Baptists, Eucharist, and History 1 – The Reformers

I decided that in order to explore this topic, I needed to spend a little bit of time to establish and define the history and shape of the modern Baptist view of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. That will provide a reference point for comparison as we then step back into the first millenium. In order to sketch the modern background, in this post I will briefly outline the perspective of the three main early Reformers on the Eucharist. I will not be looking here at Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation. That was really a different path with different goals and a different result from the Protestant Reformation. Anglicans are not exactly Protestant. Nor are they Catholic. By intent, they stand between the two traditions.

When it came to the Eucharist, Martin Luther‘s primary issue had to do with the abuses and odd practices and beliefs that had arisen in late medieval Roman Catholic Church from the specific theory called transubstantiation. The theory of transubstantiation itself had only been developed several hundred years earlier by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. He used Aristotle‘s terminology in his effort to explain the mechanics of the change. In those terms, the substance or essence, the true reality of the bread and wine were changed into the body and blood of our Lord even as the accidents or those parts available to our five senses remained bread and wine.

In hindsight, Luther might have been better served had he simply returned to the prevailing perspective in both the East and the West prior to Thomas Aquinas. However, he was a product of Western scholasticism himself and leaving things unexplained and in tension probably was not something he could have done. So Luther developed his own theory of how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus. Luther called his theory consubstantiation. I’m not going to delve into that theory here, since I’m primarily exploring the Baptist connection to history.

In stark contrast to Luther, Huldrych Zwingli held that the bread and wine signify the body and blood of Jesus and are a memorial to his sacrifice on the Cross rather than any sort of participation in it. Zwingli and Luther met a number of times, but were never able to come to any sort of agreement or find common ground. According to his own later statements, Zwingli did not believe the elements were mere bread and wine. Nevertheless, his view came very close to that perspective. Clearly, much of modern Protestantism draws their perception and understanding of the Eucharist from Zwingli.

John Calvin, the third of the early Reformers, tried to take a middle way between Luther and Zwingli. On the one hand he held that since Jesus is bodily at the right hand of God, there can be no material connection between between bread and body. However, the bread and wine do more than signify. In some sense, they are the body and blood, at least spiritually. So Calvin made it a spiritual meal and a spiritual feeding. His middle way had little effect on the other two. Calvin’s rejection of an actual material connection between the bread and wine and the body and blood of Jesus made his view unacceptable to Luther. And Zwingli would not accept that we even spiritually eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus. He insisted that the bread and wine have no connection to the body and blood, not even a spiritual one.

Those three men represent the three streams that shaped pretty much all of Protestant belief about and understanding of the Eucharist.

This entry was posted in Church History, Eucharist and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

2 Comments

  1. mike
    Posted July 16, 2009 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    …..

  2. mike
    Posted July 16, 2009 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    …..thanks for the teaching and links…man i love wikipedia……..

%d bloggers like this: