Growing up in low church Charismatic Evangelicalism I remember always thinking that when Jesus said:
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom,” (The Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26).
That he was, logically, speaking entirely symbolically. I mean, how could he as God possibly mean this literally? It was not until my exodus from the church and my subsequent dive out of the shallow waters of modern Christianity into the deep ocean of the historic faith when I saw that, historically speaking, Christians out side of heterodox/heretical splinter groups universally confessed that at the very least they were participating in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:16). I could not for the life of me sink my teeth into this doctrine at first. How could God inhabit the material? How could Jesus be consumed?
I spoke with many many patient people about this doctrine because, as much as it terrified me it intrigued me. After months of chewing the meat of this doctrine, so to speak, I had an epiphany as I sat on the couch at a friends house. The words of 1 Corinthians 10:16–18 screamed at me and I, unlike many others, never had a deep connection to the argument in the bread of life discourse (John 6), though great men - such as Scott Hahn - have found that to be their life passage. The words of the 1 Corinthians passage clicked that one night specifically; “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” We truly participate in Christ just as the Jews truly participated in the sacrifice on the Altar. It is through this that we find God in a profound way. If Scripture said it, so I shall believe it. A further reading, though not Scripture, that proved to be the nail in the coffin for my Baptist mind set (I joined a Baptist church after leaving the charismatic one) was this quote from St. Ignatius of Antioch:
“Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox…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. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans. 6:2–7:1).
Note, the above is not the whole quote because much of the quote does not fit most Christians who hold to the Symbolic view in today’s age. In fact, as a general rule, most Christians who hold to the symbolic view of the Eucharist are considerably more orthodox than the people whom St. Ignatius was writing about. As to “abstaining from prayer” as I understand it is the prayer as it relates to the Eucharist.
Now, to address a common argument against Real Presence . People will often then say, generally in response to the bread of life discourse; “well, Jesus also said ‘I am the vine’ or ‘I am the door’”. On first appearance this argument is the death blow to Real Presence but, upon further examination, it really is hardly a well thought out refutation. Rather, one need only look at the structure of the sentence to dismantle the argument and “properly divide the word of truth” (para). One can quickly note that Jesus, in these examples, is not claiming that those things are him but that you can use these physical realities to better comprehend the Spiritual realities. As Jesus told Nicodemus; “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).
Jesus was explaining to him that the Physical can often demonstrate truths about the Spiritual and or clarify things that are hard to comprehend, though they still remain difficult to understand. While this passage is not connected, directly, to the passages above it is part of the hermeneutic-interpretive method that I am setting forth for you today. In the passages where Jesus is explaining that he is a door, vine, or what have you he is stating that even the material world points to himself, this point will come up in another article I plan to write in the near future, whereas when speaking of the bread he says “This is”. The language and grammar used on top of the fact of what the church has historically confessed should be enough to note errors in the symbolic view which, realistically, is a form of thought borrowed from Gnosticism which creates heavy distinctions between Physical and Spiritual and claims, more or less, that God would not and could not take on flesh. The doctrine of the Eucharist is, therefore, heavily incarnational.