Teachings about the Lord’s Supper separate most of the various branches of Christianity. When true Lutherans accept this teaching of the Scriptures, they stand apart from other Christians.
Roman Catholicism confesses that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ when the priest speaks the words of institution. This becomes an unbloody sacrifice which the priest offers to earn “grace” from God. This “grace” is then distributed to the people to help them live more God-pleasing lives. Catholicism turns the sacrament from gospel into law. The unbloody sacrifice performed by the priest becomes a human work offered to God for sin.
Most other non-Lutheran churches deny that Christ’s body and blood are really present with the bread and wine. They might speak about a spiritual presence of Christ, but the bread and wine merely represent Christ’s body and blood. They do not believe that God gives any blessings in the Lord’s Supper. Rather, Christians observe the Lord’s Supper as an act of obedience to remember Christ and his death. This rejects the words of Jesus and turns the sacrament from gospel into law, from God’s gift into a human work of obedience.
True Lutherans teach what Jesus clearly said on the night he was betrayed. “This is my body. . . . This is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:26,28). We do not deny what Jesus said. We do not try to explain how Jesus can be present with his body and blood under bread and wine. Martin Luther wrote, “Why do we not put aside such curiosity and cling simply to the words of Christ, willing to remain in ignorance of what takes place here and content that the real body of Christ is present by virtue of the words?” (Luther’s Works Vol 36, p. 33).
We believe that Jesus’ body and blood are really and truly present in the Lord’s Supper. And we believe that Jesus is giving real and true spiritual gifts to us through this eating and drinking: forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is pure gospel for our comfort and spiritual strength. We simply hold to Jesus’ words. This is what true Lutherans do, as Luther emphasized in the Large Catechism. “We speak about the bread and wine that is Christ’s body and blood and has the words attached to it. That, we say, is truly the treasure—and nothing else—through which such forgiveness is gained. Now the only way this treasure is passed along and made our very own is in the words ‘Given . . . and shed for you.’ For in the words you have both truths, that it is Christ’s body and blood, and that it is yours as a treasure and gift.”
This is the eighth article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through his Reformation.
Author: Joel Otto
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017