Christians from across time and space have affirmed that Christ becomes present to us at the Lord’s Supper through which we receive spiritual nourishment. Yet while most Christians have affirmed this basic idea, the particulars of how Christ becomes present have proved divisive.
Views on the Supper
Reformed believers tend to say that Christ becomes present by the Spirit. Lutherans may affirm this but also claim that Christ truly and really appears bodily within the bread. Roman Catholics define presence as transubstantiation.
Some others simply affirm the mystery of the Supper without naming the exact relationship. Lastly, a common belief today among evangelicals is that the Supper functions to bring Christ’s past work and God’s grace to mind—it is a memorial in this sense.
If we return to the Biblical text, we can, I believe, gain a clearer grasp of the meaning of Christ’s presence at the Supper. In so doing, we will ground our theology in the Bible. One key place to look is Paul’s explanation of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10.
1 Corinthians 10:16–22
In 1 Corinthians 10:16–22, Paul guides the Corinthians away from Idols to the living God. A major point of his argument involves eating with demons versus eating at the Lord’s Table. Consider his words here, albeit paraphrased to clarify the apostle’s meaning:
“So my beloved, flee from idolatry. As I speak to prudent people, you must judge what I say. And here it is: The cup of blessing which we bless—does not the cup commune with the blood of the Messiah? The bread which we break—does not the bread commune with the body of the Messiah?
After all, we are one body because there is one loaf of bread! Think about it: all of us partake of one piece of bread. Look back to Israel according to the flesh—did they not eat sacrifices and thereby commune with the altar?
What more can I say? For what is idolatry and what is an idol? What pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons—not to God! And I do not want you to become communers with demons.
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons! You are not able to partake of the table of the lord and the table of Demons! Or, would we not be provoking the Lord? Are we stronger than he is?”
What Does Paul Mean?
Paul combats personal communion with demons which occurs through eating food offered to idols by showing how eating meals with spiritual beings entails spiritual communion.
But the only valid spiritual communion is one with the Messiah. The Messiah personally communes with the bread and cup. And when we take of the bread, we commune with the body of the Messiah—who is the church, the spiritual body of Christ.
To be biblical, you must affirm some sort of spiritual presence at the Lord’s Table. There’s something unique and holy about the Supper. It entails personal communion and can result in the death or sickness of those who misuse the gift (1 Cor 11:30).
So Which View of the Supper Should We Take?
My answer: we should keep what is mysterious mysterious. We should affirm what Christ affirms “this is my body,” while grasping that some sort of spiritual event occurs at the Supper. But if we cannot articulate with exactness what happens, I think we are okay.
Still, Christians have sought to put words to their worship for centuries. And I am still persuaded of Peter Martyr’s position of whom Calvin said nothing more can be desired and of whom Thomas Cranmer approved.
Martyr wrote, “If anyone by the term ‘presence’ understands the grasping by faith whereby we ourselves ascend into heaven and lay hold on Christ in His majesty with our mind and our spirit, then I am in agreement with him.”
I cannot help but agree.