In the comments to my previous post, Phil Walker quoted the following from the Belgic Confession:
Now it is certain that Jesus Christ did not prescribe his sacraments for us in vain, since he works in us all he represents by these holy signs, although the manner in which he does it goes beyond our understanding and is uncomprehensible to us, just as the operation of God’s Spirit is hidden and incomprehensible.
Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ’s own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood – but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I thought this was sounding pretty good – right up until that final qualification: “the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith”. Yes, that’s right: having considered what “is” means, and then what “this” means, we now come to the next question: when Jesus holds a piece of bread and says “Take, eat”, what does “eat” mean? (Feel free to lose the will to live at this point…)
To be fair, the Lutheran confessions also talk of a “twofold eating of Christ’s flesh” (SD VII:61), and the first kind of eating of which it speaks is indeed “a spiritual kind of eating”:
This occurs in no other way than with the Spirit and faith in the proclamation of and meditation on the gospel, as well as in the Supper.
This “spiritual eating”, namely faith in the gospel as heard and meditated upon, is indeed “useful, salutary and necessary for all Christians at all times for their salvation”. However, it is not the same as, and does not exclude, the “sacramental or oral eating in the Supper”:
The other kind of eating of Christ’s body is oral or sacramental, when all who eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine in the Supper receive and partake of the true, essential body and blood of Christ orally.
The first type of eating can take place away from the Supper, and both types of eating are necessary to receive the benefits of the Supper:
Without this spiritual reception even the sacramental or oral eating in the Supper is not only not salutary but also harmful and damning. (SD VII:61)
Hence Jesus said not only “Take, eat”, but also “Do this in remembrance of me”, showing that both eating and faith are necessary.
Now, to be sure, the Lutheran confessions do speak of Christ’s body and blood being present according to a “spiritual mode of presence”. But this is not the same as saying we only receive Christ’s body and blood “spiritually” and not orally:
When … we use the word “spiritual” in this matter, we understand it to mean the spiritual, supernatural, heavenly way in which Christ, who is present in the Holy Supper, not only bestows comfort and life on believers but also brings judgment on unbelievers. Through the word “spiritual” we reject the Capernaitic notion of a crude, fleshly presence …
We also use the word in this sense when we say that the body and blood of Christ are spiritually received, eaten and drunk in the Holy Supper. This partaking takes place orally, but in a spiritual manner. (SD VII:105)
So there we have the difference: the Belgic Confession says that we eat the Lord’s body and blood “not by the mouth but by the Spirit”; the Lutheran confessions state that our partaking of the Lord’s body and blood “takes place orally, but in a spiritual manner”.
This may sound like hair-splitting, but what underlies it is the fundamental difference referred to in my previous post: the acceptance or rejection of the real identification, the doctrine that the bread is Christ’s body and the wine is Christ’s blood.
Thus, while the Belgic Confession sounds pretty good up to that last half-sentence, sadly it turns out to be another example of what the Solid Declaration describes as follows (SD VII:2):
Some sacramentarians make every effort to speak using words that are very close to the terminology and formulations of the Augsburg Confession and of its churches and to confess that in the Holy Spirit the body of Christ is truly received by believers. Nevertheless, if pressed to set forth their essential position in all candour and clarity, they all with one voice declare that the true, essential body and blood of Christ are absent in the Supper…