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Calvin on the Eucharist

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Both Luther and Zwingli had crucial points to make in the debate over the Lord's Supper, but in my judgement, it was John Calvin who best resolved the question. Calvin began by agreeing with both sides on certain matters. He agreed with Zwingli that Christ is ascended and that his body is in heaven. He agreed with Zwingli that faith must be central in any adequate doctrine of the Lord's Supper; it is only by faith that we can receive a blessing. But Calvin's heart was really much closer to Luther because Calvin believed deeply and passionately that the Lord's Supper is God's gift to us. It is primarily God who acts in the Lord's Supper. God is the giver; we receive that gift. With great passion Calvin agreed with Luther that we must seek our redemption in the body and blood of Christ and in his sacrificial death. We are united to Christ in his body and blood by the Holy Spirit. But that union is so intense, so real that we can rightly say we are "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh" (Institutes III, 1, 3, cf. Gen. 2:23). Calvin said that we are embodied in Christ, as Ephesians 5:30 declares: "We are members of his body." That is where our redemption comes from, Calvin insisted. Salvation is that union with Christ.


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W. Robert Godfrey is professor of church history and president of Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California).

Issue: "How Do We Receive Christ: God's Sacraments or Ours?" May/June 1997 Vol. 6 No. 3 Page number(s): 48-50

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