There have been three major interpretations placed upon the meaning of Christ's reference to His body and blood when He instituted the Lord's supper and we need to know what they are in order to distinguish between them. The first is the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation. The second is the Lutheran Doctrine of Consubstantiation and the third is the non-Lutheran Protestant Doctrine of Symbolic Commemoration. Non-Lutheran Protestants include Pentecostals.
The Doctrine of Transubstantiation promotes the theory that in the Roman Catholic Communion service the bread and the wine are literally converted by the officiating priest - though their appearance remains the same - into the actual body and the blood of Christ. Roman Catholics are taught that the power to change the elements (or emblems) - the bread and the wine - into the actual body and blood of Christ was given to the apostles at the last supper by Christ and has been carried on by Catholic priests as the successors to the apostles ever since. They are taught that through His earthly priest Christ's sacrifice is renewed at every Communion service, and that by giving the apostles and their successors the divine power to change the bread and the wine into His own body and blood Christ ensured that His redeeming sacrifice would forever be present in the church. Roman Catholics believe that partaking of Communion is crucial to their salvation. There is no warrant for this doctrine in scripture. Even Catholicism's own St Augustine taught that Christ's references to His body and blood are merely figures bidding us communicate in His sufferings (ref Augustine - On Christian Doctrine). The Lutheran Doctrine of Consubstantiation is just as fallacious as the doctrine of transubstantiation. This denies that the elements are changed into the actual body and the blood of Christ but it asserts that the literal presence of Christ is present in, under, and with the elements so Christ can be received sacramentally by those taking Communion. Sacramentally means necessary to salvation. This is much the same as what Roman Catholicism teaches and like the Catholic teaching is also not scriptural.
The non-Lutheran Protestant Doctrine of Symbolic Commemoration teaches that what Jesus says about eating His body and drinking His blood is not to be taken literally but only symbolically, and that the observance of Communion is a commemoration of the death of Christ in which Christ is spiritually present. The Lord's supper is therefore a memorial feast. As they receive the bread and the wine, symbolic in their nature, it is an acknowledgement by those partaking of Communion that their salvation is solely through the broken body and the shed blood of Christ. To eat the bread and drink the wine is to commemorate Christ's death and accept the benefits He has provided for us in His death until He comes again. This is the correct teaching (CP Jn 6:47-63). These passages are the continuation of a long discourse by Jesus contrasting the manna, the bread which the Jews' forefathers ate and which could not save them, with Himself, the Bread of Life, and they must be kept in the context of that teaching to better understand them. They provide us with the most indepth explanation of Communion in scripture and while Jesus is not making a direct reference to Communion, this discourse conveys the same truth in words that Communion conveys in action (CP V27-35) When scriptures are kept in context it is quite clear that the expressions Jesus uses about eating His body and drinking His blood are to be understood spiritually. They are used figuratively not literally. In V51 Jesus is in effect saying, "I will give this bread which symbolises my body given in death to save the world." (CP V51). By comparing V47-48 with V53-54 we see that believing in Jesus is the same as eating His body and drinking His blood. Jesus teaches in V63 that even if we could literally eat His body and drink His blood it would not save our souls. This clearly refutes both the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation and the Lutheran Doctrine of Consubstantiation. The life Jesus speaks of is spiritual and eternal life, not fleshly life. Eating of Christ simply means that man must accept by faith what Christ has done for him and live by obedience to Him without sin so the penalty will not have to be paid again (CP 1Cor 11:23-32).
Paul received the revelation of the Lord's supper direct from Jesus Himself. It is clearly symbolic in nature, and as the word remembrance in V24-25 signifies, it is a memorial of Christ. Those who partake of Communion must do so reverently, remembering always the atoning sacrifice of Christ's death for them. But it is not meant to be a morbid re-enactment of Christ's death. Rather it is to bring to remembrance the purpose of the cross and Christ's victory over it (CP Ac 2:2224; 3:13-18; 5:30-31; Col 2:13-15).
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