Sunday, December 12, 2010

Acts 29 - Eucharist (Part 2) - A Symbol?

That the Eucharist celebration was the main focus of the early church's worship service in not seriously questioned by biblical scholars from any denomination. What's more, the common notion taught in most branches of Protestantism that the Eucharist is only meant to be understood symbolically was not held by the early church. This also is not debated by many Protestant church historians.

Jesus had quite a bit to say about what the early church considered the body and blood of Christ in John 6:
Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world... I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst... This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world... Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever... The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.
Many of his dicsiples said, "This is a hard saying" and "walked with him no more." Jesus didn't try to stop them or say something like, "No. I didn't mean it like that. I just meant it symbolically." He just asked his Apostles if they would leave him too.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul explains the consequences of taking the Eucharist in an unworthily manner:
So then, 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. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
These consequences are not the sort of things that one would associate with a ritual that was purely symbolic. Paul seems to take the body and blood as a very serious and very real sacrament that has very serious and very real consequences.

Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles did not teach that the Eucharist was merely symbolic. From the following quotes of those in the early church, it is clear that the early Christians believed the Eucharist to be the true body and blood of Christ.

Saint Ignatius (35-107), who was killed by lions in the Colosseum, says in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, "The eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins, and which in His loving-kindness the Father raised up".

Justin Martyr (100-165):
And this food is called among us the Eucharist of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them.

The list of quotes that testify to the early churches firm and unquestioned belief that the Eucharist was the very blood and body of Christ is incredibly long as it spans from the Gospels to the time of Martin Luther. Click here for an impressive sample of those quotes.

You would expect Martin Luther, the Father of the Reformation, to hold a different position than the early church, but that is not the case:
If anybody had been able to persuade me that there is nothing but bread and wine in the Sacrament, he would, I confess, have rendered me a great service. I have undergone severe struggles, and have twisted and turned to get over it (belief in the Eucharist), because I was fully aware that it would have been the most severe blow which I could have dealt against Popery. But I am in prison. I cannot escape, the text, “This is my body”, is too powerful, and no words can make it mean anything else.
Zwingli and Calvin, Luther's contemporaries, would go on to profess that the Eucharist is merely symbolic and to believe otherwise was heretical position. This is a complete reversal of 1,500 years of what Christianity, the Apostles, Paul, and Jesus Christ himself taught and believed, which in so doing implies that the previous faithful were also heretics. This leads to the modern situation where the Eucharist is so utterly symbolic that you can buy a box of communion wafers off the shelf at any Christian bookstore for less than 5 bucks. What if you don't have pre-processed communion wafers? Christian forums all over the internet discuss what to do for alternatives to bread and wine. West Coast Church of the Cross mentions in their statement of faith that graham crackers and coke will do, while at the same time having the slogan, "Building a 1st Century Church in the 21st Century".

Part 1 | Part 3

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