Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Church And Eucharist

Unlike Non-Sacramental Protestant (NSP) churches, the Eucharist (i.e., "communion") is of supreme importance to the Roman Catholic (RC) and Eastern Orthodox (EO) Churches, being central to the RC Mass and the EO Divine Liturgy. Regardless of what beliefs and practices about God, Jesus Christ, the Trinity, salvation, the Bible, prayer, Christian behavior, etc., that NSP churches have in common with the RC and EO Churches, their respective Eucharistic beliefs and practices separate and will continue to separate them.

In the RC and EO Churches, partaking of the Eucharist is as much an act or expression of one's union with the Church as it is an act or expression of being a member of Christ's body (and these churches may in fact view the two as being pretty much the same thing). RCs and EOs affirm, both in doctrine and in practice, that those who do not belong to these churches do not have the right or permission or ability to take the Eucharist in these churches, for such persons are not properly united to Christ such that they can partake of His body and blood. RCs and EOs are likewise not allowed to take communion with those who are not RC or EO, respectively. (And even though the RC Church and the EO Church have very similar Eucharistic beliefs and practices, RCs are not allowed to share communion with EOs, and vice-versa.)

Thus, in terms of their Eucharistic beliefs and practices, RCs and EOs do not treat or regard "other Christians" as full and equal members of Christ's body – i.e., as those who can share in their respective Church's and members' communion (κοινωνια) with the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:16). While this can probably also be said of some Protestant churches that have closed communion, in this post I'm primarily addressing the RC and EO Churches' Eucharistic practices and beliefs vis-a-vis the large majority of Protestant churches that simply require basic belief in Jesus in order to take communion.

In saying this I am not thereby saying that the RC and the EO Churches are wrong, but am only pointing out that their Eucharistic practices and beliefs are tied not simply (as is the case in many NSP churches) to the communicants' response to the question: "Who is Jesus?", but also to the questions: "What is the Eucharist?" and "What is the church?" Because of this, I think a person's view of the Eucharist should be an important factor in their decision to become or remain RC, EO or NSP. For example, if a person believes that:
  1. the bread and wine do or must become the Real body and blood of Christ (i.e., there is a change in the bread and wine),
  2. one's growth in salvation and/or reception or increase of grace includes the regular preparation for and act of eating and drinking the Real flesh/body and blood of Christ via the blessed Eucharistic elements,
  3. an apostolically-traceable ordained priesthood is a required component in authorizing and overseeing and effecting the sacramental change in the bread and the wine, whether by the priest's pronouncing the words of institution (RC Church) or by the priest's calling upon the Holy Spirit to effect the change (EO Church),
then he (or she) will have to be in either the RC Church or the EO Church, for he believes that he needs the above to be saved and to be in the Body of Christ. (Or if not the RC Church or the EO Church, one of the so-called "Oriental" Orthodox churches, if one accepts or doesn’t have a problem with their non-Chalcedonian Christology.) While I think it's possible to believe in points 1. and 2. without believing in point 3., to be RC or EO one must also believe and accept and affirm point 3., for in these churches the mystery (sacrament) of the Eucharist is not separable from the mystery of the priesthood.

A Question: If Christianity from the beginning (i.e., from the time of Jesus and the Apostles) has clearly and unarguably always believed and taught and practiced points 1. and 2. above as a central doctrine and practice of the faith, can or should Non-Sacramental Protestantism be called "Christian"? I.e., can a "Christian" group which ignores or rejects something the earliest Christians (including Jesus and the Apostles) believed and taught as a central doctrine and practice of the faith really be said to be "Christian"? (I don't include point 3. because I don't think it is a requirement for believing points 1. and 2., or automatically follows from them, though history shows that this is how the church's Eucharistic practices and beliefs developed for the majority of Christians.)

Note that I am not saying that this is in fact what Jesus and the Apostles believed and taught, but only asking a question about what to do if this is in fact the case.

(I suspect that the RC Church and the EO Church teach either that this is in fact the case or that the church was led by the Holy Spirit to come to understand that this is what Jesus and the Apostles meant - and hence believe that their Church's teaching is the True Teaching of the Eucharist.)

For a book that says much of what I currently believe about the Lord's Supper, see Come To The Table: Revisioning the Lord's Supper by John Mark Hicks © 2002 Leafwood Publishers, ISBN 0-9714289-7-2. Though I find the book unnecessarily repetitive, Hicks confirms some of the main ideas I had concluded after much study of the relevant Biblical texts and the history of the Liturgy and the Eucharist. For more on Hicks and this book, see Thursday, December 01, 2005 Reflections on Come to the Table -- No. 1 (December 2005 archives) and Monday, August 08, 2005 Eschatological Table (August 2005 archives) at his old blog http://professingprofessor.blogspot.com/. FWIW, I had arrived at my thoughts and conclusions before I came across Hicks' book, which I serendipitously found during a visit to Half Price Books 10/21/08.


  1. Very interesting post, thank you. I found you from mollys blog.
    One question though, regarding this:
    "And even though the RC Church and the EO Church have very similar Eucharistic beliefs and practices, RCs are not allowed to share communion with EOs, and vice-versa..
    Are you sure? It is my understanding that EO's ARE allowed to take Holy Communion in RC churches but not vice versa.
    Off to check now!
    PS I found the miracle story fascinating.

  2. It is my understanding that EO's ARE allowed to take Holy Communion in RC churches but not vice versa.


    Answering as one who has more knowledge of Orthodoxy than Catholicism, what I have been taught and/or told and/or have read is that in countries and in situations where there are no Orthodox Churches, Orthodox Christians might be given permission (it's called "economia") to take the Eucharist in a Catholic Church from a Catholic priest. The reverse may also happen, but I believe Orthodox priests and bishops are not allowed to, or are not supposed to, communicate non-Orthodox Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, even if the Catholic priest gives his parishioners permission to take the Eucharist in an Orthodox church.

    Technically - and maybe it's in some canons as well - Orthodox Christians are not supposed to take communion in non-Orthodox Churches or from non-Orthodox priests. I'm not sure what the Catholic Church teaches about this.

  3. E.

    You lost me in the last paragraph.

    You said, "...I am not saying that this is in fact what Jesus...taught....." and then end with, "....conseqently the RC Church's....teaching is the True Teaching of the Eucharist."

    So. I'm really sorry. I was following you closely until then! Can you clarify? What is your question exactly? Are you asking what should we do IF the RC is correct about the wine/bread = blood/body because you believe that that IS the correct teachign?

  4. sarah:

    I've rephrased my last paragraph so I think it more clearly states what I meant to say.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. Thanks for the clarification.

    I have just spent an entire semester sitting in a philosophy class that has been comprised 100% of questions such as these. "IF...THEN" arrivals at truth.

    The great thing about God's Truth is that it can not always be arrived at through a logical deconstruction/reconstruction. Sometimes it just requires Faith. :)

    Anyway onto your question. And I hope I don't offend... I had fun answering.

    I do not believe that Christianity (since Christ and the apostles) has "unarguably taught" points 1 and 2. Therefore I believe your question to have no basis nor merit - where orthodoxy is concerned - meaning that just because you assert points 1 and 2 as unarguable tenets of Christianity does not necessarily mean they are unarguable tenets of Christianity. Furthermore, I would say that believing in points 1 and 2 does not therefore include nor exclude you from the body of Christ.

    That said, and putting all things aside, I can grant the logistical question you are asking. IF you believe that 1 and 2 ARE unarguably necessary for salvation in the Christian faith then the answer is obviously NO - if a person does not participate in the eucharist they can not be called nor considered a Christian and thus are not saved - per your points 1 and 2 and the qualification that they are unarguably taught as viably necessary to the Christian by Christ and the apostles themselves. In this you have left no room for argument.


    Have I passed or failed Christian Logic 101?

    I have studied transubstantiation and do not believe in it at all. I do believe the RC church does believe they have the ONLY truth on the matter though. I am not at all familiar with the EO church. My husband was RC. We spent many years attending masses.

  6. I've never taken a logic course, so I don't know if you did or did not "pass" Christian Logic 101. ;^)

    As I state in my comment at the end of the post, a view that is similar to mine is described in Hicks's Come To The Table: Revisioning the Lord's Supper. And it's not so-called "transubstantiation" (i.e., a change in the bread and the wine into Christ's body and blood, whether physically, spiritually and/or mystically), either according to Roman Catholic teaching or according to Eastern Orthodox teaching. Nor does it accord with the similar-sounding Anglican/Episcopalian or Lutheran teachings.

  7. I have never read Hick's book, so I won't be able to comment on his interpretation of the matter. And truth be told, I am totally at a loss as to say what your position on the matter is too. You aren't entirely clear.

    But logic isn't always. And logic is exactly what you are doing with this. You have taken a point of orthopraxy and logically deconstructed it against orthodoxy. And from that have tried to reconstruct an argument in favor of - or rather in support of - what I would call basic transubstantiation - the changing of the bread/wine into the REAL body/blood of Christ.

    I hope I'm not offending. Just slap me around a bit and tell me to go home if I am. LOL.

    I will have to check out the book and give it a read-through. I haven't thought of this subject in a while. I think your question is somewhat fascinating though - to think of Christ himself eating his own flesh and drinking his own blood - before it had even been offered as a sacrifice - thus implementing the basic tenet of salvation before salvation had been nailed to the cross.

    Have I totally gotten myself turned around?

  8. One reason I haven't been clear is that while my position is against "transubstantiation," my full thoughts on the Lord's Supper and how the church did and should celebrate it are still somewhat in draft form.

    To briefly state them, though, I'd say that I believe the types of which the Last Supper/Lord's Supper was the antitype were the covenant feasts the Israelites were commanded in the Torah to celebrate in YHWH's presence, with the Lord's Supper probably being especially connected with the Passover. Such feasts and meals were reminders and renewals of the covenant God made with the Jews at Mt. Sinai in Exodus and again through Moses in Deuteronomy.

    When Christians gather around the Lord's Table to partake of the bread and the wine, as well as the rest of the meal (its original and, in my opinion, proper context), they are remembering and rededicating themselves to the covenant Jesus made by His blood (i.e., His death). And He, as head of the body, is the head of the gathering, and He is present at the meal as YHWH was present at the feasts. He no more becomes the bread and the wine than YHWH became what the Jews ate and drank. It is this action, this covenant-meal gathering, that is His body (the breaking of the bread introduced or opened the meal), and the cup of blessing is the cup of the covenant in His blood.

    If Louis Bouyer (Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer) is correct, then when we "do this in [His] remembrance," we are asking ourselves and His Father to remember the covenant Jesus made with us, and proclaiming it to ourselves and to God. It is to be a festive commemoration and dedication by us and God to the covenant Jesus made with His church, not a "service" where everyone either gets and holds the mere elements of a cracker and a thimble of grape juice or wine while somberly and individualistically contemplating Jesus's death, or (in the more liturgical churches) receives the elements, whether changed or unchanged, at the hands of a priest or pastor.

    Okay, I've stepped on enough toes with that and/or opened myself to a lot of objections, so I will probably not say or write too much more about this until I am ready to elaborate. But hopefully this clarifies things for you a bit more.

  9. E. I like your last paragraph. It made me laugh. I think, ultimately, Grace covers all of it and God knows your heart. If you are trying to honor HIM through your act of worship - be it through a covenant-meal gathering or through a transubstantiated eucharist (if you believe either is worshipful) God looks on the heart. Perhaps that's too glossed over for everyone. I don't know. I don't try to actually have answers to these issues - I am so glad Grace covers believers stupidity. I truly truly believe we will ALL get up there (Heaven) and go "OH! MAN! I was totally wrong about everything?!?!" hahaha

    I have been taught most recently that the Lord's supper is best understood through the Jewish wedding customs of Jesus' day. I received a thorough teaching on this and I was fascinated with it! However, it has been....2 years??? ... since I studied this and I'd have to dig out notes to cross-reference all my arguments in favor of why I think that Jesus was preparing his bridegroom (church) for the wedding feast (I think this was related to end times stuff) through the washing of feet, breaking of bread, sipping wine, when Jesus says he will go and prepare a place for us...etc....there were all these little symbolic things that were just to similar to Jewish wedding customs to not be relevant. And it was taught in a way that directed Communion back to relationship-based worship between the Believer, Christ and God vs. anything else. Which I appreciated. That is what the Cross was for. To promote a relationship between God, Christ, and sinners/believers.

    Anyway it was a fascinating study and it sure helped me throw out all the religion I had stuffed inside my head/heart and just get back to the relational aspect of the Cross.

    OK I'll close off the rambling now! Thanks for the interesting topic/conversation and I'll be looking forward to hearing about your progression through this issue if you choose to blog about it!! :)

  10. *sigh*

    The internet ate my intelligent response.

    I'll be back tomorrow. I gotta hit the hay tonight... I just killed 10 minutes typing a response and it's gone. Totally gone....adios.... I'll be back.

    And you didn't offend me and my response isn't critical of your thoughts so - don't worry ... but I am tired and head is hurting and I'm ready for TV time. :)

  11. oh look!!! my intelligent response made it through the internet jumble!! wow! what a treat!! i didn't have to come back and type all that out again!! hahahaha

    that was like a late Christmas present! :)