I’m a fan of the Internet Monk’s blog. He’s a Baptist pastor with pizzazz. I wanted to comment on this post he made about his attempt to find the “symbolic-only” belief about the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper in the history of the Church before Zwingli in the 1500s.
For the past two years, I’ve been trying to get a single question answered:What are the actual historical evidences, before Zwingli, for the Baptist view of the Lord’s Supper?
I’ve asked this question high, low, in-between and everywhere I could get a hearing.
Long story short: No answer. If there are evidences, then someone needs to write a book, asap. It’s long overdue.
Ulrich Zwingli was one of the magisterial Reformers and began (along with Luther) what became the Protestant Reformation. He lived in what is now Switzerland and began his efforts to first reform the Church from within and not schism from her, but ultimately his actions led to schism, as did Luther’s.
Luther lived in Germany of course but in the 1520s after both of them began to promulgate their new ideas, these two men butted heads theologically: Luther rejected the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation for a slightly less “real presence” belief called sacramental union or consubstantiation. Zwingli rejected any kind of “presence” of Jesus in the Eucharist for a symbolic/memorial view (very similar to the Baptist belief today). They couldn’t agree on who had the right interpretation, and the pattern of Protestantism was set: No authority could decide between two competing interpreters of the Bible.
Interestingly, Luther said that if Jesus’ words: “This is my body” did not mean “This is my body” in some “real” way, then the Bible could not be accurately interpreted. Zwingli disagreed: It seemed obvious to him that Jesus meant “This is symbolic of my body.”
So what’s the point?
The Internet Monk has asked and searched for years to try to find out whether Zwingli’s view on the symbolic-only Eucharist was an innovation of the 16th century or whether it was believed prior to that time by someone or some group in the Church. The result: Nada, zip, zilch, no evidence.
Now perhaps there is evidence, and it is just really hard to find. Perhaps, as my Baptist friend maintains, the Catholic Church destroyed all of the writings of the people who believed in such things, though it is unlikely since we have reams of writings by men and groups deemed heretics by the Church over the centuries. More likely is the simple answer that the Church never believed that the Eucharist was only symbolic and that this teaching was a novelty of the 16th century, a heretical doctrine counter to the truth.
So is the Internet Monk going to become Catholic? Not anytime soon:
The Baptist position requires that the early church go decisively wrong in a critical matter following the second century, with not only no dissenting majority, but no dissenting minority. Until Zwingli, the historical evidence for the Baptist position is restricted to interpretation of the New Testament and the Didache.
I am not opposed to seeing the church as mistaken when the evidence is persuasive. I believe the early church did go off track in some significant ways in the later second century.
I love his honesty. He is owning up to what his Baptist beliefs force him to conclude: The early Church went off the rails and into error in significant, critical ways…when? as early as the later second century! That means sometime around 180 or 190 AD.
Why are so many Baptists and other Protestants becoming Catholic? Because they hold similar beliefs to the Internet Monk but then realize when they delve into, say, the canon of Scripture: “If the Church went off the rails on baptism, the Eucharist, the Mass, Purgatory, the Communion of Saints, and the priesthood by the third century, why do I believe that this same Church got the canon of the New Testament right over one hundred years later in the late 4th century?”
And the answer is: There is no principled reason to believe that the Church that made such “critical errors” on so many things did not also make a critical error in discerning which books were inspired by God and which were not.
All of a sudden the belief in sola Scriptura, the Bible alone, makes no sense because we cannot be certain that our Bible contains the exact books that God inspired and no others.
If Protestantism had an answer for this question, converts like me would have remained Protestant, and the droves of Christians converting every year would stop.