Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Transubstantiation - Concluding Thoughts

These are the concluding thoughts from a series of posts on the topic of transubstantiation. The previous posts are as follows:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Most Catholics I have spoken to on the matter of transubstantiation contend that the view presented here completely downplays the Lord's Supper. I would like to finish out this series of posts simply by saying that this view in no way detracts, denigrates, or condescends the Lord’s Supper. Nor would I say that Communion is merely a symbol. I think most people would agree that when Jesus says “Do this in remembrance of Me” He is not saying “I want you to intellectually recall all the facts you know about Me in your brain.” Rather, to partake of the Lord’s Supper is to remember His death and all that His death accomplished for us; this should stir and strengthen our faith and draw us into deeper communion with Jesus. Consider once more the words of J.C. Ryle on the subject:
    Now, is it reasonable to suppose that our Lord would appoint an ordinance for so simple a purpose as "remembering His death?" It most certainly is. Of all the facts in His earthly ministry none are equal in importance to that of His death. It was the great settlement for man's sin, which had been appointed in God's promise from the foundation of the world. It was the great redemption of almighty power, to which every sacrifice of animals, from the fall of man, continually pointed. It was the grand end and purpose for which the Messiah came into the world. It was the cornerstone and foundation of all man's hopes of pardon and peace with God. In short, Christ would have lived, and taught, and preached, and prophesied, and performed miracles in vain, if He had not "crowned it all by dying for our sins as our Substitute on the Cross!" His death was our life. His death was the payment of our debt to God. Without His death we would have been the most miserable of all creatures. No wonder that an ordinance was specially appointed to remind us of our Savior's death. It is the one thing which poor, weak, sinful man needs to be continually reminded. (J.C. Ryle, The Lord’s Supper)
In the ordinance of Communion, we have been given the opportunity to experience a profound and vital spiritual truth, and we are to be nourished and satisfied by faith in all that God has given us in Christ.

The Lord’s Supper proclaims Jesus – and that is no small thing at all.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Transubstantiation: Eating & Drinking

Continued from last post...

Most Catholic apologeticists contending that Christ's physical body and blood is materially manifest in the Lord’s Supper traditionally base this assertion on John 6:48-59. In this section of Scripture, Jesus foreshadows the meaning of the Lord's Supper and says publicly in the synagogue "I am the bread of life" (v. 48). He then talks about eating this bread; in v. 51, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." Clearly, this was a shocking statement given the response of those around Him. They took Him literally – the Jews began questioning how Jesus might give them His flesh to eat (v. 52), and Jesus responds (v. 53), "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you…"

The Baltimore Catechism uses parts of John 6 to defend the Catholic position of the Eucharist, specifically citing John 6:48-59 (Catechism 344). Unfortunately, this section of the Catechism stops short in explaining the context of Jesus' statements, for He does indeed explain to His disciples the meaning of what He was saying. The verses following John 6:59 (where the Catechism stops short in its citation) do indeed show that Jesus was not speaking literally. Jesus realized His disciples were confused about what He was telling them. Verse 60 points out "When many of his disciples heard it, they said, 'This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?'" So Jesus in v. 63 gives them the key to interpreting what He said, so His disciples would avoid the very mistake that the Jews in the synagogue were making in presuming He meant literally eating his physical flesh and blood: "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." With this statement, Jesus points out that He is specifically referring to a spiritual action, not a physical one.

He alludes to this very point earlier in this same chapter. In John 6:35, He says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." So, He will satisfy hunger and thirst. If He is speaking literally, then we can conlude that Christ is a complete and utter failure. Firstly – if we are to be consistent in our exegesis from that standpoint – we would have to literally (bodily) come to Him - but how can we do so if He is not here, but seated at the right hand of God in heavenly realms as Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, and Luke 22:69 tell us? Secondly, those who simply believe in Him would find physical nourishment - another clear failure if this was His intent, for even today (much less in all of A.D. history) true believers die of hunger, thirst, malnutrition.

But if He is not speaking literally, what then is the eating and drinking He refers to? It is coming to Christ and believing in Him. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” The eating and drinking refer to spiritual acts; desiring Him, accepting Him, trusting Him. He is speaking of the hunger and thirst of our souls being satisfied in Him – not our stomachs.

As with continual sacrifice, in this way too there is no need for physical, literal transubstantiation.

Continued next post...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Transubstantiation vs. Symbolic Language

Continued from this post...

I am of the mind that the Bible as a whole should be interpreted literally (an interesting topic in itself - perhaps a topic for later posts). This is a standpoint from which Catholic apologists often mount their defense of transubstantiation. However, let us not disregard that there are many times when the Bible does use symbolism and symbolic language. (This is not to say that you and I get to decide when the Bible uses symbolic language – the Word interprets itself in this matter!)

Jesus clearly utilized symbolism when teaching in parables. He also refers to Himself specifically using symbolic language; “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48); “I am the gate” (John 10:9); “I am the vine” (John 15:5). Reading these passages in context, it is clear Jesus never means He is literally a piece of bread, a gate, or a vine. Those would be unnatural assertions. In like fashion, if I were to hand you a photograph and say “This is my family” it would be unnatural for you to assert that I mean that the photo itself is literally my kin. Rather, it is understood to be representative. I believe it is clear that the same is true when Christ says “This is My body” in reference to the bread. Consider the words of J.C. Ryle, a widely-respected English pastor from the 19th century:
    Does the New Testament authorize men to say that the Lord's Supper was ordained to be a sacrifice, and that in it Christ's literal body and blood are present under the forms of bread and wine? Most certainly not! When the Lord Jesus said to the disciples, "This is my Body," and "this is my Blood," He clearly meant, "This bread in my hand is an symbol of my Body, and this cup of wine in my hand contains a symbol of my Blood." The disciples were accustomed to hear Him use such language. They remembered His saying, "The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one" (Matthew 13:38). It never entered into their minds that He meant to say He was holding His own body and His own blood in His hands, and literally giving them His literal body and blood to eat and drink. Not one of the writers of the New Testament ever speaks of the Lord's Supper as a sacrifice, or calls the Lord's Table an altar, or even hints that a Christian minister is a sacrificing priest. (J.C. Ryle, The Lord’s Supper)
Furthermore, John Piper points out that if the words, "This [bread] is My body" (I Cor. 11:24) were intended to mean, "This [bread] has literally turned into My physical body," would we not expect the same meaning to hold for the statement about the cup? In the next verse Jesus says, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." Yet, in the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, this statement is not forced to mean “This cup has literally turned into a covenant.” Here, the cup is acknowledged as representative, a reminder that the blood secures or purchases or guarantees the blessings of the covenant. Honest exegesis requires consistency.

Continued next post...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Transubstantiation: A Continuing Sacrifice?

Continued from this post.

Let me begin by first clarifying the belief that I spoke out against. Catholic doctrine holds that "Christ gives us His own body and blood in the holy Eucharist first, to be offered as a sacrifice commemorating and renewing for all time the sacrifice of the cross" (Catechism 356). This view of the Lord’s Supper, from the Catholic standpoint, is literally the re-sacrificing of Christ. And, while the Catholic catechisms quote Scriptures that speak of Christ dying once at the cross, this doctrine also teaches that Catholic priests perform at each Mass a miracle that transforms the bread and wine into Christ's physical body and blood (transubstantiation) and that each Mass “is the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the cross” (Catechism 359). Jesus is then – quite literally according this doctrine – sacrificed anew each time a Mass is held and the Lord's Supper is taken.

In contrast to this, however, the New Testament teaches that Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins was both final and complete for all time. Consider Hebrews 9, which deals with the passing away of first (old) covenant regulations in light of the new covenant in Jesus. Hebrews 9:25-28 says “…Nor was it to offer Himself repeatedly… for then He would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, He appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself… so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many…” Consider too the even more explicit statements of Hebrews 10:10 – “…We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” Hebrews 10:12 – “…But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time…” and of Hebrews 10:14 – “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” Consider as well Christ’s own words before He died on the cross – “It is finished” (John 19:30). The phrase in Greek is teleho – which is to bring to a close, to complete, to fulfill, to accomplish the final part of one’s task.

To assert then that there is a continuation of Christ’s sacrifice, as the Roman Catholic doctrine asserts in their view of the Eucharist, not only contradicts New Testament teaching, but destroys the assurance we have that payment for our sin has been fully paid – once and for all – by Christ and wholly accepted by God the Father. If continual sacrifice for our sins still must be made by Christ, we have no assurance of there being “no condemnation” toward us (Romans 8:1). New Testament doctrine is clear that after the one offering of Christ on the cross, there is no more need of continual or further sacrifice.

Continued next post...

Monday, October 03, 2005

Hike Colorado

I went to Colorado this weekend with a friend to visit my brother and do some hiking. If you like hikin' and you've never hiked the Rockies, you should probably drop everything and go right now. We took on Mt. Yale, which summits at 14,196 ft. above sea level. It was without a doubt the most difficult hike I'd ever done - as if the incline of a 'fourteener' wasn't rigorous enough in itself, the thin air at that altitude (and my own lack of conditioning) certainly made for one tough climb. It was, however, in a word - awesome.