Breaking of Bread

In the breaking of bread we are of one mind and are agreed (as follows): All those who wish to break one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ, and all who wish to drink of one drink as a remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, shall be united beforehand by baptism in one body of Christ which is the church of God and whose Head is Christ. For as Paul points out, we cannot at the same time drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of the devil. That is, all those who have fellowship with the dead works of darkness have no part in the light. Therefore all who follow the devil and the world have no part with those who are called unto God out of the world. All who lie in evil have no part in the good.

Therefore it is and must be (thus): Whoever has not been called by one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one Spirit, to one body, with all the children of God’s church, cannot be made (into) one bread with them, as indeed must be done if one is truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.

Schleitheim Confession of Faith, point three

Radical Communion?

To be a “Christian” in the 1500’s had more to do with the place one was born and the religion of one’s parents than with personal conversion. Although the exact dates are disputed, the practice of baptizing infants was started within a century or two of Christ’s ascension. We most likely think of the Catholic religion when we hear the term “infant baptism” but in reality many of the reformers continued baptizing infants even after leaving Catholicism. Reformers like Luther and Calvin never abandoned that practice and even defended it.

There was a difference though between Catholic and Reformed doctrine on what infant baptism meant. Catholic doctrine taught that infant baptism cleansed the child from Original Sin. Reformed doctrine held that infant baptism “was a continuation of the covenantal sign of circumcision by which the infant child of believing parents was received into the church” (1).

So what, you may ask, does this have to do with communion? The name Anabaptist was used to identify those who re-baptized believers even though they had been baptized as infants. However, believer’s baptism was only one of many radical steps Anabaptists and specifically the Swiss Brethren took away from non-biblical teachings. Radical not because the Bible didn’t teach what the early Anabaptists practiced and taught, but because it could cost you your life. One of these steps, though not as controversial as baptism, was communion.

Baptism, Communion and Separation

Three things stand out in article three of the Schleitheim Confession. Believer’s baptism precedes communion and separation from the world maintains it. Part of the reasoning for article three, I believe, is linked to infant baptism and cultural Christianity. Now what I mean by cultural Christianity is to explain a society that gives lip service to God but whose hearts and lives are far from him. In the time of the early Anabaptists most people would have been baptized as infants, accepted into the church and given communion even though their lives did not bear evidence of their salvation. The Catholic Church was by far the worst but reformed churches in varying degrees also practiced a civil type church where you were born into whatever the state established church was.

A good example of the way church was a part of culture is Jonathan Edwards. Hundreds of years after the Reformation, the British colonies in North America were filled with people who had a religious background. Religion was such a part of life that almost everyone attended church on Sunday. Most people attended church but many had no real testimony.

Jonathan Edwards was a Congregationalist Protestant whose thinking was very much in line with Puritan theology. He saw the need for believers only communion and this was how his church responded, “Edwards’ insistence that ‘only persons who had made a profession of faith could be admitted to the Lord’s Supper’ enraged his parishioners, and he was asked to leave” (2).

The rejection of infant baptism and state-run church reasonably leads to a communion only for true believers, denying those whose only claim to Christianity is their infant baptism. Article three of the Schleitheim Confession was to clarify the Swiss Brethren’s position that true communion with each other and with Christ could only be had if one believed before baptism and kept himself unspotted from the world after confession of faith.

What is Communion?

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matt 26:26-28 ESV).

What does communion signify and what does it accomplish? The Catholic church teaches that communion is one of the seven sacraments required for salvation. Sacrament here is used as a means or an avenue of grace. The Catholic church believes that in communion the bread and wine are turned into the literal body and blood of Christ. “As a consequence of this belief, it was not uncommon for the elements to be worshiped” (3).

The reformers were not all agreed upon the meaning and significance of communion. Luther held to a much softer version of communion than the Catholics. He saw it not as a means of grace but as a promise. Zwingli (whom the first of the Swiss Brethren studied under) held that communion had no special power beyond being symbolic. Calvin was somewhere in between Luther and Zwingli.

The Swiss Brethren believed that the Lord’s Supper was symbolic, a supper to remember the Lord’s death. It had no power to save, and thus you can see more emphasis given to fellowship of the believers than what the Catholics and Reformers did. Communion is a special time remembering the death of Christ in the fellowship of his body, the redeemed saints, who have been saved and are being saved by the blood of Christ.

What of Today?

What you think of communion is most likely related to what church and tradition you were raised in. Does communion matter today, and how should we view it? Firstly, communion matters because Christ Himself instituted it. Secondly, just because a church or tradition teaches falsely or makes it boring does not mean we should cease to practice it. The Israelites kept the passover and looked back at their salvation from Egypt. We as Christians partake of the Lord’s Supper in the company of brothers and sisters and look back at the cross where our salvation was acquired.

Communion is not a means of salvation but it should hold a special significance to us as believers. It should be a time of examination, as in 1 Corinthians 11:28, so that we don’t take communion unworthily with sin in our hearts. I think more than anything it should be a time of great rejoicing as we understand that the only reason we can have peace with God and fellowship with His people is through the Death of Christ on the cross. Communion does matter. It’s the special time when God’s people share together what no heathen can share in and that is the fellowship of one faith, one baptism, one Spirit and one Body.

Milton, Rachel and Philip Milton Hershey resides in Elnora, IN with his wife Rachel and son Philip. As a WI boy who likes cool weather, Indiana summers can feel hot (to put it mildly). As well as being a full time husband and father, he works at K&K Industries as a mechanic/semi driver. He is currently in a pastoral apprenticeship under the direction of Truth and Grace Mennonite Church. He thinks reading books are a great way to stretch one’s mind and imagination. It will also improve your vocabulary and attention span. Amen.

Sources used:

– All scripture quoted from ESV.

– Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online

1. The Sacramental Theology of the Reformers: A Comparison of the Views of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli By Colin D. Smith (page 10)

2. Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, pg 15).

3. The Sacramental Theology of the Reformers: A Comparison of the Views of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli By Colin D. Smith (page 4-5)

 

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