Calling All Protestants to Embrace the Bodily Presence
First and foremost we have Jesus Christ who instituted the Lords Supper saying: "This is my body...this is my blood" (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:24-5). Did Jesus mean that the bread and wine were really His body and blood? Or did He mean that the bread and wine symbolized His body and blood? How you interpret this depends on your pre-suppositions, and assumptions. Since Scripture interprets Scripture, I will now examine the words of Christ in the rest of the Scriptures. Paul says:
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16).
The Greek word translated "participation" is koinonia. This word is strong and participation does not capture its depth. The NKJV translates this better saying, “communion.” This word could mean "union," "sharing," or "fellowship." Notice that Paul doesn’t say we have a union with the Holy Spirit. He says we have union with Christ’s body and blood when we partake of the bread and wine. In the next chapter Paul says:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).
If the bread and wine in the Lords Supper were ordinary, why would the Corinthians be profaning the body and blood of the Lord when they ate the bread and wine? If the Lords Supper were ordinary, why would eating it unworthily cause people to be put to death (v. 30)!? What does Paul mean when he says “without discerning the body?” This means that Christians ought to know what they are receiving before they come to the table of the Lords Supper. For the early church, this passage was talking about Christ’s bodily presence in the bread and wine. In John chapter 6, John records:
“The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on 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 whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever’ (John 6:52-57).
What did Christ mean in this passage? Two crucial questions are: How did the disciples understand Jesus? And how did Jesus respond to them? The disciples responded by saying: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” They understood Jesus to be speaking literally. Now the disciples have gotten things wrong before. But look how Jesus responds:
“But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 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. But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him)” (John 6:61-64).
Jesus does not correct them by telling them that he was speaking figuratively, but says: “Do you take offense at this, when if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?” He then rebukes them because they are thinking carnally and not spiritually with faith. Some of you say that since Christ said, “the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” means he was speaking figuratively. But you are not considering this passage in its totality nor the consensus of the early church. Because of this teaching, many of Christ’s disciples no longer walked with Him:
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him…‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil." He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him” (John 6:66, 70-71).
Christ does not say, “Hey come back, I was only speaking figuratively!” Some disciples left him, and Christ let them go. He was speaking literally, and the disciples were called to accept this teaching. Further, Christ rebukes Judas because he was one of the disciples who would not accept this teaching (John 6:70-71). What is astonishing is that it was at the institution of the Lords Supper that Judas is revealed as the one who would betray Christ.
The context of this chapter has Eucharistic overtones all over it. The context of the feeding of the five thousand and of this teaching is the Passover (John 6:4). And when Jesus distributed the bread and fed the five thousand, he gave thanks (John 6:11). The Greek word to give thanks is eucharisto. That is the Greek word in which the Church derives the name for the Lords Supper. In the same chapter John reminds us that Christ gave thanks prior to distributing the bread to the five thousand (John 6:23). Why does John emphasize that? No where else in the Scriptures does Christ give thanks and distribute bread except in John 6 and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Observe:
“Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them” (John 6:11).
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19).
No where else in the Scriptures does Jesus talk about eating his body and blood except in John 6:52-57 and when he instituted the Lords Supper.
And finally, look at the unanimous consensus of the early church. Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John and was Bishop of the Church in Antioch. Now the term Bishop was used to describe Pastors in the early Church and comes from the Greek word episkopeis. It can be translated as Bishop or Overseer (seek NKJV for 1 Tim. 3:1). I know some of you fundamentalists are already raising red flags because now I’m referring to an extra-Biblical writing. But you are reading the Bible incorrectly as if it fell from heaven! The Bible is not like the Qu' ran. It is fully divine and fully human. It must be interepreted in its context. Without context we can't interpret anything! Those human beings who wrote the New Testament were mainly Apostles who wrote God’s Word down, but also preached God’s Word as well. They not only wrote, but they preached! To be sure they preached the same message that they wrote. And they planted churches and made disciples by the preaching of God’s Word. One of the Churches they planted was the church in Antioch where the poeple of God were first called Christians and where the Apostle Peter was the first Bishop. Ignatius who was later martyred in Rome took over as Bishop in Antioch and knew the Apostle John. Are you not curious what Ignatius had to say about the Lords Supper? Wouldn’t it be great to ask the Apostle John what he meant in John chapter 6 and what Christ meant when he instituted the Lords Supper just to be sure? Well, Ignatius was able to ask these questions, and his writings still survive today. He wrote:
"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible" (Letter to the Romans 7:3 [A.D. 110]).
"Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).
Ignatius is writing to churches that the Apostles planted. He calls the bread of the Lords Supper the flesh of God. That sounds exactly how John, his teacher described it in John chapter 6! He also says that those in the early church who held Docetic and Gnostic opinions, assumed that the natural and spiritual could not be combined. Their presuppositions caused them to reject the bodily presence of Christ in the Lords Supper. Ignatius calls those who reject the bodily presence of Christ, heterodox. That is, they are not orthodox Christians.
But was Ignatius a loner? No, Justin Martyr, attested to the same belief. He was murdered because he was a great defender of the Christian faith and wrote:
"For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).
Why would someone believe that Christ’s body and blood were truly present in the bread and wine? Because Justin Martyr was taught this by the Apostles! Look above. Further, Irenaeus was the Bishop in Lyons, France and was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Irenaeus was the first in the early church who declared in a complete way what Christians believed. He paved the way for a right understanding of the divinity of Christ. He was an orthodox Christian who defended the beliefs of the Church against the Gnostics. Irenaeus, wrote:
“He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him” (Against Heresies, 5:2, 189 AD).
Irenaeus here was also defending the faith against the Gnostics. This belief in the bodily presence of Christ in the Lords Supper was believed unanimously by the early Church until the Reformation and is therefore "catholic" or "universal" in the truest sense of that term. Since the Roman Catholic Church went overboard and began to offer Christ as Victim for the sins of the living and the dead, which has no Scriptural foundation and is a result of medieval superstition, it is no wonder some of the Reformers over-reacted. But the conservative Evangelical party, who would later be called the Lutherans did not over react and returned to the orthodox understanding of the Lords Supper that Christ is present in the Lords Supper with his body and blood. The Roman Catholic churches teaching on transubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass were innovations, and the conservative Evangelicals returned to a right understanding of the presence of Christ without the abuses. The bodily presence is attested to in the Scriptures, and was unanimously believed by the early church.