Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Lutheran Response part 2

The reformed argue that when scripture declares that Christ is seated at the right hand of the father he must be present nowhere else according to his human nature. It was argued by Chemnits, Luther, Melancthon and others that this statement was one of status rather than locality. Christ’s being seated at God’s right hand is a statement of his authority. Does God have a literal body on a throne he sits on with Christ sitting beside Him? This is an absurd thought.

Now that it is has been shown that scripture allows for and in fact teaches the omnipresence of the whole Christ, the question to be asked is if he is specially present within the supper. The words of institution are some of the most debated words of the New Testament. When Jesus says “this is my body”, what does he mean? Luther’s one time pupil, Andreas Carlstadt argued that when Jesus said these words he was pointing to his literal body, not to the bread. This interpretation was foolish and abandoned quickly. The reformed and Anabaptists tried to argue that these words of Jesus were merely symbolic. Which word in the phrase “this is my body” is a symbol? It was argued by some that the word body was symbolic. However, this would deny that the following phrase “broken for you” referred to his actual bodily crucifixion. This interpretation had also been largely abandoned.

The majority Reformed position on Jesus words were that Jesus was using the word “is” to mean “represent.” Jesus was saying to the disciples, “this represents my body.” Lutheran theologians argued that there was no reason to take these words in a non-literal fashion. Did Jesus ever use this type of language symbolically in other circumstances? It was argued that when Jesus says things such as “I am the vine” he is using a similar figure of speech. Is Jesus literally a vine? No, of course he is not. However, that does not mean that these two statements are parallel. Note than in the second saying, it is not the word “is” that is symbolic. Rather it is the word “vine.” Jesus really is the vine. The question is, what does vine mean? No statement of Jesus in the gospels necessitates a symbolic understanding of the word is. Even if it could be argued that it is a possibility that the word could be used in such a way as to mean represents, the burden of proof would lay on the Reformed side. It needs to be shown that the word need not be used in its usual sense.

It is also argued against the Lutheran doctrine that if Jesus means that the bread literally is his body, then it would support a doctrine of transubstantiation rather than sacramental union. For the Lutheran doctrine to be true, Jesus must have meant “my body is in, with and under this bread.” However, it is not the case that for Jesus to admit that his body is present, it would deny that the bread is also present. It is a common figure of speech to, for example, hold a glass filled with water and say “this is water.” It would not be in any way denying the fact that the glass was present as well. No one would argue that it must mean that I was stating my entire glass was transubstantiated into water. The argument simply does not account for the way speech works.

There is one other passage which is widely debated between both theological positions. This is 1 Corinthians 10:16, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” It is clear in this verse that through the wine, we are participating in his actual blood, and through the bread, his body. It has been urged by some, including Zwingli, that the body refers not to God’s actual body but to the church. This interpretation makes some sense, however what about the previous statement about participating in the blood of Christ? Zwingli argued that this also was a reference to the church since the church was identified by and covered by the blood of Christ. However, there is no reference in the New Testament or early church writings which calls the church “the blood of Christ.”
Calvin saw that Zwingli was flawed. This is why he believed in an actual participation of his body and blood. However, Calvin was already committed to the idea that Christ’s human nature could not be omnipresent. Thus, he developed a new formula which involved the Spirit causing the soul to ascend to heaven. Lutheran theologians argued against this proposition in three ways. First of all, the Bible simply does not mention any such action. The Spirit is not ever spoken of as being an instrument in bringing us Christ through the supper. If it is not exegetically supportable, it should not be accepted. Secondly, the idea of us ascending to God is contrary to the message of the New Testament. The gospel is about Christ descending to save us. Thus, the supper as a visible form of the gospel, unless otherwise stated in Scripture, should be seen to work the same way. Thirdly, this idea is based upon the assumption that Christ cannot be present in his human nature in more than one place. This has already been shown to be unproven.

The final attack of the Lutheran dogmatists against the Calvinistic theory of the Eucharist is that the Calvinists believe that Christ is present only by faith. There is no presence of Christ for the unbeliever. Much of the argument came from John 6:63 which says, “the Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing.” How can Jesus’ life giving bread be given to those who are in the flesh? For this verse to have any bearing upon the discussion, it must be shown that this chapter is about the Eucharist. If this chapter is shown to be about the Eucharist, it contains several statements which prove the Lutheran doctrine of the presence of Christ’s human nature. “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians point to the fact that unbelievers do partake of Christ’s body and blood, but rather than unto life, unto judgement. “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” Paul sees those who partake unworthily of sinning against the actual body and blood of the Lord, not of a symbol. This offense was so serious that God killed members of the congregation for doing so.

Calvin’s position, as a compromise corrected several of the errors in Zwingli’s exegesis. However, he still held to assumptions that controlled his reading of the crucial passages of the text, not allowing them to speak for themselves. Luther was justified in not accepting Zwingli’s hand of fellowship. Perhaps if the meeting had been with Calvin the results would have been different.


Anya said...

My head hurts.

And I haven't even read it all.

Thanks, though, Cade.

Dogmatix said...

What do you make of the claim that, toward the end of his life, Martin Luther changed his view on the Lord's Supper?

Jordan Cooper said...

It is simply not true. Luther himself stated near the end of his life that it would be claimed after his death that he changed his view on this. He never did. His later writings are just as clear on the subject. There was a rumor that went around in Reformed circles that Luther stated on his death bed "I went too far in matters of the Lord's Supper" though this is no more likely to be true than the rumor that Darwin recanted his evolutionary ideas.