Luther, Zwingli, and the Lord’s Supper

October 21, 2022

On October 1, 1529, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli gathered, with their supporters, in the city of Marburg to bring unity to the Protestant Reformation, which would better protect it from Roman Catholic suppression. The two sides agreed on fourteen points of doctrine, including the Trinity, original sin, and justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. However, they could not come to a consensus on the fifteenth—the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli and his friends held to a memorialist position, arguing that in no real manner was Christ present in the Supper. Instead, the meal was instituted by Jesus as a remembrance, so that Christians could reflect on his persona and work through the senses.

However, as Luther listened to their explanation, he took a piece of chalk and began to write four words “hoc est corpus meum.” After Zwingli finished, he stressed to his opponents that Christ uttered, “This is my body,” emphasizing that in some mysterious way Jesus was present in the Supper. As Presbyterians, we do not agree with Luther’s explanation concerning how Christ is present at the Table. Luther argued Jesus is “in with and under the elements”—also called consubstantiation. We would say with Calvin, Christ is truly present at the Supper ‘by his Spirit,’ which makes the meal not only a remembrance, but also transformative and communal.

The Supper is a meal whereby God changes his people. Just as the Spirit takes the audible Word and uses it to sanctify the elect, so also, he employs the visible Word to do the same. As we are brought to consider the body of Christ broken for us and the blood of Christ shed for us, we are, by faith in Christ, transformed into his likeness (2 Cor. 3:18). Furthermore, Paul said in 1 Cor. 10:16—The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

There is a lot that can be said here about this verse, but one thing Paul highlights is how, at the Table, our union with Christ and with one another is being stressed. We are not only being changed at the Supper, but we also enjoy fellowship with Jesus and our connection as a Body is spotlighted and experienced. To underscore this union with Christ and one another, we are going to make a slight change in our practice at the Table. You might have noticed over the past few weeks; we have devoted more time to the Supper. That has been intentional, allowing us to have greater opportunity to reflect on Christ.

This week we will begin to hold both the bread and the wine, and then we will partake together, further referencing our union with Christ and one another. Doing so will encourage what seems to be the spirit behind the plural pronouns and verbs in 1 Cor. 11:23-32—that this is a community meal for Believers, with eating and drinking all at once displaying it. Perhaps this is part of what is behind Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 11:33—So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.

What are we to do while holding both the bread and the wine? Meditate on the sermon. Pray, confess sin, give thanks to Christ, and ask him to grow you. More specifically, give attention to Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 174: “What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the time of the administration of it? It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

As we partake of the Supper, let us “affectionately meditate” on Christ, who has united us to himself and to one another. In addition, may such holy contemplations deepen our love for the Savior and the people of God.

—Pastor Clif