I have been enjoying Ben Witherington’s Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper. I’m reading through slowly, primarily because I’m reading so many other books for school. Reading this book has prompted some of my previous posts, including “A Common Table” and “Meeting and Eating“.
Chapter 3 is called “The Table of the Entitled and the Table of the Lord”. In this chapter, Witherington discusses 1 Corinthians 10-11 and the implications on the Lord’s Supper. His conclusion is very interesting. He suggests that based on 1 Corinthians 10-11, 1) the Lord’s Supper was taken in homes, 2) any Christian meal should be distinguished “the usually socially stratifying customs of a pagan meal”, and 3) the Lord’s Supper was not just a reenactment of the Passover meal.
Then, he says the following:
One of the most important conclusions one can draw from a close reading of 1 Corinthians 10-11 is that Paul does not assume that the Lord’s Supper is a purely symbolic meal. He believes there is a spiritual transaction going on in this meal just as there was in the meal at the pagan temple. The right sort of spiritual communion between Christ and his people can be contrasted with the wrong sort of spiritual communion between demons and their worshipers. In short, Paul was no Zwinglian, but as it turns out, even Zwingli was not an advocate of a purely symbolic interpretation of the Lord’s Supper. (pg 62)
As of Chapter 3, Witherington has not explained what type of spiritual transaction he believes takes place during the Lord’s Supper. I’m looking forward to reading his views on this.
For those who may be uncomfortable with the language of a “spiritual transaction” taking place during the Lord’s Supper, John Hammett says something similar in his book, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches:
Yet for all their [Baptism and Lord’s Supper] importance, there seems to be a lack of interest in, and even a sense of embarrassment by, these corporate acts of commitment among Baptists. To some degree, this may be due to the fact that Baptists have regarded these acts as symbolic and thus intrinsically less important than the realities they symbolize… There is, thus, considerable need to rethink the Baptist views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and considerable room for improvement in Baptists’ celebration of them… In a sense, the debate over the nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper is unfortunate, for it often detracts from a proper appreciation of what is offered to us at the Lord’s Table. As many have noted, Baptists have been so concerned to deny Christ’s physical presence that they have often in effect seemed to teach a doctrine of real absence. (pg 257-281)
While Hammett prefers the language of “renewal” instead of “spiritual transaction” when it comes to the Supper, he still believes that something beyond the “symbolic” occurs during the Lord’s Supper.
What do you think? Is there some type of “spiritual transaction” or “renewal” that takes places during the Lord’s Supper? If so, what do you think takes place? If not, why not?