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TEXT: Luke 22:19-20

SUBJECT: Heresies #6: Transubstantiation

This afternoon, with the Lord's help, we'll move along on our monthly study of heresy. A heresy-you remember-is a serious doctrinal error taught in the Church. Thus far, we've looked at five of them: Legalism, Arianism, Gnosticism, Pelagianism and Iconodulism. If you can't remember what they are, talk to me later and I'll be happy to tell you.

It seems like most heresies have long and bizarre names and the one we'll look at today is no exception: it's called Transubstantiation.


Transubstantiation is a Latin word meaning the change of substance. Something is "transubstantiated" when it is miraculously changed from one thing into another. It's not like a caterpillar turned into butterfly, but more like a caterpillar turned into a buffalo!

Theologically, it means at the Lord's Supper, the bread and wine are changed into the material body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Stupid Protestants call it magic, but that's not true or fair. People who believe in it, do not believe it's magic that effects the change, but a miracle of God.

Looked at this way, it is both possible and possibly good, for the Lord Jesus Christ once turned water into wine and can do greater things if He wants to.


The Lord's Supper was instituted by Jesus Christ just hours before the Crucifixion. It was passed on to the Church and observed for centuries before it became a disputed issue.

What did the Early Church believe about the Lord's Supper? That's hard to say, for no one wrote extensively on the subject and it wasn't put in the Creeds. Historians say the Early Church believed in Lord's Real Presence at the Table, but it did not explain what it meant by the term. The greatest thinker in the Early Church was St. Augustine, who called it a mystery.

Apparently, this satisfied the Whole Church.


Until the year 831. At that time, a French monk named Radbert published a book called On the Body and the Blood of the Lord.

Like others, he believed in the Real Presence. But he didn't leave it there. He went on to add that "real" means "material". Why he wasn't laughed at or condemned as a heretic is beyond me, for nothing is more real than God and yet, God is a Spirit and emphatically not a material being!

Radbert believed that the bread and wine at the Lord's Table are changed into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. I don't know if he used the word, transubstantiation, or not-but that is what he taught.

Shortly after his book became known, the German monk, Maurus, wrote against him. Summarizing his view, an historian says he

"Denounced the grossly materialistic views of those who say that the sacrament of the altar is truly the body and blood of Christ. To receive Christ-he asserted-is to be united to Him by faith".

In other words, the Lord is at the Table when we gather for communion, but He's not here physically. Thus, the fellowship He offers comes through your faith, not through your mouth! He affirms the Real Presence of our Lord at the Table, but says that our Lord is here spiritually, not bodily.

At first, most scholars and teachers backed Maurus. But the people went the other way. In just a few years, the teaching of Radbert became well-known and largely accepted in the Church.

Instead of leading the people, the scholars began tagging along. In two or three hundred years a very learned body of literature was produced in favor of transubstantiation and it become the dominant view in the Church, received by the people and the leaders alike. At the Council of Trent, which met between 1545-1563, it became the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and-to this day-people who don't believe it are put under the curse of God.

Most Catholics do not know this-or believe it-but it is Church dogma, which, they claim, is infallible and cannot be changed.


The Reformers-to a man-rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and the others had differences on the Lord's Supper-and some of them were big ones--but they all agreed that the Catholic teaching was heresy.

Their reason was quite simple: transubstantiation is heresy because it changes the Gospel! How? In many ways; here are the four that I think are most important:

    1. It compromises the full humanity of Jesus Christ.
    2. No Orthodox Catholic denies the full humanity of Jesus Christ. Like us, they say He's "Very God of very God and very man of very man".

      But, if this is true, how can the Lord's human body be in two places at the same time? The Bible plainly teaches that our Lord's human body is in heaven. But Transubstantiation that is it also on the altar (on many altars!) at the same time. How is this possible?

      Their answer is wrong, but clear: Because our Lord is both God and Man, His humanity shares in His Divinity. One trait of Divinity is ubiquity (or the ability to be in more than one place at a time). Thus, the Lord's human body-they say-can be both at God's Right Hand and in St. Peter's Basilica at the same time.

      If this is true, then our Lord's humanity is not quite human. And if He's not human (fully human), then He is no Savior. Hebrews 2:17:

      "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest."

      This is why John-who was so gentle most of the time-lashed out at people who watered down the Lord's humanity, II John 7:

      "For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and antichrist".

      In talking to the Jehovah's Witnesses, you know how important it is to affirm the Lord's Deity-to prove that Jesus is not a wonderful creature, but God Himself! Yet John says our Lord's other nature is every bit as important. Transubstantiation compromises a truth John says cannot be!

    3. It compromises the atonement of Jesus Christ.
    4. What did the Lord Jesus Christ do for us on the cross? Liberals would say He set a good example for us. That's true, of course, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. Our Lord went to the cross to atone for our sins. In His atonement, we have the forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, fellowship with God's people, and a place in heaven.

      The Atonement He offered for us-Hebrews 9:26 says-He did "once". The reason He died only once is because, for our salvation, once is enough.

      But transubstantiation says otherwise. The Mass is called a reenactment of the crucifixion. If they meant by that it is a visible setting of our Lord's death before us, I'd be for it. But that is not what they mean! In the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, Question 278 says,

      "The Holy Mass is one and the same sacrifice with that of the Cross, inasmuch as Christ, who offered Himself a bleeding victim on the cross to His heavenly Father, continues to offer Himself in an unbloody manner on the altar, though the ministry of His priests".

      According to the Roman Catholic Church, the Lord was crucified once on the cross and millions of times on the altar of Churches all over the world! He died as much at Corpus Christi two hours ago as He did on Mount Calvary 2000 years ago.

      This has to mean that the cross-though wonderful-was not complete. But the Bible says it was! We have a perfect atonement on the cross alone. And the doctrine of transubstantiation compromises it.

    5. It makes the Christian dependent on the Church for his salvation.
    6. The Church is a great blessing to God's people; it's a means of grace and provides a place to develop your gifts. I am deeply grateful for the Church and hope to live in it all my life. But the Christian does not receive His life in or through the Church. It comes from Christ. "In Him you are complete" said the Apostle Paul.

      But transubstantiation ties the Christian to the Church. Since salvation without the sacraments is ordinarily impossible for the Catholic, and because the sacraments are only dispensed by the Church, then it follows that the Christian depends on the Church too much for his salvation, that it breeds an unhealthy attachment to it, and a looking to it instead of to the Savior.

      At the heart of this is the so-called miracle of transubstantiation.

    7. It compromises the Word of God.
    8. The Early Church was Word-Centered. They went to church, chiefly, to be hear the reading of God's Word and to be taught what to believe and what to do. The same emphasis is found in the churches of the Reformation-Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and so on. The same is true today of churches that are faithful to their forefathers. Go into a Reformed Church and the first thing you'll see is the pulpit. Why? Because the Word of God read and preached dominates.

      But go into a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church and what will you see? You'll see the altar. Why because the Word of God is secondary in the church. And that cannot be pleasing to the Lord! For it was He-not Martin Luther-who

      "Exalted His Word above all His Name".

      Do you ever feel discouraged in talking to Evangelical Christians? I do because they're so ignorant of the Bible and doctrine and practice and so on. But if you want to feel better, go talk to a Catholic! Not a gardener or a maid, but a Catholic doctor or engineer. For the most part, these people, even if highly educated, don't know anything about their faith!

      Do you know why? Because the Word of God is not central to their life. It cannot be for-if they're devout-transubstantiation is in the way!

    9. It obscures the object of worship.

Christian worship the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, I cannot read minds and will not judge the heart of other people, but the few times I've attended Mass, it looks like the people are worshiping the wafer. The priest lifts it up, the people bow before it, and so on.

I'm not saying this is idolatry, but it sure looks that way to me. And it has to obscure the true object of worship. God has revealed Himself to us in Christ-not a wafer! But the wafer gets between the sinner and his God. And that cannot be right or safe.


Some believers are anxious to argue. Paul says stay clear of them for they do nothing but generate strife! Don't be a nitpicker; don't fuss over every little word; be kind, gentle, and more ready to listen than to speak.

But don't go to the opposite extreme either. Baptists and Presbyterian do not see eye-to-eye on the Lord's Supper. But the difference between us is a matter of emphasis: we both believe the Lord's Supper is a memorial of the Lord's death and a way of having fellowship with Him. Baptists tend to emphasize the first; Presbyterians think the second is more important. The difference is real, but minor. Talk about it? Of course, but don't divide over it.

But on the Lord's Supper, the difference between our view and transubstantiation is not a matter of words or of emphasis. The difference is real and big. You need to know that and to think, speak, and act accordingly.

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