Sacraments & Sacramentals

A Critique of William Webster’s article: The Eucharist

Steve Ray here: I have tangled with William Webster often in the past. You can read my debates with him at www.CatholicConvert.com/resources under the heading “My Books, Talks & DVDs: Reviews and Defense. Go to the end of the list.

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 3.16.44 PMBut this article, response and critique of William Webster was written by my good friend and apologist Gary Michuta. If you don’t him, it would be smart to get to know him. He is a great guy and a marvelous defender of the Catholic Faith.

William Webster, in his article “the Eucharist” attempts to pit the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Eucharist (among others) against the teaching of the early Church Fathers in regards to the substantial Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the Eucharist as a sacrifice, two doctrines that Webster rightly sees has interdependent.

This is not light reading but it is thorough and detailed. If you are interested in the foundations of our beliefs on the Eucharist as found in Scripture and the Early Church– and how Protestants try to twist the writings of the Fathers — you will thoroughly enjoy Gary’s defense.

(For more about Gary Michuta, his radio show, his books and his excellent apologetics, visit his website Hands On Apologetics)

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Webster says that:

“The Roman Catholic Church teaches that when the priest utters the words of consecration, the bread and wine are changed into the literal body and blood of Christ. He is then offered to God on the altar as a propitiatory sacrifice for sin.

The Council of Trent explicitly states that ‘in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner who once offered himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross’. There are thus two aspects of the Roman doctrine: transubstantiation, which guarantees the ‘real presence’ of Christ; and the mass, in which Christ, thus present bodily, is re-offered to God as a sacrifice.”

Before continuing, it’s important to correct Mr. Webster in that we do not believe that the bread and wine are changed into the literal body and blood of Christ, but rather that their substance is changed into the substance of Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. Hence the name “transubstantiation.” If Mr. Webster’s description were accurate, we would have flesh and blood on our altars after consecration.

My correction may seem like nit-picking, but as we will soon see the theology concerning the Eucharist is complex and at points very subtle. We are describing a supernatural reality and it requires us to use precise language. Otherwise, confusion results. Unfortunately, this is not the only time Mr. Webster fails to speak with the precision necessary for this topic.

Mr. Webster continues by arguing that since transubstantiation “is not the only view which has been expressed in a consistent way throughout the history of the Church” the Catholic position cannot be said to be that of the early Church because “the Fathers of the first four centuries reveal…[a] diversity of opinion.”

To his credit, Webster does concede that there were early Church fathers who “maintained that the elements are changed into Christ’s body and blood and that his presence is physical.” In other words, they affirmed what Trent taught. However, he argues that this was only one of several (contradictory?) opinions.

The main difficulty in Webster’s argument is that he has over-simplified what the Catholic Church actually does teach about the Eucharist, which is considerably more complex and fuller than mere Transubstantiation. The same can be said about the Eucharistic sacrifice. By presenting a stick-figure presentation of the Church’s position, he is able to present quotes from the Early Church fathers that supposedly express other views than that of the bare notion of Transubstantiation. Therefore, he wrongly concludes, the early Church did not fully agree with the Catholic position.

The best way to refute this argument is to present a fuller and more comprehensive summary of what the Church does believe about the Eucharist. Once this is done the tension that some of these quotes seem to have with Catholic teaching will disappear.

WHAT THE CHURCH ACTUALLY TEACHES AND BELIEVES

First, the Church teaches that the Eucharist is one of the seven Sacraments. What is a Sacrament? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

“The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions” (CCC 1131, emphasis added).

What’s important here is that all the Sacraments are visible signs (or symbols, if you will) instituted by Christ to give grace (his divine life). Although they are all signs or symbols, they are not merely signs or symbols; they are “efficacious signs” in that they both “signify and make present the graces” they signify. For example, the efficacious sign of Baptism is water. That is the outward sign of that Sacrament. The sign or symbol of Baptism, the washing of water, points to what the Sacrament does, namely, it cleanses us from sin.

There are two aspects to every sacrament, the outward visible sign and the inward invisible reality accomplishes. The sign or symbolic aspect of a Sacrament is very important since it points the graces that are proper to the sacrament.

This is not a new idea. The older Catechism of the Council of Trent (or the Roman Catechism) says:

“But of the many definitions, each of them sufficiently appropriate, which may serve to explain the nature of a Sacrament, there is none more comprehensive, none more perspicuous, than the definition given by St. Augustine and adopted by all scholastic writers. A Sacrament, he says, is a sign of a sacred thing; or, as it has been expressed in other words of the same import: A Sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace, instituted for our justification” (RC, Part II)(emphasis mine).

Here again, a Sacrament as a “visible sign of an invisible grace.” In regards to the Eucharist, the Catechism of the Council of Trent says:

“Besides the different significations already mentioned, a Sacrament also not infrequently indicates and marks the presence of more than one thing. This we readily perceive when we reflect that the Holy Eucharist at once signifies the presence of the real body and blood of Christ and the grace which it imparts to the worthy receiver of the sacred mysteries…”

Here the Roman Catechism spells out the two things signified by the Eucharistic elements, namely (1) the presence of the real body and blood of Christ and (2) the grace which it imparts. Webster focuses on the first part (the substantial presence), but completely ignores the second part – what the grace does or imparts to the recipient.

Therefore, we can break the teaching down into various elements:

Outward Sign Bread and Wine Signifies physical nourishment
Signifies Christ’s body and blood (death) [1]
Invisible Reality The whole Christ: body, blood, soul, and divinity. Spiritual nourishment
The substantial Presence of Christ

 

As you can see, the Eucharist is much more complex than mere Transubstantiation. We can speak about it in terms of its elements (bread and wine), their signification (food and drink, signs of figures of Christ’s body and blood), their invisible reality (Christ), and the graces that the Sacrament brings about (spiritual nourishment and the substantial presence).

Since there are many distinctions here the Church wisely adopted a more precise way of referring to the Eucharist by using the philosophical terminology of Aristotle. The outward appearances are called accidents. That which stands under the accidences is the substance. How Christ gives us his flesh and blood is called the species. The change that occurs at consecration is called transubstantiation.

By using this terminology, it is very easy to understand what is being spoken about. The problem is, however, before this terminology became standardized in the Church, the early Church fathers made use of imprecise language in which it is not always easy to understand exactly what is being referenced. It is here that Mr. Webster focuses the bulk of his attention.

[1] The separate consecration of the bread and wine signify the separation of blood from the body, namely death. This is what is meant by “proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes again” (1 Cor. 11:26) and perhaps Galatians 3:1.

For the whole article, click here.

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Pastor Bob Preaches The Word (or does he?)
By Steve Ray

Josh left Sunday services full of excitement, anxious to discuss Pastor Bob’s sermon with his sister Jennifer who had recently converted to the Catholic Church. The pastor had explained how salvation was by “faith alone” and not by rituals and works. He was anxious to discuss this with his sister; he was irked by her conversion to the “traditions of men” and “salvation by rituals.” How could she leave a Bible-believing Church to join the Catholics? Armed with Pastor Bob’s verses, he met his sister for lunch.

After ordering grilled salmon, Josh got right to the point. “Sis, I am dismayed that you have abandoned the Bible to follow Rome. Last Sunday Pastor Bob preached about Baptism right straight from the Word of God. I wish you could have heard him.” Jennifer smiled. Josh continued, “He showed how the Catholic Church ignores the Word of God.”

Josh pulled out his black leather Bible. “Baptism does not save you, Sis. Look at this verse.” After quite a few verses he turned to Genesis 15:6 which said that ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness’. “Where do you see anything about Baptism?” After listening patiently for a while Jennifer interrupted the litany of out-of-context proof texts with a sisterly word of advice.

“You know Josh, you flip through that Bible with very little regard for the context. You treat the Bible as though it were a book of numbered quotations randomly collected and unrelated to each other. Did you know that the chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original text of Scripture?” Josh was more interested in finding the next verse than in listening to Jennifer.

“Remember Josh, even in Hebrews, when quoting the Old Testament the writer says that “one has testified somewhere, saying” (e.g., Heb 2:6) because there was no easy way of refer to the passage. The Old Testament Scriptures were written on huge scrolls that had to be unrolled-just straight text with no divisions. The New Testament writings were handwritten on papyrus or parchment. For more than 1500 years verse divisions, which we take for granted, did not exist.”

“Come on Sis, what does that have to do with Baptism? Verse numbers make it easier to use the Bible. I just gave you a lot of verses that prove my view of baptism, and you give me a history lesson.”

Jennifer smiled, “My point exactly Josh! Chapter and verse divisions have made it easier to abuse the Bible since people too often view the Bible as a collection of “sayings” divided numerically into bite-sized sound bits. You are a good example-just look at your list of proof-texts about Baptism. You treat the Bible as though it were a collection of unrelated, numerically arranged sentences to pluck out at will. The Bible is actually made up of whole writings to be read in context. Remember that ‘A text without a context is a pretext’. “

“Sis, let’s get back to Baptism. How can you believe that Baptism is necessary for salvation when the Bible says we are saved by faith alone? Read John 3:16 and you’ll see that ‘whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ Do you see anything about baptism in that verse? Only faith!”

“You’re right Josh, you cannot find the word “Baptism” in that particular verse. But are you willing to set aside the practice of “proof-texting” and look at the whole context? You don’t start reading Gone with the Wind in the middle of the book and then skip around willy-nilly reading individual paragraphs do you? Of course not! Then why misuse the Bible that way. Let’s stop for a minute and look at the whole picture-what is St. John saying in context?”

Josh protested, “Jennifer, I have more verses about salvation by faith without mentioning baptism than you have that mention Baptism.” “Really,” said Jennifer, “so you feel we can ignore verses-cut them out-if they don’t fit our theology to balance the verses that do? Come on Josh, that’s not honest. Jesus doesn’t divide it into either faith or baptism. as you do; rather, He proclaims salvation through both faith and baptism. Don’t divide what God puts together. Let’s take a look at what the New Testament actually says.”

Josh agreed and they sat for almost an hour reading the text of St. John and comparing it with the other New Testament writings. Fortunately for us, they took good notes which we are able to pass on to you. Let’s see what they discussed.

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Biblical Context:

John 3: What does one have to do to avoid perishing and gain eternal life (Jn 3:16)? How are faith and sacraments both necessary, not mutually exclusive (CCC 161; 1236)? How does one become a child of God (Jn 1:12-13)? How does Jesus explain birth from God to Nicodemus (Jn 3:3)? What must take place for one to “see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3)? How does Nicodemus misunderstand Jesus (Jn 3:4)? In order to be “born from above”, what two elements are necessary (Jn 3:5; CCC 720; 1215)? Does Jesus describe “faith alone” as the means of New Birth (Jn 3:5)? How does the Catholic Church continue Jesus’ teaching (CCC 1238; 1257)?

All of John: What had previously happened to Jesus that was still fresh on the mind of Jesus’ listeners and John’ readers (Mk 1:9-1; Jn 1:29-34)? How were “water” and “Spirit” involved in Jesus’ baptism? After speaking with Nicodemus about being born again through Baptism, what does Jesus begin doing immediately (Jn 3:26; 4:1)? What did “believers” in Jesus do to obey Him and be born again (Jn 4:1)? How does this “framework” of John three explain St. John’s meaning about being born again, believing, and being baptized? (For more on the context of St. John, see Crossing the Tiber.)

The New Testament: How does Peter conclude the first Gospel message (Acts 2:38)? Does he mention “water” and “Spirit”. What did Ananias tell Paul to do after Jesus confronted Paul-when were his sins washed away (Acts 22:16)? How does Paul later describe this experience of “water and Spirit” (Titus 3:5; CCC 1215)? According to Peter, what saves us now (1 Peter 3:21; CCC 1219)? What does Mark say (Mk 15:16)? How would the Jews have understood the Prophets on this matter (Ez 36:25-27)? Is context important (CCC 109-114)?

For more on this, see my article “Are You Born Again?”

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Context from History and the Fathers and even Martin Luther

Historical Note on Chapter Divisions: Archbishop Stephen Langton (d. 1228). Verse divisions: Robert Stephens in 1551. First Bible with chapter and verse divisions: 1555 edition of the Latin Vulgate.

 Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)
“Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life” (On Baptism).

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)
“Now this heresy of yours does not receive certain Scriptures; and whichever of them it does receive, it perverts by means of additions and diminutions, for the accomplishment of it own purpose; and such as it does receive, it receives not in their entirety; but even when it does receive any up to a certain point as entire, it nevertheless perverts even these by the contrivance of diverse interpretations. Truth is just as much opposed by an adulteration of its meaning as it is by a corruption of its text” (Prescription against Heretics, 17).

Justin Martyr (martyred AD 165)
“They are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father . . . and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’. . . . And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles” (First Apology).

Origen (c. 185-254)
“Let us remember the sins of which we have been guilty, and that it is not possible to receive forgiveness of sins without baptism.”

Origen
“The Church received from the Apostles the tradition [custom] of giving Baptism even to infants. For the Apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine mysteries, knew that there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit.

St. Augustine (354-430)
“Who is so wicked as to want to exclude infants from the kingdom of heaven by prohibiting their being baptized and born again in Christ?” (On Original Sin).

Martin Luther
“This fountain might well and properly be understood as referring to Baptism, in which the Spirit is given and all sins are washed away” (Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan [St Louis: Concordia, 1973], 20:331).

 Martin Luther
“If the world last long it will be again necessary, on account of the different interpretations of Scripture which now exist, that to preserve the unity of the faith we should receive the Councils and decrees [of the Catholic Church] and fly to them for refuge” (Letter to Zwingli).

Catechism of the Catholic Church
“In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention , the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current· Be especially attentive ‘to the content and unity of the whole Scripture.’ Different as the books which comprise it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan·” (110, 112).

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Cross vs. Crucifix

by Steve Ray on February 11, 2019

(A letter Steve wrote to an Evangelical friend asking for an explanation of the Crucifix)

Dear Protestant Friend:

41QrxFhjYrL._SY300_QL70_You display a bare cross in your homes; we display the cross and the crucifix. What is the difference and why? The cross is an upright post with a crossbeam in the shape of a “T”. A crucifix is the same, but it has Christ’s body (corpus) attached to the cross. As an Evangelical Protestant, I rejected the crucifix—Christ was no longer on the cross but had ascended to heaven. So why do I now tremble in love at the site of a crucifix? Let’s examine the history and issues surrounding the two.

I will start with the Old Testament and the Jews’ use of images and prohibition of idols. I know in advance that it is not a thorough study, but it will give a general overview of the issues. I will try to provide a brief overview of the Cross and the Crucifix, the origin, the history, and the differing perspectives of Catholic and Protestant. It will try to catch the historical flow and include the pertinent points. The outline is as follows:

  1. The Three Main Protestant Objections to the Crucifix
  1. Images and Gods in the Old Testament
  1. Images and Images of Christ in the New Testament
  1. The Cross in the First Centuries
  1. The Crucifix Enters the Picture
  1. The “Reformation” and Iconoclasm
  1. Modern Anti-Catholics and the Crucifix
  1. Ecumenical Considerations

The Three Main Protestant Objections to the Crucifix

Let me begin by defining “Protestant” as used in this article. First, it is used to describe the first Reformers who tore down crucifixes and crosses in the first years of the Reformation; and second, it refers to general American Evangelical-type Protestants. Granted there are many Anglican and “high” Lutherans and others that do not object to the crucifix or other Christian symbolism. With that behind us, let’s begin.

71Xt231pY2L._SL1500_The first major objection of the Protestant regarding the crucifix (an image of Christ on the cross) is that Christ is no longer on the cross–He is risen. I was raised with this observation and my friend would ridicule the Catholic traditions. My friend also challenged us when we first became Catholics, commenting, “We serve a risen Christ, not one that is still on the cross.” Unfortunately for them, since childhood my mother had valued her beautiful Christmas crèche scene. I asked the obvious: “Do you serve the risen Christ or one still in the manger?” (I also had to comment on the cute little statue of Our Lady standing over the plastic baby Jesus, along with the animals.)

Second, Protestants see the image of Christ on the cross as a violation of the command to make no graven image. The Reformers were big on this. Protestants now utilize plain crosses in their “churches,” on their walls, and around their necks, just as they have pictures of Jesus (always with soft skin and melodrama) on their walls. (I was raised with this feminine Jesus presiding, ever so romantically, over our dinner table.

After spending time in the Holy Land, driving through the Judean wilderness, and ascending Mount Tabor, which he and his disciples frequented, I doubt he was so dainty and delicate; he probably had calves like a bear and smelled a bit like one as well.) However, at the turn of the last century, the Protestant churches (excluding Lutheran) were still pretty much opposed to displaying of the cross, even the bare cross. The bare cross was not in wide use until recently, though current Protestants don’t know their own history on the matter and that their predecessors opposed it as much as they did the Crucifix.

Third, they object to the Crucifix because it is Catholic and to condone or display the Crucifix is to make a statement in favor of Catholicism. No one of “Reformed” persuasion would want to be identified as a Catholic. A bare cross seems to be generic, which is what most Protestants like–generic Christianity–with no history to criticize or Church to obey.

Images and Gods in the Old Testament

Since the people in olden ages worshiped idols made of earthly materials [Endnote 1], God forbade the children of Israel to possess such “gods”. “Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God’” (Ex 20:1-3).

To read this whole 14-page article, click here.

To read Steve’s other articles, click here.

For Steve’s talk “The Pain of the Crucifixion,“ click here.

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Steve Ray on the Seven Sacraments

January 12, 2019

Have you ever wondered about the Biblical roots for the sacraments? Let these talks from Steve Ray be your map to discover the connection between the Sacraments and Sacred Scripture. In this brand new informative and inspiring series, Steve Ray walks through the Seven Sacraments and why they are necessary for our salvation. Using Biblical and historical […]

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Is the Mass a Sacrifice?

December 6, 2018

St. Paul mentions three sacrifices in 1 Corinthians 10:15-21 (see below). He compares the Sacrifice at the Mass with the sacrifice of the Jews and of the pagans. He even uses the phrase “table of the Lord” which is a technical term for an altar of sacrifice in the Old Testament (Malachi 1:7, 12). The […]

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Do the Church Fathers Teach the Eucharist is a Symbol and Not the Real Presence?

October 14, 2018

Today we are in Capernaum where Jesus said: “Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood.” I thought it appropriate that I post this challenge today. A man sent a challenge saying “the Fathers of the Church limited the Eucharist to a symbol and therefore it is NOT the Real Presence of Christ.” Is that true? My […]

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Do the Sacraments Need A “Digestive Juice”?

October 13, 2018

At a recent conference, I mentioned that when we eat we need digestive juices in order to make our food do for our bodies what it was intended to do. I said sacraments are the same. The digestive juice of the sacraments is faith. A listener honestly and respectfully questioned my comments. She asked her […]

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Can Relics and Sacramentals Relay the Power of God?

October 11, 2018

Some might claim that Catholic teaching on relics and Sacramentals is unbiblical. Really? Check out these biblical passages: “So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face CLOTHS or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came […]

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Who Says the Mass is a Sacrifice?

October 9, 2018

Who Says the Mass is a Sacrifice? Jimmy Swaggart (making a foolish and unhistorical claim): “The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is, without question, one of the most absurd doctrines ever imposed on a trusting public…  Roman Catholic errors are inevitably human innovations that were inserted into the church during the early centuries. This teaching on […]

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My Thoughts While Waiting In Line for Confession

September 2, 2018

My wife and I went to confession yesterday. The line was pretty long (which was good to see, though I hate lines :-)  As I sat and waited it struck me again that the Church is not just a loose association of like-minded followers of Jesus. It is not just “Jesus and me” as we […]

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The Eucharist and the Fathers of the Church: Article by Steve Ray

August 12, 2018

The Eucharist and the Fathers of the Church, by Steve Ray The word “Eucharist” was used early in the Church to describe the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. Eucharist comes from the Greek word for “thanks” (eucharistia), describing Christ’s actions: “And when he had given thanks, he broke […]

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Multiplication of Loaves a Miracle or Just a Lesson in Sharing?

July 29, 2018

When confronted with this at Mass a while ago I wrote a letter to the priest which became an article in Catholic Answers Magazine. Article HERE. The priest said there was no miracle when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. All he did was teach selfish people to share and they pulled extra loaves and fish from […]

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Free Sacraments Chart

June 19, 2018

Free Sacraments Chart by Steve Ray  Want to know all about the Sacraments in a handy, short reference format? Download this link and print out your own 2-page chart — Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. It gives you references from the Bible and the Catechism. This chart was made to go with my 7 talk series […]

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Was Baptism Instituted Before or After Jesus’ Death and Resurrection?

May 25, 2018

The other day a friend wrote and asked a question. It was an interesting question. “Is the answer to this that in the earlier examples, only the disciples did the baptizing and John is using a Hebraic figure of speech such that his disciples did them in his name and by his authority? If so, […]

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My Updated Article on Infant Baptism

May 2, 2018

Even among Evangelical Protestants there is much debate about Infant Baptism. My old Baptist tradition rejected it as a Catholic tradition of men. Dr. Francis Schaeffer, my favorite Evangelical Presbyterian theologian wrote a booklet entitled Infant Baptism in favor of the practice – my wife Janet was raised Presbyterian and baptized as an infant. It […]

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Why Can’t Evangelicals See the Eucharist?

April 24, 2018

I was recently asked why Evangelicals cannot see the Eucharist and Real Presence in the Bible. This person said that when they read the Bible it seems so clear — especially John 6 where Jesus says “Unless you eat my Flesh and drink my Blood . . .” and at the Last Supper when he […]

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