I referred earlier to the way in which apologists for Catholicism and evangelicalism often employ methods that are not helpful to the better understanding of our real differences. The style chosen does not help to tamp down the rhetoric of theological warfare and thus fosters further misunderstanding. By saying this I expect that some, on both sides who have a vested interest in these “Reformation Wars,” will take offense with me. I expect some friendly Catholic readers will take offense if I provide an example that bothers me from their side of the dialogue/debate. I shall take the risk and beg for your forgiveness if offense is given. I assure you that none is intended. (If you read me regularly you must know I mean this and have demonstrated it time and time again.) I have in mind the doctrine of the Mass.
Popular Catholic apologists have a lot to say about “the real presence” of Christ in the eucharist. When they present their Catholic view in various broadcasts as the center of their Christian faith (I strongly disagree of course) they invariably take the worst memorialist examples of the meaning of the eucharist for what they call “Protestantism.” These examples are actually not even close to Zwingli’s view, whose view of Christ being present in memory was developed in the sixteenth century. In taking bad examples of poor evangelical theology these Catholics then conclude, “This is what your Protestant family and friends believe.” Well, just for the record mine does not teach this view yet I see it portrayed in this way over and over again on these types of programs.
My view of the eucharist is the same as the mainstream of the Protestant Reformation. Christ is present at the table. I rejected long ago, while still a Baptist, what I have humorously called “The Real Absence View.” But I do not believe that the doctrinal developments, or the emerging scholastic thought of the Middle Ages that led Rome to eventually accept the dogma of transubstantiation as absolutely essential to catholic faith, were called for as dogma. In truth, no other church holds Rome’s view on this particular point, including the Orthodox Church. But this perspective from church history is never discussed, so far as I can tell, on these types of Catholic programs. What is presented is the idea that what Rome now believes is what the Fathers of the ancient church all believed as one. This is simply not true. The Fathers clearly believed in Christ’s actual presence in the bread and wine but they did not define this presence in the precise way that it is now defined through the developing dogma of the Catholic Church. The only way that you would know how much common ground we actually share about the eucharist is to read books in which Catholics, and other Christians, really interact with one another in a serious ecumenical dialogue. One such book is Understanding Four Views of the Lord’s Supper (Zondervan, 2007), a book that I edited. There are many others.
My point here is simple. Always try to represent the view you disagree with in a way that your opposite can say, “Yes, you have represented my view very fairly.” If we do this then we can make good progress in love and deeper understanding. But if we stereotype Protestant views of Christ’s body and blood in the eucharist then we will only stir up further rhetorical warfare. This will not help us in our common mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We can do much better. We must surely try. We do disagree about transubstantiation, there is no doubt about this fact. But this does not mean we have to use the language of warriors in working on our differences as Christians. We can remain “stuck” in our different views and lovingly talk to one another in a way that does not foster the “Reformation War” mentality.