Lord's Supper

Lord's Supper
   No more contentious issue emerged among 16th-century Protestant reformers than that of the sacraments, those ceremonial events designed to serve as a sign of God's presence and confirmation of his promises in Jesus Christ to the community of the faithful. The reformers all agreed that Roman Catholicism had strayed from biblical truth in elevating seven such ceremonial events to a sacramental level, when they believed only two such events were biblically grounded - baptism and the Lord's Supper. They also all agreed that Catholics erred in giving only the bread and not the wine to believers. However, beyond the demand for communion in both kinds, they could reach little agreement among themselves as to the nature of these two sacraments. Concerning baptism, they disagreed on both the mode of administering baptism (immersion, sprinkling, and so forth), and the designation of the appropriate subject (infant, adult). However, differences were much sharper concerning the Lord's Supper - they sharply disagreed over its very nature.
   Among the first ideas proposed, by Ulrich Zwingli, was that the Lord's Supper was to be understood as a memorial meal. it was a ceremony instituted by Christ; believers were commanded to reenact the Last Supper of Christ with his apostles in order to keep his passion and death alive in their memory. Zwingli's view had the effect of stripping the Lord's Supper of any supernatural elements and turning what had traditionally been thought of as a sacrament into a mere ordinance. Zwingli's idea was initially adopted by the Reformed Church in Switzerland, from where it passed to the Swiss Brethren and the majority of Free Churches, especially the Mennonites and Baptists. It has also become the belief of many in contemporary churches who either dissent from or do not understand the formal sacramental teaching of their denomination.
   A contemporary statement of the Zwinglian understanding of the Lord's Supper is found in the "Baptist Faith and Message," a statement adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest Protestant church in North America) in 1963: "The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming."
   Martin Luther, in contrast to the rather secularized doctrine proposed by Zwingli, was determined to keep an understanding of the sacrament as close to the Roman Catholic doctrine as possible by affirming that Christ was truly present, not just symbolically represented, in the sacramental elements. However, he disagreed with the Roman Catholic notion of transubstantiation, which suggested that during the Eucharistic service, when the words of consecration were spoken, the substance (true reality) of the bread and wine was changed into the body and blood of Christ. He suggested instead a theory called consubstantia-tion, namely that the essence or substance of Christ was added to the elements of bread and wine. This belief retained the idea of the real presence of Christ while denying what protestants thought of as the "magical" change.
   A contemporary statement of the Lutheran position has been presented by the wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod in its statement, "We Believe": "we believe that those who partake of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper receive the true body and blood of Christ, 'in, with and under' the bread and wine. . . . As we partake of His body and blood, given and shed for us, we by faith receive the comfort and assurance that our sins are indeed forgiven and that we are truly His own."
   As the Reformation gained ground in the 1520s, Protestants of Zwingli's camp and those of Luther's attempted to work out a common confession that they could present to the secular authorities as representative of the Protestant position. However, they were unable to reach an acceptable compromise, and over time the two positions hardened.
   A third, compromising position was offered in the 1530s by John Calvin. He rejected Luther's concept of the real bodily presence of Christ in the bread and wine, but also rejected Zwingli's reduction of the sacrament to an imaginative re-creation of the Last Supper. He believed that a real communion with Christ was the essence of the Lord's Supper. Christ in his resurrected body was in heaven, but gives of himself spiritually through the Holy Spirit. His real presence is perceived by faith. Calvin thus retained the sacramental (sacred) element of the Lord's Supper, but in such a way that proved to his followers both more biblical in content and more acceptable to a modern consciousness.
   In Calvin's tradition, the Westminster Confession, written in the 1640s but still the standard of faith of most Presbyterian churches, affirms: "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."
   Calvin's teaching on the sacrament was passed from the continental Reformed churches to the British Puritans and hence became established in the Presbyterian and Congregationalist Churches. It was passed into the Anglican tradition during the reign of Edward VI (1547-53), and clearly stated in the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (1563) issued during the reign of Elizabeth I, from whence it passed to the Methodists in the 18th century. However, in the Free Churches the zwinglian position dominated, and there has been a marked tendency in the older Reformation churches, as they have been separated from their role as inclusive state churches in the modern pluralistic world, to move from the Calvinist to the zwinglian position.
   In the 19th and 20th centuries, with the proliferation of Protestant Free Churches, great variation began to appear as new issues emerged concerning the Lord's Supper. Denominations disagreed on the frequency of celebrating the Lord's Supper. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) traces its origin partly to the need for more frequent celebration of the sacraments on the American frontier: they celebrated weekly. Methodists tended to celebrate quarterly and at Christmas and Easter. Various Adventist groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses celebrate an annual Memorial Feast. The nature of the ritual accompanying the celebration of the Lord's supper has also varied from the more elaborate ritual within Lutheran and Anglican churches to the very brief and minimalist ritual in most Free Churches. Within this context, the Salvation Army has entered the ecumenical world with a unique position, that the life of the believer is sacramental in nature and that baptism and the Lord's supper are not a necessary part of salvation and spiritual growth, and has dropped both practices.
   Leaders of the Ecumenical movement in the early 20th century rediscovered the role played by sacraments in dividing Protestants. Dialogue on the sacraments became a priority issue of the Faith and Order movement beginning in 1910 and has continued as one of the more important issues in ecumenical deliberations. Agreements on the sharing of ministers among churches have largely depended upon finding an acceptable common statement on the sacraments. in this context, the Lutherans have played a crucial role as they looked to find common ground with Anglicans on the one hand and Calvinist churches on the other. Among the fruitful result of the sacrament discussions was the Leuenberg Church Fellowship.
   See also sacraments/ordinances.
   Further reading:
   ■ Baptism, Eucharist and Minister 1982-1990. Report on the Process and Responses. Faith and Order Paper No. 149 (Geneva: World Council of Church, 1990)
   ■ G. C. Berkouwer, The Sacraments, translated by Hugo Bekker (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1969)
   ■ James O. Duke and Richard L. Harrison, The Lord's Supper (St. Louis: Council on Christian Unity, 1993)
   ■ J. Gordon Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds, 2 vols. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1988, 1994)
   ■ John Reumann, The Supper of the Lord: The New Testament, Ecumenical Dialogues, and Faith an Order on Eucharist (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lord's Supper — n. 1. LAST SUPPER 2. EUCHARIST …   English World dictionary

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  • Lord's Supper — 1. the sacrament in commemoration of the Last Supper; communion; Mass; Eucharist. 2. See Last Supper. [1350 1400; ME] * * * …   Universalium

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