Luther had a disagreement concerning the Lord’s Supper with Zwingli and his followers. Zwingli believed that the body and blood were not truly present, but that the bread and the wine were mere symbols of the body and blood. Zwingli believed that when Jesus said, “This is my body,” he meant it in a figurative way. Luther firmly disagreed. He argued that there was no reason given inside the text itself or the rest of Scripture to believe that “is” was not literal. When Zwingli tried to show Luther other passages that are symbolic, Luther responded, “There is no proof of symbolism in the additional passages they quote. For instance, when Christ says: ‘I am the true Vine’ (John 15:1), He is speaking of the true spiritual vine. He really was this and did not merely symbolize it.” Besides, verses such as these, Luther pointed out, did not concern the Lord’s Supper, and so could not be used as proof against the Real Presence. Zwingli again tried to argue against Luther by claiming that if Christ ascended into heaven then He could not also be physically present in the bread and wine. However, Luther had no problem believing that Jesus was both in heaven and in the bread and wine. If Jesus is God then He is able to be bodily in multiple places if He chooses. To say Jesus is not bodily present in the Lord’s Supper was for Luther doubting God’s Word, replacing it with reason, and doubting Christ’s omnipotence.
Luther believed the Lord’s body and blood, just like Baptism and the spoken Word, were present regardless of whether or not the pastor or layperson had faith in it or not. The faith, while it received the benefits, did not make it the Sacrament. What made it the Sacrament was the Word. This led Luther to some startling conclusions:
“It does not rest on man’s belief or unbelief but on the Word and ordinance of God – unless they first change God’s Word and ordinance and misinterpret them, as the enemies of the sacraments do at the present time. They, indeed, have only bread and wine, for they do not also have the words and instituted ordinance of God but have perverted and changed it according to their own imagination.”
What Luther meant was that, even if the churches of Zwingli used bread and wine and kept the Words of Institution, it was no Sacrament, for they had no Word of God. While they had the outer Words of Institution, because they changed the meaning of the words, they did not have God’s Word, for God’s Word is not merely a voice, but the thoughts in one’s heart and the meaning behind the words. Luther’s understanding of the word “Logos” led him to believe that Zwingli only had worthless bread and wine and no Sacrament. Such was the importance of the Word. There simply was no Sacrament without it. However, those who had the Word received exactly what the Word promised them: the body and blood of Christ, as well as “forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation,” to those who put their faith in Christ’s promise.
The Word was a major part of Martin Luther’s theology. He saw the Word as being God’s way of revealing Himself to mankind. God did “not choose to do it through his unveiled, brilliant, and glorious majesty, out of consideration for us poor, weak, and timid mortals and for our comfort, for who could bear such majesty for an instant in this poor and sinful flesh?” Instead, God sends His Word, who veils Himself in very plain, ordinary elements: human flesh, words on a page, and the comforting voice of a Christian, water, bread, and wine. By becoming man Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, revealed the love and mercy of His Father. Holy Scripture, the written Word, is the source of all the Church’s teachings, and all of these teachings center on and contain the Incarnate Word. When a pastor preaches and teaches the teachings of Scripture, or when a Christian comforts his neighbor with the Gospel, Christ is truly present. Through the spoken Word the Gospel is proclaimed and Holy Spirit creates faith. Through the visible Word, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Christ Himself assures us of our salvation so that none may doubt His promises. It is no wonder that Martin Luther believed the Word to be of such great importance. It is no wonder that Luther said that “the withdrawal of God’s Word from men [is] the greatest plague and manifestation of God’s wrath,” and that “there is no greater manifestation of grace than the sending of His Word.”
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