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427px-ulrich-zwingli-1.jpgZwingli did not see the need for a “sacramental union” in the Lord’s Supper because of his modified understanding of sacraments.

According to Zwingli, the sacraments serve as a public testimony of a previous grace. Therefore, the sacrament is “a sign of a sacred thing, i.e. of a grace that has been given.” For Zwingli, the idea that the sacraments carry any salvific efficacy in themselves is a return to Judaism’s ceremonial washings that lead to the purchase of salvation.

Whereas Luther sought to prune the bad branches off the tree of Roman Catholic sacramentalism, Zwingli believed the problem to be rooted at least partly in sacramentalism itself. The only way to legitimately resolve Roman excess was to reinterpret the nature of the sacraments. Pruning the tree was not enough; pulling the tree up from its roots was the only action that could actually fix the problems.

Applying his modified understanding of the sacraments to the Eucharist led Zwingli to affirm its primary purpose as the proclamation of salvation and the strengthening of faith in the hearts of believers. Zwingli insisted that the biblical text taught that the Lord’s Supper was a sign, and that to make it something more violated the nature of the sacrament. However, this caution did not keep Zwingli from strongly affirming a “spiritual presence” of Christ in the Eucharist brought by the “contemplation of faith.”

What Zwingli could not accept was a “real presence” that claimed Christ was present in his physical body with no visible bodily boundaries.

“I have no use for that notion of a real and true body that does not exist physically, definitely and distinctly in some place, and that sort of nonsense got up by word triflers.”

Zwingli’s theology of the Lord’s Supper should not be viewed as an innovation without precedent in church history. Zwingli claimed that his doubts about transubstantiation were shared by many of his day, leading him to claim that priests did not ever believe such a thing, even though “most all have taught this or at least pretended to believe it.”

Had Zwingli’s modified doctrine of the “real presence” been an innovation, it would probably not have been so eagerly accepted by his parishioners. The symbolic view spread rapidly because Zwingli had given voice and legitimacy to an opinion that was already widespread.

In Zurich, the mass was abolished in 1525. The Lord’s Supper was celebrated with a new liturgy that replaced the altar with a table and tablecloth.

The striking feature of the Zwinglian observance of the sacrament was its simplicity. Because the bread and wine were not physically transformed into Christ’s body and blood, there was no need for spurious ceremonies and pompous rituals. The occasion was marked by simplicity and reverence, with an emphasis on its nature as a memorial.

Zwingli’s denial of the “real presence” did not result in the neglecting of the sacrament that would characterize many of his followers in centuries to come. He saw seven virtues in the Lord’s Supper that proved its importance for the Christian life.

First, it is a sacred rite because Christ the High Priest has instituted it.

Secondly, Communion bears witness to something already accomplished.

Third, the action takes the place of the thing it signifies.

The Lord’s Supper is valuable because of what it signifies (communion with Christ for strength and communion with others for unity).

Sixth, observance of the Lord’s Supper increases and supports faith, and finally, its power is its keeping of an oath of allegiance.

written by Trevin Wax. copyright © 2008 Kingdom People Blog.

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3 thoughts on “Luther vs. Zwingli 3: Zwingli on the Lord's Supper”

  1. Matt Svoboda says:


    I am greatly enjoying this series. Are you going to write another on where you stand and the implications?

  2. trevinwax says:

    There are several more installments in this series. Stay tuned, Matt! You’re welcome to look at the Related Article “Baptists and the Lord’s Supper” for a hint at my view.

  3. dudley davis says:

    I am only a Protestant two years and only began practicing as a Presbyterian since last February. I was a roman catholic my entire life. A series of circumstances led me to became an Episcopalian in January 2006. After I became an Episcopalian I did extensive study of the Protestant reformation and I started to worship and practice as a Presbyterian last February. My research made me certain I was becoming a Protestant because I truly believed as the reformers did. I am now certain I am correct and God has elected me to further discover the truth.
    I am now certain that the Reformation was a tremendous act of God and the Reformers were true Believers. I am now a confessed Presbyterian Protestant. I am also now a staunch Protestant. I believe we reformed Protestants and all Protestants must remain authentically Protestant, as a people who profess and who believe in the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation i.e. the authority of the Bible alone in all matters of faith and practice and that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.Roman catholicism is the most unpure of all Christian denominations and possibly the greatest deception of and by satan himself. I know I experienced what Calvin also described as a true Protestant conversion only after I was able to renounce the roman catholic church and its pope completely.

    Rome’s salvation is by grace but declares that the church alone can dispense that grace and the only real church is the Roman Catholic church. ‘No Salvation Outside Roman Catholicism’ and Roman Catholic salvation is also an installment plan, where one must continue to receive the “sacraments,” go to weekly mass, and continue receiving the Jesus wafer from a priest as well as confessing your sins to the roman priest.

    If one continues to have the slightest belief that without the mass, the papist wafer bread that they worship and without that church and its pope he might not be saved, one cannot truly become a Biblical Christian and Protestant. When I was able to see and understand the lunacy of the doctrine of transubstantiation, the abomination of the mass and the fact that the papacy itself is evil and the pope is and has been on many occasions the anti Christ, I was able to openly renounce roman catholicism and experience what I call as did Calvin a True Protestant conversion.
    When I was a Roman catholic I use to believe that the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ at the mass. They call that Transubstantiation. It is a Roman Catholic doctrine, which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood, commonly called transubstantiation, by consecration of a priest.

    I am now invited to the Lords Supper as a Presbyterian. I now believe in the Presbyterian reformed teaching of The Lord’s Supper. That it was instituted by Jesus the same night he was betrayed, to be only a symbolic remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death and for our spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, and as a bond and pledge of our communion with him, and with each other.

    I have felt more a presence with Christ when I commune in the Presbyterian church and have confessed my beliefs as a Presbyterian that the Lords Supper is symbolic but Christ makes his presence spiritually. I now believe as Calvin taught “That sacred communion of flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by there exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfills what he promises.” I am nourished when I commune in the Presbyterian fold, I did not find that nourishment and presence as a RC when I was taught the bread and wine became the body and blood. I am convinced Rome is in error and the Reformed teaching on the Lords Supper is what Christ intended. I am convinced the reformed theology and faith as first taught by John Calvin explain salvation history and covenants better than any other method of theology and I not only believe in the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation but I believe the Reformed Presbyterian faith has the true meaning of sacrament and church and eventhough Baptists seeit as a sacrament they areclose to the presbyterianteaching also. I now renounce the roman mass and their eucharist as blasphepmous to the saving act of Christ on Calvary. I am not only a confessed Protestant now I am a Presbyterian Protestant.
    I think God has led me to become a Protestant and Presbyterian. What started as a study on the Protestant Reformation has led to a conversion to Protestantism for me.
    I believe the Bible as the word of God and the only and final authority and path to salvation I submit in discipline to the doctrines of John Calvin and the teachings of the Presbyterian Church in doctrine and life.

    It is Christ alone who is salvation to our souls, not the Church of Rome or the Pope”

    It is Christ alone who is salvation to our souls.

    I believe now in the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura. To believe other wise would return me to the bondage of human tradition which I was enslaved to as a Roman catholic. The Romanist teaching of scripture and tradition we must remember distorts the true Gospel of Christ, it is why we are Protestants and not Roman catholics. If I were not going to follow Sola Scriptura completely, I might as well have stayed in the Roman Catholic church. I renounced the awful Romish traditions as did the Protestant reformers and as did John Calvin. I am now a son of the Reformation and a defender of our Protestant heritage.
    In grace,

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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