Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #860 -- January 23, 2023
All nature is a vast symbolism: Every material
fact has sheathed within it a spiritual truth.

Dr. Edwin Powell Hubble [1889-1953]

The Divine Eucharistic Presence
Consubstantial or Consubstantiation?

You may never have heard his name, but Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) was a noted American attorney and one of this nation's "preeminent figures" within the American abolitionist movement, as well as the chief advocate for the rights of Native Americans. According to one historian, Phillips was seen by many people of color in those days as "the one white American wholly color-blind and free from racial prejudice." His views and causes were not always appreciated at that time in our nation's history, but he was fearless in his pursuit of liberty and justice for all. In a speech he delivered near the end of 1859, he said, "One on God's side is a majority." This echoed the words of the Christian reformer John Knox, who said, "A man with God is always in the majority." A month earlier, Wendell Phillips also stated, "Truth is one forever absolute, but opinion is truth filtered through the moods, the blood, the disposition of the spectator." A year later, in yet another speech, he noted, "Difference of religion breeds more quarrels than difference of politics."

These words, knowing something of the social-historical context in which they were spoken, reveal much about the inner turmoil men and women faced, and still face, as they experience the many challenges and injustices this world throws at them during their journey through life. Such times also reveal one's true character, for one will either cower before godlessness or stand courageously for godliness. In the battle for hearts, minds, and souls, we dare not be deserters in the cause of Christ Jesus. Standing for Truth, standing beside the oppressed and marginalized, speaking out against caustic policies of governments and confused theologies of misguided religionists, requires the confidence and strength of those who know beyond doubt that with God on their side, even if they stand alone, they are in the majority. It is such men and women as these who change the world!!

As we take a bold stand for our Lord, we must ever be cautious that what we proclaim and defend is in fact Truth, and not just our own tradition; that it is the ultimate Substance not the shadow of our faith. There is much about our faith-journey through life that is clothed in symbols and figures of speech, and the danger is always present that we will elevate these in our hearts and minds and practice to a place never divinely intended for them. A good example is the bronze serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9). The people of Israel soon lost sight of the true purpose of this emblem, and in time we discover that "the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan" (2 Kings 18:4). When a mere symbol of a greater reality becomes an object of veneration, the shadow begins to overshadow the substance to which it was simply designed to redirect the eyes of faith. Symbol then becomes sacrament, and the latter over time comes to be rigidly regulated to assure its continued sacred status.

During the past two millennia, Christians have done this with a number of symbolic acts and objects, perhaps most notable of which are baptism in water and the physical emblems (bread and wine) of the Eucharist. Rather than mere representations, they have in the hearts and minds of some disciples of Jesus almost become the Reality itself. We have even done it with the cross, enshrining "pieces of the original wood of the cross" in cathedrals where worshippers may come and bow before it and seek physical healing. We have fashioned crucifixes that to some are so holy that they become almost magical (in the movies one can ward off vampires with it and burn the skin of the demon possessed by touching them with it). Some years ago, Andres Serrano, an extremely controversial artist/photographer, depicted the crucifix submerged in urine, which aroused enormous fury from Christians both in America and Europe. When confronted about this, he replied, "What the nuns told us in school when I was going to religious instruction was that we worship not the crucifix but Christ. ... We aren't supposed to worship the symbol or give it the same level of reverence that we give Christ because it is only a representation." Yes, that is what we are told, but that is quite far from what many actually do. With his "art," Serrano challenged and exposed this perception that has come to be all too common within higher religious institutionalism.

In my previous issue of Reflections, where I presented some thoughts on "Respecting Our Differences" (Reflections #859), I dealt with the confusion that arose among disciples of Jesus, and which has persisted for centuries, over His two statements: "This is My body" and "This is My blood." The intensity of the debate over whether our Lord spoke literally or figuratively has never lessened. It is still waged with great fervor to this day. Theologies and religious movements have been built upon and around the perceptions and practices related to this debate, while the vast majority of disciples of Christ are simply dumbfounded by it all. There are a great many questions raised by this debate, but perhaps the most difficult of them all relates to the Divine Presence at or in the observance of the Lord's Supper (Eucharist, Communion). If the Lord Jesus is there, then in what way is He there? ... and in what or in whom? In the participants? In the elements themselves? And if the latter, in what form? There is no need to revisit this information in depth in this current issue of my Reflections, for that was done in the previous issue. However, that study led several readers to write to me offering some additional insights, especially with respect to the topic of the nature of our Lord's Presence during this special meal. It is to this "Eucharistic Presence" that I want to respond more fully.

As Christians struggled with whether Jesus was present in the bread and wine physically or spiritually, literally or figuratively, actually or representatively, various theories and theologies arose over the centuries, which in turn led to various traditions and practices, some of which came to be highly venerated. Transubstantiation came to dominance within Roman Catholicism, becoming the "approved" understanding (by authority of both Pope and Council) of our Lord's Divine Presence. Paschasius Radbertus (800-865 A.D.), a devout, but superstitious, monk from France, was the first to clearly teach and write about the doctrine of Transubstantiation, and it is he who is generally credited with formulating the doctrine. In his book "On the Body and Blood of the Lord" (831 A.D.), he writes, "The substance of bread and wine is effectually changed into the flesh and blood of Christ. After consecration there is nothing else in the Eucharist but the flesh and blood of Christ, ... the very flesh which was born of Mary and suffered on the cross and rose from the tomb, ... although the figure of bread and wine remain to the senses of sight, touch, and taste." As was to be expected, this doctrine would in the course of time come under fierce attack from some within the ranks of the clergy and the scholastics, for it was viewed as an absurdity, and in some cases even sacrilege. Alternate understandings were proffered, serving to widen the debate throughout Christendom, as well as to intensify it.

Among the more notable alternative understandings of the Lord's Divine Presence were the "Symbolic View" and the "Dyophysite View." The former stated that the elements are nothing more than what they appear to be: mere bread and wine. However, they are representative of the body and blood of Christ. They are symbols of the reality, not the reality itself. The latter view (also known as the "two nature" or "spiritual" view) stated the bread and wine had two natures: a physical nature, in which they outwardly remain visible as bread and wine, and a spiritual nature in which they inwardly become the actual body and blood of Jesus; this inward nature being visible only to the eyes of faith. By the year 1520, Martin Luther (1483-1546) had rejected the doctrine of Transubstantiation, but he continued to believe that the actual body and blood of Christ were present in the elements. He developed the teaching (later called "Consubstantiation") which maintained that the real flesh and blood of Jesus joined with or mingled with the elements of the Lord's Supper. Thus, Luther believed that the presence of Jesus in the elements was real, but he did not believe it was the result of any "priestly miracle of consecration." "The Lord's Supper was for Luther a divine sign of the communion (fellowship of unity) of all believers with one another and Christ" [Dr. Harold J. Grimm, The Reformation Era: 1500-1650 A.D., p. 127]. Luther sought to restore the Lord's Supper "to its primitive character as a commemoration of the atoning death of Christ, and a communion of believers with Him" [Dr. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 7 - Modern Christianity: The German Reformation, p. 492].

Luther's chief opponent in this debate was Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), who rejected Luther's view as being too close to the Catholic view. He believed the elements were merely symbols, and that Christ was present in the elements only symbolically, and not literally. Zwingli also taught, and it was here that he and Luther somewhat found common ground, that the Lord's Supper was a sign of our unity with one another. "For Zwingli the sacrament creates union with each other, and renews union with Christ, and it does both by bringing to our remembrance, through the signs of the bread and the wine, the death and sacrifice of Christ. For Zwingli, the Lord's Supper is a memorial in which we find, through the remembrance stimulated by the signs of the bread and wine, closer union with each other and renewed union with Christ" [Dr. William Barclay, The Lord's Supper, p. 78]. It is this idea of uniting in close communion in the observing of this sacred event that led a reader, after he had read my previous article, to write, "With regard to whether to interpret literally or figuratively 'This is My body ... This is My blood,' I believe the stronger argument is: rather than saying 'it's figurative,' say instead, 'it's real, but not literal.' For this reason, I have long been impressed with the argument for Consubstantiation over Transubstantiation."

This brother-in-Christ and I entered into an interesting and very cordial email discussion with one another on this, for I personally favor the view of Zwingli over that of Luther. In other words, with regard to the Divine Presence in the Lord's Supper, I don't believe that Presence is connected with the elements, but with the participants. The bread and wine are nothing more, in and of themselves, than bread and wine; but they most certainly point us toward so much more, and it is in this that we find their power and worth ... and in which we encounter the Presence of the Lord Jesus: i.e., it is our "co-mingling" with Him and one another, NOT the co-mingling of His literal flesh and blood with the bread and wine on the table. If we embrace the latter, it is only a short hop to the heretical theology of sacramentalism, and I am vehemently opposed to such teaching (with regard to both baptism and the Lord's Supper).

The more this brother and I dialogued, however, the more I came to realize (if I have correctly understood him) that he and I were very much saying the same thing, but there was a conflation of a couple of terms that was causing the confusion. Again, if I understood him correctly (and I apologize if I didn't), it was not so much Consubstantiation he was endorsing, as it was the concept embodied in the word "consubstantial." When he said he favored "Consubstantiation," that indicated to me that he believed the actual human flesh and blood of Jesus somehow infused itself into the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper (even though to our physical senses - taste, touch, smell, sight - it remained bread and wine). Thus, Jesus was literally, actually, really, physically a part of the bread and wine. I don't believe Scripture teaches this. After some dialogue, he wrote, "Joseph Campbell argues that when we identify with a person or rhetorical position, we become, in a sense, one with that person/position: i.e., we become consubstantial. We aren't changed into something else, but we change our behavior to align with our new oneness. ... So, my understanding of 'Consubstantiation' is shaped by that discussion. In Joseph Campbell's explanation, the elements of the Communion don't change, but we bring a reality to the experience that makes it more than just a figurative statement ... we become one with Christ through taking His body and His blood into our own. The elements don't change, but the Scriptures do speak in terms that approach reality. ... I would argue that the elements don't miraculously change, but through partaking of them, we change!" In an email posted a day or so later, he wrote, "I absolutely agree with you ... I have no opinion that this has anything to do with something happening to the elements of the Lord's Supper. Rather, I believe this has to do with what happens within and among US, and with the Lord."

He and I agree!! And, brethren, let me just "preach" here for a moment: This is what can happen when brethren who differ on some matter dare to engage in loving, respectful dialogue with one another, rather than caustic, heated debate and personal defamation, which only leads to division! 'Nuff said!! The truth we were both seeking to emphasize was the reality within the observance of the Lord's Supper of a very real and actual consubstantial experience with the Lord Jesus, a reality that was becoming confused by the centuries old debate between warring dogmas: Consubstantiation and Transubstantiation. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of the term "consubstantiation" is as follows: "The actual substantial presence and combination of the body and blood of Christ with the eucharistic bread and wine according to a teaching associated with Martin Luther." On the other hand, the definition of the term "consubstantial," which admittedly looks and sounds very similar, is: "Of one and the same substance, essence, or nature, especially the three divine persons of the Christian Trinity."

On the same evening of the institution of the Lord's Supper, and just prior to His arrest, Jesus prayed that His disciples "may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us" (John 17:21). Father, Son, and Spirit are of one essence (truly a mystery, but also a reality), and They desire that we be of one essence with Them spiritually speaking, and that we also be one with one another in similar fashion. It is a fusing, or co-mingling, of natures: His into ours! The beauty of our relationship with Him is that He is now in us!! The reality of the Divine Presence in and with us is an amazing truth, and one none of us truly grasp in its ultimate fullness and import. Whenever two or three gather together in His name, He is present, and I believe that promised presence is more than just, "I'm in the vicinity." No, He is both among and within us! When we break bread together, and partake of the bread and wine, He is there ... NOT in the elements on the table, but in the participants who gather together around it. This then becomes an event in which the reality of His Presence transcends a mere ritual; a time during which, for us, the elements themselves come to be regarded as more than just a bit of cracker and a gulp of grape juice, for they direct our hearts and minds to, and represent to those of us who are redeemed, the bloody sacrifice Jesus made to bring us to this time of UNION with Him and one another in ONE BODY. It is a time of realized covenant!! A time of a very real "joining of essence" with living beings in a spiritually moving memorial.

I am convinced, after much study and reflection, not only of the biblical text but also of church history, that by failing to grasp the intent of Christ's statement regarding the bread and wine, we have woefully deprived ourselves of a view of His Divine Presence as He intended it to be, and we have relegated Him to an invisible fusion with crackers and grape juice, which we then venerate more than Him. We have returned to bowing before a bronze serpent, leaving the Savior somewhere on the sidelines. We have made more of "is" than is warranted. "One is not compelled by the present context nor usage elsewhere to give to the verb 'estin' ('is') the meaning of 'is equivalent to.' Often it conveys merely the idea of 'represents'" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 980]. "When the Christian partakes of the Lord's Supper, he not only has an idea in his mind about a past event, but in a sense he 'recalls' that event and in such a way that it can no longer be regarded wholly as a thing 'absent' or past, but present, and powerfully present. In the Lord's Supper, the death of Christ is made so vivid that it is as if the Christian were standing beneath the cross" [ibid, p. 984]. "Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper is brought about not magically by a liturgically correct administration of the sacrament," ... rather, it occurs "in an event, not in an object; an encounter, not a phenomenon of nature; it is Christ's encounter with His Church, not the distribution of a substance" [Dr. E. Schweizer, The Lord's Supper According to the NT, p. 37-38]. The Lord's Supper "is a thankful and joyous memorial of redemption (in this respect, sharing many of the motifs of the Jewish Passover), not in the way of mere mental recollection of a past event, but, more than that, a here-and-now experience of the mighty deliverance of God, with His promise - made sure for the Christian by Christ's victory - of salvation in the world to come" [The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 162].

The Lord's Supper is not only a time of remembrance, but also a time of celebration of our oneness with Him and one another (cf., 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, a truth which the church in Corinth had failed to perceive, and which led to abuse of the Lord's Supper), and our confident expectation of the full realization of that ultimate surrounding of His Table for the great feast at His Parousia. The intent of His Divine Presence in the here and now is experienced and "fulfilled in fellowship for the present" [Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 1056]. It is a celebration of our "union in Christ and unity with fellow Christians" [ibid] that is brought about by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It is "a genuine sharing of fellowship (koinonia) with the living Lord" [ibid], a true consubstantial reality experienced between the saved and the Savior as we commune together in the Communion. There is nothing magical, or sacramental, about the bread and wine that imparts forgiveness for sins or immortality, or which compels the Lord Jesus to come into our presence. Rather, this powerful event is just one of the ways Jesus sought to open our eyes to the reality that His Divine Presence is already among, within, alongside us every moment of every day by grace through faith. This reality we must Never Forget, and thus we have such "times of remembrance" in which we celebrate the reality of His continual Presence!! One of the leaders of almost a century ago who influenced many within my own faith-heritage (the Stone-Campbell Movement), was a scholar by the name of William Robinson (1888-1963) of Overdale College in Birmingham, England. "While upholding the mystery of the Supper, Robinson nevertheless defended against any implication of a magical or mechanical mode of its efficacy. ... He explained that, unlike the Roman Catholic doctrine where Christ's presence is actualized through the transubstantiated bread and wine, the true reality of Christ comes to worshippers in the act of eating and drinking, in the dynamic of spiritual participation" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 494].

The Lord's Supper is a participatory act of faith and devotion. It is where the participants share with one another in a powerful time of remembrance and proclamation of Christ's sacrifice for their salvation. In this event, their hearts and minds are called to the cross of Jesus, and there they experience in a very real way, as only a devoted disciple can, the suffering of their Savior for their sins. There is a personal Divine Presence felt that we dare not diminish by suggesting that Presence is only and entirely symbolic. On the other hand, our Lord "with us" transcends this event, for He is with us always, even to the end of the age! It is during such moving moments, however, that the emblems and symbols touch us powerfully, and our emotions are engaged in ways that they may not always be during the long days of our earthly journey. We need these times when we can together enter into a felt fellowship with the Reality to Whom we are called through the meaning-filled emblems before us. I have written many articles on the Lord's Supper, and presented many sermons, and taught many classes; I've even written a book on it. But it wasn't until I entered into this dialogue with this reader that the concept embodied in the term "consubstantial" truly touched me emotionally and intellectually. I will never "come to the Table" quite the same as before, for my spiritual perception of this event, and of our Lord's Divine Presence within and through it, has been enriched. So, I want to thank this dear brother-in-Christ for our recent dialogue!! It has been eye-opening and spirit-lifting! "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17).


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Readers' Reflections
NOTE: Differing views and understandings are always welcome here,
yet they do not necessarily reflect my own views and understandings.
They're opportunities for readers to voice what is on their hearts, with
a view toward greater dialogue among disciples with a Berean spirit.

From a New Subscriber in Alabama:

Good Afternoon Bro. Maxey, I have greatly enjoyed reading your Reflections on your Articles Archive site, and I would now like to be added to your email mailing list. I have been attending Churches of Christ all of my life, and my eyes have now been opened to some of the biblical truths that I had misunderstood due to this group's teachings. I want to thank you for your efforts to provide Truth to those that are willing to heed it. I see several "readers' responses" from brethren in Alabama. However, I am not aware of any congregations close to me that teach we are saved by grace through faith. I do know some in Kentucky, but none here. Are you aware of any in the East Central portion of Alabama? Thank you very much!

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Bro. Maxey, please send me your book titled "From Ruin to Resurrection." My check is enclosed. I have your other three books, and I am also an avid reader of your Reflections. Thank you for all you do in our Lord's service, and may He continue to bless you!

From a Reader in California:

Al, in your last article ("Respecting Our Differences: 'I Agree with You, Except for This'" - Reflections #859) you wrote the following: "In the course of my almost 74 years (I'll reach that age in March), I have tried to view my journey through life as one of discovery. Over the years I have challenged and questioned everything; nothing was 'off the table.' In a great many cases, my searching and research has led to a strengthening of my understandings, convictions, and beliefs. In some cases, however, my beliefs (and my expressions of those beliefs) changed. I realized that I was wrong about some things (and will likely be wrong again). Other things I found not to be so much 'wrong' as just misguided or unnecessary; there was a better way, and so I took it." That is great advice, Al, and it describes me today! We all have changed our beliefs and minds over time as we learn and grow. It's important to listen to others outside our fellowship as Truth can be found anywhere. Not to mention how interesting it can be. I used to think that if I didn't get people to believe me and what I was saying at that moment, then I was not effective. I placed such a burden on me. Now I understand that it's God and the Holy Spirit who convict and teach. I am just one part in this equation, and the very least part at best.

From a Reader in Texas:

I just read your article titled "Respecting Our Differences." So true! Of course, I agree with what you wrote. As for the "body" and the "blood," I would remind folks that Jesus declared Himself to be "the DOOR" also, but that didn't mean He had hinges or a latch. So many things in the Word of God are so plain and simple. I think preachers, theologians, and Bible professors complicate more things than they make clear. It is worthy of note that it was the common folk, and even women and children, not the educated men with Jewish pedigrees, to whom Jesus spoke most often. And those in the former group were the ones who understood Him best when He desired for them to do so. Al, you are always such a treasure to me!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, thank you for your latest Reflections, and for your exhaustive research and insight. I am convinced that so many people have made so many things so difficult. God never intended for us to make our opinions matters over which we separate from and even disfellowship one another. To me there are two "biggies" - Repentance and Righteousness. God is not out to bamboozle us with a "law system," but rather saves us through His amazing Grace! Have a prosperous New Year, Al.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, "Respecting Our Differences" is an interesting Reflections article (although this is true of them all). While reading it, I thought of two things: (1) I won't ever forget a preacher friend of mine who once told me that "it is good that God didn't put me in charge of salvation, because I would have condemned many for offenses I have since changed my mind about." You are correct, Al ... we are on a journey of discovery. (2) I agree 100% that we should respect the person even if we absolutely disagree with his/her conclusions. I have concluded for myself that the moment I start calling other people names, at that point I have lost the debate! I also believe that when one is convinced that their salvation is dependent upon what they are convinced of, it is difficult if not impossible to change their minds. They would be condemning themselves and their dearly departed loved ones. Is it not humility that should guide us in our discussions?! I believe it is. Love ya, brother!

From a Retired Military Chaplain in Indiana:

Shalom, my brother! I honor J. Elbert Peters and his wife, of blessed memory, and of whom you spoke in your previous Reflections, for the beautiful example of their 55-year marriage! Also, I thank him for his two statements (upon which you based your last article) that led to such a wonderful learning opportunity for those of us who follow your Reflections. Just two days before you sent out Issue #859 ("Respecting Our Differences"), I was teaching the Torah portion "Vayechi" (Genesis 47:28 - 50:26), which encompasses "Judah IS a lion's whelp," which you used as an example to illustrate the difference between literal and figurative language, and which also shows the difficulty of language translation. Although I agree with you on the metaphoric usage in this text, yet even here the word "is" has to be supplied by the translator, as it is not literally in the Hebrew (something not uncommon, by the way, in the translating of biblical Hebrew). Al, your writing is clear, powerful, and a joy to read! May HaShem bless you in your Reflections ministry!

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, Happy New Year, and thanks for your last issue of Reflections ("Respecting Our Differences"). I appreciate your effort to celebrate our differences while hoping to maintain our unity. I am preaching on divisive issues within and without our churches this year, and am hoping for unity-in-differences, as we all have our own opinions about what Scripture is saying to us. I have mentioned to you Kathryn Schulz's book "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error" before, but I bring it up again because I think it is germane to this discussion about trying to be right in a world where we are often wrong. One of the points she makes is: we can be wrong, or we can realize we are wrong, but we cannot be both at the same time. Her point is that as soon as we realize we are wrong, we change. But if we never accept that we might be wrong, then we see no need to change. Isn't that what we deal with in theology often?! People are comfortable with what they think or were taught, and so they do not perceive that they could be wrong. In fact, they do not want to be wrong, because to be wrong might shed a poor light on their decisions. She makes the point that we feel this way, and yet when we are shown to be wrong, we often resort to the sentiment that "to err is human." In other words, we understand intuitively that we all make mistakes as just part of being who we are (human): a defense mechanism employed because we do not like to face our own imperfections.

How many times do we encounter those who are unable or unwilling to change or grow in their faith because to do so might vary from what they were taught or what their parents thought or believed? They do not want to be wrong. They do not want their parents, grandparents, etc. to be wrong. We fight the idea that we may be wrong, and I believe this is another characteristic of our humanity. Often, our whole self-image is based on the need to be right. In my teaching this year I am going to focus on Paul's guidance in Galatians 5:6 as the key to our success in dealing with this inherent need to be right. In the New Living Translation, Paul's statement reads, "What is important is faith expressing itself in love." I believe this is where we should focus our efforts for unity. How do we express our faith in love? What is really more important here: understanding exactly what all we have to do to be saved or living in love like those who are saved?! Al, once again, thank you for all you do! Being thought-provoking may actually lead to change in some people!

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