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Four Views on the Lord's Supper

by Dr. Henry Vazquez, BBS, M.Div., Th.D.


In This Lesson
Introduction | Transubstantiation View | Consubstantiation View
Memorial View | Reformed View | Guide to Partaking of the Lord's Supper
Examine Yourself | Confession | Our Union with Christ | Unworthy Manner
Identifying with Christ's Death, Burial, and Resurrection | Conclusion


The Four Views
It may surprise you to know that not all Christians agree on when or how to administer the Sacraments commonly known as "The Lord's Supper" or "Communion". Also, not everyone agrees on what they represent. In this lesson, we'll not try to coerce anyone into changing their tradition. Rather, we will simply and succinctly present the Biblical responses to each of these traditions.

The four most common views or traditions are the:

  • The Transubstantiation View
    Taught by the Roman Catholic church, this doctrine was officially adopted by the Roman Catholic church at the fourth Lateran council in 1215 and reaffirmed at the Council of Trent in 1551. It asserts that:

    • the Priest blesses and consecrates the elements (bread and wine); and

    • this causes a metaphysical change so that the inner essences of the elements are changed into Christ's literal blood and body.

    Thus, they believe that the whole of Christ is fully present within the substance of the elements; and, therefore, the one who partakes of these elements is receiving atonement for venial [pardonable] sins (as opposed to mortal sins).

  • The Consubstantiation View
    Martin Luther announced a new order of sacrament, realizing that no human has the priestly power to effect change to the elements, He was on his way to an eventual break with the Roman Catholic Church.

    Although Luther rejected some facets of the Catholic doctrine concerning the Lord's Supper, he did not totally reject the idea that Christ's body and blood are present. Rather, he taught that the body and blood of the Lord are "within" and "under" the elements. Basically, Luther's doctrine, like the Catholic's doctrine, is highly sacramental. It still takes the figurative words of Jesus about his body and blood very literally.

  • The Memorial View
    Proposed primarily by Huldreich Zwingli, a contemporary of Martin Luther, with whom he differed extensively on his understanding of Christ's presence in the Communion.

    • The emphasis is that the Lord's Supper commemorates the Lord's death and the believer recalls the atoning work of Christ. It is a sign pointing back to Calvary.

    • He rejected any notion of Christ's physical presence at His table (whether transformed in the elements or joined with the elements).

    • He taught, instead, that Christ was spiritually present to those of faith.

    Those who follow this concept tend to stress only that the Lord's Supper is a commemorative ceremony recalling the atoning work of Christ.

  • The Reformed View
    Proposed primarily by John Calvin, this view rejects any notion of Christ's being physically present in or with the elements.

    However, more than Zwingli, Calvin greatly emphasized the spiritual presence of Christ at His table. This was understood to be a dynamic presence through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    The reformed view stresses Christ's sacrificial death, which is applied and made meaningful to the believer who participates in Communion with an attitude of faith and trust in Christ.

Final Notes
In addition to these four major views, many modifications and combinations of the above are held by contemporary Christians. In any case, Christians should take seriously the biblical emphasis and command of the Lord's Supper.

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Guide to Partaking of the Lord's Supper
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11:

17"But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.
18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,
19for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
20When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.
21For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.
22What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
23For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,
24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'
25In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'
26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
27Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.
28Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
31But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.
32But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—
34if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home — so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come."
(1 Corinthians 11:17-34 emphasis added)

Who gave Paul the instructions concerning the observance of the Lord's Supper? Jesus! Possibly during the three years he spent in Arabia.

"For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel." (Galatians 1:11-12)

"But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus." (Galatians 1:15-17)

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  • Examine Yourself
    Why and how should the Church examine itself and submit to the Lord's judgment regarding:

    • Unity;
    • Love; and
    • Harmony?

    Why should we examine ourselves? In order to avoid judgment/discipline. The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote in chapter 12:

    7"It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
    8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
    9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
    10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
    11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."
    (Hebrews 12:7-11)

    1 Corinthians 5:5—

    1 Timothy 1:20—

    The purpose of the Lord's judgment is not to destroy us or send us to hell, but to discipline — just as a loving father does his children — and restore us. How should we examine ourselves? We must examine and correct...

    • our unloving attitudes and behaviors;
    • our motives.

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  • Confession
    We must confess our sins and admit we are wrong and God is right.

  • Our Union with Christ
    We must recognize the hypostatic union we have with Christ — who He is and what He Did. "Hypostatic" refers to any of the three persons of the Godhead constituting the Trinity, especially the Person of Christ in which divine and human natures are united.

  • Taking in an Unworthy Manner
    What specific failure was Paul referring to when he said some were eating and drinking in an "unworthy manner"? He was referring to their...

    • failure to wait for others; and
    • failure to have genuine fellowship.

    This meant that the Corinthians were partaking in an unworthy manner. This made them guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lamb of God [Jesus Christ]. This also made them just as guilty as the Jewish leaders and Romans who crucified Jesus. The Corinthians were not discerning the cross nor showing the love that God showed in giving His only begotten son to pay the price for our sin. (cf. John 3:16) See 1 Corinthians 11:27-34.

  • Identifying with Christ's Death, Burial, and Resurrection
    What does the term "remembrance" mean? It derives from the Greek anammesis and it is not to think back to some past occasion. It is the opposite. It is to transport an action which is buried in the past in such a way that its original potency and vitality are not lost, but carried over into the present. This is reflected in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 16:3; 1 Kings 17:18). Therefore, every time we partake of the Lord's supper, we should remember by claiming anew the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection.

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Paul had picked up reports of this celebration being turned into a disgraceful gathering of self-indulgence by exclusive groups of rich believers while the poor remained hungry. Paul strongly rebuked this deplorable example of selfishness and irreverence that had come to characterize what was supposed to be an agape, or love feast.

Remember, God is a God of the heart and we must strive to keep our hearts pure. We must first examine our hearts and recognize, not only where we are, but who Jesus is.

Finally, each time we partake of this holy Sacrament, we must claim anew the benefits of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. Let us claim the many promises that God has for us through Jesus Christ. As we partake of this holy sacrament that was instituted for the Church, may we realize His blessings in our lives!

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Dr. Henry, President of AOCIQuestions/Comments?
God bless you as you partake in this most holy sacrament
(our LORD's Supper)/The Ordinances of the Church!
please visit my AOCI profile page where you may
leave a comment or send me a personal message.
For His glory! Dr. Henry