A reader has a question about Evangelical views of the Eucharist

A reader has a question about Evangelical views of the Eucharist May 12, 2016

He writes:

I’m studying the bible and the sacraments. How does the evangelicals interpreted 1 Cor, 11:27, 30? What is their interpretation??

The passage he refers to is this:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Co 11:27–29).

There’s no uniformity here since Evangelicals can be all over the map. But one common and popular attempt to understand it in the absence of (and very often in direct opposition to) any Eucharistic theology is to apply it not to the Eucharistic Body of Christ, but to the ecclesial body of Christ. So the body and blood being sinned against here is not the Eucharist but the fellow Christian.

It’s a close, but no cigar, reading of Paul.

Why?  Well, notice that the passage comes immediately after, not a discussion of the Church, but Paul’s recitation of the Institution Narrative (the oldest  account of the Institution of the Eucharist in the world and one predating all four gospels  Paul is, in all likelihood reciting it from memory to his scribe and, (like pretty much any priest today) know it because he learned it from both participating in and, when ordained (Acts 13:1-3) celebrating it 50 zillion times. The gospels have not yet been written, but when they are, they will recite substantially the same thing with trivial differences.  And Paul moves straight from that account (a very rare Pauline recitation of the direct words of Jesus) to the passage my reader cites.  Obviously, he is continuing his discussion of the Eucharistic body and blood of Jesus, not of the ecclesial body of Christ.

Of course, Paul certainly does speak of the Church as the Body of Christ. In fact, he is the *only* NT writer to use that image and he will do so in the very next chapter: 1 Corinthians 12. But precisely *why* the Church is the Body of Christ in Paul’s thought is *because* we are all partakers of the Eucharist:

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? ¶ Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Co 10:16–17).

The Eucharistic Body of Christ is the *reason* there is an ecclesial Body of Christ. So to sin against the one is to sin against the other and vice versa. That is one of many outworkings of the seven words Paul spent his whole life trying to unpack: “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting *me*?” (not “my followers”). To ask Paul “Which is the body of Christ: the Eucharist or the Church?” is like asking which blade on the scissors does the cutting. He does not and cannot conceive of them separately, much less pitted against each other.

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  • Bryan

    If I may answer from a Protestant and Evangelical perspective, since I’m something of a denominational mutt (grew up Methodist, was in the Assemblies of God for 10+ years, Presbyterian, non-denominational, and now Anglican)…

    The way it was typically explained in most settings, even though most Protestants and Evangelicals don’t believe in transubstantiation and see the elements (bread and wine/juice) as symbols of Christ’s body and blood, they still see Holy Communion as a sacred act. So to come and receive communion in an unworthy manner might include a number of things…coming to the table with unconfessed sin, coming with some unresolved conflict between you and a fellow believer, treating this sacred meal as something trivial (many believe that even though the elements are symbols/representations of the Body/Blood, the act is still something to be done with reverence and seriousness). It would be akin to being baptized by immersion and coming up and spraying the pastor in the face with a mouthful of water. Things like that.

    I know that doesn’t satisfy a Catholic’s understanding of those verses but I thought I’d just give some more detail from the Protestant view.

    • Artevelde

      Thank you Bryan. I don’t think there’s any dispute over the ‘unworthy manners’. The argument is about ‘profaning the blood and body of the Lord’. I’ll be more simplistic than Mark in my reasoning but here goes: if Paul is not speaking of the actual, present blood and body of the Lord while breaking bread (as catholics would contend) , he must be using a metaphor. Which metaphor could that be?

  • Artevelde

    Related: I could never find out any difference between the Lutheran ‘sacramental union’ and transubstantiation. Am I missing something?