Has ACNA gone Lutheran on the Supper?

For Master David and brother Chris, in grateful memory of our many “Summits.”


On January 29th, Archbishop Foley Beach (ACNA) welcomed +Jānis Vanags, Archbishop of Riga and Primate of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, for fraternal conversations at the Cathedral of the Holy Communion in Dallas. Though details from their meetings are yet to be released, this promising friendship builds on ecumenical conversations from the past decade or so that ACNA has engaged in with both the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the North American Lutheran Church. Talks with Missouri led to a learned common statement, On Closer Acquaintance: An Interim Report (2016), that works through core 16th-century doctrinal loci point-by-point. The next year, ACNA and NALC published a longer but less academic statement that covers Baptism, Eucharist, Scripture, and the Gospel (“Four Pastoral and Educational Affirmations”). On the whole, these parallel conversations manifest the profound agreement in doctrine that has been obtained between Anglicans and Lutherans since the Reformation – that is, when both Churches have upheld their confessional and liturgical formularies.

Just how close have these Churches of the Reformation come? And what prospects does our convergence open up for the future of the catholic and evangelical Church in North America? 

Reformation-era background

Four-and-a-half centuries ago, the evangelical Churches of northern Europe and the reformed Church of England agreed about much: the orthodox Faith summed up in the ancient Creeds; the authority of Scripture; the apostolic gospel of justification by faith in Christ alone; St Augustine’s anti-Pelagian theology of original sin and effectual grace, including the mystery of predestination; a promise-centered doctrine of the sacraments, baptism and the holy Supper, with a corresponding doctrine of ministry and the Church. What did they disagree about? Ask an Anglican today, and the answer will probably be: bishops in apostolic succession. Ask a Lutheran and he might reply: the law-gospel distinction, or the simul iustus et peccator. But back then, neither side invested the episcopate with the theological weight it carries in post-Tractarian circles today; and as for the article by which the Church stands or falls, the Cranmerian homilies on the misery of all mankind and of salvation in Christ alone leave no room for doubt on that score. Reformation-era Anglicans were basically Lutheran in doctrine and were not half as invested in the laws of ecclesiastical polity as their successors tend to be (even Richard Hooker, champion of the episcopacy that he was, did not believe it to be essential to the very esse of the Church). 

No, the real difference separating the Church of England from the Church of the Augsburg Confession was the difference that fractured the Church of the Reformation from the mid-1520s: the mode of Christ’s presence in the Supper. 

To make a long story short, there were three sides to the debate. The Lutherans upheld the received doctrine of the Real Presence: “The true body and blood of Christ are truly present under the form of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper and are distributed and received there” (Augsburg Confession, art. X). “Sooner than have mere wine with the fanatics,” wrote Luther himself in 1528, “I would agree with the pope that there is only blood.” The reformer of Zürich, Huldrych Zwingli, countered that Christ’s body and blood are seated at the right hand of the Father: the bread and wine symbolize and memorialize his atoning death, but they do not mediate his presence. (To this, Luther famously replied at Marburg in 1529: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him!”) Either Real Presence, or Real Absence; on this at least, Luther and Zwingli seemed to agree. But various churchmen of goodwill tried to mediate between the two sides of the rapidly degenerating Reformation divide: Martin Bucer, Philipp Melanchthon, Henry Bullinger, Peter Martyr, John Calvin – and Thomas Cranmer. 

The mediating theology of this third class won the day in the Reformed confessions of the sixteenth century, and the Church of England’s 39 Articles belong in this confessional family. “To such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive [the sacrament], the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ” (Art. 28, citing 1 Cor 10.16). Transubstantiation, however, is a Bible-repugnant, superstition breeding fable: “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith” (Art. 28). By faith, not by the mouth. In the words of promise, not in the bread. By the Spirit’s grace, not the immediate presence of the risen Lord’s flesh and blood. So Cranmer: “As outwardly we eat the bread and drink the wine with our mouths, so inwardly by faith we spiritually eat the very flesh and drink the very blood of Christ.” That is why unbelievers who receive the sacrament do not partake of Christ: “The Wicked … eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper.” They eat the “sign” (signum) but not the “thing” (res). They visibly press the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ – viz., the blessed bread and wine – with their teeth, but they in no way partake of Christ himself (Art. 29). Again, Cranmer: “There be two things [in the Sacrament], to eat the Sacrament and to eat the body of Christ. The eating of the body is to dwell in Christ, and this may be though a man never taste the Sacrament. All men eat not the body in the Sacrament.” 

So, on the one hand, the Articles affirm the objective presence of Christ in the Supper: this is the force of 1 Cor 10.16, the weighty prooftext which forms the heart of Art. 28, and is rightly recognized by Dr. John Rodgers as the strength of the Lutheran doctrine. On the other hand, Art. 29 – when read in its historical context – clearly rejects the Lutheran shibboleth of the manducatio oralis. Believers feast upon Christ spiritually, by faith, in the right use of the Supper. But his body and blood are not so really and objectively present in the sacrament that everyone who receives the bread and wine also receives the body and blood of the Lord. For – in the words of the Black Rubric, inserted into the 1552 BCP at John Knox’s behest and essentially retained in the 1662 BCP as well – the body and blood of the Lord “are in heaven and not here. For it is against the truth of Christ’s true natural body, to be in more places than in one at one time.” 

Let the author of the Book of Common Prayer have the last word on the subject: “How often do I teach and repeat again and again, that as corporally with our mouths we eat and drink the sacramental bread and wine, so spiritually with our hearts, by faith, do we eat Christ’s very flesh and drink his very blood, and do both feed and live spiritually by him, although corporally he be absent from us, and sitteth in heaven at his Father’s right hand.”

There you have the classical Anglican doctrine. Does it sound like a via media? Indeed it is – but between Wittenberg and Zürich, not Geneva and Rome. And the middle route that the Church of England sailed between the Scylla of Lutheranism to one side and the Charybdis of Zwinglianism to the other had nothing to do with a “charism” unique to Reformation Anglicanism. It was the common confession of the Reformed Churches of Straßburg, Switzerland, the Palatinate, the Low Countries, France, Scotland, and yes, England in the second half of the sixteenth century. 

So, e.g., the 1560 Scots Confession declares: “In the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that he becomes the very nourishment and food of our souls … The faithful, in the right use of the Lord’s Table, do so eat the body and drink the blood of the Lord Jesus that he remains in them and they in him; they are so made flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone that as the eternal Godhood has given to the flesh of Christ Jesus, which by nature was corruptible and mortal, life and immortality, so the eating and drinking of the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus does the like for us” (cp. 21). You are right to hear in this an echo of the “Prayer of Humble Access” from Cranmer’s communion liturgy, cherished by traditional Anglicans to this day and often appealed to as proof of Anglicanism’s sacramental realism. Yet these are the words of the same John Knox who gave us the Black Rubric. 

Or consider the 1561 Belgic Confession, art. 35 – a confession sealed in its author’s blood: “Just as truly as we take and hold the sacrament in our hands and eat and drink it with our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls.” 

Or the 1566 Second Helvetic Confession. Henry Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor as pastor-bishop in Zürich (1531-75), Calvin’s equal as churchman if not quite as theologian, and gracious host to Marian exiles like John Jewel (author of the Apology of the Church of England) confessed: “The flesh and blood of Christ is the true food and drink unto life eternal; and Christ himself, since he was given for us and is our Savior, is the principal thing in the Supper.” But the “eating” in the Holy Supper is not corporeal, but spiritual: “There is a spiritual eating of Christ’s body; not such that we think that thereby the food itself is to be changed into spirit, but whereby the body and blood of the Lord, while remaining in their own essence and property, are spiritually communicated to us.” The result? Once again, queue up John 6: “…so that Christ lives in us and we live in him, and he causes us to receive him by true faith to this end, that he may become for us such spiritual food and drink, that is, our life” (cp. 21).

In a letter of that year, Edmund Grindal – then bishop of London but soon-to-be archbishop of Canterbury – told his friend Bullinger: “We who are now bishops most fully agree in the pure doctrines of the gospel with your churches, and with the confession you have lately set forth.” Perhaps this is why Bullinger’s long catechetical sermons, the Decades, were required reading for the Elizabethan clergy. 

These Reformed confessions resonate with the familiar words of distribution in the (modern) Book of Common Prayer: “The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.” The full formula, preserved in the “Anglican Standard Text” of the new ACNA Prayer Book, goes back to the 1559 BCP. Elizabeth’s Reformed churchmen – a number of them, including Jewel, honored refugees in Zürich during Mary’s bloody reign – resolved the disparity between the Lutheran phraseology of Cranmer’s first book (1549) and the Zwinglian inflection of the second (1552) by juxtaposing their respective formulae alongside each other: “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.”

This high Reformed (or if you like: mature Melanchthonian; six of one, half-dozen of the other) doctrine of the Lord’s “mystical Presence” with the faithful in his Supper – as opposed to the Lutheran doctrine of the “Real Presence” of his body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine – is the classical Anglican doctrine set forth in the Articles, the Homilies, the Catechism written by Alexander Nowell (dean of St Paul’s, London, 1561-1602) and printed with Archbishop Matthew Parker’s approval in 1570, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

Recent Anglo-Lutheran conversations 

Reading On Closer Acquaintance just a smidgen between the lines, it looks like Missouri’s theologians did their best to keep their Anglican counterparts honest about this history – “… with the Anglican side sometimes contesting the Lutheran reading of the Anglican formularies.” Hm. One wonders, on what grounds? The Lutherans noted the English Reformers’ close ties with Bullinger, the Articles, and the Black Rubric, all of which represent the mainstream of mid-sixteenth-century Reformed eucharistic theology. The ACNA’s theologians apparently didn’t defend the historic Anglican doctrine but replied that the 16th-century formularies are not the last word on the subject. True, if a little confusing. Instead, they pointed to §9 from the ACNA-NALC joint statement on the Supper, “Holy Communion”:

We take Jesus at his word when he said, ‘This is my body … This is my blood’ (Matt 26.26-28). St Paul affirms this when he states, ‘The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?’ (1 Cor 10.16).

This, as On Closer Acquaintance rightly notes, “implies acceptance of the manducatio oralis and manducatio impiorum” – and if so, of ACNA’s transition from a Reformed to a Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence. (This is arguably even clearer in §10: “… the body and blood of Jesus are present in the earthly elements of bread and wine.” But On Closer Acquaintance doesn’t cite it.) From the report, it seems that both sides then took another look at Art. 28 in light of a poem attributed to Queen Elizabeth (who never relinquished her Lutheran piety) and the realistic flesh-and-blood language of the Prayer of Humble Access. In the end, it doesn’t sound like the LCMS theologians came away quite convinced. But for their part, the ACNA theologians made clear their affirmation of the Real Presence of the Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist – and suggested their desire to distance themselves from the Reformed heritage of classical Anglicanism. 

The Real Presence in 20th-century ecumenical Anglicanism 

There is good precedent for this Lutheranizing shift in the 20th-century ecumenical dialogues between the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran World Federation. The Pullach Report (1972) is the most modest, and probably would have made Bucer proud: “Both communions affirm the real presence of Christ in this sacrament, but neither seeks to define precisely how this happens.” More: the bread and wine remain bread and wine, but “become the means whereby Christ is truly present and gives himself to the communicants” (§68). Calvin or Knox could affirm that; Luther could too, if you caught him in a good mood: but he would have suspected mischief in the ambiguity. But the Helsinki Report (1982) goes Lutheran straight-up: “In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Christ, true God and true man, crucified, risen, and ascended, is truly present in his body and blood under the elements of bread and wine” (§28). Same with the Niagara Report (1987): “We believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, distributed and received under the forms of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper” (§65). The same language is taken up in Porvoo Common Statement (1992) that brought British/Irish Anglicans into full communion with Baltic and Scandinavian Lutherans (see §32.h). Helsinki, Niagara, and Porvoo clearly and closely echo Augsburg Confession art. X, and as such signal the ascendancy of the Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence in ecumenical Anglicanism.

This matches up fairly well with what Anglican ecumenists agreed to in the Agreed Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine reached with Rome in 1971: “The Lord’s words at the last supper, ‘Take and eat; this is my body,’ do not allow us to dissociate the gift of the presence and the act of sacramental eating. The elements are not mere signs; Christ’s body and blood become really present and are really given” (sect. III, §9). Similarly, vis-à-vis the Orthodox, e.g. the Moscow Statement (1976): “Through the consecratory prayer, addressed to the Father, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of the glorified Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit” (§27). On the other hand, agreed statements with the Reformed-and-Lutheran united churches of Germany (Meissen, 1988) and France (Reuilly, 1999) evince a Bucerian if Lutheran-leaning studied ambiguity: in the Supper, Christ “gives his body and blood under the visible signs of bread and wine to the community” (Meissen, §15.v). And the 1984 Anglican-Reformed agreed statement follows Tevye’s wisdom in Fiddler on the Roof (“You also are right!”): granted that Christ is objectively present one way or another, the trouble starts “when we commence to argue whether this presence is associated with the outward, visible elements of bread and wine, or whether it is an inward, invisible presence received in the heart through faith. The fact is that both statements are true” (God’s Reign and our Unity, §66). 

All-in-all, in the ecumenical dialogues of modern Anglicanism we find a fairly consistent confession of the Real Presence along Lutheran lines – though with a certain flexibility. Ever ready to play the good host, Anglicans appear willing to accommodate the particular emphases of their interlocutors, be they Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Reformed. 

Has ACNA gone Lutheran? 

The ACNA’s recent interactions with her Lutheran sister-churches stand in marked continuity with this earlier body of ecumenical work. In 1552, the reformed Church of England taught that the body and blood of the Lord “are in heaven and not here.” In 1662, after the Restoration of the king and the bishops, the “great ejection” of some 2,000 Puritan clergymen, and a couple generations of high-church Caroline divinity, the (ever since standard) BCP still explained: “The natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.” But by 2017, by way of the 1637 Scottish BCP’s influence on the American Prayer-Book tradition, Tractarianism’s leavening influence since the mid-19th century, and the ecumenical convergences of the 20th, the ACNA had come around: “The body and blood of Jesus are present in the earthly elements of bread and wine” (“Holy Communion,” §10). 

Or has it? Ecumenical papers are one thing, on-the-ground lived theology is quite another. As everyone knows, the ACNA comprehends a range of theological positions on any number of loci, and the Supper is no exception. Zwinglians and Anglo-Catholics co-exist alongside each other; there are also quite a few classical Anglicans who uphold the old Reformed doctrine of the Articles and the 1662 Prayer Book. 

On balance, it is these classical Anglicans who can make the strongest case for their position on the basis of the ACNA’s official formularies. Articles 28 and 29 still say what they say. The new catechism follows the old catechism in the 1662 BCP almost word-for-word. While sufficiently imprecise to allow a Lutheran (or “Prayer-Book Catholic”) interpretation – there is no outright denial of the Real Presence, no Black Rubric – To be a Christian provides a good rendering of the classical Anglican doctrine. Christ instituted the Supper for two reasons: the continual remembrance of his sacrificial death, and to convey the benefits of that sacrifice (Q. 131). The outward part is the bread and wine (Q. 132), the inward gift the body and blood of Christ – “which are truly taken and received in the Lord’s Supper by faith” (Q. 133). As bread and wine nourish the body, so Christ’s body and blood strengthen the soul (Q. 134). Here is a doctrine of the Lord’s mystical Presence in his Supper of which Calvin, Bullinger, Knox, or Ursinus would approve; in substance it is identical to that found in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Scots Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism. 

What about the 2019 Book of Common Prayer? There are two liturgies for the Supper, each amenable to either the classical Anglican doctrine or the more recent Lutheranizing position. The epiclesis in the “Anglican Standard Text” asks the Father to bless and sanctify, by his Word and Spirit, the gifts of bread and wine: not quite that they would become the body and blood of Christ, but that we who receive them rightly “may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.” Both the Prayer of Humble Access and the Post-Communion Prayer can go either way, hard as that may be for non-readers of Reformation-era Reformed theologians to grapple with. The words of distribution are similarly ambiguous: “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ” (= Luther), “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you” (= Zwingli), “Feed on him in your heart by faith, with thanksgiving” (= Calvin). Perhaps the epiclesis in the “Renewed Ancient Text” leans a little more in the Lutheran direction? “Sanctify [the bread and wine] by your Word and Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ.” Yet this too is consistent with a Reformed interpretation: the bread and wine become the body and blood of the Lord, not absolutely, but “for your people” viz. for those who receive them by faith. 

In his infamous Tract 90, John Henry Newman argued (fancifully) that the 39 Articles were “patient, though not ambitious, of a [Roman] Catholic interpretation.” Turning things around, we can say the same thing – though truthfully in this case – about the ACNA Catechism and Prayer Book: they are patient, though not ambitious, of a Lutheran interpretation. That is: they leave enough leeway to allow for a Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, but they do not require it. Articles 28 and 29, on the other hand, remain stubbornly Reformed. 

Best I can tell, the only official ACNA document that embraces the Lutheran doctrine is the joint ACNA-NALC pastoral affirmation noted above: “The body and blood of Jesus are present in the earthly elements of bread and wine” (§10). So, at the official level, the ACNA hasn’t really gone Lutheran after all – except for when we dialogue with the Lutherans!

What are we to make of all this? 

As a theological principle, lex orandi lex credendi is a bad idea: sincere, pious people pray all kinds of things that aren’t anchored in reality; Scripture alone is our rule of faith. But it’s pretty useful as a religious-sociological hermeneutical tool. The way we pray proves what we really believe, whatever we might say in our confessions. Dr. Packer (of blessed memory) used to make this point as an irenicon for practical union between Calvinists and Wesleyans: on our knees, we all believe the same things about sin and grace. Might the same tool be useful in the vexed question of how – not whether – the Lord gives his people his body and blood in the Supper? 

On their knees, today many Anglicans probably are Lutherans: that, after all, is why Knox argued against kneeling at reception of the sacrament and, when he lost that fight, insisted on the Black Rubric. The priest blesses the bread and wine in an elaborate prayer, and he and his assistants distribute the gifts of God to the people of God with the simple words: “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven / The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” Impressed by this simple affirmation, the Reformed nuances built into the rest of the communion service are lost on most worshippers (including, it seems, our ecumenists). That is part of the power of liturgy. It shapes our sensibilities, our gut-level theology, in ways that on-paper doctrine doesn’t have the visceral power to achieve. On paper, Reformed and Presbyterian churches have the same eucharistic doctrine as classical Anglicanism. But in practice, most such congregations are Zwinglian today, and it stands to reason that this downgrading in doctrine is not unrelated to the fact that they have typically left sacramental worship to the “high church” traditions. Prayer-Book worship is the one strand within the Reformed tradition that has proved itself capable of sustaining the old Reformed doctrine of the mystical Presence. Ironically, however, the liturgical power of the Prayer-Book has brought about the upgrading in doctrine that I’ve explored in this article. High-church liturgy makes Lutherans of us all. 

Only it doesn’t, of course. There are plenty of classical Anglicans in ACNA, less than thrilled about the 2019 BCP, perplexed by the ACNA-NALC statement, and eager to see a restoration of the Articles “as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today” (Jerusalem Declaration, #4). For example, Ashley Null and John Yates’ Reformation Anglicanism reaffirms the old Anglican doctrine: “During Holy Communion Christ gives himself to believers, supernaturally drawing them into a closer union with himself and with one another … faithful communicants, not the bread and wine, are transformed into Christ’s body” (pp. 191 & 199). At the other end of the smorgasbord, not many ACNA high-churchmen will be exactly delighted to learn of their crypto-Lutheranism. (“The fathers! The fathers!” Yes, the fathers: Martin Chemnitz read them, too.) In all likelihood, they will advance Tract 90-style arguments about Article 29 in particular, and we will have to send them to Dr. Null to tidy up their understanding of the formularies in their historical context. In between the classical Anglicans on the one side and the Anglo-Catholics on the other are, I suspect, the majority of actual Anglicans, who come empty-handed each week to the Supper, make the sign of the cross, and receive the body and blood of the Lord with simple faith and grateful joy. (I confess that I am such a simple Christian myself.)

A proposal

Is this an adequate state of affairs? Not really. Ideally, a church’s lex credendi ought to match up with its lex orandi. Pastors and bishops ought to subscribe to the confessions of their church without resorting to mental gymnastics. And the people of God deserve to be catechized in the teaching of their church. But as Bonhoeffer wisely wrote in Life Together, the ideal has a frightful way of becoming the enemy of the actual flesh-and-blood body of Christians that Jesus gathers together by Word and Sacrament in a particular place. Might the same be true of a regional body of churches, say a diocese or a province, or even a global communion? Quirky, inconsistent, and flawed as the ACNA is, any church committed to proclaiming the transforming love of Jesus Christ without bending the knee to post-Christian culture is worth working to preserve. 

To this end, I have a simple proposal: the College of Bishops should consider dropping Article 29, either outright or with brackets, an asterisk, and an explanatory note to the effect that neither the mode of Christ’s Presence in the Supper nor the manducatio oralis are considered church-dividing in our present situation (as, e.g., they have already done with the filioque in the Nicene Creed, and as ecumenical Reformed churches do with the anti-Roman language in Q & A. 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism).

You may have noticed that the Articles are often dated 1563/71. That’s because they were adopted in two stages: by Convocation in 1563, and by Parliament eight years later. But in 1563 there were 38 Articles, not 39. Why? Elizabeth struck art. 29, which (as we saw above) outs the Church of England as Reformed by denying the manducatio impiorum. This she did not wish to do, for reasons of personal piety, international political expedience, and internal comprehensiveness. But by 1571, the Lutheran princes in Germany had less to offer England; bishops and deans, some of whom rode out Mary’s reign in Geneva and Zürich, continued to apply pressure for further reformation; and to top it all off, Pius V had declared Elizabeth a bastard, released English Catholics from her obedience, and effectively given the go-ahead for her assassination. So, a decidedly Protestant Parliament put art. 29 back in.

Why not take it back out? If we did, the high-churchmen could become more confessional, the classical Anglicans could stay the course, and both could press on “always forward” with a greater measure of doctrinal integrity. 

“Integrity!” one hears his Presbyterian and Lutheran friends say, “You call that integrity? That’s just the old Janus-faced English Church, vaunting its moderation to cloak its compromises.” The point is not unfair, but keep Bonhoeffer’s wisdom in mind. And for that matter, his example: a Lutheran pastor who served St Paul’s German Reformed Church in London and became close friends with George Bell, the bishop of Chichester. Imagine what ACNA’s life together could look like if it took its cues from this heroic German shepherd. Reformation Anglicans, who tend to veer Zwinglian, would confess the mystical Presence and not fret so much about (say) manual acts at the Table or chasuble-donning priests. For their part, Anglo-Catholics would confess the Real Presence yet be able to subscribe to the Articles without St. John Newman’s help – provided, that is, they also learn to confess the rest of the Augustinian and Lutheran doctrines found there too, especially articles 9-17 on sin, grace, and justification. 

One can imagine a host of fruitful convergences: Fort Worth conservatives preaching justification by faith alone, and Mockingbird progressives calling sinner-saints to holiness; snake-belly-low evangelicals reading the church fathers, and nosebleed-high Catholics confessing sola scriptura; missional innovators embracing the holy office of Word and Sacrament, and SSC fathers admitting that the historic episcopate has been locally adapted in all kinds of faithful ways; Packerites honoring the saints of old, and Puseyites no longer praying to them; Trinity School pastors eating Christ’s flesh and blood in the Eucharist, and Nashotah House priests disavowing the sacrifice of the Mass. Our evangelicals would become more catholic, our Catholics more evangelical, and we’d all be stronger for it.  

The Supper in a Cell

Besides, in our increasingly anti-Christian culture we can’t afford to limp along in the weakened condition our divisions put us in. In 1934, the venerable Hermann Sasse did not sign the Barmen Declaration because he did not understand this reality of lived faith. But Bonhoeffer realized that confessional “compromise” with Reformed Christians like Karl Barth was necessary in order to faithfully confess the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of Nazism. What good is it if a Lutheran pastor preserves his confessional purity in mysteriis, but leaves his Reformed brothers and sisters to fend for themselves against the spirit of the antichrist?

Prof. Benne recently reminded me of a “Luther quote” that, as it happens, actually comes from the pen of a 19th-century Anglican novelist named Elizabeth Rundle Charles: “It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fidelity. It is to confess we are called, not merely to profess. If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steadfast on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.” Just so – and quite Lutheran too, even if a fictional character named Fritz said it, not Martin Luther. 

How do we apply this (unexpectedly Anglo-Lutheran) wisdom? 

In a situation requiring confession, faithful Christians must discern when and how to pay a holy disregard to some elements of their heritage in order to bear clear and common witness to Jesus Christ, God’s Son in our flesh. Not just in general – leave the “in general” Jesus to the academics – but as the reality, victory, and sovereign rule of Mary’s Son is in fact being contested by the spirit of antichrist incarnate in the Zeitgeist of a particular time and place (1 John 4.1-6). So, in 1930s Germany, my superior theology of the sacramental union is less than useless if it keeps me from joining hand and voice with the confessing Church called to defy the world and proclaim boldly on the basis of the Word of God: when the Word became flesh, he became a Jew. Likewise, in the decadent dying culture of the late modern West, my superior theology of either the Real or the mystical Presence is less than useless if it keeps me from joining hand and voice with the confessing Church called to defy the world and proclaim boldly on the basis of the Word of God: “In the image of God he created Man, male and female he created them.” 

In this our time, to which – like Frodo – we have been called whether we like it or not, is it not meet and right that confessing Christians rooted in different ecclesial traditions begin to embrace one another in true faith, steadfast hope, and courageous love? All the more so within a single church body like ACNA, or between such close sisters as the orthodox Anglican and Lutheran churches of North America. Confitemini et amplectimini, St Augustine preached against the Donatists: “Confess and embrace.” For this reason if for no other, confessing Christians of various sacramental stripes will agree that the recent Anglo-Lutheran convergence is to be warmly welcomed. 

Once upon a time, ecumenical dialogue involved trips to Oxford (or Uppsala), lavish liturgies, fine cassocks, and expense accounts. But the day may not be long in coming when pastors who believe, teach, and confess what the Word of God has to say about Man and marriage, sin and sex and grace, and the inviolability of “useless” people young and old will have to trade their pulpits for a prison cell. For ‘āām is the homoousios of our age, and like Athanasius contra mundum we are entering a time when there will be a cost to pay for telling the truth about God and Man. Man as the good but limited creature of God, made in his image as male-and-female. Man as fallen in Adam but gloriously redeemed in Jesus Christ, the God-Man, who came, suffered, and conquered in our flesh and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Man as he and she will be, not in some posthuman future we devise, but in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. 

Say you find yourself locked up with a Roman priest, a Lutheran pastor, a Presbyterian minister, and a Pentecostal evangelist, simply for preaching the Bible. No Prayer-Books, no patten and chalice, no wine, but you manage to scrape together a little bread and grape juice. Will you hesitate to share the Eucharist in that holy place? Will you argue then about who has the right theology required to commune? Or the valid orders necessary to preside? The Son of Man will be there, as he was with St John on Patmos, and as he is with our brothers and sisters in the persecuted Church today. No, my friend: on that day – like Martin Niemöller and his brothers in Dachau on Christmas Eve 1944 – we will eat the bread and drink the cup together with joy, and our dear Lord will strengthen us with the gift of his precious body and blood. Then at last, suffering and the cross will accomplish what a century of ecumenical dialogue failed to bring about. We will be one body in Christ, for we will partake together of the one bread. And by the strange strength of the Risen One – who crushed his enemies by his Cross, and perfects his power in the weakness of the saints – we will be ready to shed our own blood for the Lord. 

Dr Phil Anderas

Phil Anderas (Priest, ACNA; Pastor, NALC; PhD, Marquette) is a missionary theologian with operations based in Milwaukee. He is a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians and author of Renovatio, a book about Martin Luther, St Augustine, and the way God makes forgiven sinners holy.

'Has ACNA gone Lutheran on the Supper?' have 13 comments

  1. February 4, 2022 @ 12:08 pm Dcn. Ron Offringa

    I appreciate the thoroughness of this article and the spirit in which it is written. That said, it is unclear to me how one would conclude any statements or prayers used in the ACNA could confidently be called Lutheran in contradistinction to a more Roman understanding of the Eucharist. The Articles and Black Rubric reject transubstantiation specifically understood as meaning that Christ is physically, locally present (which Rome rejects; Christ is not physically or locally present according to Aquinas and Trent). The ubiquity of Christ’s body, which is the foundation of Gerhard’s articulation of the Eucharist, is rejected by Rome, the Reformed, and Anglicans alike. To say Christ’s body and blood are present in the Eucharist without stating how is substantially (pun intended) different than asserting that Christ is present because his body is ubiquitous.


    • February 5, 2022 @ 2:35 pm Antti Saarilahti

      Dcn. Ron, as a Lutheran (though with strong Anglican sympathies), I would like to correct you on the matter of the doctrine of ubiquity. Although it is commonly misrepresented that way, it does not mean, and never has meant, the supposed ubiquity (local omnipresence) of Christ’s body. The Formula of Concord (FC) specifically rejects this view:

      ”Accordingly, we believe, teach, and confess that to be almighty, eternal, infinite, to be of itself everywhere present at once naturally, that is, according to the property of its nature and its natural essence, and to know all things, are essential attributes of the divine nature, which never to eternity become essential properties of the human nature. On the other hand, to be a corporeal creature, to be flesh and blood, to be finite and circumscribed, to suffer, to die, to ascend and descend, to move from one place to another, to suffer hunger, thirst, cold, heat, and the like, are properties of the human nature, which never become properties of the divine nature.” (FC SD VIII 9–10)

      However, post-resurrection, Christ’s human body is no longer subject to natural limitations because it has been exalted to divine glory at God’s right hand:

      ”We believe, teach, and confess also that the assumed human nature in Christ not only has and retains its natural, essential properties, but that over and above these, through the personal union with the Deity, and afterwards through glorification, it has been exalted to the right hand of majesty, power, and might, over everything that can be named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come [ Eph. 1:21 ].” (ibid., 12)

      ”By this communicated [divine] power, according to the words of His testament, He can be and truly is present with His body and blood in the Holy Supper, to which He has directed us by His Word; this is possible to no other man, because no man is in such a way united with the divine nature, and installed in such divine almighty majesty and power through and in the personal union of the two natures in Christ, as Jesus, the Son of Mary.” (ibid., 29)

      FC is also quick to point out that the Calvinistic assumption of ”God’s right hand” being some fixed place in heaven where Christ’s natural body is physically located has no warrant in Scripture; rather, it should be understood as God’s almighty power to which the indivisibly human and divine Christ has been installed (FC SD VIII 28). Indeed, even heaven itself should not be conceived of as some kind of localized ”place”.

      In brief, according to Lutheran doctrine, it is not so that the body of Christ is omnipresent; what is omnipresent is Christ’s divine nature. However, Christ’s resurrected human body is exalted to divine glory and almighty power and is therefore not subject to natural limitations: he can will his body to be present wherever he wishes, such as behind locked doors as we are told in the gospel accounts, or such as multiple Eucharistic hosts at the same time. That does certainly not imply he chooses his body to be everywhere at once.

      Please note that the English Wikipedia article on this topic is incorrect – which is no surprise really, as the only source listed there is a Catholic encyclopedia dating from 1913.


      • February 26, 2022 @ 8:39 am Tom Cotton

        I would second the misunderstanding on ubiquity. It is true that Lutherans and Anglicans both deny the local presence of Christ’s body and blood in the supper (Luther’s great confession). That fact is what made the Wittenberg Concord possible between Lutheran and Reformed theologians. Would recommend Carey’s Meaning of Protestant Theology or Jensen’s Wittenberg Concord if any one is interested in reading more on that.


      • February 26, 2022 @ 10:44 am Dcn. Ron Offringa

        Hi Antti,

        Thank you for your reply – for whatever reason I didn’t see an email about it when you wrote it almost a month ago. I appreciate your thoughtful correction. To be clear, in my original comment I was specifically rejecting Gerhard’s articulation, which I’ve seen other confessional Lutherans also reject. I personally don’t see how what you’ve articulated is substantially different from his position, but I certainly would like to represent the Lutheran position well. I am not familiar with the Wikipedia article you mentioned (I’ve read Gerhard, Luther, and Concord, but not much else on the Eucharist in the Lutheran tradition), but it wouldn’t surprise me to find Wikipedia inaccurate.


        • March 2, 2022 @ 10:44 am Antti Saarilahti

          Thank you for your reply, Dcn. Ron. I must confess that I am not very familiar with Gerhard’s theology, but if he did insist, as you seem to say, on the presence of Christ’s body at all times in all places, that is certainly not supported by the Lutheran Confessions. Christ’s body is not present everywhere at once, but it is present in the Eucharistic bread and wine because he has so promised and is capable of fulfilling his promise.

          For my own part, I can sympathise with both parties and feel that overly intricate theories of the Eucharist tend to devolve into metaphysical sophistry that reads more into Scripture than can be proved thereby. I consider it perfectly reasonable, from an empirical point of view, to insist on merely spiritual Real Presence: because the presence in question cannot be observed by the senses in any way, the exact meaning of “physical” or “corporal” in describing it can be unclear. So if “spiritual” is just taken to mean “unseen, unheard, unsmelled, untasted, and untouched”, there is no conflict whatsoever; problems arise only when the Reformed side insists on “the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ [being] in heaven, and not here” (cf. the Black Rubric), and the faithful being “lifted up to heaven” (Calvin) in Communion, both of which seem bizarre and unhelpful tenets to cling to.

          On the other hand, it is equally reasonable to insist that in order for body and blood to be “really” present, the presence cannot be merely “spiritual”, since body and blood are evidently not things of the spirit but things of the flesh, of the physical world; and the patristic evidence in favour of the simple Lutheran/Orthodox understanding of Real Presence is quite overwhelming, as I think the Rev. Ben Jefferies convincingly showed in his three-part article “Is the Eucharistology of the Anglican Reformation Patristic?” (https://northamanglican.com/is-the-eucharistology-of-the-anglican-reformation-patristic-part-1/). But as long as the “Christ is in heaven and not here” theory is disregarded, there need not be any contradiction. Even then, I would personally be inclined to say: go ahead and believe so if you like but don’t turn it into binding dogma. The important thing, surely, is that the faithful believes he is truly partaking of the Body and Bloody of our Saviour and that this necessitates reverent consumption. If that much could be agreed on, the rest becomes just a matter of emphasis and perspective.

          On the whole, I think it is an outrage that this sort of petty squabbling was and still is an obstacle to closer unity between Anglicans and Lutherans, and so I was very delighted to read this article by Dr. Phil Anderas.


        • May 1, 2022 @ 3:18 pm Aaron Carlson

          Anglicans need to read and understand the Formula of Concord to get a full and complete view of Lutheranism. Many of their concerns with our tradition would be resolved (as the Formula exists in part to walk back the overstatements of Luther) — the resultant picture demonstrates a Lutheran Church that can comfortably sit beside the other Reformed and Reforming movements.


  2. February 4, 2022 @ 12:30 pm Kelly O'Sullivan

    Rev. Phil, thank you for sharing your thoughts. The First Book of Homilies is affirmed in the 39 Articles as containing godly and wholesome doctrine, and ends with a list of future hypothetical sermons, one of which is titled “of the due receiving of his blessed body and blood under the form of bread and wine.” Does this language suggest a Lutheran understanding of the Lord’s Supper?


    • February 6, 2022 @ 12:51 pm Jess Gunawan

      I think this is a pretty accurate state of affairs in contemporary Anglicanism seen by someone who’s got a contemporary Anglican ethos regarding things, that is, holding various beliefs in tension as long as they still can sit together under one roof. Also noted that Lutheran and Reformed folks intending to be faithful to their confessional heritage would not be very happy with the two-facedness of what the English tradition has become, when the average lay Anglican might not be too mindful of this.

      That said, can two walk together except they be agreed? Upon further reflection and consideration, although I have to say out of experience that the author is right regarding how limited options lead people to make less than ideal decisions to survive, I can’t say that it’s an ideal way of life.

      Perhaps it’s because the confession of faith I confess has been sealed with its author’s very own blood.


  3. February 5, 2022 @ 12:40 pm Jonathan McKenzie

    Rev. Phil, thank you for your through work on this article. I found you proposal to drop Article 29 to the end that the ACNA might become more confessional to be both provocitive and surprisingly compelling. Personally, I am find myself generally with Bucur, Virmgili, and Calvin on the Eucharist and I deny manducatio impiorum. I am fine with language of Christ being present in with and under the form of the elements as a consequence of sacramental union, but Christ\’s presence in the elements is only received by faith. That being said, the truth is that most of ACNA does not really affirm Article 29 and therefore ACNA as a province should either bring about conformity to Article 29 or simply make it non-binding. I think your proposal is agreeable.


    • February 5, 2022 @ 3:04 pm Jonathan McKenzie

      Actually upon further though, I do not think removing Artilce 29 is a great idea. We should remain faithful to the Anglican tradition as received


  4. February 8, 2022 @ 9:44 pm Ralph Davis

    Rather than messing with the Articles, perhaps we should just emphasize a practice Presbyterians and the Reformed have done for a very long time: Scruples.

    A Presbyterian pastor may have an issue with the very detailed Westminster Confession of Faith, so he submits his scruples to the Presbytery (in our case it would be the Bishop). If it\’s not a vital point–he\’s allowed, if the Presbytery considers it too big of a point, no. It\’s as simple as that. This way no one is asked to swear allegiance to something he doesn\’t believe.

    I looks as if functionally, this is what Anglicans already do…perhaps we should just formalize the process.


  5. February 9, 2022 @ 3:28 am S. Wesley Mcgranor

    Anglicans were never Lutheran, you just undermine our Arminianism with bookish talk like that.


  6. May 1, 2022 @ 3:30 pm Aaron Carlson

    The Lutheran view is that while Christ is ‘objectively present’ in the bread and wine as a result of the Words of Promise (manducatio oralis) and that as such, eating and drinking as acts ‘receive’ the body and blood (manducatio indignorum), there is a necessary two-fold eating that makes for the completion of the sacramental benefit: the oral eating and the eating of faith.
    The Reformed tradition has generally rejected the former (embracing soft-Zwinglianism) and reduced the sacrament entirely to the latter. Anglicanism has clearly been the heir of both approaches: affirming in either case the necessity of faith to benefit from Christ, and tolerating at different places in the Formularies both the Lutheran and Reformed approach to the oral eating. And with the moderating figure of Phillip Melanchthon having an influence in the trajectories the 17th Centuries of either Church, I don’t think the ACNA is betraying its roots.


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