A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Lord's Supper in Wesleyan Perspective #3

On the Nature and Place of the Lord's Supper

Wesley generally held to John Calvin's view of Christ's real presence in the Supper, even though the elements themselves do not transubstantiate. Christ is truly present, not in a substantial way, but through the Holy Spirit. Wesley utters some harsh words in reference to the doctrine of transubstantiation. He writes, "Such nonsense, absurdity, and self-contradiction all over is the doctrine of transubstantiation" ("Popery Calmly Considered"). Wesley believed that it was a doctrine contrary to Scripture, tradition, and human sense.

The Catholic Church uses Christ's statement, "This is my body," as evidence that Scripture supports its position. For Wesley, however, this is proof otherwise. Wesley points out that Jesus says, "This is my body," not "This is changed into my body" Also, Paul refers to the bread as "bread" after the consecration (1 Corinthians 10:17; 11:26-36).

Tradition, according to Wesley, is also opposed to transubstantiation. The church fathers refer to the elements as "the images, the symbols, the figure of Christ's body and blood."

Moreover, transubstantiation is contrary to the witness of the human senses. Wesley writes, "Take away the testimony of our senses, and there is no discerning a body from a spirit. But if we believe transubstantiation, we take away the testimony of all our senses."

Wesley's perspective on the Lord's Supper was unique in one important way: He believed the sacrament should not only be made available to persons who professed the Christian faith, but those who were "earnestly seeking" could come to the Table as well. In partaking of the Lord's Supper, Wesley believed that doubting individuals may be converted to true faith.

On the place of the Lord's Supper in Wesley's thought and practice, Thomas Langford notes, "The Lord's Supper is basic to spiritual nurture and is the supreme rite for conveying the grace of God" (Practical Divinity). Langford highlights the theological meaning that Wesley ascribed to the Lord's Supper in time and history:

The Eucharistic meal has three-dimensions: 1) It represents the suffering of Christ, and therefore is a memorial meal; 2) it conveys the fruits of those sufferings in present graces; and 3) it assures the believers of glory to come. The kingdom's coming presence, and ultimate fulfillment are held together....

The believer's participation in the Eucharist is two-fold: It is a physical taking of the bread and wine, and spiritually one feeds on the true body and blood of Christ. These two aspects are definitely distinct, but they form a single unity as well.

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