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The Lord’s Supper

Note: By the time the Augsburg Confession was written, deep divisions had arisen among the various reformers concerning the Lord’s Supper. The Lutherans were very careful to distance themselves from those who reject that the body and blood of Christ are in fact truly present in His Supper and distributed to all those who eat and drink. Transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or any other human speculation asks the wrong question: how is Christ present? Lutheranism has no theory or philosophical explanation of how Christ is present. Rather, Lutherans insist on answering the what of the Lord’s Supper. We believe, teach, and confess that of the bread, Christ said, “This is My body,” and of the wine, “This is My blood.” These are given and shed “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26–28). We reject any teaching that is contrary to our Lord’s Word.

1 Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and distributed to those who eat the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 10:16]. 2 They reject those who teach otherwise.
Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 35 (Augsburg Confession X)

The Sacrament of the Altar

Note: In the most vivid and realistic language about the Lord’s Supper found in the Book of Concord, Luther asserts that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. They are present, distributed, and received by all who commune. Both bread and wine are to be given to communicants. The theory of transubstantiation is rejected as deceptive reasoning. The plain sense of Scripture is all that matters here, because it is the word and promise of Christ.

1 Of the Sacrament of the Altar, we hold that the bread and wine in the Supper are Christ’s true body and blood. These are given and received not only by the godly but also by wicked Christians [1 Corinthians 11:29–30].

2 We do not hold that only one kind of the Sacrament is to be given (e.g., the bread alone). We do not need that “high reasoning” that teaches there is as much under the one kind as under both, as the sophists and the Council of Constance teach. 3 Even if that were true, giving the one kind only is not the entire ordinance and institution commanded by Christ [Galatians 1:9]. 4 We especially condemn and in God’s name curse those who not only refuse to give both kinds but also quite tyrannically prohibit, condemn, and blaspheme giving both kinds as heresy. In doing so, they exalt themselves against and above Christ, our Lord and God.

5 As for transubstantiation, we care nothing about the sophistic cunning by which they teach that bread and wine leave or lose their own natural substance so that only the appearance and color of bread remain, and not true bread. For it is in perfect agreement with Holy Scriptures that there is, and remains, bread, as Paul himself calls it, “The bread that we break” [1 Corinthians 10:16] and “Let a person … so eat of the bread” [1 Corinthians 11:28].
Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 279 (Smalcald Articles III.VI)

Note: On the basis of the Word and promise of Christ, Lutherans believe that the true body and true blood of Jesus are actually present (under the bread and wine), distributed, and orally received in Holy Communion. All who commune receive Christ’s body and blood: worthy or unworthy, believing or unbelieving, godly or godless. Reformed Christians, deriving their theology from the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, deny that Christ is truly present in, with, and under the bread and wine. They speak of His spiritual or symbolic presence. This article also rejects many false views held by the Roman Catholic Church. When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, the clear Word of God must take captive our human reason. This applies to all matters of Christian doctrine and is a comment that echoes Martin Luther’s famous words in 1521 at the Diet of Worms. When he was ordered to recant his teachings Luther said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

1 The Zwinglian teachers are not to be counted among the theologians who receive ‹acknowledge and profess› the Augsburg Confession. They separated from our theologians at the very time when this Confession was presented. Yet they are advancing themselves and are attempting—under the name of this Christian Confession—to spread their error. Therefore, we also intend to make a necessary statement about this controversy ‹in which we have judged that the Church of Christ should be instructed›.


2 Question: In the Holy Supper, are the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (a) truly and essentially present, (b) distributed with the bread and wine, and (c) received with the mouth by all those who use this Sacrament—whether they are worthy or unworthy, godly or ungodly, believing or unbelieving? Are they received by the believing for consolation and life, but by the unbelieving for judgment? The Sacramentarians say No. We say Yes.

3 To explain this controversy, it must be noted in the beginning that there are two kinds of Sacramentarians. Some are openly crass Sacramentarians. They declare in plain, clear words what they believe in their hearts, that in the Holy Supper nothing but bread and wine is present, distributed, and received with the mouth. 4 Others, however, are crafty Sacramentarians. They are the most harmful of all. In part, they talk very fancy, using our own words. They pretend that they also believe a true presence of the true, essential, living body and blood of Christ in the Holy Supper. However, they say that this happens spiritually through faith. 5 Nevertheless, under these fancy words they hold precisely the former crass opinion, namely, that in the Holy Supper nothing is present and received with the mouth except bread and wine. For with them the word spiritually means nothing other than the Spirit of Christ or the power of Christ’s absent body and His merit that is present. But for them Christ’s body is in no mode or way present, except above in the highest heaven. They say we should elevate ourselves into heaven by the thoughts of our faith. And there—not at all in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper—we should seek Christ’s body and blood.

Confession of the Pure Teaching about the Holy Supper against the Sacramentarians

6 1. We believe, teach, and confess that in the Holy Supper Christ’s body and blood are truly and essentially present, and that they are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine.

7 2. We believe, teach, and confess that the words of Christ’s testament are not to be understood in any other way than the way they read, according to the letter. So the bread does not signify Christ’s absent body and the wine His absent blood. But, because of the sacramental union, ‹the bread and wine› are truly Christ’s body and blood.

8 3. Now, about the consecration, we believe, teach, and confess that no work of man or recitation of the minister produces this presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Supper. Instead, this presence is to be credited only and alone to the almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

9 4. At the same time we also believe, teach, and confess unanimously that in the use of the Holy Supper the words of Christ’s institution should in no way be left out. Instead, they should be publicly recited, as it is written in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of blessing that we bless” and so forth. This blessing occurs through the reciting of Christ’s words.

10 5. In this matter the ground on which we stand against the Sacramentarians is what Dr. Luther has laid down in his Confession concerning Christ’s Supper.

11 “The first point is this article of our Christian faith: Jesus Christ is true, essential, natural, perfect God and man in one person, undivided and inseparable.”

12 The second: God’s “right hand” is everywhere. Christ is placed there in deed and in truth according to His human nature. He is present, rules, and has in His hands, and beneath His feet, everything that is in heaven and on earth ‹as Scripture says in Ephesians 1:22›, where no other man or angel, but only Mary’s Son is placed. Therefore, He can do this.

13 The third: God’s Word is not false or deceitful [Titus 1:1–3]).

14 The fourth: God has and knows of various ways to be in any place, and not only one way, which philosophers call local (localis).

15 6. We believe, teach, and confess that Christ’s body and blood are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually through faith, but also orally. Yet not in a “Capernaitic” way, but in a supernatural, heavenly way, because of the sacramental union. Christ’s words clearly show this, when Christ gives direction to take, eat, and drink, as was also done by the apostles. For it is written in Mark 14:23, “And they all drank of it.” St. Paul likewise says [in 1 Corinthians 10:16], “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” That is to say: He who eats this bread eats Christ’s body, which also the chief ancient teachers of the Church—Chrysostom, Cyprian, Leo I, Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine—unanimously testify.

16 7. We believe, teach, and confess that not only the true believers in Christ and the worthy, but also the unworthy and unbelievers receive Christ’s true body and blood. However, they do not receive them for life and consolation, but for judgment and condemnation, if they are not converted and do not repent (1 Corinthians 11:27–29).

17 Although they thrust Christ as a Savior away from themselves, yet they must receive Him, even against their will, as a strict Judge. They must admit that He is just as present to exercise and render judgment on unrepentant guests as He is present to work life and consolation in the hearts of the true believers and worthy guests.

18 8. We believe, teach, and confess also that there is only one kind of unworthy guests: those who do not believe. About these guests it is written in John 3:18, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already.” And this judgment becomes greater and more grievous, being aggravated by the unworthy use of the Holy Supper (1 Corinthians 11:29).

19 9. We believe, teach, and confess that no true believer—as long as he has living faith, however weak he may be—receives the Holy Supper to his judgment. For the Supper was instituted especially for Christians weak in faith, yet repentant. It was instituted for their consolation and to strengthen their weak faith [Matthew 9:12; 11:5, 28].

20 10. We believe, teach, and confess that all the worthiness of guests of this heavenly feast is and is founded on Christ’s most holy obedience and perfect merit alone. We receive these for ourselves by true faith, and by the Sacrament we are assured of them. Our worthiness is not at all in our virtues or inward and outward preparations.

Contrary, Condemned Teachings of the Sacramentarians

21 On the other hand, we unanimously reject and condemn all the following erroneous articles. They are opposed and contrary to the teaching presented above, the simple faith, and the ‹pure› confession about the Lord’s Supper.

22 1. The papistic transubstantiation. It is taught in the papacy that during the Holy Supper the bread and wine lose their substance and natural essence, and that they are annihilated. They say they are changed into Christ’s body, and only the outward form remains.

23 2. The papistic sacrifice of the Mass for the sins of the living and the dead.

24 3. That ‹the Sacrilege› to laypeople only one form of the Sacrament is given. Contrary to the plain words of Christ’s testament, the cup is withheld from them. They are robbed of His blood.

25 4. The teaching that the words of Christ’s testament must not be understood or believed simply as they read, but that His words are difficult expressions, whose meaning must be sought first in other passages of Scripture.

26 5. In the Holy Supper Christ’s body is not received orally with the bread. But with the mouth only bread and wine are received. Christ’s body, however, is only received spiritually through faith.

27 6. The bread and wine in the Holy Supper are nothing more than ‹symbols or› tokens by which Christians recognize one another.

28 7. The bread and wine are only figures, points of comparison, and representations of Christ’s far absent body and blood.

29 8. The bread and wine are no more than a memorial, seal, and pledge. We are assured through them that when faith elevates itself to heaven, it becomes a partaker of Christ’s body and blood there. This happens as surely as we eat bread and drink wine in the Supper.

30 9. In the Holy Supper the assurance and confirmation of our faith ‹concerning salvation› happen through the external signs of bread and wine alone. They do not happen through Christ’s actually ‹truly› present body and blood.

31 10. In the Holy Supper only the power, effect, and merit of Christ’s absent body and blood are distributed.

32 11. Christ’s body is so enclosed in heaven that there is no way it can be at once and at one time in many or all places on earth where His Holy Supper is celebrated.

33 12. Christ has not promised and could not have caused the essential presence of His body and blood in the Holy Supper. For the nature and the property of the human nature He received cannot allow this presence or permit it.

34 13. God, by all His power, is not able (which is dreadful to hear) to cause His body to be essentially present in more than one place at one time.

35 14. Not the all-powerful words of Christ’s testament, but faith, produces and makes Christ’s body and blood present in the Holy Supper.

36 15. Believers must not seek Christ’s body ‹and blood› in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper. They must raise their eyes from the bread to heaven and there seek Christ’s body.

37 16. Unbelieving, unrepentant Christians do not receive Christ’s true body and blood in the Holy Supper, but only bread and wine.

38 17. At this heavenly meal the worthiness of the guests comes not only from true faith in Christ, but also from people’s outward preparation.

39 18. Even the true believers, who have and hold a true, living, pure faith in Christ, can receive this Sacrament to their judgment. For they are still imperfect in their outward life.

40 19. The external visible elements of the bread and wine should be adored in the Holy Sacrament.

41 20. Likewise, we also hand over all proud, frivolous, blasphemous questions (which decency forbids us to mention), and other expressions to God’s just judgment. Most blasphemously and with great offense ‹to the Church› such things are proposed by the Sacramentarians in a crass, carnal, Capernaitic way about the supernatural, heavenly mysteries of this Sacrament.

42 21. We utterly ‹reject and› condemn the Capernaitic eating of Christ’s body, as though ‹we taught that› His flesh were torn with the teeth and digested like other food. The Sacramentarians—against the testimony of their conscience, after all our frequent protests—willfully label us with this view. In this way they make our teaching hateful to their hearers. On the other hand, we hold and believe, according to the simple words of Christ’s testament, the true, yet supernatural eating of Christ’s body and also the drinking of His blood. Human senses and reason do not comprehend. But, as in all other articles of faith, our reason is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ [2 Corinthians 10:5]. This mystery is not grasped in any other way than through faith alone, and it is revealed in the Word alone.
Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 487-491 (Formula of Concord: Epitome VII)

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