I am not talking about theories of how Christ is present (transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or impanation). Nor do I intend to make the argument for the Supper as an instrument of grace. I am speaking about the general idea that Christ through his Spirit acts through our faith and in the symbols of the bread and cup.
The Bible teaches Christ’s Spiritual presence at the Lord’s Supper. This position, or one similar to it, had held privilege of place among Christians until the nineteenth century. Yet for many today, the Spiritual presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper represents suspect doctrine.
I want to argue that the Bible makes the case that in the Supper by faith the Spirit nourishes our soul, heightens our experience of Christ (since the Spirit is the Lord’s Spirit), and cements our unity with the body of Christ, the church.
For clarity’s sake, I am not talking about theories of how Christ is present (transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or impanation). Nor do I intend to make the argument for the Supper as an instrument of grace. I am speaking about the general idea that Christ through his Spirit acts through our faith and in the symbols of the bread and cup.
Here are nine biblical arguments for Christ’s Spiritual presence at the Supper.
The Bread and Cup are Christ’s Body and Blood
First, when Jesus instituted his Supper, he said: “‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (Luke 22:19–20).
Whatever one’s view on the exact nature of “is” is, most can agree on the following. First, the bread and cup somehow are the body and blood of Christ. Second, this meal signifies not just Christ’s broken body (bread) but also God’s new covenant (blood). A new covenant brings a new relationship with God and his people. Third, the Supper should happen “in remembrance of me.”
As some have argued, “remembrance” here does not mean mental cognition alone. The term remembrance (ἀνάμνησιν) signals an active identity forming act (e.g., Billings 2018: 114). Remembering the great acts of God through Scripture entails a dynamic change of life and mindset, from sin and nothingness to God and active obedience.
In sum, Christ identifies the elements with his body and blood, a new relationship with God, and a new way of living. One must decide how the elements are Christ’s body and blood, how God relates to us because of it in a new way, and how our lives our changes through it.
The simplest answer is that the Holy Spirit by faith acts to nourish us, grow us, transform us, and abide in us through the Supper. By his abiding in us, the Paraclete as the Spirit of Christ makes Christ abide in us.
The most complicated answer is the literalistic one. The elements actually become the matter or substance of Christ’s flesh and blood. But Christ also calls himself a door. And nobody thinks he transubstantiates into gopher wood.
The word door signifies the reality that Christ opens the way to God. And the bread and cup signify our peace with God by faith through which the Spirit acts to nourish our souls.
Christ’s Body and Blood have Fellowship with the Bread and the Cup
Second, Paul asserts that the bread has fellowship with the body of Christ while the cup has fellowship with his blood Paul. He explains: “The cup of blessing that we bless—is not the cup fellowship (κοινωνία) with the blood of Christ? The bread which we break—is not the bread fellowship (κοινωνία) with the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16).
Whatever the exact relationship here (e.g., impanation), the elements of the Supper must have some spiritual relationship. A physical relationship seems excluded since the bread and wine symbolize union with Christ (see John 6). And union with Christ occurs Spiritually.
The Lord’s Supper Unites us to the Body of Christ
Third, Paul develops the notion of fellowship at the Supper by writing, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body since we all partake (μετέχομεν) of one bread.”
How can “we all” become one physically? The answer is that we cannot. Hence, we Spiritually unite by God’s Spirit among us. If the Supper Spiritually unites Christians as the body of Christ, how can it not also unite us Spiritually to the Head of the body?
The reason why the one bread makes us one body (v. 17) follows from the bread having fellowship with Christ’s body (v. 16). So we have a spiritual union with Christ’s body, the church, through the bread which fellowships with Christ.
Paul Contrasts Demonic Food with the Lord’s Supper
Fourth, when Paul discusses the Lord’s Supper, he contrasts the Supper with eating meat offered to idols. The latter makes one participate spiritually with demons.
He says of Israel, “are not those who eat the sacrifices fellowshipping (κοινωνοὶ) in the altar?” (1 Cor 10:18). He then turns to eating food offered to idols: “I do not want you to be fellowshipping (κοινωνοὺς) with demons” (1 Cor 10:20). Finally, he warns, “You cannot partake (μετέχειν) of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Cor 10:21).
The key words “fellowship” and “partake” that Paul uses of the Supper (vv. 16-17) also describe spiritual adultery by eating at the table of demons. And if eating demonic food means demonic fellowship and if demons are spiritual creatures and if God is Spirit, then it follows that Christ Spiritually presents himself in the Supper.
The natural inference is that the Lord’s Supper leads one to participate Spiritually with Christ.