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Religion Library: Presbyterian and Reformed

Rites and Ceremonies

Written by: Ted Vial

Calvin attempts to walk a middle path between these two positions.  But if he had to choose, Calvin would side with Luther.  Calvin agrees with Luther that the Lord's Supper is actually efficacious; it does not merely symbolize something that has already happened.  He asks, "Why would the Lord put the symbol of his body in your hands unless to assure you of true participation in it?"  But Calvin cannot read the passage "This is my body" literally, either.  At stake for Calvin is the location of Christ and the way Christ is present after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.  If Jesus' physical, resurrected body "sits on the right hand of God the father almighty," then it cannot be in the bread.  Jesus was bodily present on earth for his thirty-odd years in the flesh, but now Jesus is in heaven.  Calvin accused Luther of wanting to yank Jesus' body down from heaven and parcel it out bit by bit.  For Calvin there is a real presence of Jesus in the elements, but it is a spiritual presence.  Lutherans, in turn, think that Calvin wanted Christ to bi-locate, to be in heaven and in the elements at once.  They mocked this doctrine with the phrase "extra Calvinisticum."  Most Reformed Christians today tend to agree with Calvin's theology of the Lord's Supper-the bread is more than just symbolic, but perhaps not literally the body of Jesus.

Study Questions:
     1.    What are sacraments? How do they differ between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church? From the Lutheran Church to the Reformed Church?
     2.    Where did Zwingli and Luther agree on baptism? Where did they disagree?
     3.    Why is baptism an act of symbolism? Describe how it is performed.
     4.    What is transubstantiation? How do Zwingli and Luther understand it differently?
     5.    How does the Resurrection complicate Calvin’s understanding of communion?


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