The Bread and the Cup: Biblical Memorial or Catholic Sacrament?

Some of the most striking differences between fidelity to Christ and fidelity to Christendom arise around the bread and the cup.  Two distinct understandings of how and why we partake of the bread and the cup among the assembly can be distinguished.  On one hand,  a "memorial" approach, and on the other, a "sacramental" approach. 

For us to say our participation in the bread and cup is a memorial, we are resting on Jesus' word: "do this in memory of me".  Some have assumed that the bread and the cup of the Lord's Supper, along with water immersion, are actions which should be called "sacraments" no matter how one understands their meaningfulness.  But "sacrament" is a man-induced category which, without warrant from prophetic scripture, will ultimately confuse many who would desire to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

In the prophetic scriptures, these two actions, immersion and partaking of the bread and the cup, are not joined under the single strange heading: "sacrament," from which strange doctrinal inferences can be assumed.  And to say a little more, the term "sacrament" has historically carried with it a "conduit of grace" idea which is also foreign to the teachings of Jesus Christ. 
...the rites practiced from a very early date by the Church in its native Jewish environment were not sacral acts....These symbolic rites rapidly and inevitably in the larger Hellenistic environment developed into sacraments and were equipped with the efficacies of Hellenistic mysticism (Angus 180).
In "The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge it is stated that:

...the same influence of pagan religious tradition...began about the same time, though more slowly and gradually, to have an effect on the Church....  This is most clearly seen in the history of baptism and the Lord's Supper.  The very name sacramenta is a token of this (article on Lord's Supper 28).
Some more recent dictionaries of Theology have provided definitions or etymologies of "sacrament" that might be more palatable to evangelical taste by emphasizing that the Latin "Sacramentum" was used to describe Roman military oaths.  However, the military oaths described were religious initiation rites which would coincide with the elements of Greek "mysterion" from the mystery religions.  Edward Gibbon affirms: "On [a Roman soldier's] first entrance into the service, an oath was administered to him [renewed annually] with every circumstance of solemnity.  He promised never to desert his standard.... The attachment of the Roman troops to their standard was inspired by the united influence of religion and of honor.  The golden eagle, which glittered in the front of the legion, was the object of their fondest devotion.....  Tacitus calls the Roman eagles Bellorum Deos.  They were placed in a chapel in the camp, and with the other deities received the religious worship of the troops" (Gibbon 1,227).

The development of the Christendom approach out of, and away from, the approach which retains fidelity to Christ at its center is marked by several distinctions.  The way to justify approaching the bread and the cup as a memorial is to hold closely to the biblical record while ignoring, or discounting later "insights".  The way to justify approaching the bread and the cup as a mysterious, grace conveying, sacrament is to adhere to traditional catholic teachings while ignoring or discounting conflicts with the biblical data.
A "first glance" distinction is seen in nomenclature.  The terms used to describe the bread and the cup are multiplied in the Christendom approach. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in an article titled, "What Is The Sacrament Called?" includes the following: "The Eucharist", "The Sacred Mysteries", "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass", "Medicine of Immortality", and "Pure and Holy Sacrifice".  In the Catholic version of the Christendom approach, the Bread and Cup or "elements" may only be administered by a priest.  This priestly administration is considered necessary to fulfill the ideas of: consecration (moment of changing common elements into means of grace), epiclesis (the invoking of the Holy Spirit upon the Bread and the Wine), and oblation (elements offered as sacrifice to God).

From the "fidelity to Christ" approach we observe that in prophetic scripture there is no requirement for a specialized administrating officiant.  Bishop Cheney admits, "There is not a word even to indicate that the presence of a minister was necessary to the proper celebration of the rite (Cheney 33)!"  The contrast between the two approaches on this point has not escaped the attention of N A D Scotland. In a booklet
chronicling the order in which accretions from the culture were accepted as part of the growing catholic tradition around the bread and the cup, Eucharistic Consecration In The First Four Centuries And Its Implications For Liturgical Reform (Oxford: Latimer House, 1989),  Scotland says: "The whole fourth century concept of consecration is totally out of keeping with the New Testament (Scotland 43)." 

The bread and the cup, viewed through the lens of the growing tradition, is central  to Christendom's false system of Guilt and Grace. In the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church the developed traditional approach to the bread and the cup is given central importance as a means of salvation. This centrality is born out in statements such as these: "The Eucharist is 'the source and summit of the Christian Life." And, "As sacrifice the Eucharist is also offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God."

Certainly a sacramental interpretive grid can be placed onto the prophetic scriptures with some measure of felt success for those so inclined.  I won't engage every potential strength with its counterpoint weakness here. The best antidote to abstracted systematic error is found in clearer apprehension of the biblically contextualized, narrative whole.  But just the scarcity of passages which even mention the bread and cup memorial should serve as a clue that the systematicians of sacramental theology have gotten off track.  Out of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, what might be a name for the memorial is mentioned only once: 1Corinthians 11:20. Other wise the original Bread and Cup memorial of the New Covenant is in three of the four Gospel narratives.  We note that upon comparing these three narratives, we do not find a fixed (liturgical) form.  And further more the Gospel according to John gives record of the meal with many details yet he omits any mention of the Bread and Cup.  This lack of scriptural emphasis on the bread and the cup makes the extraordinary contrast between the biblical memorial and the Catholic sacrament all the more remarkable.

The importance of the fellowship meal with it's memorial use of the bread and the cup should not be devalued for what it is. Remembering Him and His Gospel, we know our union with him is by fidelity to Him. Jesus did not call the bread and the cup a "sacrament". He did not call the bread and the cup many popular but potentially confusing names. Men in claiming to be religious have created their own religion.  They adopt a way of thinking and teaching on the bread and the cup which God has not given us in His Word. True loyalty to God requires us to repristinate our doctrine according to His Word.  May God help us do that.

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