November 26, 2020

Review: The Lord’s Supper: Five Views edited by Gordon Smith

I’ve never been particularly interested in those books that line up the advocates of different views on a selected subject, give one each an essay and everyone a response. It sounds like a very good idea, but I’m the kind of person who thinks through an issue more clearly with an all out advocate or a fully committed critic. I guess I want to be the one sorting through these sort of things for myself.

I’m also fairly pessimistic that anyone ever changes their views in any kind of debate or forum. And my experience tells me that the representative chosen to present a view may, in fact, not actually represent the view, but may be somewhere else on the ranch.

So while I was grateful to be given the opportunity to read and review Gordon Smith’s compilation volume on The Lord’s Supper: Five Views, I was prepared for the book to be a mixed bag.

One of the book’s strong points is the assembled cast of advocates and critics. From the IVP website, here’s the assembled presenters/responders:

The Roman Catholic View–Brother Jeffrey Gros, F.S.C., Professor of Church History, Memphis Theological Seminary, Memphis, Tennessee. The Lutheran View–John R. Stephenson, Professor of Historical Theology, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catherines, Ontario. The Reformed View–Leanne Van Dyk, Academic Dean and Professor of Reformed Theology, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan. The Baptist View–Roger E. Olson, Professor of Theology, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Waco, Texas. The Pentecostal View–Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Professor of Systematic Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

Strong Points:

1) The book is short. The essays are not over-done and the responses are short. The entire book makes for a quick read. With this topic, that’s merciful.

2) Rancor is absent….mostly 🙂 Just enough Baptist frustration at the Lutherans to make it interesting.

3) The presenter of the Pentecostal view was dishing out a lot of surprises to the rest of the crew. Apparently Pentecostals don’t talk about this sort of thing very often. Healing in the Supper and all that. Very interesting.

4) I think any layperson with an interest in comparing various views of the Lord’s Supper without having to read 5 systematic theology texts will be well served by this book.

Weak points:

1) I think Anglicanism or Methodism should be represented in this discussion. Puzzling. (HT To Amy Welborn: Where are the Orthodox as well? Thanks Amy.)

2) The Baptist discussion was about historical diversity in talking about the meaning of the supper. That’s an important discussion that needs to be heard. But I would have liked to see some analysis of the Biblical texts, particularly the compelling evidence that the Lord’s Supper is a revisioned Passover meal. This point has major implications in favor of the Baptist view.

3) Roger Olson’s analysis of the Lutheran view says that the Lutheran view is “squarely” Roman. I’d like to know more about that accusation given the differences in the actual practice of the LS in Lutheranism. For example, there is no eucharistic adoration in Lutheranism. The place of the eucharist in Lutheran preaching is markedly different from the eucharist’s place in RC preaching.

4) A brief summary outline of each position preceding the essay would have probably made the essays more generally usable and even more understandable. An overall visual of the ways these views can be “charted” would have also been helpful.

Overall, this is a well done and interesting volume. Students of the Lord’s Supper will want to read it and it suggests many areas for further study and writing.


  1. Not to mention that the entire doctrine of the LS in Roman Catholicism centers around the Sacrifice of the Mass, which our Confessions describe thusly:

    [The article is] That the Mass in the Papacy must be the greatest and most horrible abomination, as it directly and powerfully conflicts with this chief article, and yet above and before all other popish idolatries it has been the chief and most specious. For it has been held that this sacrifice or work of the Mass, even though it be rendered by a wicked [and abandoned] scoundrel, frees men from sins, both in this life and also in purgatory, while only the Lamb of God shall and must do this, as has been said above. Of this article nothing is to be surrendered or conceded, because the first article does not allow it.

  2. Hello Michael

    I have been worshiping as an Anglican for almost 20 years and if you can find a single Anglican view of the Eucharist let me know. The Anglican Clerics I have talked to about communion views ranged from conventionally reformed to very Roman Catholic (most however seem to parallel the Lutheran view without the emphases on the closed table). Personally I am very keen on the concept of “real presence” although I would be the last person to try to nail down exactly what that means. I am convinced that Christ is present in the Eucharist in a unique way that is different from his presence in the other sacraments. I missed communion last Sunday (I went to an ecumenical hymn sing with my folks instead) and really missed it.


    Steve in Toronto

  3. I would think it’s a negative not to include Orthodox views. If you’re going to give the views of the Apostolic Churches, you need to have both East and West.

  4. RE: Weak point 1,

    There is no “Anglican” view of the Eucharist. You can find pretty much every view held by major figures within Anglican history, past and present. Even within the different “parties” of Anglicanism, it is hard to determine a clear position. But, in general, those within the Evangelical party hold to either a simple memorialism (like most Baptists) or a spiritual presence where the Holy Spirit unites us with the ascended (bodily) Christ (like the Reformed). However, the High Church party, especially those who would identify themselves as “Anglo-Catholic,” hold to views ranging from a spiritual presence to some sort of physical presence (sometimes explained as a substantial change, sometimes just left as a “mystery”). And the Liberal party, which can overlap some with the High Church party, includes all of the above, though many will claim indifference or agnosticism on the issue. As for Methodists, their views can generally be aligned with the Evangelical party of Anglicanism. John Wesley clearly had more than a memorialist view of the Eucharist — a spiritual presence with spiritual benefits.

  5. Rose Mawhorter says

    Do any of the essays argue the idea that the Lord’s supper should be celebrated as meal? My opinions on the Lord’s supper have changed toward this view over the last several years but I haven’t read much that specifically argued in favour of this practice. I’d find it interesting to read a discussion on that idea.

  6. Josh: I think this particular Lutheran may have been leaning to the RC side of things more than most.

    Amy W: Touche’. Added.

    Steve and Anglicans: Well, that qualifies as a view to me. I would like to have heard it.

    Rose: Not that I recall.

    ALL: Why don’t you read your Bibles? Not sexy enough for you?

  7. Hi Michael,

    I know Gordon Smith from the days when I was a young student at Canadian Theological Seminary and he was the Dean of the Seminary. Whether or not he remembers me is quite another story.

    I had been thinking about him the last few days because of your recent emphasis on Spiritual disciplines. I was going to add a resource of articles, but they are not currently online. Among the articles were a few by Gordon Smith.

    So for now I give you a list of books that Gordon has written on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines.

    They are listed at:

    Michael Bell

  8. Too bad the Wesleyan/Methodist view was left out.

    “The grace of God given herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins, by enabling us to leave them. As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ. This is the food of our souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection. If, therefore, we have any regard for the plain command of Christ, if we desire the pardon of our sins, if we wish for strength to believe, to love and obey God, then we should neglect no opportunity of receiving the Lord’s Supper; then we must never turn our backs on the feast which our Lord has prepared for us.”
    – John Wesley, from “The Duty of Constant Communion”

    Scriptures like John 3:16 declare that God loves the world, but communion brings it home, declaring that Christ’s sacrifice was “for you”. The forgiveness and benefits found beneath the cross becomes ours, not just for the disciples who were actually there. I think there is room to differ on the practice of communion, but when it becomes just an impersonal ritual or a demonstration of doctrinal superiority, then it loses its meaning and purpose.

  9. Michael,

    Thanks for mentioning the Passover aspect. I’ve rarely heard that, with the exception of a Jews for Jesus presentation. I think it should get more mention.

    “ALL: Why don’t you read your Bibles? Not sexy enough for you?” – That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all day!

  10. Gordon was one of my profs at Regent College, and in fact I was one of the first students to take the course that he taught on the sacraments. As a Pentecostal boy travelling through the evangelical wilderness on his way to (very recently) becoming a somewhat reluctant Episcopalian, Gordon’s class afforded me a chance to really examine what had been for me a largely neglected dimension of Christian practice and life. I hadn’t realized that he had a book like this in the works, so I look forward to checking it out (though I’ll echo Amy and wonder, who forget the Orthodox?).

  11. Michael,

    Although I haven’t read this particular book, I have read other compilations of major views, and saw it discussed on a blog once. One thing that struck me about all the views, was that each one had several biblical points that the others didn’t, and each had flaws. Each view had it partly right, but no one view had it all.

    I believe the supper to be rich in meaning and to limit it to just a few points misses it. I have to side with Rose here, and suggest that it should be a meal – or at least with a meal. What about a feast? Edible portions of bread and drinkable portions of [real] wine. A dry, fingernail sized wafer and thimble of grape juice while sitting on your hands just doesn’t do it. A couple of times a month, Jesus gets stuck in my molars, and the juice just makes it stick there. I don’t often see much celebration in celebrating the Lord’s supper. I think we can all learn from other traditions a more full understanding of the supper without having to figure out which one single view is the right one.

  12. Hi Michael –

    In reference to your comment on Roger and the ‘Anglican View’:

    “Steve and Anglicans: Well, that qualifies as a view to me. I would like to have heard it.”

    The problem is that in trying to actually describe the view or the system which holds all these views together one would be forced to conclude that nothing coherent actually exists.

    Yes, as Roger states there is a very wide range of views on the Communion/Eucharist/Sacrament (even the vocabulary would vary) in the Anglican Church, but it isn’t even true to say that all of these views coexist. Perhaps it would be better to say that they all exist in a rather uneasy truce (and even that is probably more true in the UK than elsewhere).

    You could describe the characteristic English muddle – but I’m not sure it really qualifies as a view 🙂

    This isn’t what you asked for – but if you want to hear a potted recent history of sacramental ism in the Anglican church listen to this interview with Peter Jensen – with special note to his comments on the Oxford movement and church hierarchy:

    It’s a fairly evangelical view – but it certainly explains the tensions within the Anglican church more succinctly than anything else I’ve heard (albeit somewhat accidentally).

  13. Michael, here’s yet another view of the L.S.:

    The Lord’s Supper, unlike other Christian activities, is restricted, by its very nature and meaning, to those occasions when the “body” is together. It is a group function. According to the New Testament, it was an important part of the purpose for which Christians assembled. In 1 Cor. 11:20 Paul’s criticism, “when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,” implies that it should be.

    It may well be the Lord’s Supper that gives special meaning to Sunday as a day of meeting. Although the evidence is not conclusive, Oscar Cullman has made a case for viewing the Sunday meals which Christ shared with his disciples after the resurrection as a necessary background for understanding the joyous Agape-Lord’s Supper celebrations of the early Christians (Early Christian Worship, pp. 14ff.). The apparent reference to Sunday as “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:9 may indicate a connection with the Lord’s Supper, since these are the only two phrases in which the word kuriakos (“Lord’s”) is used.
    What is the meaning and purpose of the Lord’s Supper, according to the New Testament? Although Protestants have generally rejected the traditional Catholic view of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice, the sacramental concept of “Holy Communion” has certainly influenced the thinking of the whole Christian world. An attitude toward “the elements” as holy or consecrated is not uncommon. The table, in many instances today, has been elevated to a kind of altar. The whole “Communion Service” as a special act of worship has taken on the character of sacred ceremony. This is not how the Lord’s Supper is characterized in the New Testament.

    The Lord’s Supper is rightly accompanied by prayers of thanksgiving (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24) and certainly evokes a response of praise. However, its purposes, as they are presented in the New Testament, are not basically God-directed, but are rather aimed toward the edification of the body. Both Luke and Paul present the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice as a basic aim of the Supper (Lk. 22:19,20; 1 Cor. 11:24). As a weekly “reminder” (anamnesis) of the central truth of the “new covenant” — that Jesus died as the payment for our sins — it serves to strengthen our faith and renew our hope. Contrary to the view implied by the traditional treatment of the Lord’s Supper as an offering or a sacrifice, it is we who need to be reminded, not God.

    Secondly, Paul says that the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation (1 Cor. 11:26). Sharing in this visual proclamation of the gospel serves as an open confession of our faith in the Lord’s death and in its meaning for us. It is an expression of faith that is mutually edifying to all who are present.

    Thirdly, we can recognize the idea of anticipation in the words “until he comes” (1 Cor. 10:26). The Lord’s Supper should intensify our expectation and hope of Christ’s second coming.

    “Recognizing the Body”

    Finally, Paul sees the Lord’s Supper as communion (koinonia, fellowship), not only with Christ (1 Cor. 10:16), but also with his body, the church. Paul writes, “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (10:17). The Lord’s Supper should manifest the unity of those who share the cup and bread, which represent the blood and body of Christ. But this was precisely the problem at Corinth! There were “divisions” among the members of the body there (1 Cor. 11:18; cf. 1:10ff.; 3:3ff.; 12:25), and this is the problem to which Paul addresses himself. Paul’s criticism is not so much directed at the way in which they were actually partaking of the Lord’s Supper as at the way in which they were completely disregarding each other in the meal preceding it (vv. 21, 22). By thus “despising the church of God” (v. 22) they were failing to “discern” or “recognize” it as “the body” of Christ (v. 29; for the meaning of “body” here, compare 10:17; 12:12ff., 27).

    Their actual attitude toward “the body” (the church) made the Lord’s Supper as “communion” impossible (v. 20). Their hypocrisy destroyed its meaning. Paul admonished each one to “examine” his own attitude toward “the body” before he took part in the Lord’s Supper, so that he might do it in a way “worthy” of its intended meaning (vv. 27-29). Paul insisted that the Corinthians change their attitude and demonstrate this change by eliminating their practice of discriminating against certain people at their common meals (vv. 33, 34).

    Otherwise, their coming together would result in “judgment” (v. 34; cf. v. 29).
    In summary, the Lord’s Supper, in its Biblical meaning, epitomizes the very character and purpose of the Christian assembly. As “communion” it portrays the spirit of mutual love and fellowship that should characterize Christian assemblies, and all of its purposes coincide with the primary aim of these meetings, which we have seen to be the “building up” of the body of Christ. The end result of such edification is that God is glorified in the lives of his people.

  14. I should point out that the view of the Orthodox and Catholics are identical when it comes to the Eucharist.

    Though the Eastern Church (both Orthodox and Catholics) do refrain from calling the process as “transubstantiation” not because of it is inacurate but because they do not like refering to the process as a process. They prefer to view it as a mystery.

  15. The view of the Orthodox and Roman Catholics are not even close to identical. Nor is it just a matter of terms (or more importantly the Aristotlean philosophy behind the terms), but a substantive difference that informs the practice. As with many things Eastern, you have to look at what is done (or not done) as much or even more as study what may or may not have been written. For example, there can be no Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Church unless members of the body (at least one beside the priest and any other officiants) are present. Also, there is no adoration of the host in the Roman Catholic sense. The changes the Roman Catholic Church made to the practice and theology of this Mystery (mostly after the schism) remains a significant stumbling block to full communion between the two churches.

    (I’m neither Roman Catholic nor Orthodox, but have paid a great deal of attention to this question especially when I discovered how recent in origin the Baptist adaptation of Zwingli’s perspective really was.)

  16. Re “meal,” it is interesting to note that the Jehovah’s Witnesses call it “The Lord’s Evening Meal”….

    Jesus didn’t say to understand this, to dissect this, to come to some meeting of the minds about this. He said “DO this” and that is what matters most, that we do it, whether we understand or agree about it. Does the foot understand the ear? Does the hand understand the eye?

    I have been Methodist. I have been Baptist. I have been Pentecostal. I have been non-denominational, which in some respects is the most denominational of all.

    You are what you eat. Food becomes muscle, sinew, bones, thoughts, actions — “thought, word, and deed”, if you will. If you do not eat His flesh and drink His blood, whatever you understand that to mean, you have no part in Him. He said so Himself.

    To some I speak as a crazy man.

  17. I am sorry Scott to tell you that in this case you are wrong about them not being identical.

    There is only two things that separate Catholics from Orthodox and that is the recognition of the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff and the filioque clause.

    That is not to say that there aren’t any other differences 1000 years of separation will do that. However the understanding of the Eucharist as containing the body and divinity of our risen Lord is not one of them.

  18. Giovanni, I’ve read and listened to many, many Orthodox priests, theologians, and other speakers on that subject. None of them agree with your assertion. Like I said, I’m neither Orthodox nor Roman Catholic. But the Orthodox seem to feel there is a difference and a difference that runs deeper than their use of leavened bread.

  19. Well unfortunatly Scott the Orthodox view on the Eucharist varies with every priest or theologian you ask. However as far as the formal responses to the question of the Eucharist and Transubstantiation.

    Orthodox Church at the Synod of Jerusalem (date 1643 A.n.) used the word metousiosis–a change of ousia–to translate the Latin Transubstantiatio. The longer Catechism of the Orthodox Greek Church says:

    “As to the manner in which the Bread and Wine are changed into the Body and Blood of our Lord, none but God can understand: only this much is signified, that the Bread really and substantially becomes the very true Body of the Lord, and the Wine the very Blood of the Lord.”

    Thirty years later Council of Jerusalem 1672 a different Orthodox Patriarch the same response.

    “In the celebration of this we believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is present, not figuratively, or in an image, or by superabundant grace, as in the other mysteries, nor by a simple presence, as some of the Fathers have said concerning Baptism, nor by conjunction, as that the Deity of the Word is personally united to the bread of the Eucharist which is set forth, as the Lutherans most ignorantly and miserably think; but really and actually, so that after the consecration of the bread and the wine the bread is changed, TRANSUBSTANTIATED, transmade, and reordered, into the real body of the Lord itself, which was born in Bethlehem of the Ever-Virgin, was baptized in Jordan, suffered, was buried, rose, ascended, sitteth at the right hand of God the Father, and will come on the clouds of heaven; and the wine is transmade and TRANSUBSTANTIATED into the real blood of the Lord itself, which was poured forth for the life of the world when He hung on the cross.

    On as far as adoration is concerned:

    Council of Jerusalem (1672)

    “Further, that the body itself and the blood of the Lord which are in the mystery of the Eucharist ought to be honored in the highest way, and WORSHIPPED WITH DIVINE ADORATION.”

    Council of Jerusalem (1642)

    “Where it is fitting to WORSHIP and ADORE the Holy Eucharist even as our Savior Jesus Himself.

    I am sorry if it feels that I am hammering on you but this is something that is very important and can not let be open to speculation.

    Council of Constantinople (1727)

    “TRANSUBSTANTIATION” is “the most fitting statement of this mystery” and the “most accurately significant declaration of this change” in the elements.

    Obviesly these defenitions are not binding to all the Orthodox churches these are mayor pronouncements that hold important parts of the faith. I hope this was helpful.

  20. Giovanni, unless you are yourself Orthodox, then you’ll pardon me if I allow my perceptions of Orthodox confession and belief to be shaped by the Orthodox I either know personally, have read, or have listened to. You seem to make a common non-Orthodox mistake of assuming that a “council” means the same thing to the Orthodox that it would, for example, mean to Roman Catholics. Reality is much more complex than that in the world of the Orthodox.

    If you are Orthodox, then I will add your opinion to the mix of all the rest I have gathered. Otherwise, I won’t give it much weight. I can’t see any place where you have said whether or not you are Orthodox. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but if you are not Orthodox, then your opinion about what the Orthodox believe just doesn’t mean much to me.

  21. Well Scott I am sorry you feel that way. I don’t think that is a very good way to find an answer to a question but I can see that any further discussion on the subject would not be productive.

    However I will add one more thing, the truth is the truth no matter who says it. In the end the truth speaks for it self weather you choose to believe it or not.