“Concord” is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers’ knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them “with one heart” to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.
Both Kinds in the Sacrament
The first 21 articles of the Augsburg Confession dealt with various topics of doctrine. The final 7 are about abuses that have been corrected in the churches of the Lutheran Reformation. While these concluding topics are concerning practical issues, that doesn’t mean that they have nothing to say to us today. The abuses may have been corrected, but the theological arguments that underlie them still speak to us. And we must also be on guard so that these abuses—or ones like them—do not creep back into the Church.
The first abuse that is considered is both kinds in the Sacrament. This refers to both of the elements in the Lord’s Supper—the bread and the wine. In the medieval Roman Church, the blood of Christ in the chalice was withheld from the laity. Only the priests would partake of the cup. The laity were only offered Christ’s body in the bread. The theological reason for this practice is something known as concomitance. Concomitance is the teaching that Christ’s whole self is present in both the bread and the wine. That means that it was only necessary to receive one element to receive Jesus’ body and blood.
However, the Lord’s Words say, “Take, eat, this [bread] is My body…Drink of it all of you, this cup is the New Testament in My blood.” The Lord’s command is to eat and to drink. But there’s also much more than His command in the Lord’s Supper. He also gives His body specifically with the bread and His blood specifically with the cup. It’s not up to us to divide or combine what Jesus has neither divided nor combined. If we do something other than what Jesus has given us to do, we cannot be sure that we are doing it for our good.
There’s an interesting historical note with respect to how this change was introduced. While Luther was in hiding for fear of being executed for his teaching, one of his colleagues decided to reintroduce the chalice to the laity. The story goes that he shoved the chalice in their faces and said “Das Blut Christi!” (The blood of Christ—imagine it said with an angry German accent). The people were so frightened of this new practice, they didn’t know what to think. Luther returned to the parish for a short time and returned to their old practice so that there was time to teach the people concerning the true nature of the Sacrament.
So what about today? There probably exists no Lutheran Church today that gives only the bread. In fact, many Roman Catholic churches today also offer both kinds to the laity (though not as often). But also of concern is that, at the time of the Reformation, many people weren’t even receiving the bread! They didn’t go to communion at all. They might go to church and watch other people commune, but they did not themselves participate. Today there are many people who do not make use of the Sacrament frequently. It’s not that the Church removes the cup, but that the people removes themselves from both kinds.
The same thing that eventually returned both kinds to the Church is also what draws you to frequently commune—the Lord’s words. “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” “This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
You can read the Book of Concord at https://www.bookofconcord.org
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.