A recent video clip of popular evangelical preacher Francis Chan suggests this Protestant child may be looking for his Roman mother. His statements include:
- I didn’t know that for the first 1,500 years of church history everyone saw it [the Eucharist/Lord’s supper] as the literal body and blood of Christ. And it wasn’t till 500 years ago someone popularized a thought that it’s just a symbol and nothing more. I didn’t know that!
- ...for the first time, someone put a pulpit in the front of the gathering, because, before that, it was always the body and blood of Christ that was central to the gathering.
- I say that because the Church is more divided than at any time in history...And for a thousand years there was just one church. We are so used to growing up at a time when there are literally over 30,000 Christian denominations.
It is rank falsehood to claim that “for the first 1,500 years of church history” that transubstantiation (that the bread & wine is the literal body and blood of Christ) was the universal view. This is a false even if one accepts the false notion that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church. Beginning with the Bible itself, there is no anthropophagite fetish attached to the Lord’s supper.[i] Keith Mathison successfully traces the emergence of transubstantiation to a ninth century debate between Paschasius Radbertus, the abbot of the monastery of Corbie, and Ratramnus, a theologian and monk in northern France. The popular Roman Catholic term “transubstantiation” probably cannot be found before the 11th century. The Fourth Lateran Council (Canon 1) officially adopted it as Roman dogma in 1215.[ii] The real truth is, as Nicholas Batzig writes, “Explanations about the presence of Christ in the Supper have been vast and nuanced throughout church history.” Roman apologists often cite quotes that certainly seem to produce fruit of their doings, but often lift them from their context – and further do not cite statements that will contradict their view.
When He so earnestly expressed His desire to eat the passover, He considered it His own feast; for it would have been unworthy of God to desire to partake of what was not His own. Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, “This is my body,” that is, the figure of my body. A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body. An empty thing, or phantom, is incapable of a figure… this figure of the body of Christ… He likewise, when mentioning the cup and making the new testament to be sealed” in His blood,” affirms the reality of His body. For no blood can belong to a body which is not a body of flesh… you may discover how anciently wine is used as a figure for blood…used the figure of wine to describe His blood.[iii]
Eusebius of Caesarea clearly calls the bread and wine “symbols.”
For with the wine which was indeed the symbol of His blood…bread to use as the symbol of His Body…[iv]
Other quotes might be supplied. Serious research of the early writings about the communion of the body and blood of Christ would do us well. In that research, all of us will likely find things with which to agree and things with which to disagree. Most of all, for my purpose, it will ostracize any thought that transubstantiation has always been taught and debunk any idea that only 500 years ago it began to be taught that the elements are symbols for the literal body and blood of Christ .
In the second quote, Chan is basically talking in terms of architecture, the structure of a building![v] What is at the center of the building, a pulpit or an altar. The New Testament church is not a physical building but a people. Most often they met in homes, which likely had neither of these “architectural” features. Altars and pulpits, rather, are historical developments, not inherent parts of the nature of the church. Both preaching and the Lord’s supper had their place in the New Testament and their importance should not be overlooked. They are not in competition, but complementary – especially if you don’t attach superstitious notions to them. Further, even a cursory glance at the book of Acts reveals preachers standing before people to preach God’s message.
Finally, Chan throw out a highly suspect number of Protestant denominations, along with the lie that “for a thousand years there was just one church.” There is so much wrong with this statement. The 33,000 number is bogus, as demonstrated in this article. In We Need to Stop Saying That There Are 33,000 Protestant Denominations, the Catholic author of it states, “Catholics need to stop citing this number, not only because it is outlandishly false but because it is not the point how many Protestant denominations there are.” Though I cannot endorse all in the article, a perusal of it demonstrates just how problematic is that number. I can only imagine that Francis Chan endorses Roman Catholicism as the “one church.” This is not true, even considered within the realm of the highly authoritarian offshoot of Christianity that it is. Worse, Catholicism wreaked havoc on New Testament Christianity – setting up shop with iron-handed heresy, waging war on the churches that stood for the simplicity of the gospel, “killed God’s prophets, and digged down his altars.”
For all Francis Chan’s “I didn’t knows” the fact is, “You still don’t know.” Wake up. Smell the roses. Study history, and read your Bible.
[i] After saying, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood,” Jesus explained, “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” – indicating he is speaking in a spiritual sense, not a literal physical sense.
[ii] This council also puts salvation in the “Universal (Roman Catholic) Church.”
[v] Chans “replaced the altar with a pulpit” idea seems to be a variation of the oft-repeated charge that “The reformers replaced the body of Christ with a book. The Bible was the replacement for the presence of Jesus [i.e., in the Eucharist].” See, for example, H. J. Marshall, The Church or the Bible? One was Commissioned to Teach, Boothwyn, PA: Marshall Publishing Company, 1993, p. 68.