“There Is No Middle Ground”: Martin Luther, Zwingli and the Lord’s Supper-Part II

May 24th, 2013 Post by

This is part 2 of a 3-part series; part 1 is found here

 

marburgIn 1527 Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli both published significant works concerning the Lord’s Supper.  Both represented responses to writings from the previous year.  In his Friendly Exegesis, That is, Exposition of the Matter of the Eucharist to Martin Luther Zwingli claimed that he reluctantly debated against Luther.  Despite his stated irenic intentions, Zwingli incessantly pointed out the weaknesses of Luther’s teachings.  He identified Luther’s teaching on the physical presence of Christ as an error very similar to Rome’s doctrine of transubstantiation.  Zwingli resented Luther’s harsh verbal attacks against those who taught a symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper.  Basing his argument on John 6, Zwingli affirmed his teaching that Christ’s words were spiritual, not carnal.  For instance, he stated,

The words of Christ…we understand in this way, that to the error of the Jews through which they thought he had spoken of bodily flesh as if it ought to be eaten, Christ clearly answered that the flesh was absolutely useless to eat and not for faith either, if you considered it in a literal sense and by itself.  For he says, ‘It is the Spirit makes alive.’ [Jn. 6:63]  It must, therefore, be the Spirit in which one must have faith. [endnote 1]

Additionally, he rejected the idea that Christ’s human nature participated in God’s omnipresence and stated that Christ’s body was in heaven only. [endnote 2]

“How very true is the proverb that the devil is the master of a thousand arts!”  With this sentence Martin Luther began his treatise, That These Words of Christ, “This is My Body,” Etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics in April 1527.  Luther made it very clear that he believed the devil inspired the teachings of Zwingli and other symbolists.  In this treatise he identified Zwingli, Andreas Karlstadt, and Johannes Oecolampadius by name and accused them of blasphemy for their rejection of Christ’s Words of Institution.  While he feared that they would never convert, Luther hoped this refutation would win some of their disciples or strengthen the weak.  He also wanted to make a public confession before the world that he had nothing to do with these fanatics.  Additionally, Luther explicitly rejected any Christian unity or peace with them.  He identified the heart of the controversy,

Our adversary says that mere bread and wine are present, not the body and blood of the Lord. If they believe and teach wrongly here, then they blaspheme God and are giving the lie to the Holy Spirit, betray Christ, and seduce the world.  One side must be of the devil, and God’s enemy. There is no middle ground. [endnote 3]

Now Luther turned toward his opponents’ central arguments.  He pointed out that God’s right hand was everywhere that God’s almighty power ruled.  Christ’s incarnation united his human and divine natures in one person.  Therefore, we could say that the man, Christ, is God.  Christ’s human nature was no longer bound by time and space.  He demonstrated this by appearing to Christians after his resurrection.  Now Christ attaches his body and blood to the bread and wine in a specific manner through his Word. [endnote 4]

Luther then addressed Zwingli’s exegesis of John 6:63 which reads, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all (ESV).”  Zwingli distinguished between the spirit and body of human beings.  He rejected the notion that physical objects could communicate with the human soul.  The Swiss Reformer asserted that the Holy Spirit nourished the spiritual nature invisibly.  After the Spirit made the soul alive, Zwingli asserted that the believer partook of the bread and wine as an act of thanksgiving for an inward grace.  Luther rejected this notion and emphasized the unity of the human being.  For Luther, the flesh in John 6:63 was the Old Adam who lacked faith in God’s Word (Romans 8:5, 13).  He also made a distinction between physical eating of Christ’s body and blood and spiritual eating through faith in God’s Word. [endnote 5]

These two works clearly set forth the controversy between Luther and his colleagues and the Swiss Reformers.  Both sides understood the other to be horribly wrong.  Luther, as we saw above, believed the devil inspired his opponents’ false teachings on the Eucharist.  In Part III we will examine Luther’s Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, the events of the Marburg Colloquy, and the Wittenberg Concord.

 

Endnotes –

[1] Ulrich Zwingli, “Friendly Exegesis, That is, Exposition of the Matter of the Eucharist to Martin Luther,” Trans. H. Wayne Pipkin, Huldrych Zwingli Writings, vol. 2 (Allison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1984), 268.

[2] Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping the Reformation, 1521-1532, trans. James L. Schaaf (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 307-309.

[3] Martin Luther, That These Words of Christ, “This is My Body,” Etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics, trans. Robert H. Fischer, Luther’s Works, volume 37 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1961), 13-26, (quote on p. 26); Brecht, Shaping the Reformation, 310-311.

[4] Martin Luther, That These Words, LW 37: 46-74; Brecht, Shaping the Reformation, 312.

[5] Luther, That These Words, LW 37: 78-101; David C. Steinmetz, Luther in Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), 75-76.


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  1. Diane
    May 31st, 2013 at 18:01 | #1

    @Jim Pierce #50

    Hi Jim,

    I’m pretty sure ‘ELC’ stands for Evangelical Lutheran Church, page 273 of the Lutheran Service Book.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  2. Jim Pierce
    May 31st, 2013 at 18:09 | #2

    @Diane #1

    I should have guessed that! Goes to show that I really am asleep during confirmation services. ;)

    Thanks for answering my question.

  3. Rev. McCall
    June 1st, 2013 at 08:08 | #3

    @Carl Vehse #43
    My point was to simply say that a congregation is not some tangible entity apart from its members. If the congregation is a member of synod and it accepts those things without reservation, then all those who are part of that congregation also accept those things because they are the congregation. You are right, that technically does not make them members of synod. They are like cousins who are one step removed. They are members of a congregation which is a member of synod. :-)

  4. Rev. McCall
    June 1st, 2013 at 08:16 | #4

    @Elizabeth #47
    Where is the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as drawn from the Scriptures, found? In the Book of Concord. How did you come to learn and know it? Through the Small Catechism.
    That’s exactly what Carl stated. It is not the Small Catechism alone as you are trying to assert.

  5. John Rixe
    June 1st, 2013 at 08:41 | #5

    @Rev. McCall #3

    ….but how about if 99% are not aware that they accept those things without reservation and have no idea what they are? This makes no sense at all. Like Elizabeth, I was taught to subscribe to what we learned in the Small Catechism…but we have gone over this again and again in previous threads. I wish I could find a link.

    I sure don’t subscribe to what some of you think the BoC says about vestments, women ushers, projection screens, etc. I also don’t think I was duped into a BoC unconditional subscription via a trick question. :)

    Blessings on your weekend worship.

  6. Carl Vehse
    June 1st, 2013 at 09:24 | #6

    To previous BJS comments regarding the question of a confirmand’s confession of faith (specifically within a Lutheran church of the Missouri Synod) –

    The question (see #37, p. 1) consists of two parts:

    1. Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God?

    As explained in #42 (p. 1) the confirmand’s answer of “I do” is not limited to those books of the Bible, whether an English translation or the original Greek and Hebrew, which he has read or been taught. The confirmand’s answer accepts all books of Holy Scripture to be the inspired Word of God.

    The second confession can be seen more clearly by rearranging the phrases:

    2. [A]s you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, [do you] confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from [Holy Scriptures], to be faithful and true?

    Here, the confirmand’s answer of “I do” is not limited to articles of doctrine in the Small Catechism, whether an English translation or the original German, which he has read or been taught. The confirmand’s answer confesses the complete doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (contained in the Book of Concord) to be faithful and true.

    It cannot be otherwise. A confirmand who confesses “I do” and takes his first communion, becomes a communicant member of that Lutheran church, of which their constitution states (as discussed in #37, p. 1) that “Communicant members… accept the confessional standard… of this Constitution,” which is the unconditional subscription to the doctrinal exposition of the Book of Concord (see LCMS Constitution, Article II.2).

    The BookofConcord website, What is a Lutheran?, agrees when it defines a Lutheran:

    Being a Lutheran is being a person who believes the truths of God’s Word, the Holy Bible, as they are correctly explained and taught in the Book of Concord. To do so is to confess the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Genuine Lutherans, confessional Lutherans, dare to insist that “All doctrines should conform to the standards [the Lutheran Confessions] set forth above. Whatever is contrary to them should be rejected and condemned as opposed to the unanimous declaration of our faith” (FC Ep. RN, 6).

    There are not two versions (quia and quatenus) of Lutheran. A person or a church organization, who publicly holds a limited (quatenus) subscription to only some of the Lutheran Symbols, is not Lutheran, but what I call “Lufauxran.” Lufauxrans should not commune at the Lord’s Supper in a Lutheran church.

  7. John Rixe
    June 1st, 2013 at 09:53 | #7

    I think the confusion would be resolved if pastors were more transparent with their catechumen.  They need to put a copy of the Book of Concord on the table and simply say, “In order for you to be confirmed next Sunday, you need to unconditionally subscribe to every page of this elephantine book.  Don’t worry about what it says and don’t worry about sola scriptura”   :)

  8. John Rixe
    June 1st, 2013 at 09:59 | #8

    “As explained in #42 (p. 1) the confirmand’s answer of “I do” is not limited to those books of the Bible, whether an English translation or the original Greek and Hebrew, which he has read or been taught. The confirmand’s answer accepts all books of Holy Scripture to be the inspired Word of God.”

    “Here, the confirmand’s answer of “I do” is not limited to articles of doctrine in the Small Catechism, whether an English translation or the original German, which he has read or been taught. The confirmand’s answer confesses the complete doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (contained in the Book of Concord) to be faithful and true.”
      

    Big difference.  The Bible is supernaturally preserved from error.  The Book of Concord is not.

  9. Carl Vehse
    June 1st, 2013 at 11:08 | #9

    @John Rixe #7: They need to put a copy of the Book of Concord on the table and simply say, “In order for you to be confirmed next Sunday, you need to unconditionally subscribe to every page of this elephantine book.

    Why would you suggest a Lutheran pastor of a two-year catechism class wait until 7 days before confirmation to talk about the Book of Concord… other than just being snarky? :-(

    If the pastor is using Martin Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanations, there are many opportunities throughout the catechism class to point out that the answers in the Explanation are often covered in one or more of the Lutheran Symbols and perhaps to even provide statements from them. Today, there is no reason for Catechism youth (and maybe even adults ;-) ) not to be able to name the Lutheran Symbols and know something about each, even if it is not in German.

    A pastor who does not teach his catechism class anything about the Symbols in the Book of Concord (or waits until the last week) fits in well to Martin Luther’s assessment in the first two paragraphs of his Preface to the Small Catechism.

    @John Rixe #8: Big difference. The Bible is supernaturally preserved from error. The Book of Concord is not.

    No one is saying the Book of Concord is “supernaturally preserved from error.” A Lutheran confesses that the Book of Concord is faithful and true to the Holy Scriptures.

    QMMV (Quatenus mileage may vary)

  10. John Rixe
    June 1st, 2013 at 12:24 | #10

    @Carl Vehse #9

    You have a good argument here.  If the rest of the BoC is referenced throughout the two years of instruction, and if the confirmation vows are explicitly and clearly explained by the pastor, then I agree with you.   That didn’t happen in my case.

  11. John Rixe
    June 2nd, 2013 at 11:01 | #11

    @John Rixe #10

    Also, to be fair and transparent, the confirmation vow should include:

    P: Do you confess the Unaltered Augsburg Confession to be a true
    exposition of Holy Scripture and a correct exhibition of the doctrine
    of the Evangelical Lutheran Church? And do you confess that the
    Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Small and Large Catechisms of
    Martin Luther, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Power and
    Primacy of the Pope, and the Formula of Concord – as these are
    contained in the Book of Concord – are also in agreement with this one
    scriptural faith.
    R: Yes, I promise, with the help of God.

    Good luck getting that past the voters :)

  12. December 30th, 2013 at 15:21 | #12

    Does anyone have a reference from our Lutheran Confessions on this issue:

    I am discussing the Lord’s Supper with a Reformed Christian. He wants to know “which Christ” was eaten and drunk by the disciples in the LAST supper. Was it the pre-resurrected Christ, the post-resurrected Christ, or both?

    I told him to me it doesn’t make any difference. The Lord’s Supper is a supernatural event that defies human reason and logic, but being Reformed, that is not good enough for him.

    Any thoughts?

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