One of the weaknesses inherent in a denomination like the UMC, in which theological liberalism has been so entrenched for so long, is a lack of a solid theological foundation. Because theological liberals believe in so little themselves, when their people start asking tough questions, they have no real, satisfactory answers. And so, after a long time of dissatisfying their members and feeling their position of power weakening, they go in search of those answers so they can satisfy their “customers” and shore up their weakened position.
Because they have no real answers, no real theological base that would satisfy anyone who isn’t willing to put up with their theological ambiguity, they search the theological basis of other “faith traditions”. And I have noticed in recent years, that the UMC liberals seem to have found some of the answers they have been looking for in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions. And one area they were seeking answers for, and about which I am speaking here, is the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion.
When you look at the liturgy for the Lord’s Supper in the UM Hymnal, the main versions you find are all based on something they call the “Great Thanksgiving” which turns out to be a very Catholic-sounding ritual of the pastor reading and the congregation responding with short, easily-memorized responses. In fact, it sounds so Catholic, that I have discovered that if you go and observe the Catholics doing Communion, you will most likely hear exactly the same thing! They use the same liturgy!
Now if you pay attention to the Catholics, you will notice some foundational differences, in particular the idea that the elements of the Eucharist literally become, i.e. are transformed, into the real, physical, body and blood of Jesus Christ, and that the priest is actually offering the body and blood of Christ, over and over again, as a sacrifice to God for the sins of the people. Of course, this idea is not acceptable to Protestants, nor is it supportable from the scriptures. It is simply one of those “traditions of men” that the RCC is so infamous for.
Well, the United Methodist liberals found some answers there, some foundation upon which to build, but even they could not go along with the idea of transubstantiation. So they backed off a bit from the Catholics and took a look at the Lutherans.
Now the Lutheran teaching, while still similar to the Catholics, has a very basic, foundational difference. They don’t accept this idea that the elements become the body and blood of Christ either. That’s magical thinking! So basically what the Lutherans believe is that the elements only spiritually become the body and blood of Christ. They say that Jesus Christ is present in the Communion, but only in a spiritual form, above and under and around the elements. (Do they say through?) But they do say that Jesus is really present, spiritually, right there with those elements. It’s this idea of the “real presence” that the Methodists latched on to.
Now I don’t believe that it’s the official position of the UMC…yet! But I have run into many UM pastors and theologians who believe and teach the “real presence” of Christ in Communion, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if we hear, one of these years, that they have pushed the idea through the General Conference and it is now church law in the UMC. But that’s not really the true biblical position, in my humble opinion, and would probably open up a real can of worms of poor teaching in the church.
What I believe is the true biblical position, is that Jesus Christ is present with us and among us when we take Holy Communion…but not any more than He normally is with us and among us every day and always if we repent of our sins and turn and follow Him as our one and only Savior. He is much more in us than He is in the elements.
So why do we take communion then, if we’re not really eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus, and having our “grace tanks” filled by the Holy Spirit? Because Jesus said to do it in remembrance of Him, of His sacrificial death in payment of the penalty for our sins. By doing this, we proclaim Christ’s death until He returns!
We don’t need all that magical thinking, that the elements change into His body and blood, or even that He is present around or in the elements. That is all a corruption of His teaching and an abomination to God. That night, when Jesus was instituting the Lord’s Supper, when He said “This is my body…” and “This is my blood…”, every one of those twelve men, and anybody else who was there, could clearly see that He was speaking metaphorically. He was holding bread and wine, not literally ripping His physical body apart and offering it to them to eat and drink. So then the entire idea that He wants us to eat His physical body and drink His physical blood is completely silly, and a total corruption of His teaching.
Look at the context…the whole context…the whole Bible. All the sacrifices of the Jews, going back to the beginning, looked forward to Christ, pointing to His perfect, once-for-all sacrifice. That system was ordained by Him in the beginning, and it ended with His death and resurrection. On the last night of His life, He ordained something new, and said, “This do in remembrance of me.” And ever since then, His people have been doing it and remembering, i.e. looking back, and pointing to His sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was the central event, the most important event of all history. It is the good and right and proper thing to observe His communion as simply a remembrance of His sacrifice, as that is what He told us to do. It is an opportunity for the church to teach and proclaim His death until He returns to set all in order. Anything else is improper, a corruption, and an abomination unto the Lord. And that should be the official position of the UMC.