For the past few weeks, we have talked about a contentious issue in the Christian church, namely baptism. We want to spend some time this week on a topic that can be just as divisive and controversial – communion.

Just as baptism is commanded by Jesus, so is communion. “The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). This is to be done with reverence and sincerity, as Paul reminds us. “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29).

But, also like baptism, how this should be done and what it truly means is open to interpretation. Before the Reformation, the Catholic view of communion was unchallenged. The Catholic church believed then, and still believes, in transubstantiation – the idea that the bread and wine of communion transform into the actual body and blood of Christ. In the related view of consubstantiation, held by Lutherans and other denominations, the elements contain the “real presence” of Christ in some important way.

The Catholic view came under scrutiny during the Reformation in the 1500s. The discussion centered on two main positions as represented by theologians Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. Based on his understanding of “this is my body,” Luther believed in the “real presence” position, that Christ was present “in, with and under” the elements. Zwingli based his arguments on “do this in remembrance of me,” and said the meal was symbolic and done strictly as a memorial.

The two never settled their disagreement, and the arguments continue to this day. Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and other denominations argue for a real presence in the elements, while Reformed denominations such as Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Baptist and many others take the memorial position. Many on the real presence side, notably Catholics, will withhold communion from those who do not agree with their theological position. Each group is fully committed to its own position, believing that the other side is at best misguided, and at worst, heretical. Thus, communion, which is supposed to be done in the name of unity, can in reality be extremely divisive.

Given that this argument has raged for more than 500 years, what, if anything, can be done to bridge such differences? Usually, the Bible is the arbiter of such disagreements, but both sides can point to strong Biblical arguments to support their position. As with baptism, while the Bible makes clear the “why” of communion, it is relatively silent on the “how” or even the “how often.” That is left to the conscience and practice of the believer, assuming that he or she approaches communion in a conscientious manner as described in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29.

On a personal note, while the arguments over communion can be passionate and even heated, I do not believe they affect our salvation. That is, when you die and stand before God, He is probably not interested in your position on communion. He is much more interested in your faith in Jesus Christ.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to let me know.

Pastor Brad Schultz, Zion Evangelical Church,