoken to you.”

            In our Sunday services we take communion every week to show how valuable we see the blood of Christ, yet we spend more time teaching the Word of God to the people. It is often reversed in most churches. They spend nearly half the mass on the communion and perhaps a third or less on the Word. Isn’t that the real problem in the body of Christ? They lack understanding of the Word. This is why church people are often still dead in their sins, thinking that they are saved by eating the bread.

            Let’s look now at the actual last supper. "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take and eat; this is my body'” (Matt 26:26). Notice again Jesus did not say this is “like” my body, this is a “symbol” of my body, this is a “representation” of my body. NO! He said, “This is my body.” Couple this with John 6 and you see there is more to communion than simply bread and wine.

            "Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you'” (Matt 26:27). All of you should drink from it, this is where I have problems with some churches that allow only the priests to drink and give only the bread for the congregation. Some think it is impractical to allow everyone to take both the bread and wine, but there is a simple way to do it and that is to have everyone come forward in lines and take the bread and dip it into the cup, this way they partake of both elements.

            “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). This is the real reason we take communion and that is to receive forgiveness for any sins we have committed. We all continue to make mistakes after we become born again, so we still need forgiveness. This is why Saint John writes, "The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Every Evangelical I know believes that the blood of Jesus actually cleanses us from sin when we came to Christ and still when we need it. I ask them, “Does the blood ‘really’ cleanse you or ‘symbolically’ cleanse you?” Not one believes that it symbolically cleanses, because if we are only symbolically cleansed then we are not “actually” cleansed. So you can see that the blood of Christ is really present to cleanse you. We should not have problems with believing in the actual presence of the blood of Christ. Communion is a main way to experience the actual presence of the blood of Christ, and by experiencing it we get cleansed by it.

            Let us finally look at the Apostle’s Paul’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper. "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me'” (1 Cor 11:23-24). Again the words agree with the gospels at this point. There is however one additional truth Paul brings out, and it has to do with the reason why we take it. According to Paul, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is a very important point. He also emphasizes this when he mentions the cup: "In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me'(1 Cor 11:25).

            When you remember something, the thing you remember is always in the past. It is not in the present, so from these words, it is clear that the sacrifice of Jesus took place in the past, not “is” taking place now. You see the Catholic Church believes that the Mass is the “reoffering of the sacrifice of Christ.” However, the Hebrew writer says, "He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself" (Heb 7:27). Notice he sacrificed "once for all". His sacrifice does not need to be repeated. In fact the Hebrew writer points further to the fact that the sacrifice is finished, "We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven" (Heb 8:1).

            When someone sits down it signifies their work is finished. Jesus work of atonement is finished; therefore it does not need to be duplicated. In Catholic dogma, there is a belief that Jesus suffers again during communion, that he feels the pain of our sins. This would explain why there is such a sin-consciousness within the Catholic Church.

            Praise God! The pain Christ felt is over. He is now exalted to the right hand of God. Of course since His sacrifice and blood is “eternal” it continues to be present, but this does not mean He suffers for our sins. He suffered once and for all, now He is crowned with glory. You do not need to feel guilty at communion, rather you can rejoice in the forgiveness of your sins and the Lord’s triumph over death.

            Paul then adds, "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26). Who would doubt the importance of our confession of faith in order to make us strong, and yet, Paul says every time we partake of communion we are confessing the provision of Christ’ death, and through confession we have possession. We possess forgiveness and health as we properly share in communion, however those who do not understand what they do become "weak and sick" (1 Cor 11:30).

            Another other thing: Paul also reveals that the bread still remains bread: "For whenever you eat this bread". According to Catholic teaching, the bread is no longer bread and therefore should never be referred to as bread but as “elements” or “gifts.” Yet, Paul still calls it "bread". This proves that the early church did not see any change in the elements but rather believed that the bread was still bread and the wine was still wine, yet the body and blood was “present” to heal and cleanse them. So I believe the more correct view would be consubstantiation, the word “con” means “with”, so the body and blood is “with” the bread and wine, but does not change the substance.

            There is one important reason why I and you cannot accept the bread and wine changing into the body and blood of Christ, and this because the bread and wine is made by the hands and efforts of men; they bake the bread and put juice into barrels. Jesus body, on the other hand, was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit without the aid of a man. Man's efforts cannot produce the divine body and blood of Christ. To teach that is to teach idolatry. It would be like saying that Jesus was conceived through Joseph, but God changed Jesus body into divinity. No! Jesus body was divine from beginning to end. Nothing man makes—bread and wine—can become God! Yet, God can become "with and in" men or "with and in" anything men can make.

            In the end, the issue that matters most is our own hearts. "Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup" (1 Cor 11:27-28). Thank God we need to only examine ourselves, not necessarily examine the elements. Even though we do not need to be examining the bread and wine, we do need to recognize Christ body and blood, for Paul finishes by say, "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Cor 11:29).

            To recognize someone you need to know what they look like. If you had not seen them before, you could not recognize them. So it is with communion; do not see only the bread and wine, but truly recognize what is there within them—the body and blood of Christ.




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