XIV. The Lord's Supper

Like Baptism, the Lord’s Supper is a divine ordinance to be observed till the end of time. That it is a divine ordinance and command is evident from Luke 22:19 and 1 Cor. 11: 24, 25: “This do in remembrance of Me;” and that this command is in effect till the last day is evident from the “till He come” of 1 Cor. 11:26.

The Lord’s Supper has in common with private absolution and Baptism, the individual assurance of the forgiveness of sins. What is peculiar to the Lord’s Supper is the confirmation of the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, by the imparting of the body of Christ given for us, and of the blood of Christ shed for us. The sequence of Baptism, as the Sacrament of initiation, and the Lord’s Supper, as the Sacrament of confirmation, is similar to the relation between circumcision and the Passover in the Old Testament, no person being permitted to eat of the Passover unless previously circumcised (Exodus 12:48).

The Scriptural doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, based upon the words of institution, is that bread and wine and body and blood of Christ are present in such a way that with the bread Christ’s body and with the wine Christ’s blood is distributed and received in a unique union which takes place only in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and hence is fittingly called a sacramental union. This is the Lutheran doctrine, and it is also the doctrine of the Christian Church for centuries before the invention by the Roman Church of the fiction called “transubstantiation”, or the denial by the Reformed Churches that the true body and blood of Christ are present in accordance with His words.

The papistical teaching that bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ through the consecration of a Romish priest is refuted by the fact that after the consecration, bread and wine are still named as present, 1 Cor. 11: 26, 27, 28. The Reformed teaching, that the body and blood of Christ are present in the Lord’s Supper only in representation, or symbolically, not really, is refuted by the fact that Christ expressly describes the body, which He distributes to be eaten with the mouth in the Lord’s Supper, as “My body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19), and expressly describes His blood, which He distributes to be drunk with the mouth in the Lord’s Supper, as “My blood which is shed for many” (Matt. 26:28). Also the word “communion,” in 1 Cor. 10:16, proves the presence both of the bread and wine (against the Papists) and also of the body and blood of Christ (against the Reformed). The Lutheran doctrine proves itself to be Scriptural by the fact that it lets the words of institution stand as they read.

So completely is the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper expressed by these words, as they stand in Matt. 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:19, 20; 1 Cor. 11:23–25, that we need only transcribe them in order to state our doctrine, as follows:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it and gave it to His disciples, saying, Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me. After the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins. This do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Luther rightly said, in maintaining this Biblical doctrine, that he had no need to prove his text, since it stands in Scripture. Only those whose doctrine is not that of the Christian Church, as given in Scripture, need to offer complicated explanations of what they think these words ought to mean, or seek supports for their error in other passages of Scripture which do not treat at all of the Lord’s Supper. A simple test, which anyone can apply to those who profess to believe the doctrine of the Christian Church concerning the Lord’s Supper, is to put the question: “What do unworthy communicants, if such should come to the altar where the Lord’s Supper is being rightly administered, receive?” The only correct answer is: “The true body and blood of Christ — but to their condemnation” (1 Cor. 11:27–29). If the answer should be: “Only bread and wine” — then you may know that the one who returns such answer does not believe the body and blood of Christ are truly present in with and under the bread and wine, even though he professes to believe that the worthy communicant in some way receives Christ’s body and blood by faith. The presence of the Lord’s body and blood in His Supper depends on His Word, not on our faith.

The benefit we derive from the Lord’s Supper, however, is received through faith. Since the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is the individual imparting or assurance of the forgiveness of sins, and this assurance can be received only by faith, therefore only the truly believing communicant obtains this benefit. The Savior, by imparting His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, desires to call forth in every communicant the thought that through the atoning death of Christ, he has a gracious God, that is, that he has the forgiveness of his sins. Hence Luther says: “I love it with all my heart, the precious, blessed Supper of my Lord Jesus Christ, in which He gives me His body and blood to eat and to drink also orally, with the mouth of my body, accompanied by the exceedingly sweet, precious words: ‘Given for you, shed for you.’ “

We are equally concerned about maintaining the truth of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ, orally received by all communicants wherever the Lord’s Supper is administered in accordance with His institution, and about the believing eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Therefore Lutheran congregations and pastors are very careful in their stewardship of the Sacrament to observe the apostolic practice of “close communion,” excluding those who cannot or will not examine themselves, who either do not know or do not believe that they receive Christ’s true body and blood in the Sacrament and that this is given and shed for them for the remission of sins. By the grace of God we have enough love, even for our unbelieving or misbelieving fellow-men, to restrain them, to the best of our knowledge and ability, from receiving the Lord’s body and blood to their condemnation, “not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:29). The Lord administered His Supper not to the public but to His disciples.

A few further details in connection with the Lord’s Supper may receive mention in closing:

1). The few verbal variations in the four records of the words of institution (no difference whatever in the substance of what the words say) may easily be accounted for by the fact that our Lord no doubt spoke the words more than once as He went from one to another of the disciples in administering each element.

2). The earthly elements designated in Scripture, in with and under which the Lord gives us His body and blood, are bread, baked of flour and water, and wine, the fermented juice of the grape. No substitution may be made for either. While the word used for “bread” in the Greek New Testament does not apply exclusively either to wheat, rye, or barley, etc., to leavened or unleavened bread, yet we know from the fact that the Lord’s Supper was instituted after the passover meal that the bread on hand and used was unleavened, and so our Church is accustomed to use unleavened wafers. The phrase used to designate the wine in the Greek New Testament, “fruit of the vine,” admits of no other meaning, according to its linguistic usage, than fermented juice of the grape; and hence the substitution of “grape juice” in which the natural process of fermentation has been artificially arrested, is not legitimate.

3). There is no Scriptural basis for the idea that the sacramental union takes place aside from the act of eating and drinking. Christ says: “Take eat; this is My body.” “Drink ye all of it; this is My blood.” Hence the reservation or carrying about of the consecrated “host” (the meaning of the word in Latin is “victim,” and it refers to the wafers used in the Sacrament) is no Lord’s Supper but a mockery of the Lord’s Supper, and the worship of the host is idolatry. Hence we know what to think of the “Eucharistic congresses” of the Romanists.

4). The Romish perversion of God’s great gift to us in the Sacrament into a “sacrifice” which the priest offers to God to atone for the sins of the living and the dead is a blasphemous denial of Christ’s one atoning sacrifice on Calvary. The attempt of “high-church Lutherans” and other high-churchmen to intrude some sort of “sacrificial” significance into the Lord’s Supper is a Romanizing tendency. The Lord’s Supper is one of the three means of grace, all of which have the same purpose and effect, to offer, convey, and seal to us the grace which Christ has merited, and therefore should not be exalted above the other means of grace. To do so is a Romanizing tendency. It is the Word which gives effectiveness to both the Sacraments.

5). The Lord’s Supper is not effected (made effective or valid) by the character of the one who administers the Lord’s Supper; also not by the faith and piety of the recipients of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is effected solely by the institution of Christ, which includes the command of Christ to celebrate the Lord’s Supper till the last day (Luke 22:19: “This do in remembrance of Me”) and, connected with this command, the promise of the real presence: “This is my body. This is My blood.” We have an analogy to the continuous effectiveness of the Lord’s institution at our celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the continuous effectiveness of the divine creative word in the realm of nature, “Let the earth bring forth grass and herbs.” That a Christian congregation in our time intends to celebrate the Lord’s Supper instituted by Christ it declares through the consecration, whereby it sets the elements of bread and wine apart from ordinary use and designates them to be bearers of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. See 1 Cor. 10:16: “The cup of blessing which we bless.”

The great blessings bestowed upon us in the Lord’s Supper should induce Christians to desire it frequently, to prepare for it carefully, and to use it devoutly in faith.