Protestants Follow Jeroboam on the Divine Presence

In our previous newsletter we noted how Catholicism follows the principles of interpretation that Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:25-33) also followed by rejecting the authority of Scripture, by employing philosophy in order to interpret the divine presence that results in allegorizing/spiritualizingScripture, by allegorizing and spiritualizing the relationship between the sanctuary and the divine presence that results in eliminating the systematic role of the sanctuary, and by limiting the divine presence to the material creation. We also discussed how transubstantiation provides the principles upon which Catholicism interprets the divine presence in the Eucharist on the basis of Greek philosophy. All of this sets the stage for the way in which theReformers and many Protestants understand the real presence in the Lord’s Supper and in preaching the Scriptures.

Reformers Describe the Divine Presence as the Real Presence

Along with Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox Christians,Lutherans, the Reformed Churches, and Anglicans refer to the divine presence in the Eucharist as the real presence. This means that Christ or the Holy Spirit (Greek Orthodox view) is somehow substantially and essentially present in the Eucharist. Even though each of them varies slightly from the other in their specific understanding of the divine presence,all of them nevertheless describe the divine presence in the Eucharist in terms of a spatial presence that is somehow inextricably linked to the bread and wine. However, only Roman Catholics specifically define and explain the divine presence with Aristotelian philosophy that is then summed up by the doctrine of transubstantiation. The Protestant relationship to transubstantiation is a little more complicated.

Protestants Reject Transubstantiation

Protestants especially reject transubstantiation as an explanation for the miraculous change of the bread and the wine. There aret hree basic reasons for the Protestant rejection of transubstantiation. The first is that transubstantiation is inextricably linked to the authority of the priesthood, which allegedly makes Christ present when the priest who is ordained according to apostolic succession pronounces the words, “This is MyBody.” Second, transubstantiation is linked with Christ being sacrificed over and over again, and third, the elements themselves are regarded as being worthy of adoration and worship.

Protestants Assume Transubstantiation

Hence, while Protestants are all united in rejecting transubstantiation on the basis of what I previously shared, their universal rejection of it mainly applies to the mode in which Christ is made present. For instance, Luther believed thatChrist’s presence is located in all aspects of the bread and wine as opposed to the Catholic position that the real presence is restricted to the substance (the invisible aspect) of the bread and wine and not to the accidents(the material aspects). Luther believes that Christians can hold either view without endangering their salvation.

Since,Protestants (and Catholics) adhere to the real presence, their rejection of transubstantiation must be differentiated from the interpretation of the real presence, which Luther never challenged despite him railing against philosophy. Thus, when referring to transubstantiation, one must distinguish between transubstantiation as the explanation for the miraculous change of the substance of the elements that are linked with the real presence, which all but Catholics reject; and the interpretation of the real presence that has its roots in Aristotelian philosophy, which many uncritically assume in their theological explanations of the real presence.

Protestants Follow Jeroboam and Catholicism

Neither the opposition of Lutherans and Anglicans to transubstantiation, nor the more scriptural approach of Zwingli, nor those who affirm the real presence as a mystery, has developed an alternative interpretation of the presence of God in contradistinction to the RomanCatholic view based on transubstantiation. Protestants who profess the Sola Scriptura principle are merely reacting to the interpretation of the real presence assumed by Roman Catholics instead of using biblical materials to construct a viable, biblical alternative.

Hence, the Protestant interpretation of the divine presence is but a variation of king Jeroboam’s who linked the divine presence with the calves, and thus with nature. What Protestants need todo is to consistently apply the Sola Scriptura principle to the broadest possible levels that lie at the foundation of the system that has trapped them. This is what I intend to do in future communications.

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