This is My Body Pt. 1

This blog is supposed to be for the purpose of contributing to the ongoing need for reformation in the Church in whatever small way we, the contributors to this blog, are able. Sometimes that means forgetting our differences as reformation protestants and affirming what we hold together, such as the five solas. Unfortunately there are certain important things that we have not historically agreed upon and we shouldn’t pretend those things don’t exist or don’t matter. They do matter and attempts to minimize the importance of certain doctrines will ultimately end in fruitlessness at best, or a sort a-doctrinal liberalism at worst. After all, true unity in the biblical sense can only exist around truth. And if we are not in agreement on what that truth is, then we don’t have unity in the full sense of the word.

Two of the main bones of contention between Lutherans and that other big branch of reformation theology are the two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s supper. In this article I wish to discuss the latter of the two and a problem I see with the Lutheran view of the supper. I am still grappling with the issue but I will address what it is I actually affirm about the supper in a near future article.

Before I get to the main topic I want to say that I have become rather fond of several Lutherans I have met both in real life and on the internet. I want to say some words directly to them. I mean no disrespect, but I also understand how important this issue is to Lutherans. So I do expect to flat out irritate many of you. Know that I get it and it’s okay. I love you guys anyway. So without further ado…

When describing their view of the supper, Lutherans will almost invariably say something along the lines of “We take Christ at His word. When The Lord says ‘this is my body’ we acknowledge that it ‘is’ His body.” It is a source of pride for the Lutheran, not pride in a sinful sense, that their theology doesn’t require them to change the words of institution or play logical and philosophical games or do mental gymnastics with the text. Often times the argument from a Lutheran is as simple as “Hey, is=is.” While I admire the approach to scripture that insists on letting the word speak and not making it say what it doesn’t, I believe that this claim to take Christ’s words literally while others do not is where the Lutheran argument falls on it’s own petard.

As I said, Lutherans are fond of claiming that their understanding of communion avoids the mental gymnastics of the “sacramentarians”, a word which refers to non-sacramental Christians in the Lutheran confessions. But it doesn’t take long for the Lutheran argument to end up doing what the Reformed position is itself accused of doing. Why do I say that? The Lutheran position in reality, and I know I am going to elicit some anger here, does not believe that the bread “is” the body of Christ. It is in fact the case that Lutherans believe in what they call the real presence (explained, among other places, in Mueller’s Christian Dogmatics beginning at page 506). They believe that Christ’s body and blood is present “in, with, and under” the elements of bread and wine.

I hasten to point out, as have others, that if “is” must mean literally “is” in it’s most literal sense, then as soon as is means “present in, with, and under” the Lutheran argument no longer bears the weight of it’s own demand for a literal reading of the words of institution. But the convenient literalism of the Lutheran argument goes further. The “in, with, and under” concept is often explained as a “sacramental presence”.

What is a sacramental presence? According to Mueller “It is neither natural nor local, but illocal, supernatural, and inconprehensible, yet real” (Dogmatics, page 510, paragraph 2). I am not really sure how one can chide another for engaging in mental gymnastics, as Lutherans often do other Protestants, and then in the same breath introduce a category like “illocal presence” claiming all the while to simply be taking the word “is” at face value. This is a problem particularly in light of the demand on the part of Lutherans that we glean our understanding of this doctrine primarily from the passages that deal directly with the issue of the supper (I agree in principle). Martin Chemnitz, one of the great Lutheran dogmaticians of history, is quite insistent on this point in his work “The Lord’s Supper”. So my question is: Is the definition “Present in, with, and under in an illocal, supernatural, yet real way” really just a plain understanding of the word “is”? No, rather the allegedly literal, or plain reading as they are want to call it, ends up defining “is” as “is present with” and then redefining “is present with” as “is not physically present with”. Whatever this interpretation of the words of institution is, it isn’t a literal one. It may be non-literal in a different way than the memorialist view; but it is non-literal all the same.
(Part 2 is here)

16 replies on “This is My Body Pt. 1”

  1. If one views this from the perspective of that which Christ actually is, it becomes a simple theology. He allowed Himself to be broken, pulversized, so intensely did He bring the Kingdom of agape to full expression, and the believer is united with that reality, as that expression process permeates his or her body, spirit, soul and mind–it being so utterly profound. At the same time, the way in which He fulfilled the principle of kabod (weightiness) for which God demands the highest sacrifice – blood – is also a reality of the very highest order. In it all the Kingdom is vested – it is the basis for the eternal kingdom that shall never see corruption. All realities of the highest order that the Holy Spirit gives us access to through the veil that was torn from top to bottom. It seems to be time that both the Lutheran brothers and the rest of us try to embrace advanced theology in the spirit of continuous reformation, to arrive at more elevated and advanced theologies than those we have developed so far. Christianity is dynamic. I am the lead developer of Expression Theology (cf John 1:1-18).


  2. Amen, Andrew. Whatever “real presence” means to a Lutheran, it is not strictly “literal,” nor truly “physical,” i.e., to be crass, no DNA analysis of the consecrated elements will reveal the actual genetic code of our Savior’s body. Westminster Larger Catechism (168, 170), admittedly and necessarily going beyond the pretense of “is=is,” confesses that we “feed upon” the body and blood of Christ by faith, spiritually, yet “truly and really,” to our “spiritual nourishment and growth in grace,” applying to ourselves all the benefits of Christ and His Gospel. The historically and confessionally Reformed position is definitely not “memorialist” as practiced in American evangelicalism. We seek to do justice to the language of the words of institution in 1 Cor 11 and the affirmation that we enjoy a real communion with the body and blood of Christ according to 1 Cor 10.


  3. First of all, a lot of us find Mueller to be a total embarrassment. Pieper would be better. Luther himself, better yet, Herman Sasse is very good on the Sacraments as well. The best discussion of the LS came in a chapel sermon preached by a student when I was at Concordia, Ann Arbor, circa 1983. The student is now Rev. Dr. Jay Lemanski. He posed the question of what we mean by “in, with, and under.” He said, “I don’t know, Dr. Lutheran didn’t know. But it’s what Scripture says.” Lutheranism simply affirms the real, bodily presence of Christ and offers no explanation for it other than it is taught in Scripture.


  4. As a Lutheran, I found this post very interesting. Thank you for taking the time to write on this issue. My primary “bone of contention,” as it were, is that the reasoning you presented for the Lutheran view was clearly based upon the argument made by Lutheran laity or the “person on the street” as opposed to interacting with the more sustained arguments in Lutheran theology.

    That is, it is certainly true that a fairly standard argument (and one, admittedly, used by Lutheran theologians and Luther himself) is to appeal to “This IS my body…” Now of course Lutherans take other words of Christ in a less than literal sense and there must be some reason to take these words in a more literal sense. That’s exactly where Lutheran theologians interact with, as an example, Leviticus. Jesus was fairly explicitly using parallel language to the Levitical passages regarding sacrifice, in which the priests were supposed to consume portions of the burnt offerings themselves [such as the sin offering in Leviticus 6]. The meaning is carried across to Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, from the sacrificial system. Jesus is the fulfillment of the sacrifices, and his body and blood make us holy.

    There is much more to be said, of course, but my basic point is that it is well and good to argue against the Lutheran position (which I of course think is the correct position), but to reduce it merely to an appeal to “this is my body” is to make it unrecognizable as the entirety of the Lutheran position.

    Thanks again for this post. I think the conversation is good to have, and I very much enjoy this site.


  5. J.W., thanks for your comment. It is true that I only dealt with one aspect of the Lutheran argument for the real presence. But this morning I read Luther’s LC on the supper and “this is my body” was the central argument for him there as it was against Zwingli. It has been the central argument every time I have heard it explained by a Lutheran pastor. And it is that appeal to “is” that I wanted to deal with, irrespective of what other arguments may exist.


  6. Well written article, Andrew. I didn’t know you had a blog.. Here’s where I disagree with the article:some Lutherans are prideful and lord this over others.

    Even the phrase “in, with and under” has a complicated and archaic use. I can’t recall the definition of that phrase. I have asked about this myself: “But I thought we believe is means”. So it is more complicated than the way it gets tossed around in heated internet arguments. When things get down to this saying alone, is means is, it may be a sign of frustration. Sure sounds like it when Luther used that phrase with Zwingli.

    I cannot deny that Jesus is there at The Lord’s Table. I am a beggar there. Even with my limited understanding, I have known Him in the Bread and Wine, as scripture promises. And that is great joy.


  7. Andrew,

    A Lutheran here. I like how my pastor puts it simply:

    “The point is that it is both (Body and bread; blood and wine). It is not simply body and blood (Roman Catholic) nor simply bread and wine (Reformed). So “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?” It is similar to when Christ refers to the Father and the Son. When He refers to the Son, is Christ excluding that which is born of Mary? Or the other way around: When Christ speaks of the Son of Man, is He excluding that which is of God? No. But He is making a specific point.”

    These types of arguments have been treated in many and various ways by Luther, Chemnitz, Sasse, et al – the Formula of Concord is helpful to:

    There was actually an “Apology to the Book of Concord” as well, mostly addressing the Reformed arguments at the time, making connections with the doctrine of Christology. Of course this will come off as sounding like intentionally divisive, hair-splitting language to many (what one might call “onionism” as opposed to “unionism”).

    Mueller doesn’t really use language I am really familiar with.



  8. The Lutheran Confession do in fact say that the bread is Christ’s body and the wine is his blood and I think Luther would be completely content with just saying “is” but controversy often leads to the need for additional language. I think you may be misunderstanding the terms “in,” “with,” and “under.” The Lutheran Confessions never say “in, with, and under” but use each of these terms separately and for different reasons. The confessions use “in” to show where are to find Christ’s body and blood. They use “with” to acknowledge that we receive bread, wine, body, and blood. Transubstantiation denies this. They use “under” to say that the body and blood come to us in a hidden way. There’s actually some Eastern Orthodox catechisms that use similar language. I would agree with the statement by Mueller. Calvinists say that Christ’s body can only be present visibly and locally. On the basis of Scripture, Lutherans speak of three different modes of Christ’s presence. We acknowledge that in the Supper you can’t see Christ’s body and so he is not present in the same mode as he was when he visibly walked the earth.


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