There is a Time to Grieve: John Harvie Knight 1960-2006.

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 31 January 2007 0 Comments
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I have recently read your account of your dialogues in Norway and

Sweden. My cousin is a Lutheran pastor and believes the wine in communion

is transformed literally into the blood of Christ. Apparently this is a

belief in many denominations. If that is such a pillar of their faith, how

can such a tradition be replaced without destroying the liturgical

foundation of their faith? My Congregational Church doctrines were in

keeping with what you express.


What you describe - the wine being transformed into the literal blood of

Christ is identified more with the Roman Catholic traditions than with that

of the Lutherans. This view is called "Transubstantiation" and it was one

of the things against which Martin Luther fought. The traditional Lutheran

perspective is called "Consubstantiation" and it means that when one

receives the bread and wine of the Eucharist one is also receiving Christ,

who is somehow joined to the elements of the Eucharist. Just to complicate

the issue, the Episcopalian or Anglicans defend something called the "Real

Presence" by which they mean that in the Eucharistic act one receives the

presence of Christ without tying anyone to a specific definition of how that

is accomplished. Anglicans have never liked to be committed to too much


If the Lutherans relate to Consubstantiation as loosely as we

Episcopalians relate to the "Real Presence" then it is quite possible for an

Episcopalian to interpret the "Real presence" or a Lutheran to interpret

"Consubstantiation" in terms of a literal transformation of the bread into

the body of Christ and the wine into the blood of Christ.

However, to do that is to literalize the interpretive symbols but there

are some whose minds are so constituted that if something is not literally

true, it is deemed to be not true at all.

The thing that will kill the Christian Eucharist, to say nothing of the

Christian faith itself, is for all of its symbols to be literalized. Indeed

you are correct when you say that if the literal symbols are replaced, it

will kill their faith. That is true. It might be fair to say, however,

that when the symbols of our faith and worship become literalized, they

become idolatrous. Perhaps idols should be destroyed for they prevent us

from seeking the true God, whoever and whatever that may be. However, when

idols are destroyed, howls of protest are heard and intense pain is

experienced. Much of the pain that is obvious today in various forms of

Christianity is nothing less than a defense of the idols of their religious

past. One should not try to make that easier or to remove the pain for it

is the prelude to growth.

Enjoy your retirement.

John Shelby Spong




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