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The Bread of Communion, a symbol and more than a symbol

David Young

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We have spent hours discussing the meaning of the Eucharist, or (as we say) the Lord's Supper, and I am posting this, not to try to persuade you or to be persuaded by you, but for the purpose of increasing understanding. Here is a sermon (shorter than many of mine at a mere 19 minutes!) preached at a Communion service, which explains something of how I understand the symbolism of the bread. (There was no time to move on to the wine as well in that service.) You probably won't agree with it, but if it helps you grasp something of what might be heard in a Baptist pulpit, it may serve a gracious purpose. To listen, scroll down to the first sermon on the list. https://primitivemethodism.com/sermons-and-devotional-writing/
 

LizaSymonenko

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The Eucharist is as "symbolic" of Christ, as the sun is symbolic of warmth.
 

noahzarc1

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Seems to be an issue of knowing the importance of distinctions, where they start and where they stop. In John 19:28, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." Is this a real thirst or only symbolic? Similarly, what is the governing principle to only see the Eucharist as symbolic? Catholics have always tried to understand and explain the difference between a literal statement and a symbolic statement, understand the proper distinctions between them and be obedient to the command of the text.
 

Ainnir

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All I know is taking the Lord's Supper at the SBC seemed pointless and distant. It was only done once or twice a year, anyway.
Taking the Eucharist, on the other hand, feels like The Whole Point and very intimate.
 

noahzarc1

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All I know is taking the Lord's Supper at the SBC seemed pointless and distant. It was only done once or twice a year, anyway.
Taking the Eucharist, on the other hand, feels like The Whole Point and very intimate.
When I was a protestant for 20 years, about 18 of those I spent in the Southern Baptist tradition and I think the Eucharist was ultimately one of the seminal doctrines of what really brought me back to the Church. It is a glorious thing to celebrate the real presence of the body and blood of Christ at the sacrifice of the mass.
 

David Young

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Here in Britain it is customary in Baptist churches to have a Communion service once a month, or twice a month (one morning, one evening). It seems to me that most Orthodox who post on this forum, if they are in the USA, write about the Southern Baptists. I'm afraid I have never been outside Europe, for any purpose.
 

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There are approximately 14,000,000 Southern Baptists in the U.S. and I do not think that accounts for independent or fundamentalist Baptist groups. I think most cite them, because despite their independent communions, by and large they hold to a rather similar administration of how they practice their faith. The non-denominational independent churches are so numerous in the U.S. one would have to overly generalize and what is true of one may not be true of another. The next largest Protestant group are probably the Methodists. So overall, I'd say between those two groups, one can get a pretty cogent understand of what the Protestant view is and how that is applied in the US churches.
 

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Tzimis

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If it was symbolic, there would be no need for Christ to become human. He could have saved from the havens.
 

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All I know is taking the Lord's Supper at the SBC seemed pointless and distant. It was only done once or twice a year, anyway.
My childhood's strain of Protestantism (a small rural Finnish Pentecostal parish) had it once a month and at least for a child it felt like a special event and more "devout" than usual if that makes sense. I remember whole congregation kneeling after the bread and wine were distributed and there was a moment of complete silence which never happened otherwise. Quite curious custom which didn't seem to make "sense" if it was only a symbol. Might be some influence from Lutheranism as most of Finns are Lutherans so Lutheranism was a sort of standard form of religion.
 

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My childhood's strain of Protestantism (a small rural Finnish Pentecostal parish) had it once a month and at least for a child it felt like a special event and more "devout" than usual if that makes sense. I remember whole congregation kneeling after the bread and wine were distributed and there was a moment of complete silence which never happened otherwise. Quite curious custom which didn't seem to make "sense" if it was only a symbol. Might be some influence from Lutheranism as most of Finns are Lutherans so Lutheranism was a sort of standard form of religion.
It does. I grew up United Methodist. First Sunday of the month, we knelt at the altar rail, or whatever it's called, and received there -- grape juice in tiny little plastic cups and had tiny square wafer things, almost like oyster crackers, but drier and tasteless. I think there were prayer cards we could leave, too. The rail had a sort of channel built into it for that and the plastic cups. I don't remember any specific teaching about communion, but it did seem like more than just a symbol, yet I'm pretty sure they don't teach the Real Presence. I think it's up to the pastor how to serve it.

I was SBC in my 20's and had the Lord's Supper maybe 2-3 times in about 10 years.
 

David Young

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If it was symbolic, there would be no need for Christ to become human. He could have saved from the havens.
No, that's not right. Part of the symbolism of the Supper (broken bread, wine poured out - though in fact most churches have it ready poured before the service, and some even have the bread ready broken or cut) is to remind us of the death ("You proclaim the Lord's death until he comes," says Corinthians), but the death itself HAD to happen for our redemption. I think we all agree on that.
 

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I grew up United Methodist. First Sunday of the month, we knelt at the altar rail, or whatever it's called, and received there -- grape juice in tiny little plastic cups and had tiny square wafer things, almost like oyster crackers, but drier and tasteless.
Here in Britain Methodists come to the Communion rail and kneel to receive the bread and wine, but I haven't taken Communion recently in Methodist churches often enough to remember exactly what the 'bread' and the 'wine' are or in what form they are served. (I like to go once a year, because I like the Methodist Covenant Service.) I have of course never given Communion in a Methodist church, as they have a 'higher' view of ordination than some denominations or unaffiliated congregations and use only their own ministers or specially authorised others.

In Baptist churches the bread and 'wine' are brought round to the people by deacons or servers. I am most familiar with a real loaf from which people break off a small piece, and little cups already containing the 'wine' (which for years in my experience, whether I was the minister of a congregant, has been unfermented grape juice).
 

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I’m pretty sure the SBC didn’t use real bread either, but I honestly can’t remember. I know there was no rail or altar to speak of, just steps up to a stage. The contemporary one didn’t even have a pulpit.
 

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If all the bread is is a symbol, why can't we just use any food? Can my cheetos be symbols? A piece of pizza? I grew up Baptist, but the studying the Church's historical understanding of the Eucharist is one of the first things that pulled me away from the Baptist mindset. I found your point that if it is the actual body of Christ, then it would be eaten all up and there wouldn't be a body anymore. This is the exact same Christ who fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 small fish. If He can do that, can't He feed the Church perpetually?
 

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No, that's not right. Part of the symbolism of the Supper (broken bread, wine poured out - though in fact most churches have it ready poured before the service, and some even have the bread ready broken or cut) is to remind us of the death ("You proclaim the Lord's death until he comes," says Corinthians), but the death itself HAD to happen for our redemption. I think we all agree on that.
We agree for different reasons though. The sacrificial model is missing some key elements. Missing or maybe just not emphisizing the fact that Christs human nature is now intrinsically tide to his being.
 

David Young

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If all the bread is is a symbol, why can't we just use any food?
I may be mistaken, but I think I have read of some places on Earth where bread does not exist and some other staple food (no doubt equivalent in daily usage to our bread) is used at Communion by the Lord's people.
 

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If all the bread is is a symbol, why can't we just use any food? Can my cheetos be symbols? A piece of pizza? I grew up Baptist, but the studying the Church's historical understanding of the Eucharist is one of the first things that pulled me away from the Baptist mindset. I found your point that if it is the actual body of Christ, then it would be eaten all up and there wouldn't be a body anymore. This is the exact same Christ who fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 small fish. If He can do that, can't He feed the Church perpetually?
Croutons and orange juice coming right up!
 

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Hi Pastor David. I'm curious how you interpret the statements of Our Lord in Gospel of St. John Chapter 6 and 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. I'm sure as a Pastor you're familiar with them and have probably read them a good many times. But they never use the word symbol. The three passages seem to indicate Holy Communion is really and truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Your thoughts on that?

Lord Bless you.
In Jesus' Name.
 

David Young

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I like his style: seems to have adopted the television style of artist Bob Ross!:)

Anyway, in reply, it seems crazy. I suspect he would claim to be a Bible-believing pastor, but if so, how can he set aside the plain words of scripture that the service with is bread and wine ('the fruit of the vine')? I can't comment on the bread, as it is often said that the Last Supper would have used unleavened bread, and so maybe tortilla wraps fit the bill fairly well. But orange juice? water? I did once serve Communion with elderberry wine, a deep red wine (in case any here are not familiar with it), and maybe that was all right, maybe not. I didn't wholly get away with it, though, as an American Baptist minister was in the congregation, and he objected (equally unbiblically) because it was alcoholic. Bread and the fruit of the vine (fermented or otherwise) seems to me to be the only way of according with scripture.

I have also led Communion - spontaneously, impromptu - with the bread and wine that were on the table, waiting prior to a meal (along with the onions, cheese &c), with a group of missionaries during the civil uprising in Albania - gunfire in the streets &c. Very atmospheric. And I have no qualms about that: before we began the meal, we 'proclaimed the Lord's death until he comes' as the scripture says. But it was real bread and real wine - no problem.
 

David Young

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Hi Pastor David. I'm curious how you interpret the statements of Our Lord in Gospel of St. John Chapter 6 and 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. I'm sure as a Pastor you're familiar with them and have probably read them a good many times. But they never use the word symbol. The three passages seem to indicate Holy Communion is really and truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Your thoughts on that?

Lord Bless you.
In Jesus' Name.
If you have listened to the three or four sermons about the Holy Communion on the website in the OP you will get a lot of the answer, and to reply here in full would consume a lot of your time and a lot of space. You will have noticed in one of the sermons that I concede that the burden of proof lies on us as Protestants to deny that the bread and wine truly are the body and blood of Christ, that is, to establish that the words are to be understood symbolically not literally, and my caveat that we should be hesitant about harsh criticism of the Roman position. Indeed, it seems a reversal of roles, for it is usually we who trumpet the phrase sola scriptura and say that we must take the scriptures to mean what they say.

I think the main points would be that the eating of human flesh, and the drinking of any blood, were strictly forbidden among Jews, so they would not have taken the words to be literal; and that they could not have been literal when spoken as the body and blood of Christ were there with them reclining at table, for he had not yet died. The situation did not lend itself to literal understanding.

However, I have often written that, if we are right and your are wrong, I do not think it will impede the blessing God imparts to all believers (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox) who come to the Table with penitent hearts and faith that Christ died for their sins. Here I am with Calvin, not Zwingli: there is a sacramental dimension to the Supper which I and many others cherish and value.
 

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I have been thinking more about that weird video. The symbolism of the bread requires (IMHO) a complete loaf (or bread roll (or maybe tortilla wrap?)) from which each communicant breaks of a piece as it is passed around the church: one loaf, one body (the Church), and one body (Jesus's broken for us on the Cross): two facets of the symbolism set before us in Corinthians. It seems to me that this pastor's scheme wholly misses the point of the symbolism.

I am not against the current temporary practice, during coronavirus restrictions, of people having 'virtual' Communion services, in which each communicant breaks a piece off a bread roll or whatever in his own home, because gathering is forbidden. But that is exceptional: there are not many times of pandemic in which the government forbids people to gather for religious worship. (I myself have not taken part in such a service, but have simply continued a personal practice of Bible reading and prayer, and listening to recorded sermons with my wife at home.)
 
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