September 25, 2020

Reduced to Jesus

Dali-Jesus-Supper-4.jpgI get called a lot of names around the blogosphere. Everything from “pomo devil” to “respected blogger.” (Now there’s an oxymoron.) When you’re a “cage phase” blogger (there goes another one) you write long posts defending yourself and being outraged about this. For instance, my use of the name “truly reformed” used to bring about huge posts at the “truly reformed” blogs, almost as long as mine on whether I was “emerging” or “postmodern.” But not nearly as well written or as funny.

Over at the BHT, I have a new name that’s been stuck on me. I’m a “reductionist.” Visiting the dictionary, I think I’m being told that, in regard to my Christian faith, I have a tendency to “…. reduce complex data and phenomena to simple terms.” I know dictionaries aren’t supposed to have value systems, but it that a bad thing?

I wish I could say I’m being accused of being a good teacher, but it’s a bit more nefarious. I’m generally being told that I’m reducing Christianity too much; that I’m taking a complex, inter-related whole, and attempting to simplify it excessively. So much so that what’s left isn’t the thing itself, but only part of it.

For example, I’m like someone who attempts to reduce Shakespeare to a few scenes in Shakespeare’s bloody freshman outing, Titus Andronicus. The critic would say, yeah, it’s Shakespeare, but it’s such a reduction of his entire body of work, that I’m actually misrepresenting him. Will was a better, more complex, more mature playwright than the young man who shocked audiences with Titus.

In the same way, I am supposedly spending too much time asking if doctrinal matters can be found in the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of Mark. Christianity is a New Testament faith that emerges from the entire canon; as much from Romans as from Mark. My attempts to go back to Jesus, to bring my faith out of a foundation of New Testament texts and teaching/actions of Jesus, are “reductionistic.” And, in the end, I’m charged with distortion.

I believe that’s a possibility, and the danger registers with me. I also believe that reducing my evangelicalism to a vital connection to Jesus is a worthy quest that I invite all of you on without embarassment.

One of the first times this came up was in response to the posting of one of my favorite confessions of faith, Brian Mclaren’s “Jesus Creed.” (Not to be confused with Scot Mcknight’s blog/book.) I was immediately criticized for suggesting that the theology of other creeds, and fuller confessions of the Christian faith, were unnecessary complications.

Am I a reductionist? How would I answer that charge?

I believe that Jesus reveals God. I don’t believe anything else reveals God like Jesus does. That’s my version of reductionism, and yes, it does affect my reading of the Bible. I read all Biblical texts in the light of the final Word, Jesus. The Bible is a house with many rooms, but I only live in that house with Jesus as the owner, and he takes me room to room, and illuminates what is in those rooms with his light. In his light, I see the treasures of scripture. (I hope I don’t have to actually cite references for this way of reading the Bible.)

So when I come to a passage of scripture that has no actual clear reference to the Gospel accounts of what Jesus said and did, or in the Biblical revelation of who Jesus is and what he means, I make sure that I start, stay with and end with Jesus in my reading of that passage. This is why I like the “Jesus Creed.” It helps me consciously confess the centrality of Jesus in how I approach scripture, what I read in scripture (I don’t read Leviticus the same as I read Mark) and what I do with what I read in scripture. Jesus is the Word. Jesus is the Word that scripture is always speaking, and the other words that scripture speaks, aren’t the same. They are true, and they may be important, but the Word that ends all other words, that enlightens every person, and that speaks to the deepest existential longings of the human heart is the Word I am listening to hear.

So yeah, I’m a reductionist in that sense. How about an example?

The Lord’s Supper is one of the most contentious issues in Christendom. I can’t come to the table of Jesus in more than half of Christendom, despite my confession of faith in Jesus. Somewhere between what Jesus did at that table on the night he was betrayed and the half a million volumes of Eucharistic theology that fill the libraries of Christian scholars, I got excluded.

When I do the Lord’s Supper at soli deo, I read the words of Institution from I Corinthians 11.

1Co 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Paul is reading/relating the account we find in the Gospel of Mark (and elsewhere).

Mk 14:22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

There are a lot of other things said about the Lord’s Supper in the Bible. In I Corinthians, Paul has a lot to say about it.

I 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? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

I do not read I Corinthians 10 as illuminating the Gospel text. I believe the person, words and actions of Jesus are the revelation in the Lord’s Supper. Whatever else is said in scripture about the Supper, I do not believe it adds to or goes beyond what Jesus was, said and did that night with his disciples.

I have a personal theology of the Lord’s Supper. Somewhere on the Zwinglian side of Calvin, I believe Christ gave us the Gospel in bread and wine. But when I share the supper, I do not assert my theology in contrast to others. I read the words and actions of Jesus. I want those who partake at soli deo to have their eyes and ears focused on Jesus. I don’t want to fight about metaphors, real presence, Marburg or transubstantiation. I want to do what Jesus told us to do. I am particularly impressed with Paul’s word regarding discerning Christ in the Supper.

28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

As controversial as the interpretation of those verses is, I believe it is, at the root, a call to a kind of reduction, and it pertains to all of our faith. If we do not discern the relation of Jesus Christ to all things, we invite judgement.

Anyone who theologizes without discerning Christ crucified is on the wrong track. Anyone who builds the church without discerning Christ crucified builds nothing. Anyone who preaches, sings, leads, writes or counsels without discerning Christ crucified is a sounding gong and a clanking bell, inviting judgement.

I fully realize that how we discern the presence of Christ in the supper, baptism, preaching, serving and so on will differ widely as we read scripture with our various assumptions about theology, history, tradition and language. I’m comfortable with that conversation and even with the tension that results, but I am committed to discerning Christ as the “reduction” of my entire evangelicalism. Establishing a vital relationship between Jesus and my world is the passion of my life. In that quest, I freely admit that I find more help among those simplifying the faith to a focus on Jesus in the gospels than among those making it ever more complicated.

Remember years ago when Tony Campolo was put on “heresy trial” for preaching that Christ was somehow present in every person? He got that from Jesus, of course. “And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Now I realize that Campolo risked distorting someone’s theology with that kind of reductionism, and I get that some nut somewhere thought Campolo was being a universalist, which he denied over and over.

Just tell me, how much trouble are we willing to get into to go back to what Jesus said and did, and let that be the formative foundation of this thing called being a Christian? It may get you- and me- in trouble. I have a message I preach to students called “Good Trouble.” It’s from Acts 17, where the Christians are in trouble for having “another King…Jesus.” Reductionism of the best kind, and a worthy life’s quest.


  1. It seems there are some who want their Christianity to be too simple. “Just love Jesus” and anyone who insists on dissecting difficult passages of scripture is accused of being a relativist. Anyone concerned about the nuts and bolts of theology is only concerned with “head-knowledge” and their heart is not close to Jesus.

    On the flip side, we have those who insist on making Christianity far too complicated. If you can’t articulate on the nature of the trinity for 90 minutes, then how could you possibly be equipped to live a Godly life? Or if you want to simplify your understanding of theology by trimming it down to be more Jesus-focused, you get accused of “reductionism” by the guys who still really like to read their systematic theology books in 6pt font.

    Myself, growing up in the former situation, I have been moving toward the latter as I realize how much of the good, useful stuff in Christianity I was missing. Michael, it seems to me that after living closer to the latter situation for much of your life, you are (somewhat cautiously) moving toward the former. Is that accurate?

  2. I’m personally influenced by some factors. I wrote about this in “I’m not like you,” and of course, James White crucified me for a week on his blog.

    Overall, the sectarian atmosphere of my upbringing, and the ecumenical experiences of my young adult years influence me. The diverse community where I minister is a big part of this, both in my interaction with students, and with staff.

    C.S. Lewis is a bit part of this.

    My experiences with Calvinism are a big part of this. Quick, name a great book on Jesus by a Calvinist. (Piper appears to be about to publish one, but they are rare.)

    Listening to Calvinists explain that Christianity is decree/sovereignty centered and not Christ centered is a big thing.

  3. Michael,
    I’ve always thought of you as being Irreducibly Complex…

  4. Michael,
    In our search for truth many have found it easier to evolve into a search for answers. Doesn’t it bring a great sense of satisfaction and control when we can use our extensive levels of preparation to find complex answers?

    What I’ve loved about the core of your writing is that you have little respect for the answers and enormous respect for the questions. I think you have an incredibly deep aproach to any topic you address, but because you don’t follow the maze of conventional thinking and responding, and because you approach so many topics with great humility, those who want answers more than truth (and don’t we love ourselves for being able to come up with them)will misunderstand you. I don’t think very many people really see you. What a mistake. “Great spirits have always been in violent conflict….”

    brother joe

  5. Michael,

    I’d like to recommend a few works on Jesus by Calvinist authors:

    1) The Glory of Christ by John Owen. It is excellent, like everything Owen wrote.

    2) The Institutes Book 2 by ohn Calvin. Again, excellent!

    3) Commentary on Galatians by Martin Luther.

    4) Jonathan Edwards on Knowing Christ. A collection of Edwards’s sermons. Excellent. (Really any collection of Puritan sermons will give you Christ-centered exposition)

    5) “The Excellency of Christ.” An unpublished sermon by Jonathan Edwards. Really moving!

    6) Christ Curcified by Stephen Charnock. A collection of sermons on the atonement.

    7) The Valley of Vision. A collection of Puritan prayers.

    8) “The Nativity of Our Savior” and “The Passion of Our Savior.” Two sermons by Henry Scougal in The Works of Henry Scougal.

    9) The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. On the grace of Christ toward those who have backslid.

    10) Types of the Messiah by Jonathan Edwards. In Yale’s volume 11 Typological Writings.

    I was shocked to see you say that you weren’t aware of many books on Jesus by Calvinists. Every Puritan work I have ever read was vert Christocentric. There’s tons of Puritan writings on our Blessed Savior.

    Hope these recommendations are helpful.

  6. Question about what you wrote, primarily found in this quote: “So when I come to a passage of scripture that has no actual clear reference to the Gospel accounts of what Jesus said and did, or in the Biblical revelation of who Jesus is and what he means, I make sure that I start, stay with and end with Jesus in my reading of that passage. ”

    By this are you inadvertently implying that “red letters” are more important than the “black,” or just confirming the centrality of Jesus in all of scripture? I assume the latter, but there are others who would find superiority in Jesus’ words over John’s, James’, Paul’s, etc. Just curious …

  7. Let me correct that comment, because you are correct.

    I know of very few works on the earthly ministry of Christ by Calvinists. In the vein of works by historical Jesus scholars.

    Those are excellent books, esp if you like Puritan literature.

  8. I did not mean to imply anything about red letters. I meant to clearly say that Jesus- and nothing else- is God’s ultimate and final revelatory Word.

    If you are unfamilar with my views on scripture, then I may say things you don’t expect, because I am pretty much a Luther-Barth guy on scripture.

  9. Matthew 22:35-40 comes to mind, particulary verse 40:

    On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

    Jesus was only asked what the greatest commandment was. But He took it one step further and reduced the entire OT down to 27 words.

    I’d say that’s pretty decent company.

  10. Oh. I agree. There aren’t many Calvinists working in that field of study. But, then again, there really aren’t many Christian scholars working in that field at all.

    I’m a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. One of our profs., Dr. Darrell Bock is a Jesus scholar in the vein you described. From what I understand, he’s also soteriologically Calvinistic, though I doubt he’d accept the label. A couple of his books are Jesus According to Scripture and Studying the Historical Jesus. Both are very well done. Bock is uber thorough.

    Another work by a Calvinistic scholar, which includes contemporary Historical Jesus issues, is The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod. Very good book.

    I’m totally on board with a Christocentric interpretation of Scripture (or Christotelic). All Scripture points to Christ. He is the fibal revelation of the triune God to humanity.

    I, also, really appreciate Luther’s and Barth’s perspectives on Scripture. Luther almost singlehandedly reoriented an interpretive tradition that had gone badly astray in the Western Church through the perversion of the Gospel (and still is badly astray within Roman Catholicism and some protestant traditions that have abandoned the Gospel). And Barth actually took the triune God and his revelation in Christ seriously during the height of the German liberal movement spawned by Schleiermacher and popularized by Ritschl. Barth actually believed God was God, when most scholars had exalted humanity to god-like status. Barth’s influence in the defense of theism is inestimable. We who believe Scripture is the authoritative, sufficient word of God to every believer should be thankful for God’s grace in raising up such men.

    Thanks for your insightful comments. Always thought-provoking


  11. Patrick Kyle says

    It’s refreshing to hear a discussion about the centrality of Jesus in the Scriptures. Michael, my sojuorn in the church Has been similar to yours( at least from what I’ve read here, although I didn’t continue on in the ministry)
    I remember how stunned I was when I realized that the Bible was not the “Owners Manual to the Human Race” or the “Guide book to Life”,but the revelation of God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. The whole Bible, from first to last is about Christ. Martin Luther said something to the effect of ” Beat the scriptures against a rock until you find Christ in them.”
    The Lutherans seem to have quite a few books on Christ, whether devotional or doctrinal. There is even an OT Intro text called ‘The Word Becoming Flesh’ by Hummel.
    I also have been exploring what’s called the theology of the Cross( often contrasted with a ‘theology of Glory’)which seems to deal with basically every aspect of life through Christ’s work on the cross.I resonate with what you are saying about church and life under Christ Crucified. It is really changing me on a deep personal level in ways I wouldn’t expect or could never have guessed.
    Anyway, thanks for the great blog, I think what your’e doing is important.

  12. dpaultaylor57 says

    Jesus told his disciples that when the Spirit came “he will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (Jn. 16:14). Would that make the Holy Spirit a “reductionist”? Honestly, there are times when I think theology is for theologians what the IRS tax code is for accountants, a means of perpetuating the need for themselves.

  13. Dear Internet Monk and Studious Commenters,
    My question is… is there anyone else here who sees universalism as consistent with the Gospel?
    I have a hard time with the disparaging tone (seemingly consistent with your own opinion if I’m reading past posts correctly) regarding the idea that Jesus may yet “save” ALL.
    Am I to understand that something will indeed separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus?

  14. I think in light of you post I think Jesus teaching of the eucharist are enligteing. When he teaches that we must eat of his flesh and drink of his blood the Jews, who found human sacrifice repugnant, could not accept Jesus teachings because they were not orthodox. I think Peters response, “you have the words of life” can be telling for us as Christians. As one of my spiritual mentors wrote, will we leave our orthodoxy for Jesus?

  15. Internet Monk: So what! We don’t agree on all issues. Are we shocked? I agree that theologians must work diligently to understand and articulate our faith and that their work must filter throughout the church to every member. What kind of church was the Roman church that could kiss one another with a holy kiss and also understand Romans? On the other hand, the kingdom of heaven is made of people “such as these little ones”. The great Barth’s own summary of his prolific theologizing is: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so!” If our grand theological musings can’t be boiled down (reduced?) to that, then forget it! thus spoke churchpundit!

  16. “My attempts to go back to Jesus, to bring my faith out of a foundation of New Testament texts and teaching/actions of Jesus…”
    Michael, your ability to do this so very well is exactly the reason I’ve found myself hooked on your blog. My journey has been unbearably complex and filled with so many divergent paths of other people that there could never be any consequence other than internal chaos on my part. The grasp for sanity in living out a working relationship between my Creator and myself is paramount to me. I was so sickened by trying to find teachers I could trust, that I stopped trying. I let go of them all a few years back and went reductionistic myself. I returned to the Bible and read and listened to Jesus. It has given me back my sanity. I think you are a good, solid teacher and I thank you from my heart because Christianity, in its final form always comes down to our hearts and our actions. There is no distortion in loving your neighbor. Do I literally need Jesus as much as I need air? Yes. Do I need Calvin, etc. that much? No.

  17. Religion is for those who think they can do something 4 God.Grace is 4 those who see the futility of religion.

    John 1
    17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
    Hebrews 7
    18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless
    19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
    Hebrews 8
    13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.
    Hebrews 7
    20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath,
    21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: `You are a priest forever.'”
    22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
    Hebrews 10
    1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
    2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.
    3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins,
    4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
    Romans 3
    19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
    20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

  18. Hello,

    Don’t want to start too much of a ruckus, but I figure I ought to explain my particular issues with the idea of “reducing to Jesus.” Perhaps itll give you a better idea about the heart of certain criticisms.

    Bascially, the very idea of reducing everything to Jesus begs the question of what exactly “reducing to Jesus” is. I doubt anyone would take issue with “reducing everything to Jesus.” Those who make accusation against you of ‘reduction’ would probably make the same claim of the goodness of “reducing to Jesus.” The issue I tend to have when discussing these matters with those who take the sort of position you have is that the wording of your stance automatically discourages any opposing view. Since you have the “simply Jesus” position other positions would have, by default, something more than Jesus, and thus would be an inferior sort of position.
    Of course, the idea that your position is “simply Jesus” is not self-evident, but rather something that needs to be defended (Im not saying you don’t defend it). Those who call you a reductionist probably feel they have a “Jesus centered” position and that your “reductions” cause you to have something that is less than Jesus.

    The following are prime examples of this kind of discourse:
    “My attempts to go back to Jesus, to bring my faith out of a foundation of New Testament texts and teaching/actions of Jesus, are “reductionistic.””
    “I also believe that reducing my evangelicalism to a vital connection to Jesus is a worthy quest that I invite all of you on without embarassment. ”
    This is real disengenuous to your critics as they most certainly consider “a vital connection to Jesus” a key to their evangelism, and that to “bring my faith out of a foundation of…teaching/actions of Jesus,” is very honorable. The particular critics you are mentioning probably would take no issue with the ideas put forth in these quotes, but rather, with the idea that this is what you are actually doing.
    Make sense at all?

    Some quick notes:
    Im not sure but it seems when you talk about the eucharist that you seem to be saying, “just listen to what Jesus says,” but then, “it doesn’t matter what the heck Jesus is really saying.” You show some scorn about theological issues concerning the eucharist, but the theological questions are concerned precisely with what Jesus meant. To say “just listen to Jesus,” and then “it doesn’t matter what the eucharist is really,” seems to indicate that it doesn’t matter what Jesus words meant. But to get anything out of anything Jesus says, you of course have to understand what he means.
    To say it doesn’t matter is particularly disengenous to Catholics as Im sure you know (or don’t) that the eucharist is the summit and peak of the sacramental life. The meaning and significance of the sacrament hinges on the very concept of the real presence, and without that, the whole picture is completely changed. Also, the fact that only Catholics partake in the eucharist at a Catholic service is supposed to be a sign of unity (the way we understand it), not a way to flare up sectarian issues or to stick it to non-Catholics. Technically, though, we also do it for your sake, since if you don’t believe in the real presense, you’ll end profaning the body of the Lord and you’ll bring judgement upon yourself, and we wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself now 😉
    In this case, the theological issue certainly means something. Furthermore, there are usually implications from peoples thoughts on the eucharist that touch on issues concerning the incarnation and of the relationship between the spirit and the material, and these theological issues can really affect ones dispostions towards a great number of things they will encounter in this life. In fact, concerning any theological issue, your view can have a great impact on how you go about doing a number of things.

    I think those who feel theology is pointless probably don’t realize that they hold a great deal of theological positions and that such positions really do effect your dispostions, how you relate to God, the World, and others (for example, the anti-intellectualism you mention in your next post is probably a result of theological positions). Im sure you all know that such doctrines as the Trinity, and original sin were developed through theological discourse well past the time recorded in the New Testament, and they are absolutely central to any Christian worldview. Hey, maybe Arianism was more simple than Trinitarianism, who knows, but the formulation of the Trinitarian doctrine was extremely important and it affects a person greatly whether they believe it or not (even if they don’t understand it). It could also be stated that theological development in the Christian world probably helped to create a hospitiable environment for the development of Science (ie: challenging Aristotilian claims, secondary causes, impetus, rationality and its relation to God, etc). This is often taken for granted among Christians but your belief in these is a direct result of certain Christian Theology being passed onto you.

    Well, I hope I didn’t sound like too much of a fool. Take care.


    “Religion is for those who think they can do something 4 God.Grace is 4 those who see the futility of religion.”

    Whoever wrote this, perhaps you can tell me what you mean by Religion here? I hear this often from a number of people, but it often sadly means, “I believe my [?non-religious?] expression of Christianity is superior to X. So I’ll say religion is bad and say that X is religion.”

  19. Eucharistic discussions are to Lutherans as Christological discussions are to other Christians. They cannot be sidestepped. Let me explain why.

    Imagine you got into a discussion with a well-meaning Unitarian. He would label your Christological squabbles as taking away from time we could spend meditating on God. For the Unitarian, Jesus may be a pointer to God. But a pointer will always be secondary to what it points to. But in our thinking, we say Jesus is no mere pointer. He is God Himself. To miss this is to miss God Himself.

    Likewise for us on the Lord’s Supper. Many will try to sidestep the question of the identity of the Lord’s Supper and Jesus. If it is a mere pointer, then yes, these questions are taking our focus off Jesus Himself. But if He has really offered us His Body and Blood to eat and drink, then it’s all different. Picturing the cross as you partake of bread and wine is not the same as believing you are being offered His Body and Blood to eat and to drink. So many times people want to know that the blood is actually applied to them. In our teaching it is. Physically. Poured into the mouth.

    I want more than a Jesus-centered spirituality. I want a Jesus-centered physicality. Spirituality is all we would have if God hadn’t become Incarnate.

  20. Rick-

    Do you believe non Lutherans are missing God himself?

  21. In the Supper, yes. I think I did. The same way people miss God Himself in Jesus when they don’t realize He’s there.

    But by non-Lutherans, I would mean those who do not recognize the Real Presence.

  22. So you believe Lutherans have Jesus in a way that Baptists like myself don’t?

    Which of the scriptures about union with Christ would be affected by one’s view of the “real presence?” All Christians that I am aware of believe Christ is “really” present to his people.

  23. This has to do with what is really offered. Your question is framing the thing in a particular way. One which needs addressing, and I don’t see it as a straw man question. But on the other side, I don’t think the position I hold lends itself to bad kinds of exclusiveness.

    “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:51)

    From this verse we find that Jesus’s flesh has the same value to us as the Tree of Life would have had to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:22). Those who eat of it live forever.

    Now, if all we had was John chapter six, I would say that we could take believing as being the one and only way of receiving this (John 6:47). But He didn’t leave it there.

    When He instituted the Supper, He said to them, “Take, eat. This is my body” (Matthew 26:26). Given what He had said of his body, that eating it would make someone live forever, it stands to reason that eternal life was offered here.

    To say otherwise means saying that by eating, you can sin against the body and blood of Christ, even though what you are eating is not the body and blood of Christ. This is odd. Why would He say you could have eternal life by eating His body, offer us something saying it was His body, attach curses to eating it wrongly, but not have eating do for us what He said eating would do?

    As a Lutheran I can approach what happens at the Baptist altar in one of two ways. I can either say that what is offered is present whether they accept it or not. In which case they are all sinning against the body and blood of Christ by not discerning His body. Or I can say that what they confess they are doing as a body determines whether or not the sacrament is present. In which case they have the memorial they confess. And in which case they are not sinning against the body and blood of Christ, since it is not there to be discerned in the first place.

    But as harsh as that can sound, I think other Protestants have to answer another question. Why would God would put curses on something that had so little power to do good? In that view, you can end up getting sick and dying over not paying attention to an object lesson. What does that say about childrens’ sermons?

    Lutherans and Baptists and other Christians are all given this way of receiving Jesus. But if they confess that they are doing something else when they gather, I have to wonder what happens. And I’m not the one introducing the doubt into it.

    I do know that my communion experiences as a Presbyterian are different from my communion experiences as a Lutheran. As a Presbyterian, the elements were an occasion for meditation. I was picturing something happening long ago. Perhaps I would even picture myself at the cross. But when I picture myself there, I don’t know how to receive it. When what is offered is given in the present, I know. The answer to how to receive it is “Take, eat.”

    As a Presbyterian I was always subject to the temptation to go forward at an altar call. (I knew, though, that once would never solve it.) I was always saying the Sinner’s Prayer several times on an airplane ride. Why? Because the act was so intangible, how could I ever know I had really done it? If what was really going on was internal, how would I ever be sure? That’s like trying to grab a hold of fog. Now I have a better way of going to the altar. I can eat from it.

    It is not Lutheran to focus on the theological term “real presence” as much as “This is my body”, etc. Is it His body? The word “union” is a good translation of KOINWNIA from 1 Cor. 10:15. So the bread is the union.