The Lord's Supper in Reformed and Biblical Consensus

* The following was originally presented as my theological paper for my ordination trials in May, 2014.

 

Introduction

Although the Lord’s Supper was instituted by our Lord as a lasting ordinance so that his people might commune together with their God and with one another, it has long produced precisely the opposite effect. Evidently it was among the central divisions of the early Corinthian church (1 Cor 11), and its divisive tendency is perhaps best captured when we consider that even the inaugural communion meal was accompanied by Satan’s presence and murderous betrayal (Jn 13:27, 30), then followed immediately by the dissolution of the remaining eleven disciples (Mk 14:50), and Peter’s utter denial of the One who had declared his union with them (Jn 18:27).

Attempts to clarify the Lord’s Supper have almost always been met with division and rivalry. So why would anyone be crazy enough to attempt to articulate a positive formulation of the doctrine, when it is nearly guaranteed to meet with opposition? I choose this topic because I believe it is one of the vitally important points of the Reformation which must be recovered by the dying American church, and because although the consequences of division are dire, the possible riches of restored consensus seem to me invaluable not only for the lifeblood of our own denomination, but for the possibility of being a Christian in our culture.

Given the size of the doctrine and its history, I limit myself to one consideration: what happens in communion when it is celebrated properly. I intend to demonstrate consensus between Calvin and the Westminster divines, first on the question of the function of the Lord’s Supper, and second in the robust affirmation of Christ’s real presence in the sacrament.[1] Their doctrine stands firmly between the Zwinglian doctrine of memorialism on the one hand, and the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation on the other, and instead upholds the ancient mystery by which Christ effects the union and nourishment of his Church.

Part 1 of this paper will examine something of the historical tides in Eucharistic thought, focusing on the Protestant developments from the Reformation to the present. Part 2 will attempt to demonstrate consistence between the formulations of communion in Calvin’s Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper and the Westminster standards. Part 3 discusses the biblical foundations of the doctrine. Finally, Part 4 is an attempt to suggest possibilities for the practice of the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in our contemporary setting.

Historical Landscape

The Lord’s Supper was among the chief disagreements in the High Medieval Church, first within the pre-Reformation Catholic Church,[2] then between the emerging Protestant groups.[3] No sooner had the Lutheran and Reformed traditions begun, than quarreling over the practice, importance, and meaning of the Lord’s Supper took new expressions.[4]

Very few people in those days argued for anything other than a robust realism of Christ in the elements, save Zwingli and the radical reformers. But even there it must be remembered that Zwingli’s Zwinglianism scarcely resembles contemporary forms of Zwinglianism, because for Zwingli it was his neo-Platonist metaphysical commitments that made the physical unsuitable for the possibility of higher, spiritual nourishment.[5] What is called Zwinglianism today is a metaphysical descendent of enlightenment materialism which precludes interplay between what is seen and what is not seen, by tacitly accepting that only what can be seen truly is at all.

The seventeenth century saw champions of Protestant Orthodoxy achieve new levels of sophistication in distinguishing Christians from Christians, and efforts to advocate for perspective between heresy and error were rejected and sometimes openly rejected as “syncretism.”[6] It was in this age of ever-growing division and deafening voices of dissent that an assembly of divines was called by the English Parliament to recommend a revised confession of faith for the Church of England.

Having begun in 1643, they completed their theological work by 1647, and were disbanded in 1652, thereafter to be disregarded in English church history, first by the dominant Cromwell, and then by the return to the monarchy and the Church of England.[7] Members of the assembly were “varied in outlook within a generic Calvinism,”[8] and they produced a remarkable statement of faith, faithfully articulating Reformed and biblical consensus of the sacrament of communion. However, the almost immediate rejection of the Westminster Confession in its own land meant that English Presbyterianism was something of a stillborn child, left to be reinterpreted by others.

By somewhere in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the intellectual currents embodied in the Enlightenment had crept deep into Christian theology.[9] Among the more disturbing results of the metaphysical skepticism of the age was an implicit requirement that theologians account for the words of Scripture by a new set of cultural plausibility structures, which began with doubt.[10] The net result of this epistemological filter can be seen in the school of Higher Criticism, the superlative elevation of Reason,[11] the triumph of individual interpretation and experience, and the extraction of Christ from the Lord’s Supper.[12] The lingering assumptions of the enlightenment continue to haunt us to this day.

Communion in Calvin & Westminster

Purpose in Calvinism

The “Short Treatise on the Supper of Our Lord” serves a pivotal role in Calvin’s doctrine of the Eucharist. It was written during his formative time with Martin Bucer in Strasbourg (1538–1541).[13] It demonstrates both a complete reversal of the thoughts he published in the 1536 Institutes, and sets the trajectory of his mature teaching on the subject, which continued to develop even up through his final publication of the Institutes in 1559.[14] Calvin did not print the “Short Treatise” until his return to Geneva, where it was widely disseminated and spread across the Protestant world as part of Calvin’s personal effort to heal the fractured Church.[15] I have chosen it for this paper because it is a faithful expression of the doctrine Calvin held for most of his life, and because it does not carry the historical baggage of the revisions and restructuring which the Institutes does.[16]

Calvin identifies three core purposes of the supper in § 6 of the “Short Treatise” (I present them in bulleted form). He writes, “Our Lord therefore instituted the supper… in order to:

  1.  “…sign and seal in our consciences the promises contained in his gospel concerning our being made partakers of his body and blood, and to give us certainty and assurance that therein lies our true spiritual nourishment, and that having such an earnest, we may entertain a right reliance on salvation.
  2. “…exercise us in recognizing his great goodness toward us, and thus lead us to laud and magnify him more fully.”
  3. “…exhort us to all holiness and innocence, inasmuch as we are members of Jesus Christ; and specially to exhort us to union and brotherly charity, as we are expressly commanded.”

Two things are most evident about the functions of the Lord’s Supper: First, they are modest in that they summarily echo the benefits of the received Gospel: the re-spoken and sealed promise of union with Christ, the recognition of God’s goodness toward us, and an exhortation to all holiness.

Yet, secondly, within these three functions lies a core that has virtually endless possible ramifications and expressions. In the same treatise, Calvin reformulates the functions of communion repeatedly. He speaks of its functions variously as the means by which “the Lord leads us to communion with Christ” (§ 5), as a visible attestation that “we have everything that is useful and salutary to us [in Christ]” (§ 9), even to the extent that “in the Supper we might have more ample certainty, and fuller enjoyment of [the same grace offered in the spoken gospel]” (§ 10), and he writes that it is the only means “that we can attain the enjoyment of [Christ’s death and passion]” (§ 11).

Such variety of expression represents only a sliver of the functional statements about the Supper in the “Short Treatise,” but it suffices to demonstrate that the three core purposes of the Supper are intended to demonstrate the irreducible value of the sacrament pro nobis, by ascribing to it the power and benefits of the spoken word itself. Thus, they posit a dynamic relationship between the bread and wine, the believer, and Christ, which flows into an abundant set of possibilities far greater than the core itself.

Purpose in Westminster

The Westminster Standards offer a similar picture of the proper functions of the Lord’s Supper. In the Confession, 29.1, its function is expressly:

  1. “…for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of [Christ] in His death;
  2. “the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him;
  3. “and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.”[17]

The Larger Catechism, Q. 168, speaks of four functions:

  1. “[Christ’s] death is showed forth;
  2. “and they that worthily communicate, feed upon his body and blood to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace;
  3. “have their union and communion with him confirmed;
  4. “testify and renew their thankfulness and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship each with other, as members of the same mystical body.”[18]

The Shorter Catechism, Q. 96, follows the Larger Catechism, with minor amendments:

  1. “his death is showed forth;
  2. “and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.”[19]

No analysis of these documents can begin without a firm acknowledgement that they all speak of an identical doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. However, their obvious differences of expression demonstrate broad flexibility which the divines found acceptable, and when taken together they mutually affirm that none of the three is intended to be comprehensive or exhaustive.[20]

The functions of the Lord’s Supper fall into two categories: First, Christ’s death is showed forth; and second, the plethora of benefits given to believers who participate in the Supper.[21] The first category is defined tersely throughout, and focuses on the act of gospel proclamation in communion, centering primarily upon Christ’s death. Westminster’s division between what the sacrament is pro omnibus, and what it is pro nobis, is the sole departure from Calvin’s functions in the “Short Treatise.” However, the difference is likely due to the different settings in which they wrote: Calvin was largely interested in gathering the true, albeit misguided children of God;[22] meanwhile the divines wrote what was intended to be state church doctrine for an England which had showed itself very clearly since the Reformation as a mixed bag, and were therefore interested in distinguishing between the functions of the supper for sheep and for goats.[23]

The second affords the divines a greater abundance of meaning for believers, and allows conceptual descriptions to be used interchangeably within the three documents: The effects of eating and drinking by faith are described as “the sealing all benefits [of Chirst’s death]” (WCF), their being made “partakers of his body and blood with all his benefits” (WSC), and their “feeding upon his body and blood to their spiritual nourishment” (WLC). These formulations affirm the dynamic benefits of Christ gained in the Supper, and describe “a feeding and sustenance akin to the physical feeding that sustains our bodily lives.”[24]

Meanwhile, the corresponding “bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other” (WCF), also stated as “thankfulness and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship each with other” (WLC), can be summarized, it would seem, as “spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace” (WSC, WLC, WCF). These formulations bespeak the love of Christ experienced in the Supper which flows out into love of neighbor.

In short, the function of the Lord’s Supper is identical between Calvin and the divines. For both of them, the Supper utters the death of Christ, and bids the faithful take refuge in him and move outward in love for others. Thus, it is nothing other than the Gospel itself, offered with tangible bread and wine for the sustenance of our souls.

Real Presence in Calvinism

When Calvin addresses the question of how the elements of communion can be called the body and bread of Christ, he answers first with a negative principle about what it would mean to deny Christ’s presence: “all the benefit which we should seek in the Supper is annihilated if Jesus Christ be not there given to us as the substance and foundation of all” (§ 12). He reiterates the point immediately: “to deny that a true communication of Jesus Christ is presented to us in the Supper, is to render this holy sacrament frivolous and useless—an execrable blasphemy unfit to be listened to.” This statement is perhaps Calvin’s own line scratched into the table of the Marburg Colloquoy, and is no doubt likewise aimed at Zwingli.[25]

The notion that Christ is totally absent from the communion cannot be attributed to Zwingli without qualification, because Christ is present, but only as a result of the activity of remembering in faith.[26] However, Calvin explicitly crafts his argument to preclude the possibility that Christ is present in the aftermath, by requiring the presence of Christ as the entry point of the Supper: He is truly offered to us in bread and wine. All further discussion depends upon it. By positing such a sweeping sine qua non, Calvin demands that all talk about the Lord’s Supper begin with a single affirmation: Christ is here for us. He does so, it would seem, for primarily two reasons: first, to uphold the mystery of communion, and second, to submit to the offer given to us in the Word of Scripture.

After having opened the discussion of Christ’s presence in § 12, Calvin then proceeds to emphasize the holiness of the believer which is required for communion (§ 13), and then explains that the bread and wine are visible signs of Christ’s body and blood which are “given to thorn” (§ 14). But right where we might expect him to relax the difficulty by admitting the elements are only signs and nothing more, Calvin asserts that just as surely as John saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Christ as a dove, “Thus it is with the communion which we have in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.”

In other words, if you had been at Christ’s baptism, you might only have seen a bird flying overhead, but you would be missing the fact that it was the Holy Spirit descending. From here on, Calvin trumpets that the Lord’s Supper is fundamentally “a spiritual mystery which can neither be seen by the eye nor comprehended by the human understanding” (§ 15, italics mine). When he explains further in § 15, he emphasizes only the unity of the sign and the reality, insisting that “the sacraments of the Lord should not and cannot be at all separated from their reality and substance.” Calvin certainly finds that theoretical distinctions between sacrament and reality are necessary and good, but only “in order to guard against confounding them,” and in the end he firmly rejoins, “to divide them, so as to make the one exist without the other, is absurd” (§ 15).

Diarmaid MacCullough reminds us that Calvin very often made theological distinctions for the preservation, rather than the division, of doctrine.[27] In this respect, he consciously attempted to follow the model of the Chalcedonian Definition, which speaks of the relationship between Christ’s divinity and humanity as “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”[28] Note the identical language Calvin uses of the sacrament, when in § 15 he describes the rationale for theoretical distinctions explicitly as a guard against the possibilities of confusion or division. Indeed his tenacious grip upon incomprehensible polar realities is perhaps the hallmark of Calvin’s deepest theological reflections, which can be seen nowhere more clearly than in his doctrine of communion. In this case, the net effect is that we are left right where we began: Christ is offered to us in communion.

Calvin’s theological debt to Chalcedon was founded on exactly the same principle as their doctrine: the Bible says so. By submitting ourselves to the word of God, we cannot go beyond it without finding ourselves at odds with it. Calvin repeatedly stakes his argument on the boundaries of Scripture. He writes, “If these words [in Jn 6:55] are not to go for nothing, it follows that in order to have our life in Christ our souls must feed on his body and blood as their proper food” (§ 13). Furthermore, because Christ calls the elements his body and blood, that “we indeed infer that the name of the body of Jesus Christ is transferred to the bread” (§ 15). On the same point he insists: “If God cannot deceive or lie, it follows that [the sign] accomplishes all which it signifies” (§ 16).

Calvin’s metaphysical minimalism in this regard may itself be understood an attempt to halt the waves of endless speculation which dominated theology in his day as well as ours. He explains what he means in pictures, not philosophical jaunts. Thus we conclude this section with a quote: “the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the visible signs; and as the bread is distributed to us by the hand, so the body of Christ is communicated to us in order that we may be made partakers of it” (§ 17).

Real Presence in Westminster

Due to their different purpose and audience, the Westminster Standards must be assessed somewhat differently than Calvin’s “Short Treatise.” The Standards are not so much a positive explication of doctrine as they are a measured affirmation of already known Reformed doctrine, combined with a calculated rejection of error, all in a short space. Where Calvin can write sixty paragraphs, the divines allot themselves only eight. The net result is that the divines deal in phrases and ideas which require higher levels of contextual information in order to understand exactly what is being affirmed and rejected. This means, negatively, that the data is somewhat spare, but positively, that the data which is present is quite dense.

Viewed in this way, we find a wealth of continuity between Calvin’s “Short Treatise” and the Westminster Standards.[29] WCF 29.1–2 deals with the functions of communion, where § 1 states them positively, and § 2 deals with the question of sacrifice with reference to the Mass; 29.3–4 discuss the proper ceremonial elements of the Supper, where § 3 again states them positively, and § 4 responds to the Roman practice of private Mass; 29.5–6 address the significance of the elements in the sacrament, where § 5 offers a positive formulation, and § 6 addresses transubstantiation; finally 29.7–8 deal with the effect of eating, where § 7 focuses on the positive benefits for believers but also distances itself from the Lutheran position, and § 8 describes the effects of eating and drinking at the Supper unworthily.

§ 5–8 offer the most pertinent discussion of Christ’s presence. In § 5, the WCF asserts that when used properly in communion the elements may rightly be called the body and blood of Christ in a sacramental setting.[30] § 7 goes much further and asserts, “Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed… receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death.” The thrust of the statement as that just as surely as you eat and drink the bread and wine, so you feed on Christ’s body and blood inwardly. Just as with Calvin, the distinction between outward and inward serves not to separate but to keep the two things together. Here the distinction is used to present the parallel images as a unified picture of what is going on at once in your stomach and in your soul.

The language offers a very similar picture of Calvin’s discussion of the Holy Spirit, and of Christ being offered even as you are handed the bread. Letham summarizes, “This section teaches the same as Calvin, that there is a true feeding on Christ in the Eucharist, not in a physical manner, but by the Holy Spirit. This is a real and true feeling, a communion that sustains and nourishes us and so brings about our growth in union with Christ.”[31]

Biblical Underpinnings

Jesus Christ is “the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being” (He 1:3). “In him, the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). He says alternately, “No one has seen the Father except [me]” (Jn 6:43), and “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Only in Christ is God known. He teaches his followers what is good and what is evil, what is truth and what is a lie. By his word, Jesus defines the contours of their reality.

To his disciples Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). When many are offended Jesus does not qualify his command, but instead demands, “Do you take offense at this?” (Jn 6:60). Their offense is not allowed. Theirs is the offense of the world that refuses to partake in true God because it refuses to believe that such a thing can be. They cannot see the fullness of grace because they are trapped in the confinement of what they believe is possible and impossible. Therefore, they cannot hear the word of God. Only those who accept his terms are told something more: “the flesh counts for nothing” (Jn 6:63). Everything depends upon God.

When he says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (e.g. Mk 14:22, 24), Christ invites them to become partakers of the divine grace by which he chooses to come and nourish immortal souls with simple bread and wine. In communion, Christians enter the mystical event of participation in the divine life (1 Co 10:21–22), but they do not become a part of God. Rather, they are already in him, insofar as they are already the body of Christ, the branches of the vine, and the citizens of the kingdom of the beloved son.

Practical Considerations

The “Directory for the Publick Worship of God,” was completed in 1644 and received by Parliament on January 3, 1645 to replace the Book of Common Prayer. When describing how a minister should introduce communion, it adjures him to express “the inestimable benefit we have by this sacrament.”[32] It summarizes that the Eucharistic prayer should thank God “…for this sacrament in particular, by which Christ and all his benefits are applied and sealed up unto us…”[33] and should entreat the Lord that we might “…feed upon him [in such a way], that he may be one with us, and we with him, that he may live in us, and we in him…”[34] Such expressions, it was believed, faithfully communicated the true doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

If you attend a Presbyterian celebration of the Lord’s Supper today you are unlikely to find anyone speaking about the “inestimable benefit” a Christian should seek in Lord’s Supper. Our subconscious commitments to metaphysical materialism and linguistic positivism have created a very predictable norm in our churches, where most of our time is spent describing how “un-magical” the elements are, and explaining the meaning of the ordinance almost entirely as obedience to the command of the Lord. It is indeed good and necessary to obey the word of Jesus Christ, but he did not give us his commands and ordinances arbitrarily. Moreover, our Reformed heritage and our own confession and catechisms describe a theological richness in communion that is largely unknown today.

In this paper we have not discussed questions of praxis in the Lord’s Supper, such as dominate the conversation in local churches today:  Should we use leavened or unleavened bread? Wine or grape juice? How should we rightly fence the table? Does the order of the ceremony matter? All of these are important questions to be weighed with regard to the command of Scripture and needs of each church in its unique cultural setting. It seems to me, though, that in order to discuss any of these question aright, we must first understand what the Supper is for, and Christ’s relationship to it.

If the sacrament of communion is purely a memorial meal, and the sole benefit to be derived from its practice is that we might individually meditate on the body of Christ, then that will color our ceremony from start to finish. In that case it might make the most sense to take the elements privately in our own pews, and to fence the table with a warning against violating the symbolism of the ritual, but not about violating Christ himself. If communion is a repeated sacrifice of Christ, and its value is inherent in the ceremony irrespective of congregational participation so long as the right actions are done by the right person, then we are likely to practice it in the manner of medieval Europe.

However, if communion invites us to a foretaste of the Supper of the Lamb, where we feed on the true body and blood of our Lord together with his church body, then praxis will look quite different. It should call us to an eschatological event, with great extremities of gravity and joy.[35] I have sought to demonstrate in this paper that the doctrine which we affirm along with the Westminster divines, John Calvin, and the great tradition of the Reformed Church, says that we celebrate with Christ: that he is offered to us truly and completely, that the growth of our union with Him depends on participation in the Supper often, thankfully, and expectantly. May it be so in our churches.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950.

Brannan, Rick, ed. Historic Creeds and Confessions. Electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997.

Byars, Ronald P. The Sacraments in Biblical Perspective. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.

Calvin, Jean. Tracts and Treatises. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Press, 1958.

Davis, Thomas J. This Is My Body: The Presence of Christ in Reformation Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day. New York, NY: HarperOne/HarperCollins, 2010.

Gordon, Bruce. Calvin. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2009.

Hillerbrand, Hans J. The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Horton, Michael S. The Christian Faith: a Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Horton, Michael S. “Union and Communion: Calvin’s Theology of Word and Sacrament.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 11, no. 4 (October 1, 2009): 398–414.

Letham, Robert. The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2001.

Letham, Robert. The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2009.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid. The Reformation. New York: Viking, 2004.

PCUSA. Book of Confessions. Office of the General Assembly, 1983.

Spinks, Bryan D. Reformation and Modern Rituals and Theologies of Baptism: From Luther to Contemporary Practices. Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006.

Thompson, Bard, ed. Liturgies of the Western Church. Cleveland, OH: Meridian Books, 1961. Repr., Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

Zwingli, Ulrich. “On True and False Religion” from A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introductions, edited by Denis Janz ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999.

 

Footnotes

[1] I have chosen function and reality as quantifiable parts of their Eucharist theology, in an effort to avoid speculation into the metaphysical properties which undergirded. See Thomas J. Davis, This is My Body, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008) esp. pp. 149–168, for a discussion of this danger.

[2] Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950), 105–110.

[3] Bainton, 206–207; 248–51.

[4] Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 167–170; Hans J. Hillerbrand, The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 389–393.

[5] The impact of Zwingli’s Neoplatonist convictions can be observed in his odd rejection of the traditional understanding of original sin. As Bryan Spinks observes, “For Zwingli, original sin was to be understood as a disease or condition by which humans are prone to sin, but do not inherit original guilt,” in Reformation and Modern Rituals and Theologies of Baptism: From Luther to Contemporary Practices (Aldershot, UK; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006), 32.

[6] See for example the story of ecumenist Georg Calixtus in Lutheran Germany during the period of protestant scholasticism, recounted briefly by Justo L. González in The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: HarperOne/HarperCollins, 2010), 226–228.

[7] Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2009), 31, 42–44.

[8] Letham, Westminster Assembly, 3.

[9] As Ronald Byars puts it, “Western societies, from the Enlightenment on, took for granted that, if there was a God, that God was not likely to be involved with the world, excepting perhaps by influencing human thoughts and feelings.” In The sacraments in Biblical Perspective (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2011), 2.

[10] This embodied in Descartes’ insistence that the first possible knowledge is contained in the solipsistic statement, “I think therefore I am,” as noted by Robert Letham in The Lord’s Supper, 27.

[11] Cf. The French Revolution.

[12] Robert Letham, The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2001), 27.

[13] Gordon, 165–166, cf. 234.

[14] Davis, 147.

[15] For examples of the breadth of its dissemination, see Davis, 63; Gordon, 177, 185. On Calvin’s overtly ecumenical intentions during this period, see Gordon, 161–180.

[16] See Gordon, 185; Davis, 63

[17] WCF, 29.1.

[18] WLC, Q. 168.

[19] WSC, Q. 96.

[20] The differences which stand out between the Westminster documents are the lack of attention to Christ’s “mystical body” in the WSC, as well as the WSC’s distinction about the means of efficacy in the elements “not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith.” These may be attributable to the WSC’s intended audience, which is understood as children and others new in the faith. The WSC was explicitly regarded by the Scottish Church as “a directory for catechizing such as are of weaker capacity,” at the Assembly at Edinburgh, July 28, 1648, Sess. 19. Thus the authors seem to have veered away from more mature theological concept of the “mystical body” of Christ, and attempted to portray the differences between the Reformed doctrine, and the Lutheran and Catholic doctrines more succinctly than in the WCF and WLC, each of which devote several sections to the subject.

[21] Letham identifies five reasons for the Lord’s Supper in the WCF, without breaking the doctrine into further categories (Lord’s Supper, 348). Without disagreeing with him, my categories are intended to demonstrate the differences between the “for all” (pro omnibus) and the “for us” (pro nobis) aspects of the doctrine.

[22] For Calvin’s fervent attempts to unite Protestants, see esp. Gordon’s biography, Calvin, 164–70.

[23] Letham, Westminster Assembly, 27–30.

[24] Letham, The Lord’s Supper, 39.

[25] See Zwingli’s “On True and False Religion,” pp. 159–161 in A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introductions (ed.by Denis Janz, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1999).

[26] Thomas Davis suggests the word “psychospiritual” may be an appropriate modern terminology to capture Zwingli’s understanding of the presence of Christ in communion (This is My Body, 158).

[27] Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation, 241–244.

[28] Historic Creeds and Confessions (electronic ed.; Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[29] Note: For space reasons we look only at WCF 29, since it is the most systematic explication of the doctrine.

[30] The qualification that they are “sometimes called” by these names does not mean infrequently. Directory of Publick Worship which the divines prepared in addition to the confession and catechisms has the minister say “Take yee, eat yee; This is the Body of Christ which is broken for you, Do this in remembrance of him” (Liturgies of the Western Church, ed. by Bard Thompson [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980], 370).

[31] Letham, Westminster, 354.

[32] Thompson, 368.

[33] Ibid., 369.

[34] Ibid., 370.

[35] Michael Horton has drawn due attention to the eschatological aspects of Calvin’s doctrine of communion in “Union and communion: Calvin’s Theology of Word and sacrament,” IJST 11:4 (2009): 398–414.