Friday, June 8, 2007

A Zwinglian sees the light

Here is an excerpt from one man's account of his journey from a Reformed view of the Sacrament of the Altar to an Apostolic view. As a matter of fact, the doctrine of the Real Presence was key to his conversion to the Lutheran Church:

I never would have guessed that I would end up as an adult convert to Lutheranism. And I further would not have imagined how central the doctrine of the Lord's Supper would be to my conversion. My conception of denominations was typically evangelical. My understanding of Lutheranism was very vague. I respected the Lutheran church as the church of the Reformation, but I thought that my Presbyterian church had probably reformed things a little more completely.

The Presbyterian church of my childhood was the perfect setting in which to become a convinced Zwinglian (follower of the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli who held that Communion was merely symbolic) without knowing it. I had no knowledge of the ritual until my early school years. I remember sitting in church and seeing a table up front on which were engraved the words "Do this in Remembrance of Me." This was like "Jeopardy!" on a deeper level, begging the question, "What is this that we do in remembrance of Jesus?" The answer was, Communion. Instead of the more usual case where a person is aware of Communion and later asks, "What does this mean?", I was told what this action meant without knowing what this action was.

I was blissfully unaware that anybody denied this interpretation, except for Roman Catholics. Then, in college, I remember hearing Sunday morning radio where Catholic Mass was followed by a Lutheran service. Both the priest and the pastor preached from John chapter six. From that passage the priest taught that the bread and wine were the body and blood of Christ. Then I discovered that that Lutheran pastor was to preach on the same text. I couldn't wait until he provided the correct symbolical interpretation of the passage. But it never came. To my chagrin, the Lutheran pastor taught that in Communion we receive the body and blood of Christ. I was shocked!

I had never been told that only a minority of the early Protestants held to a purely symbolic view of Communion. I had probably heard that the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation was invented in the year 1215, as if before that everyone believed it was a symbolic memorial. Then I thought that all Protestants rejected the Catholic view in favor of the memorial view. It was only later that I realized that while Transubstantiation was a recent invention (as far as church history goes), almost everyone—Lutheran, Calvinist, Roman Catholic—held to some kind of belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Many of the early Protestants rejected Transubstantiation without rejecting the Real Presence.......

In a way that may not be understood by those who were not born evangelical, one fear occasioned by the Lutheran teaching on the Lord's Supper is the fear that to receive the Lord's Supper for the forgiveness of sins is to be saved by works. We perform an action and receive salvation in response. This is how I first understood the teaching. In one discussion, a Lutheran woman spoke of how we bring our sins to the Lord's Table and return forgiven. I thought this was odd. What would happen if you died on the way up there? (I know, this is the same question I asked of the Disciples of Christ view of Baptism. But it is a good question!) The difference is that in this case there is an answer. The woman knew her teaching. She assured me that my sins would be forgiven even then.

This did alleviate my misgivings, but I was still uncertain. The view did not violate known true doctrines. What I came to see, though, was how many other aspects of my Christian life in evangelicalism functioned in a similar fashion to the Lord's Supper. When I was aware that I had sinned, I had been taught to pray and ask for forgiveness. I was assured by the promise in I John that Jesus forgave when I confessed my sins. But I was also taught that I was already forgiven before I prayed. (Hence if I died before I prayed...) Yet I could not erase the passages that spoke of forgiveness following confession. The two truths had to coexist. The Sacraments were the same. They offered a forgiveness that most people who partook of them already possessed....

It is a common question asked among evangelicals whether or not they are in the will of God. The Lutherans can answer that question from another angle. "Yes, you are in the will of God," we can confidently say. "You are in his last will and testament. Knowing that he was going to die, God decided to have you written into his will. The legacy he left was his body and blood, along with all of the honors, rights and privileges appertaining." If we were to say this to someone, he or she might first think that we were guilty of a trick. We speak narrowly of a last will. Yet if God does not change, was not this his will all along? We have not skirted the question, but answered the deeper question that lay beneath it. We cannot place ourselves in the will of God through perfect obedience, for we are imperfect. To the extent that we fail, we must not trick ourselves into believing that this is mostly a matter of ignorance—that if we only knew the will of God we would do it. No, the matter is out of our hands. But God has placed us in his will, so that unworthy heirs though we are, we might receive life and salvation through the body and blood of his Son. Not only so. We know where to receive this gift: at an altar of a church that confesses that it has come together to receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
Hoc est corpus meum! Read the whole thing.


Timothy said...


Well writen post. I'm curious as to why you didn't go Catholic and opted for Lutheran. I imagine its because of the extra sacraments and others things that seem un-Reformed.

Btw, Confessing Evangelical has changed URLs and your side link needs updating to:

Edward Reiss said...

Hello Timothy, and welcome.

I think you misunderstood something, the story is not mine, but one I found on the Internet.

Also, thanks for the heads up Re: Confessing Evangelical, I changed the link.

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