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The Cafe - Open Discussion > Anabaptist theology on the Eucharist

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message 1: by Alex (new)

Alex Strohschein The importance of the Eucharist is being increasingly proclaimed in Protestant circles. I have read a fair amount on Roman Catholic and Reformed views of the Lord's Supper, but I'm wondering if anyone knows a good book on a more Anabaptist understanding of it, one that emphasizes the communal aspect of it? In my limited understanding, I am led to believe that Anabaptists (and similar traditions) focus less on whatever is going on in the elements and more on the fact that unity is being performed and practiced among the participants.

message 2: by Brent (new)

Brent McCulley (brentthewalrus) I am also limited to my understanding of the Anabaptist tradition, save what Calvin states against them in Institutes. I know Zwingli rejected Trans, Con, and real presence, opting for it as merely a symbol. Anabaptist historical roots stress community obviously, and hence the coming together aspect and less of the metaphysical speculation.

message 3: by Jake (new)

Jake Yaniak | 151 comments It's been a long while since I looked at it, and I was chiefly reading it to compare with what many pre-reformation catholic theologians like Thomas Aquinas and William Ockham had to say about the presence, real or otherwise, of Christ's body in the communion wafer, but I remember being surprised to find that Menno Simons essentially agreed quite well with what the ancient church believed, even quoting the same passages of Augustine as Aquinas in support of his view, which was essentially something along the lines of a real, spiritual presence. I was interested in it because this was the view of John Cosin in his tract on Popish Transubstantiation, which claimed that Anabaptists saw it as more or less 'only' a symbol or something along those lines. It made me think that either Cosin did not bother to read any Anabaptist literature, or that they disagreed with Simons in practice.
But again, this is distant memory now, so I may be mistaken about some of the particulars.

message 4: by David (new)

David Historically Anabaptists have held to Zwingli's view of the Lord's Supper as a remembrance of what Jesus did. Nothing mysterious or spiritual happens to the elements. I attend a Brethren in Christ Church (BIC) which is a bit more mainstream compared to Mennonites (or maybe more evangelical is a better way to put it) and when the pastors talk about communion they describe it as a ritual to remember.

That said, what you said about the community aspect is true. I found this quote in a book on my shelf:

"I fear that Zwinglian memorialistic understandings of baptism and the Lord's Supper all too readily play into individualistic, subjectivistic spiritualities...To the extent that current Anabaptists are Zwinglian, I suspect that their successes in being gracefully gathered and empowered in communities occurs in spite of their theology and practice of baptism and eucharist" (Engaging Anabaptism, edited by John Roth, p. 142).

As far as a book on it, the only one I can think of is Body Politic by John Howard Yoder. I recall he emphasized the communal aspect, emphasizing the last supper was not a one-off event but was to be seen in the context of Jesus' life of eating with people. Yoder was the top Mennonite bible scholar of the 20th century. I know there is a systematic theology by James McClendon Jr which might touch on it, but I haven't read it.

I also know historically they practiced closed communion. Since they rejected infant baptism, only those baptized as believers could take communion. My church does not do this though, we welcome anyone who confesses Christ. But like I said, BIC is more in line with evangelicals on many things.

Mennonites tend to be diverse too. My wife taught at a Mennonite school and I had many interactions. I've heard there is dispute among Mennonites as to which direction to go - some so emphasize non-violence that they see more common ground with pacifists (secular, hindu) then other non-pacifist Christians while other Mennonites may appear like any common conservative evangelical church.

Oh, it should be noted the importance of foot-washing. My church does it twice a year, it is a regular part of church life just like communion and baptism.

message 5: by David (new)

David One thing to be aware of, and I am sure you are, is not to take criticisms of a tradition from the 1500s and 1600s and automatically think it is valid for today. What Calvin or John Cosin (had to Google him) said was not necessarily in response to what Anabaptism became. Plus, Anabaptists, like any tradition, are diverse. Many held to non-orthodox views of the Trinity and dual-nature of Jesus back then but, at least in my experience, most Mennonites and BIC today hold to Nicea and Chalcedon.

I found another book on my shelf - Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective...which thanks to a brief Google search you can read free online:

You are welcome :)

message 6: by Alex (new)

Alex Strohschein Thanks everyone!

message 7: by Alex (new)

Alex Strohschein Thanks everyone!

message 8: by Brent (new)

Brent McCulley (brentthewalrus) David, excellent stuff. Thanks for digging up that quote from your library.

message 9: by Erick (last edited Feb 01, 2015 06:53PM) (new)

Erick (panoramicromantic) It often depended on the Anabaptist in question. Some had a take on the eucharist that was quite different. An incredibly interesting read is Caspar Schwenckfeld's treatise called "An Answer To Luther's Malediction". It can be found in The Library Of Christian Classics volume entitled "Spiritual And Anabaptist Writers". In it, Schwenckfeld appealed to John chapter 6 against Luther's literal reading of the synoptic accounts of the last supper and the account in 1 Corinthians. Specifically important for Schwenckfeld was John 6:51-59 and the apparent interpretation in John 6:63: "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." It seems that for Schwenckfeld, Jesus' flesh was spiritual in the eucharist not literal. This is different than taking it as mere symbol, or as literal flesh. Some Anabaptists adopted this take on the eucharist. I admit to being impressed by Schwenckfeld's reading and have agreed with it. Anabaptists like Hans Denck approached the eucharist in this way.
As far as reformers go, Denck and Schwenckfeld have influenced more than almost any other, except Luther; but in some cases I reject Luther's interpretations in favor of Denck's and Schwenckfeld's. Sadly, it's very hard to find English translations of the latter (I own and have read almost everything available) and the former wrote very little, but there is a collection of his writings available in English in a very slim volume. I do strongly encourage every Protestant Christian to read them. A good collection of Schwenckfeld's works are available from the Schwenckfelder church online as well. It is only a fraction of what he actually wrote, however.

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