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What is The Lord's Supper? - Michael Haykin

Phoenix Seminary
June 22, 2021


Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Haykin about the Lord's Supper.

Questions addressed include:

  • What is happening during the Lord's Supper?
  • Do the elements actually transform into the body and blood of Christ?
  • Or is the Supper a memorial of Christ's death for sinners?
  • How often should we take the Lord's Supper?

Dr. Michael Haykin is professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous books including The God Who Draws Near: An Introduction to Biblical Spirituality (EP Books, 2007), and Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shape the Church (Crossway, 2011). He holds a Th.D. from the University of Toronto and also serves as director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.


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Introduction: (00:01)

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.


Brian Arnold: (00:18)

Before Jesus was executed for the sins of the world. He had one final supper with his disciples. He took the bread, broke it, and said, "Take eat. This is my body." Likewise, he took the cup of wine, held it up, and said, "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." The next day, Jesus would have his flesh ripped off his bones. His blood would be spilled, and his breath would leave his body. Since that day, the church has celebrated the Lord's Supper, but there's been no shortage of controversy over the Supper. What is happening during the Lord’s Supper? Do the elements actually change into the body and blood of Christ? Are we just to remember Jesus and his act of substitution on our behalf? How often should we do the Lord's supper? Should we do it weekly, monthly, quarterly? Should we do the Lord's Supper privately or at weddings? There's a lot to consider when it comes to this ancient and holy ordinance. 


Well, with us today to talk about the Lord's Supper is Dr. Michael Haykin who is professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He's the author of numerous books including The God Who Draws Near: An Introduction to Biblical Spirituality, The Christian Lover: The Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers, and Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church.


Brian Arnold: (01:31)

Additionally, I had the pleasure of studying the church fathers with Dr. Haykin as my Ph.D. supervisor. I found him to be a brilliant church historian but more than that, he's a man of God. Well, Dr. Haykin, welcome to the podcast.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (01:42)

It's great to be with you.


Brian Arnold: (01:44)

Well, every week we have one big question for our guests and this week it is a pretty big one that's going to encompass a lot of things, and that is: What is the Lord's Supper? So, maybe we can start with the biblical teaching of it. Where do we see this across the New Testament, especially as the Lord instituted it, but then also it's Old Testament roots.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (02:05)

Yeah. I mean, in the New Testament, just as you already indicated, Christ took the Passover with his disciples before his death, because in a real sense, that typifies what he is—he is the lamb that is sacrificed for our sins. And he is explicitly described that way in John 1 by the John the Baptist as the lamb of God,


Dr. Michael Haykin: (02:32)

But in celebrating the Passover in which there were various cups of wine and obviously food partaken of, Christ identifies two elements, the bread that is his body broken for his people. And then the third cup that would be drunk in the typical Passover: "This is my blood" and "This is the cup of the new covenant." And so Christ takes the context of the Passover and isolates the elements that will form what becomes known as the Lord's Supper.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (03:13)

And you see this detailed for us in the Synoptics. And then the other place that it is referred to at some length is in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 11. There is a very brief mention of it in the letter of Jude with the reference to love feasts, because a love feast, as we know from first Corinthians 11, often accompanied the celebration of the Lord's Supper. And depending on how you interpret it, John 6 may well be a dialogue that is Eucharistic: "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you don't have my life in you." And so there are a number of references then in each of the Synoptics that are very clear and then also the 1 Corinthians passage and then those other two illusions, one in Jude and one possibly, depending on, as I say, how you interpret it, in John.


Brian Arnold: (04:14)

Well, yeah, and the John 6 passage, I think is really interesting, because even the disciples say, "This is a hard teaching." And it makes me think of the early church and one of the ways or reasons for which they were persecuted was for cannibalism. And so they were thought to have been actually eating the body and drinking the blood of someone. And I think in some ways we have so demystified, if you will, the Lord's Supper that it doesn't have that kind of strength behind it. I remember years and years ago, there was the show Survivor, which I guess is still on like the thousandth season now. And in the second season, they were in Africa and one of the delicacies that they could win a prize of was they would poke a cow in the neck and they would take a cup and capture the blood in it. And it would be starting to congeal and things, and they would drink this. And it kind of had this, especially for us in the Western world, this grotesque kind of sense in it. But I think that's how the disciples must've heard Jesus in John 6. This is a stunning proclamation that we would be drinking the blood of Christ.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (05:20)

Yeah, in Jewish circles, you didn't drink the blood, the various meats that were sacrificed and then eaten afterwards, the blood would be drained from those sacrificial victims. And you also have the passage in the Book of Acts about not drinking blood. And so, yeah, this really would have, to take it literally, would have really hit the disciples, squarely between the eyes so to speak.


Brian Arnold: (05:51)

Absolutely. And I think that's, as we get into the history portion here in a little bit, that's obviously been one of the major discussions in church history—how literally we should take Jesus's words there. Before we move there, though, let's talk about that Old Testament context piece of the Passover. So when I was pastoring a church in Western Kentucky, one of the guys in my church argued with me often that we should only take the Lord's Supper in the context of a Seder meal. That's how Jesus was doing it, therefore we should. So what kind of continuity and discontinuity should we see between the Passover meal and the Lord's Supper?


Dr. Michael Haykin: (06:26)

Well, yeah, the Passover obviously speaks ultimately of Christ being our Passover lamb. And it obviously has a very, very important part to play in pointing forward to Christ delivering us from the realm of death and the domination of evil even as Israel was delivered by the avenging angel when the firstborn were all struck dead as God brought Israel out of Egypt. And thus the Passover was remembering that event. The Lord's Table, though it has its origin in that context, it's not a complete supper. Because as I said, Christ takes the bread at the beginning and then the third cup. He identifies this cup as the new covenant in my blood. If I recall correctly, there are four cups of wine drunk during the Passover, and he identifies one of them.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (07:32)

And so in 1 Corinthians 11, when you get Paul telling the Corinthians, "If you're hungry, eat at home," and some have argued that Paul is the figure who disassociated the Lord's Supper from a meal, but Christ has already anticipated that by identifying one of the cups. And there's no indication in the 1 Corinthians 11 passage, which clearly is referring to what we call the Lord's Supper, that it's a Seder meal. The Passover was done once a year. So in that argument, then, the Lord's Table will be taken once a year, which again there's no indication that the early church followed anything like that. So I think the fact that Christ himself separates the bread taken at the beginning of the meal and then the third cup, and identifies them as constituting his body, his blood, I think that he anticipates a separation between the Passover meal and what we call the Lord's Supper.


Brian Arnold: (08:46)

I think that's a really helpful context and foundation to lay. It does appear as a nascent form of the Passover, right? This blood of the lamb that is going to save the people of Israel and deliver them up out of Egypt through the death of the first born. And then in the New Testament, the death of the first born, the Son himself dies on our behalf. And then we remember back as we reflect on what he did in 1 Corinthians 11 kind of way.


Brian Arnold: (09:10)

And well, there has been no shortage of controversy, as I said, in church history. And so that being your specialty and my specialty through your tutelage, let's spend some time talking about how this has been understood going all the way back to somebody like Ignatius of Antioch who calls it the Eucharist. So the Eucharist just means "to give thanks," which is how the early church referred to it as the medicine of immortality. Or, Cyprien talking about sober intoxication. So maybe let's start in the early church and unpack how the early church viewed the Lord's Supper.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (09:44)

Yeah. For the early church, the Lord's Table is obviously a very potent reminder of what Christ has done for them, but also it's not only a time of remembrance, but there is an ongoing presence with Christ that they would recognize. And it's something that is to be done only with baptized believers present. And this is probably one of the reasons why there grew up the idea: "What are those Christians doing behind locked doors?" and the idea that they might be involved in cannibalism, because only baptized believers were present at the celebration of the Lord's Supper. And obviously they restricted it to baptized believers. And so it was seen as a very, very significant element in the Christian lives of these believers. It was a means of grace. It was a vehicle that God used to strengthen their Christian commitment to enable them to persevere.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (10:55)

The significant thing is that in the descriptions we have of the Lord's Table and you gave two there, one by Ignatius of Antioch and one by Cyprian, there really is no attempt to describe how Christ is present. The idea that, you know, the Eucharist is "the medicine of immortality," all kinds of things have been read into that by Roman Catholic theologians in the Middle Ages and later, but Ignatius doesn't tell us what exactly he's thinking. He just describes it that way. So what you can come away with is this is obviously very, very important for him. Partaking of the Table is a vehicle that enables us to cling to Christ or for us to persevere in the Christian walk, but the later interpretation that develops with the doctrine of transubstantiation that he's actually describing: that the physical partaking of the elements is that which nourishes our bodies and souls. It's too much to draw all of that detail out of that simple remark and none of the early church fathers got into those details at least up until Augustine. And it's very evident that the Lord's Supper is very, very vital for them, very important for them. It's a critical part of their worship. But the sort of debates that emerge later about the way in which Christ is present at the Table, they're not wrestling with those issues.


Brian Arnold: (12:50)

Yeah, one of the points that I belabor in teaching church history is how late the doctrine of transubstantiation actually comes along. So you've got these two monks in the ninth century, Radbertus and Ratramnus, both in the same monastery, arguing over what is meant by the presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper. And it wouldn't be until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 that the doctrine of transubstantiation would even become official Catholic dogma. And so I think a lot of people, because of the way Roman Catholics have read that back into the earlier tradition, assume that it was there all along when in reality, it's a bit of a later development.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (13:29)

Yeah. It's like other elements to some degree like the development of ecclesiology, and other areas of Christian thought. It's simply not a controversy in the early church. And generally speaking, when an issue is not controversial in the early church—the patristic period running from100 to 600—then you have a variety of viewpoints. The sort of detail that we're looking for is absence. But when an issue is controversial, say like the deity of Christ or the deity of the Spirit, the Trinity, these things are hammered out with a lot of finesse and detail. And so you're right; it's not until the debate in the Carolingian period in the 800s between Radbertus and Ratramnus, that you start to get the beginnings of controversy over the presence of Christ, and then it's not resolved until 1215 and critical in the resolution is the exposure of medieval theologians to the thinking and philosophy of Aristotle.


Brian Arnold: (14:45)

Was going to say, let's dive in there because, you know, some people might be listening and just have a vague understanding of the doctrine of transubstantiation. So with that being such a major component of Roman Catholic theology, walk us through what transubstantiation is and how it was retrieved through someone like Aristotle with the idea of substance and accidents.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (15:06)

Yeah. Aristotle makes a distinction between the being of an item or a thing, its substance, and that which is not essential to its reality, the accidents as they are described that pertain to an item. And using that, theologians like Thomas Aquinas argue that in the course of the worship of the church as the bread and the wine are being prayed for, the Holy Spirit descends and transforms the bread into the very body of Christ and the wine into the very blood of Christ so that they appear (accidents) to be bread and wine but in essence (substance), they have now changed into the very body and blood of Christ. And that is declared to be dogma, as you mentioned, in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (16:16)

And by that (being declared to be dogma), it means that to deny transubstantiation was heresy and to put yourself outside of the realm of salvation. So that's how important this issue becomes. Salvation rests on your perspective on the Lord's Table. And in fact, during the Reformation, it was enough for a Roman Catholic interlocutor questioning a Protestant to ask, "What do you think of the table? Do you receive it at the Lord's Supper the very body and blood of Christ?" And if he said, "No," that was enough to secure him a condemnation of heresy. The issue of, What do you think of the Pope, or Do you pray to Mary, those issues are nowhere near as essential as what you believe about the nature of the Lord's Table.


Brian Arnold: (17:16)

Absolutely. And let's talk about the Reformation for a minute, because that became a hotbed issue. In fact, the reason why Protestantism ended up splintering and couldn't hold together was the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 when Martin Luther met with Zwingli to discuss 15 points of doctrine. They agree on 14, and they could not come together on the last point, what is happening in the Lord's Supper. So briefly in a minute or two, explain where Luther was coming from, where Zwingli was coming from, and then maybe walk through the Calvinistic tradition as the three major ideas or views of the Lord's Supper that have existed in Protestantism.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (17:56)

Yeah. So the Reformers all reject the Roman Catholic perspective on transubstantiation. All of them would see the underlying focus on philosophical categories as not found in the biblical emphasis, but Luther is conservative. And while he rejects the idea of the doctrine of transubstantiation, he does nonetheless hold to the idea that when Christ said, "This is my body," this is his body. And that while the bread remains bread, it is now after the prayer for the Spirit to descend, the bread now contains the body of Christ and likewise the wine remains wine, but it now contains the blood of Christ. And so he does argue for a real presence of Christ, but not in the way that the Roman Catholic theologians would have in which the bread and the wine seems to be bread and wine.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (19:02)

Zwingli is at the opposite end of the spectrum initially. And he argues that the bread and the wine are simply symbols, they're signs. And this has a very long heritage back into the early church as well—that Christ is using the Lord's Supper to remind us of what he has done for us on the cross. And obviously the Lord's Table is a remembrance, so he's picking up that element. But the danger of Zwingli's view is it really fails to indicate how the Lord's Table is more than a remembrance. Now, Zwingli after the failure of the colloquy of Marburg to establish a unified position with Luther, will seek to come as close as he can to Luther, but Luther will basically be dogmatic and doggedly reject any sort of element of compromise with Zwingli.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (20:04)

As an attempt to win or to create a via media, a middle way, between Zwingli and Luther, Calvin argues that the bread and wine do not cease to be bread and wine. And one of Zwingli's points was, How can the body of Christ be in a host of different places where the Supper is being celebrated at the same time? If so, it ceases to be genuinely human and partakes of the quality of omnipresence, which humans or no created being has. And so, Calvin would take that point of Zwingli and argue that the body of Christ is indeed not present at any of the celebrations of the Table because that humanity is at the right hand of the Father, but Christ is spiritually present by the Spirit. And in Calvin's discussion, the Lord's Table is a vehicle by which the Spirit lifts us up as it were to heaven. So it's a foretaste of the life of the world to come.


Dr. Michael Haykin: (21:15)

In later Calvinistic thinking—and pretty well all the Baptists in the 16–1700s would have adhered to this—the Spirit brings the presence of Christ to the Table. So we commune with Christ at the table through the Spirit. It's a spiritual presence. It's not a real physical presence, which Luther really in some sense adhered to. So the difference between the Lutheran and the Roman churches while it may have been large in Luther's mind, to outsiders, it looks very, very similar. And so Calvin, I think, does create a middle road. The Lutherans though do not accept it. And thus there is division within the Reformed ranks between those who are Lutheran adhering to this view of the table and those who are Reformed adhering to a spiritual presence of Christ at the Table.


Brian Arnold: (22:16)

And I've always appreciated Calvin's view on that, uh, of a spiritual presence. One of the things I think that has happened in evangelicalism it seems at least in the last hundred years is the Supper goes really unappreciated. Believers don't realize why we do it or what the need is for it. You close your eyes. You think about how Jesus died on the cross. You take it, and you move on. Whereas this has been much more of a centerpiece of Christian piety for the last 2000 years. And so I would love to see Christians recovering more of the significance of the Lord's Supper. And I think spiritual presence does that. There is something happening in this Supper whereby you are communing with the Lord. So, you know, we've got maybe a minute or two left. What would you say as a way of encouragement to pastors listening as a way to take the Supper more seriously and weave it more into the life of the church?


Dr. Michael Haykin: (23:10)

Yeah, I mean, at a very basic level, it would be to recognize that the Lord's Supper historically has been a vital place in which we hear afresh that our sins are forgiven. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins for the sake of Christ. It's a place of recommitment to Christ and to one another. And it's a place of spiritual remembrance and communion with Christ, which means then that I think we need to take longer when we do it. I'm not a fan of rushing through this in 10 or 12 minutes at the end of a lengthy preaching service. We should see it as an act of worship, as important as any of the other elements of worship. I would be in favor of doing it on a weekly basis but definitely on a monthly basis and making it a highlight instead of an afterthought, which it often appears as in many of our church services. I think where we have failed is that we've allowed the thing that we call the altar call to take its place as a place of recommitment and reconnection. But the Table is that. Historically, that's what the Table has functioned as.


Brian Arnold: (24:27)

Well, I think that's a lot for people to reflect on and to consider as it comes to the Lord's Supper, which obviously has had a major role in the history of the church in terms of worship, in terms of piety, in how the church refocuses its attention on Christ crucified and risen. Jesus said that he will return, so we do this until the Lord returns. And so not only do we look back at what Christ has done and seek to commune with him spiritually at the Table, but it also gives us great hope that just as he came the first time, he'll come again. And we celebrate all of these things in the Lord's Supper. Well, Dr. Haykin, thank you so much for taking your time today to discuss this with us.


Outro: (25:09)

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