THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 29 paras 4-8)
It was by the action of eating that man broke communion or fellowship with God. For, Adam broke God’s covenant with man by eating the forbidden fruit, i.e., the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam broke God’s law by eating the forbidden fruit we all sinned in him because he was our federal head, i.e., our covenant representative.
Moses records what the Lord said to Adam right after Adam had rebelled against Him, “Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’ :Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.’” Genesis 3:17-19.
Part of the curse facing us for our sin as mankind is that we have to toil hard for our bread. We have to compete with thorns and thistles to grow our crops. The sweat of our face is a constant reminder that we have to replenish the minerals we lose everyday from our bodies. These minerals are replaced through eating and drinking the earth’s produce. Thus eating and drinking, (though bringing us a certain amount of personal pleasure), is also a constant reminder that our bodies keep on returning to the dust whence they came. Thus, in light of God’s Word, food and drink is a reminder of the curse of God.
Yet, at the same time, food and drink is a reminder of God’s blessings to us. Whereas animals eat instinctively, man eats intuitively. What bird, fish, or land animal has ever blessed and thanked the hand that fed it? Yet, especially when thirsty and starving, a man even when fallen, will bless and thank the hand that feeds him. As he eats and drinks away his pangs of hunger and thirst, he will say, “Bless you, bless you, thank you, thank you. You have saved my life!”
So we see then that the judgment of God came upon all mankind through eating something God had forbidden us in Adam. That is why we are crumbling back to the dust and need to eat and drink. In a certain respect, eating and drinking slows down the death process. But the good news is that the death process has been reversed by the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. For our lost communion with God has been restored in Him as our new federal head. And He has given us a reminder that that communion has been restored. That’s why Jesus instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper.
In the Lord’s Supper mature believers bless and thank Him for saving their lives. At the Lord’s Table mature believers bless and thank the Lord for saving their lives, because mature believers are able to see the Lord in His Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is about eating and drinking. But what exactly are we eating and drinking when we sit down at the Lord’s Table? Well, the elements in the Lord’s Supper are bread and wine.
Jesus used the bread and wine that were on the table at the Passover Meal. “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” Luke 22:19&20.
Gone are the lamb and the bitter herbs that were also on the table at Passover. All that remains is the bread and the wine. For the Passover has been transformed into the Lord’s Supper, as the Apostle Paul says, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” I Corinthians 5:7. Note then that Christ is our Passover. Therefore everything symbolized in the Passover meal is summed up in Christ. “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” 2 Corinthians1:20.
Now, it should be noted that eating bread and drinking wine in the Lord’s Supper is to be done in remembrance of the Lord. But is the Lord’s Supper simply a memorial service for the Lord, or is there more to it than that? The so-called Zwinglian view is that the Lord’s Supper is merely symbolical and no more, which is to say that there is no real feeding on the crucified body and blood of Christ.
To be sure Roman Catholicism (and Lutheranism to a lesser extent) has taken the eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Christ to an extreme. For both Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism hold to the bodily presence of the crucified Christ in the Supper.
Rome believes that the bread and wine transubstantiate into the real body and real blood of Christ. Lutheranism teaches that the bread and wine consubstantiate, which, for the Lutheran, means that the real body and real blood of Christ are present with, in, and under the bread and the wine. So who is right? Should we all just hold hands and believe what we want to believe about the Lord’s Supper? Is Christ physically present as or in the bread and wine? Or are these elements no more than symbols in a memorial service? We believe that neither of these two extremes is Biblical. For the one extreme states that Jesus Christ is present bodily, while the other states that He is absent altogether from the Lord’s Supper.
We believe these views too readily introduce abuses into the Lord’s Supper. For to deny the real presence of the Lord in His Supper (as in the so-called Zwinglian view) puts the communicant at risk of eating and drinking judgment to himself not discerning the Lord’s body. If the communicant believes that there is no real feeding on Christ crucified and the benefits of His death, then he believes he is merely eating bread and drinking wine. In other words, there can be no spiritual nourishment received by the communicant when Christ is not present to dispense it. Also, if the communicant treats the Supper merely as a memorial for the absent Lord, he misses the sealing aspect of the Lord’s Supper. Thus the so-called Zwingli-view of the Supper neglects that the Lord’s Supper is a seal as well as a sign. Whereas the sign is a symbol, the seal is a real confirmation from Christ by His Spirit to the believer that everything to which the sign points is being applied to the communicant.
The danger of the so-called Zwinglian view is that it runs the risk of turning the sacred into the common through indifference to personally partaking of the bread and wine. In other words, the attitude might develop, “Well, what’s the difference whether I or someone else partakes of the Supper; the main thing is that the memorial is kept going.” We believe this approach changes the nature of the Supper by draining the meal of its spiritual content. But the Apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthians for turning the sacred Supper into a common meal, 1 Corinthians 11:20f.
Then there’s the other extreme of Roman Catholicism. Rome changes the whole nature of the Lord’s Supper by its doctrine of Transubstantiation. Because Rome believes that the bread and wine transform into the real body and blood of Christ it denies the memorial or remembrance aspect of the Supper. Why would you need to remember Christ if the Divine Person who has two natures is actually present? Rome teaches that the bread and wine really become Jesus Christ. Thus the bread and wine in the Roman Catholic Mass is a Divine substance, which is to say that the bread and the wine have taken on divine attributes!
Now, you might say, (and you would be correct), that Christ’s humanity does not have divine attributes. Therefore, is it not wrong to say that, even though Rome teaches the transubstantiation of bread and wine to the real flesh and blood of Christ, these elements still do not have divine qualities? Well, Rome, (as does Lutheranism), ascribes attributes of divinity to the resurrected Christ’s humanity. For both Rome and Lutheranism believe in the ubiquity of Christ’s body. In other words they teach that Christ can be everywhere at once bodily, i.e., bodily omnipresence! Hence their doctrines of the bodily presence of Christ as, or with, in and under the bread and wine.
This is why Roman Catholics bow and scrape themselves before the elements, worshipping them, and lifting them up and carrying them around for adoration. This is why they have private Masses, and why sometimes the priest alone partakes, and sometimes takes the elements to privately feed others.
Also, the doctrine of Transubstantiation explains why Rome in 1414 started to withhold the cup or deny it to the laity. One wouldn’t want to see the blood of Christ spill down one’s shirt or onto the floor! In 1215 Rome introduced the doctrine of Transubstantiation. But thanks be to God that in 1517 the Lord introduced the Reformation!
Now, contrary to Romanism and Lutheranism, but in agreement with the so-called Zwinglian view, we believe that throughout the Lord’s Supper the bread and wine remain as bread and wine. However, contrary also to so-called Zwinglian view, we believe in the real and true presence of the Lord in His Supper.
As John Calvin puts it, “As to the inference, however, which some draw from this – that Christ is not present in the Supper, because a remembrance applies to something that is absent; the answer is easy – that Christ is absent from it in the sense in which the Supper is a commemoration. For Christ is not visibly present, and is not beheld with our eyes, as the symbols are which excite our remembrance by representing Him. In short, in order that He may be present with us, He does not change His place, but communicates to us from heaven the virtue of His flesh, as though it were present.” (Commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:24).
Now, let us note that there is a definite relationship between the bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ. This relationship is not the same as, but is somewhat analogous to, the two natures of Christ. There is no mingling of Christ’s divine nature with His human nature or vice versa. They always and forever remain distinct (but not separate) and never ever mingle for a moment.
Thus when the bread and the wine are properly set apart for the purposes of the Lord’s Supper they have such a relationship to Him that the one may be called the other. Just as the Man Jesus Christ is called God, so the bread and wine in the sacrament may be referred to as the body and blood of Christ.
And just as Christ’s human nature does not take on the attributes of the divine, so the bread and wine do not change their nature. The elements remain as bread and wine. Thus when Jesus held the bread and said, “This is My body” He was stating that the bread represented His body. He was drawing a connection between the bread and Himself. This connection is not a physical but rather a spiritual connection. In other words, as the divine nature has united itself to the human nature in Christ, so there is a spiritual union between Christ body and blood, and the bread and wine.
Now, this in no way is meant to suggest that there is any transformation whatsoever in the physical qualities of the bread and wine. Nor does it mean that Christ has taken upon Him the nature of bread and wine with all the essential properties thereof. But it does mean that the elements have been set apart from a common to a sacred use.
And it does mean that Christ by His Spirit works with the bread and wine. As the Spirit is annexed to the Word (Calvin), so for the duration of the Supper the Spirit is annexed to the bread and wine. Thus the Lord uses the bread and wine, to spiritually strengthen and gladden the hearts of those who properly communicate. Therefore, there is a real and true presence of the Lord in His Supper. For, He is really and truly present by His Spirit who works with the elements of bread and wine.
And just as our mouths are the instruments by and through which eat and drink the bread and wine, so our faith is the instrument by and through which we feed on the body and blood of Christ. Have you got it? As the mouth with its taste buds can delight in bread and wine, so faith with all its faculties delights in the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper!
But, if you cannot discern the Lord’s body in the Lord’s Supper, how can your faith delight on and be strengthened by what you cannot see? Thus Christ needs to be really and truly present at His Supper for the communicant to receive any benefit from it. But not only that, the communicant must be able to see His presence in the elements. In other words, the communicant’s faith needs to feed upon the object or reality to which the sign is pointing. Therefore by faith the communicant spiritually eats and drinks the flesh and blood of Christ and is thus spiritually nourished by it.
What the communicant is really doing outwardly and physically, he is at the same time really doing inwardly and spiritually what the former represents. Thus we avoid the two extremes of either eating and drinking transubstantiated or consubstantiated bread and wine on the one hand, or declaring the spiritual absence of Christ from His Table on the other, i.e., not discerning the Lord’s body.
In the words of WCF 29:7: “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: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.”
Now, we’ve already noted some of the false presumptions people have made about the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s bodily presence and spiritual absence are just a couple of false presumptions. And it goes without saying that some false assumptions are worse than others.
The Corinthians were suffering the consequences of their false presumptions about the Lord’s Supper. After explaining to the Corinthians how the Lord’s Supper should be properly dispensed, the Apostle gives the warning, “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” 1 Corinthians 11:27-30.
So we see then that it is a serious business indeed to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians had been treating the Lord’s Supper as a common meal. Thus they had not been discerning the Lord’s body in the Supper. Thus they were guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, which means that they were trampling the blood of the covenant underfoot, so to speak. It was as if they were with those who crucified Christ. Therefore the Lord was causing some of them to become weak, others sick, and others to die. All of this was on account of their wrong approach to the Lord’s Supper.
Now, the good news even in this is in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, “‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?” Hebrews 12:5b-7.
Thus the weakness, sickness, and death among the Corinthians does not necessarily mean that they were unbelievers. But it does mean that they were not discerning the Lord’s body in the Lord’s Supper and were therefore guilty of the body and blood of Christ. Thus a proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper is the only safe way to partake of it if we are to avoid eating and drinking judgment to ourselves.
In this we are reminded of our federal representative Adam in the pre-Fall Covenant of Works. Adam ate a judgment to himself and immediately began to suffer misery and then death. Adam was immediately banned from the Garden, “…lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever…” Genesis 3:22b.
Partaking of the Lord’s Supper is analogous to eating of the tree of life after the Fall. For to eat of the Lord’s Supper without discerning the Lord’s body is akin to eating of the tree of life without acknowledging your own sins. For to partake of the Lord’s Supper unworthily is eat and drink without discerning the sacrificial death of Christ, which is to bypass Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. For, to eat the bread and drink the wine is to proclaim the death and benefits of the Lord. As the Apostle says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:26. In other words, to eat and drink at the Lord’s Table is to claim that you personally have been reconciled to God by the broken body and shed blood of Christ.
It was an act of eating that broke our fellowship or communion with God. Therefore there is a very great significance in eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table. It is the declaration that you are worthy of supping with the new federal head at His Table. It’s Jesus Christ’s body broken on a cross and His shed blood that makes you worthy. The bread and the wine eaten and drunk by you represents this. Therefore to come to the Lord’s Table with false presumption is to offend the God who saves.
God alone knows the hearts of men. But if ignorant and wicked men somehow sit at the Lord’s Table they receive only physical bread and physical wine. They don’t receive the reality these signs signify. But they would be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Therefore ignorant and ungodly persons would be committing a great sin against Christ by eating the bread and drinking the wine at His Table.
Therefore the ignorant and ungodly, while they remain so, are unworthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper. And we must do what we can to make sure they are not admitted to the Table. For the Table is about communion with the Lord and each with other. As the Apostle warns us, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?” 2 Corinthians 6:14&15.
The Lord’s Supper is a time for all of us to examine ourselves, not only those who eat and drink. Those who are not ready to eat the bread and drink the wine in the Supper should be preparing for the day when they will be ready. For none of us would ever want to eat and drink unworthily.
Charles Hodge asks and answers this question, “What is it to eat and drink unworthily? It is not to eat and drink with a consciousness of unworthiness, for such sense of ill-desert is one of the conditions of acceptable communion. It is not the whole, but the consciously sick whom Christ came to heal. Nor is it to eat with doubt and misgivings of our being duly prepared to come to the Lord’s table; for such doubts, although an evidence of a weak faith, indicate a better state of mind than indifference and false security…
“To eat and drink unworthily is in general to come to the Lord’s table in a careless, irreverent spirit, without the intention or desire to commemorate the death of Christ as the sacrifice for our sins, and without the purpose of complying with the engagements which we thereby assume. The way in which the Corinthians ate unworthily was, that they treated the Lord’s table as though it were their own; making no distinction between the Lord’s Supper and an ordinary meal; coming together to satisfy their hunger, and not to feed on the body and blood of Christ; and refusing to commune with poorer brethren. This, though one, is not the only way in which men may eat and drink unworthily. All that is necessary to observe is, that the warning is directly against the careless and profane, and not against the timid and the doubting.” (Commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:27).