Thursday, February 12, 2015

Yes, I'm (Anglo) Catholic (Part 1: Real Presence in the Eucharist)

It seems like I start almost every blog post with this statement, but it actually does need to be stated for this one: I grew up in an Independent Fundamental Baptist church.

Actually, several of them.

And I've said this before: I am so incredibly thankful to God for my upbringing: for being shown the Gospel, for being Baptized, for being taught some of the essentials of the Faith once for all delivered unto the Saints. I would never for one moment claim Baptist churches as a whole to be "non-Christian". They are my brothers and sisters in the Messiah.

However, I had more than a few questions, more than a few concerns. Those concerns led me from the Independent Fundamental Baptist tradition to the Southern Baptist tradition, then to the Non-Denominational tradition, almost to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, then finally to the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

The Early Church Fathers: Kind of Important People

I remember being taught in Christian school about the Early Church. We would learn at least a little bit about people such as St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Ireneaus of Lyons, St. Athanasius of Alexandria (my favorite! I consider him my Patron Saint), and St. Augustine of Hippo (of course, being a good Baptist school that used the A Beka textbooks, we never called them "saints"). However, we were at best merely given their names, and at worst told that they corrupted the Church with their doctrines (except St. Augustine, of course).

Here's the problem, a problem that really concerned me:

St. Irenaeus got it wrong? He corrupted the Church? But he lived in the 2nd century. St. Justin Martyr got it wrong, too? He corrupted the Church as well?

Even Sts. Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch? St. Clement of Rome, who is literally mentioned positively by St. Paul? (see Philippians 4:3) The guy who's epistle we have to the Corinthians (1 Clement of Rome to the Corinthians), dated around A.D. 95? St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred for the Faith in the early 2nd century? I mean, he actually lived from about A.D. 65-110, and he got it wrong? They got it wrong almost immediately after the Apostles?

I started thinking: if they got it wrong when they were taught by the Apostles (or at least taught by those taught by the Apostles)...how do I know that WE'VE got it right?

That was a scary thought for me.

You know what else was scary, and in fact scarier? Believing in "once saved always saved" soteriology (theology of salvation), and then reading Romans 11:11-32 and especially Hebrews 10:26-31.

Oh, especially Hebrews 10:26-31...

Reading that, while taking advantage of "once saved always saved" soteriology by continuing in sin, that Grace may abound...yeah, that'll freak you out quite a bit. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't explain those passages away. But that's not what this post is about. Now, onto the main event...

The Eucharist and Real Presence 

As I grew older and studied more and more about the Early Church, I realized more and more how different my views on Christianity were from the Early Church Fathers. One major shock was when I read this little passage from St. Ignatius of Antioch in his letter to the Smyrnaeans:

"Consider how contrary to the Mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the Grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead."--St. Ignatius of Antioch's Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 7.

Yeah...combine that with Jesus' words in the Gospel of St. John:

" 'I Am the Bread of Life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the Bread that comes down from Heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I Am the Living Bread that came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever. And the Bread I will give for the life of the world is My Flesh.'

"The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My Flesh is true food, and My Blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the Living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the Bread that came down from Heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this Bread will live forever." --The Gospel According to St. John 6:48-59 (ESVUK)

(Warning: I'm going to get a little sassy, here. My apologies, but I am super-passionate about this belief. Please know that I may be sporting a 'tude here, but I largely do so as a way to hopefully wake people up to this often-neglected and constantly ridiculed Doctrine, which I find so important to the Faith.)

Say, does anyone know if Jesus ever refers to Himself as "the Bread of Life"? Because there may have been a sentence and a half in this discourse where it almost wasn't said by Him.

Actually, this is only part of the conversation; the Jews here ask about this "Bread of Life" thing multiple times in this chapter, in the verses prior to the ones I just quoted, and Jesus keeps repeating Himself.

Multiple times.

Repeating Himself. Multiple. Times.

And finally, when they ask again, He says, "Truly, truly..." (not, "Symbolically, symbolically,") and goes into the huge spiel that I just quoted for you.

It really seems like Jesus is kind of getting frustrated starting at verse 53 (the "Truly, truly" part). I mean, He simply keeps repeating Himself at this point, saying it in every way possible. I've done that before. When people aren't understanding the words I'm saying, and I'm saying them quite clearly, I sometimes get upset and start repeating things far beyond the necessary number of times, and in an angry fashion, in order to hope that they understand I'm not playing around. You know, like, "The keys are in the car. As I just said, they are in the car. The car that is outside of the house. The car that I own. The keys are in there. The keys that I own are in the car that I own. The car that is outside of the house. The house that we are inside of right now." Try reading that above passage, imagining Jesus with that attitude. I wouldn't be surprised if Jesus was doing that, here.

(Oh, please; Jesus made a whip and tossed tables in the Temple; don't act like Jesus getting frustrated is something so out-of-character for Him. If you don't think Jesus ever got frustrated, you've clearly not read the Gospels.)

Then there are all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all having Jesus say, "This is My Body...this is My Blood..." at the Last Supper. Funny how He never says, "Hey guys, I'm actually just kidding about that. Really, you need to pretend that this is My Body and Blood." 

I don't recall any textual variants alluding to this being a metaphor, either.

Oh! And St. Paul talks about the Eucharist twice! And what does St. Paul say?

"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?"--1 Corinthians 10:16 (ESVUK)

Then in 1 Corinthians 11:23-30, St. Paul quotes what Jesus said at the Last Supper (vs. 23-25), and says, "Whoever, therefore, eats the Bread and drinks the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the Body and Blood of the Lord...For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body eats and drinks judgement on himself..." (ESVUK)

And when you take all of that and add the fact that there isn't a single passage claiming that Jesus or St. Paul were kidding about the Eucharist really being the Body and Blood of Jesus...yeah, there isn't much of an argument left. 

Oh, and one of my favorite rebuttals is, "Well, Jesus calls Himself the Vine, and us the Branches. Does that mean we need to believe that Jesus really is a vine, and we branches?"

Hm...if Jesus kept referring to Himself as a Vine, and us Branches, in a long, drawn-out dialogue, and people kept asking Him, "What do you mean by that, Jesus?" and He kept saying, "Uh, yeah; let me repeat that," to the point of, arguably, getting frustrated (at the very least, repeating it in multiple ways, and in multiple sentences in a row), then afterwards actually set up a sacrament wherein we wrapped ourselves up in vines or something, and after all that the majority of Christians throughout Church History actually taught this, then I would grant that we should believe in "real vine presence", or whatever you'd want to call it.

But I don't recall any of that ever happening. 

That was one of the first things that got me wanting to move towards the more traditional churches. I mean, I really did not want to believe in Real Presence; it kind of freaked me out at first. When I read that passage from St. Ignatius of Antioch, I went to my favorite Reformed Baptist Apologist, Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries, and tried to see how he'd respond to it. He did have a series of videos on it...and I just could not force myself to believe what I considered to be an incredibly contrived argument from him.

Couple that with my Roman Catholic friends (if you're reading this, thank you so much! I think you all know who you are!) discussing John 6 with me, and I could no longer reject, in good conscience, Real Presence.

Now that I hold to Real Presence, I can't explain how so much more important Christianity is to me. All I can say is that it is. I can't miss a service; not at all because I'm afraid God is going to condemn me for missing a service, but because somehow, by the Grace of God and through His Sacrament, I am renewed every Sunday at Mass. That little Wafer and that tiny sip of Wine has done more wonders for my walk with Christ than any contemporary Christian music worship service, more than any sermon. I am renewed when I receive the Body and Blood of my Savior, Jesus Christ. It is truly inexplicable, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Now, to be clear and honest, Real Presence is not Transubstantiation. Transubstantiation, taught exclusively (as far as the major denominations are concerned, at least) by Roman Catholicism, is a specific type of understanding of Real Presence. I may do an article on Real Presence (or maybe even on Transubstantiation, too!) one day, but discussing it further here would digress from this already long-ish post. Suffice it to say that Transubstantiation tries to explain Real Presence using Aristotelian philosophy, while Real Presence simply exclaims, "Jesus is really there in the Eucharist. Like, for real."

Anglicans, Lutherans, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, and many forms of Protestants all hold to Real Presence. As well, while Rome has gone beyond Real Presence and tried to explain how it works, their view is a subcategory within Real Presence.

That's, like, a lot of Christians. The three largest Church groups (Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox Churches of the East, and the Anglican Communion, respectively), along with not a few Protestants (Lutherans, primarily, among others) all hold to Real Presence. It's actually the majority view, and always has been.

This is one of the beliefs that led me to becoming Anglo-Catholic. Next up? Infant Baptism! (GASP!)








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