Pentecostals, “Non-Denomenationals,” and plain old Baptists all have one thing in common: they all deny the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Two things about this bother me.
First, they think that anyone who believes in the Real Presence is a crypto-Roman Catholic. What they tend to ignore that a plethora of Protestants (Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, etcetera), Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox (including Assyrian and Indian Orthodox Christians who clung onto the doctrine even though they were cut off from the West for centuries) hold to some doctrine of the Real Presence. That means the whole Christian world does not consider it “idolatry” or “superstition,” and this includes almost all of Protestantism.
Second, Catholics believe that all Protestants reject the Real Presence. The above paragraph should be enough to show that this is not the case.
The Credo-Baptists have no problem believing that just as the whole Church got it wrong on baptism, they also got it wrong on the Real Presence. Their reason? The Bible says so.
However, lets evaluate what the Bible actually says about the Eucharist:
Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body” (Matt 26:26; see also Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, and 1 Cor 11:24).
And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying,“Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:27; see also Mark 14:23-24, Luke 22:20, and 1 Cor 11:25).
It certainly appears that Jesus is speaking literally. “Well, Christ is just using an expression,” they might retort. Does this hold any water? Would Jesus institute an ordinance that proclaims His death until He comes in a deliberately confusing way? When we look to the Bible, we can see that the “Jesus was making a metaphor defense” does not hold any water.
The Real Presence in 1 Cor 10. Many Credo-Baptists get selective amnesia when they read 1 Cor 10-14 and I’m not sure why. The verses affirm the Real Presence, the wearing of head coverings for women, the necessity of not spurting out in “tongues” without interpretation, and other things that the supposed Sola Scriptura crowd choose to ignore for questionable reasons. So, the following might have never popped out to some of them before:
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons (1 Cor 10:14-21).
There’s a lot here we need to unpack.
- In bold, we have a affirmation of Christ’s literal presence in the Eucharist. This begs the question: if we hold to the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, why do we ignore that every time the Bible brings up the Eucharist it always speaks literally and never once suggests it is a metaphor?
- In the underlined, we have a comment that is easy to read past but perhaps is the most convincing Scripture behind the doctrine of the Real Presence.
How so? In ancient sacrifices, priests generally killed animals (though in some cases people) to propitiate the vengeful gods they believed in. This is very similar to the Old Testament’s presentation of an animal sacrifice.
In ancient Israel, the Priest would get an animal and instruct the person who brought the sacrifice to lay his hand on it. The Scripture says of the priest, “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf” (Lev 1:4). In Lev 16:21-22 the same laying of hands on the animal is explicitly for the purpose of transferring the sin of the people onto it.
So, whatever the significance of the laying of hands (whether it be to dedicate the sacrifice or to transfer sins), after killing the animal it is then eaten. This is how one partakes of the sacrifice and attains its benefits.
With this in mind, let’s look at the underlined. Paul is clearly contrasting sacrifices. Those in Israel “who eat the sacrifices are sharers in the altar.” In the exact opposite way, the Gentiles eat sacrifices given to demons, and thereby share in idolatrous altars. Because of this, the Christian cannot eat the sacrifices to idols because he cannot partake both of these and the Christian sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the elements by eating it. Paul is conflating the Jewish sacrificial system with that of the Eucharist.
This is where the Credo-Baptist has to concede defeat. Paul’s point here does not make sense if the bread and the wine are mere symbols, because Paul is saying the reason one cannot literally partake in a sacrifice to demons is because one literally partakes in a another sacrifice given to God the Father. Or, are we to pretend that the sacrifices to demons are likewise metaphorical?!? We know better!
An Observation Concerning 1 Cor 11:27. With this in mind Paul’s admonishment in the very next chapter to not partake in the Eucharist “in an unworthy manner” makes sense. According to Paul those that do “shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). Again, if the bread and wine is not Christ’s flesh and blood, how can partaking in the elements wrongly incur the guilt of Christ’s literal flesh and blood? Wouldn’t they incur the guilt of profaning something else?
The Eucharist in John 6. This chapter is usually thought of among baptists as one that concerns soteriological disputes. However, in the same chapter are some pretty plain affirmations of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
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.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:51-54).
The standard Credo-Baptist objection to this is, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’ (John 6:35). This means that eating His flesh and blood is a metaphor for belief.”
In some ways, dealing with such argumentation is difficult because absolutely everything can be “allegorized.” So, what indications do we have that what Jesus said was not intended as an allegory?
John 6:35 speaks of not only hunger, but also thirst. In John 4, we learn that Christ gives us living water that will cause us to never thirst. John 6:35 is likely referencing living water, not Jesus Christ’s blood. Jesus, however, speaks specifically of drinking His blood (and not water) in John 6:53. This shows that Jesus Christ was not simply using metaphors of food and liquids to describe faith, because if this were so he would have stuck to the same metaphors. Being that He failed to, the metaphor thesis also fails.
Further, John 6:35 does not suggest that John 6:51-54 cannot be taken literally. Can’t one who has faith in Christ logically come to Him in the Real Presence? In fact, this is absolutely essential…
The Real Presence and Protestant Soteriology. Keeping 1 Cor 10 in mind, it appears to me that the altar we approach reflects the inclinations of our hearts. When we approach the Lord’s Table by faith we reach our hands out to the sacrificial Lamb. We grasp His very flesh and blood and in so doing we walk in the footsteps of the Israelites that did so with all their sacrifices.
If I did not have faith in Jesus Christ, I would have no desire to lay my hand upon that sacrifice. However, when we place our hands upon the literal sacrifice, this transfers over our sins onto that sacrifice. I don’t know about you, but I want to transfer over my sins to that cross!
Credo-Baptists take issue with this because they think it means that Jesus’ sacrifice 2,000 years ago was insufficient, because we continually seek to participate in it today. Jesus Christ was “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (Heb 10:12) and He is not sacrificed continually. Got Questions gives a good summary of this: “There is no mention that the act of the crucifixion, which occurred within the confines of a linear timeline, is somehow free of that timeline to be as eternal as God Himself.”
Yet, it is actually central to Protestant soteriology that Jesus Christ can be sacrificed once 2,000 years ago, but have us participating in that sacrifice into the present day. This means Got Questions’ contention does not hold water.
Why? Don’t Protestants by faith trust that God came into this world, lived a perfectly righteous life, fulfilled all the requirements of the Law, and became sin for us on the cross so that we may become the righteousness of God? In effect, aren’t we anachronistically participating in Christ’s sacrifice by faith, even though it happened 2,000 years ago?
If we have no participation in Christ’s sacrifice, then our sins are not transferred over to Him, His righteousness is not made ours, and we remain in a damnable position.
The Credo-Baptist has no problem affirming that all the sins they ever committed and will ever commit were anachronistically transferred onto the cross. So, they already concede that they participate in the crucifixion though it happened 2,000 years ago. They are not doing good works (or sacraments) that merit them justification. Rather, a double imputation of our wickedness onto Christ from the present to the past and His righteousness onto us into the present takes place.
If this is so, then the presence of Christ’s literal flesh and blood, outside of time, is also possible. In fact, literally placing our hands upon Christ so that we can participate in that sacrifice from 2,000 years ago is necessary so that we can enjoy its benefits, just like any other sacrifice.*
Closing Comments. In six different passages that speak of the Eucharist there is not a single indication whatsoever that the bread and the wine serve as mere metaphors. In fact, it is highly suggestive in John 6, 1 Cor 10, and 1 Cor 11 that the literal interpretation is logically consistent and exegetically makes more sense.
Furthermore, we can answer Credo-Baptists’ chronological objections by showing that there is nothing inconsistent with there being a one-time sacrifice in the past that allows for present day participation.
*We participate in this sacrifice the moment we believe. Presuming we don’t die right away like the thief on the cross did, we continue our participation in Jesus’ sacrifice by placing our hands on His flesh and blood, and then feeding upon it just as God’s people have always done with their sacrifices. In this way Jesus Christ is not sacrificed again and again, but rather in remembrance of Him we reach out to Him again and again.
God is gracious in how He makes Himself accessible to us. He is in the Eucharist, He speaks to us in the Scripture, and He dwells within us in the Holy Spirit. Indeed, we are conferred all the righteousness of Jesus Christ upon belief, but this does not mean we should deliberately avoid the grace of His presence where He can be found, correct?
Just as He can be found in the Scripture, He is found in the Eucharist. And, we should seriously reconsider our position that Jesus Christ is not really present in the elements. It Biblically does not make sense, it chronologically presents just as many problems as the doctrine of double imputation, and it robs Christians of an additional means of assurance that Jesus Christ died for their sins once and for all on the cross.