I recently put together a study in which I did my best to present a parallel lineup of three major views about “the bread and the cup” – Communion. I figured that this would be a good study to translate into blog form; one post for each viewpoint. Each post will follow the same systematic approach in order to best show the whole perspective of each group.
The major theological premise behind each of these is that what people believe about the Church largely dictates what they believe about communion (ecclesiology over-arches sacramentology).
Various key words marked with an asterisk (*) have definitions provided in a glossary at the end of the post.
First, a systematic theological approach:
What’s it called?
The Sacrament* of Holy Eucharist*.
What is the Eucharist?
It’s the central act of the Church’s worship; the New Covenant sacrifice.
What happens during Eucharist?
Jesus enters into our bodies (physically & spiritually);
we participate in the effects of his atonement*.
What does the Eucharist do?
It brings us into physical & spiritual contact with Jesus’ body & blood,
giving us grace towards salvation* (for those who receive it worthily)
or judgment towards hell (for those who receive it unworthily).
How is the Eucharist ‘done’?
It’s done as the culmination of the liturgy*, with the Words of Institution* as part of the prayers, using bread & wine, and led by a bishop or priest.
… because that leader is:
a successor of the Apostles, to whom Jesus gave authority to lead the Church.
… because the Church is:
the gathering of God’s people to worship Him
in Word & Sacrament* according to Christ’s Holy Order*.
Therefore, who may receive the Eucharist?
Depending upon which denomination you ask, either all baptized* Christians, or all confirmed* Christians, or all baptized confessing* Christians.
Now for a look at some key passages of scripture:
Read it at face value: the “bread of life” is Jesus’ body,
and that’s what we receive at Eucharist*.
This shows the role of the Holy Spirit in making Jesus’ body a sacrament* for us.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
Partaking binds us in closer communion* to Christ and to all other Christians.
1 Corinthians 11:24
The bread is Jesus’ body.
1 Corinthians 11:29
Non-believers (or even also those who’ve strayed from the faith) shouldn’t partake because Christ’s holy presence condemns them.
Jesus’ High Priestly ministry in heaven is what the Eucharist* links us to.
* Glossary of terms:
All Baptized: literally, anyone who has been baptized as a Christian may participate, including babies.
Atonement: the total work of Christ’s incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, & ascension.
Communion: a participation in, or enactment of, a state of unity.
Confessing: both confessing the Christian faith, and the ability to confess one’s own sins (in other words, has reached an ‘age of accountability’)
Confirmed: having received not only the sacrament of baptism, but also the sacrament of confirmation.
Eucharist: literally Greek for “thanksgiving,” a name for communion because of Jesus “giving thanks” or “blessing” the bread.
Holy Order: the order of Bishops (in lineage from Christ’s first Apostles), Priests (whom the bishops ordain to represent them locally), Deacons (whom the bishops ordain to serve the Church), and Laity (the people who comprise the majority of God’s flock).
Liturgy: literally, the work of the people, referring generally to the total worship life of the Church, and specifically to the order of worship in formal Church gatherings.
Sacrament: literally a “means of grace,” classically “an outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace,” applied to communion it refers to the belief that something objectively real goes on with the bread & wine that objectively affects us. A classic sacramental formula is that Jesus is the primary sacrament of the Godhead, the Church is the primary sacrament of Jesus, and the Eucharist is the primary sacrament of the Church.
Salvation: not just “born again,” but the whole sweep of new life, sanctification, and glorification in the life to come.
Word & Sacrament: the ideal of Christ being revealed in the Church through both the Scripture and the “Breaking of Bread.”
Words of Institution: Jesus’ actual words declaring the bread & wine to be His body & blood.