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Martin Luther’s Theology of the Lord’s Supper  

R. David Nelson

The central act of Christian worship is a mystery embodied in a meal. From its earliest expressions, Christianity has practiced the celebration of the Eucharist (lit. “thanksgiving,” from the Greek adjective εὐχάριστος “thankful, grateful”), later and variably also known as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Mass (Catholic), and the Divine Liturgy (Eastern Orthodoxy). The practice, which has taken innumerable liturgical forms and religious glosses in the course of Christianity’s history, at minimum both serves as the reiteration of Jesus’s final Passover meal and encapsulates a host of significant biblical and theological images and ideas, including fellowship and community, divine presence, creation, spiritual nourishment, participation, the eschatological celebration, embodiment, and the suffering and death of Jesus. The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is a central theme in Luther’s theology and literary deposit, and it played a significant role in the development of early Protestant doctrine and practice. Worked out primarily in the course of political crises and controversies among a host of interlocutors, both Catholic and Protestant, Luther’s teaching on the Supper reflects deep-seated commitments in areas such as Christology, the relationship between theology and philosophy, and the doctrine of ministry, to name but a few, and it bears important implications for a variety of dogmatic, practical, church-political, and interdisciplinary concerns.


Martin Luther as a Polemicist  

Thomas Kaufmann

Luther was criticized for his polemics, particularly by his humanist contemporaries, and his writing did not in fact live up to the ideal of modestia (moderation). However, personal invective such as that engaged in by some humanists under cover of an incognito was not particularly evident in Luther’s work. Once he had sharply distanced himself from scholastic theology, especially in his academic lectures and series of theses, his polemical writing increased as a result of the dispute over indulgences (autumn of 1517). In his literary skirmishes with Tetzel, Luther first switched to using the vernacular German; it became characteristic of his polemical writing that he reacted quickly to enable the reading public to follow the controversy. From spring of 1520, as the number of defenders of the old faith (Prierias, Eck, Alveldt, Emser, Murner, Catharinus, and others) steadily grew, Luther was neither willing nor able to answer every written invective directed at him. The particular historical context, the prominence of his opponent, and the importance of the theme for further advancing the Reformation all played important roles in whom he chose to respond to. Since 1522 Luther was involved in numerous controversies with inner-Reformation opponents that centered on questions regarding how to conduct the Reformation, the sacraments, the external means of their administration, and how to treat members of congregations too weak or unprepared to accept change. Luther thought it important to draw clear lines with respect to opponents in his own camp, especially Karlstadt, Müntzer, and Zwingli. Of particular importance among his other writings are polemical texts against Turks and Jews. He found polemics in service of the truth of Christ’s teachings to be unavoidable.


Martin Luther and John Calvin  

Bruce Gordon

It has long been recognized that John Calvin admired Martin Luther and that the Frenchman’s theology at various moments approached the teaching of Wittenberg. This relationship, however, was always mediated, particularly through the work of Philip Melanchthon. The literature on Calvin has not fully appreciated the manner in which his epistolary and literary references to Luther formed part of the French reformer’s rhetorical strategies for forging unity among the churches of the Protestant Reformation. Calvin believed that the divide between Wittenberg and Zurich formed the central stumbling block to a full reform of the church, and saw himself, as an outsider, as uniquely placed to break the impasse. How the reformers understood the catholicity of the churches extended well beyond the localities in which they found themselves. Their interpretations of unity were closely related to readings of ecclesiastical and doctrinal history, and the manner in which they understood the Reformation to stand in continuity with apostolic traditions. Reform, catholicity, and tradition were essential components of the reformers’ thought that need to be investigated through a more organic approach that takes into account the ways in which they were interwoven, while at the same time recognizing how they exposed conundrums that often served to expose divisions within the movement.


The Anabaptist Tradition: Mennonites  

John D. Rempel

Anabaptism and its descendant movement, Mennonitism, came into being through the illegal baptism of believers upon confession of faith. Anabaptist worship was characterized by form and freedom. It included reading and interpreting the Bible by preachers and other worshipers, practicing baptism, the Lord’s Supper, anointing, and other acts while allowing for immediate promptings by the Holy Spirit, as in 1 Corinthians 14. Routinized worship developed gradually by means of leaders internalizing important turns of phrase as well as writing prayers and publishing prayer books. Some streams of Mennonitism, like the Amish, have laid great stress on following the tradition that emerged. At the same time there arose renewal and missionary movements for whom Spirit-led improvisation was essential for true worship that was accessible to seekers. Beginning in the late 19th century, Mennonite churches arose in the Global South. For them the movement between form and freedom was essential to authentic worship. Singing is the central act of the congregation in all types of Mennonite worship. There is a lean sacramentalism in which the visible church is the body of Christ in history. In the practice of ordinances or sacraments, there has been great concern from the beginning that God’s acts of grace be received by the faith of the believer in order for such acts to be true to their intention. The Lord’s Supper emphasizes encountering both Christ and one’s sisters and brothers in a transformative way. Baptism is entering a covenant with Christ and the church. In addition, anointing, discipline, funerals, marriage and celibacy, parent and child dedication, and ordination are practiced.


Baptist Worship in Britain  

Christopher J. Ellis

Baptists stand within the Free Church and Evangelical traditions. They baptize only those who profess personal faith, and they also give a high priority to evangelism. Although there is some variety around the world in this the fifth-largest Christian denomination, the main features of Baptist worship developed in Britain, where the Baptist story began. Emerging from the Radical Reformation at the beginning of the 17th century, British Baptists formed two main groups, each holding Calvinistic or Arminian theology, respectively. Both emphasized an ecclesiology in which the church was perceived to be a fellowship of believers and each rejected the baptism of infants. By the 19th century, most British Baptists held a common, though varied, evangelical theology, and this continues to characterize this denomination. The importance of scriptural preaching, extempore prayer, and the emergence of congregational hymn singing are all continuing features of Baptist worship. The core aspects of Baptist spirituality can be seen in their worship, including giving due attention to scripture and its relevant application for the life and witness of the church; the importance of the devotional life and an openness to the Holy Spirit, as seen in extempore prayer; emphasis on the church as a fellowship of believers, as expressed in the communal nature of the Eucharist celebrated as the Lord’s Supper; and the importance of personal faith and the mission of the church, embodied in the baptism of believers and evangelistic preaching.