The Tetrapolitan Confession

 Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Matthew 26:26-28

What do we believe? Often is the case that a Christian must not only know the doctrinal peculiarities of his own church but also how those doctrines differ from those of other churches. As it pertains to The Lord’s Supper, there are four distinctive theological views: Catholic, Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Reformed.

Catholics believe in Transubstantiation. In this view, when the bread and wine are blessed, they transform and literally become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Lutherans believe in Consubstantiation. They teach that the elements in the supper do not change, but that Christ is physically present “with (con-), in, and around” the bread and wine.

Zwinglians believe in Memorialism. Many denominations teach that the elements in The Supper are symbols which only recall the person and work of Christ.

Calvinists (Presbyterians, Reformed) believe in Suprasubstantiation. While the bread and wine are unchanged and symbolic, the receiver of the elements is lifted by the Holy Spirit into the presence of Christ in heaven and feeds on Him by faith.

While three of these positions are referred to by their patriarchal proponent, all four could just as easily be associated with the city out of which they arose. Those respective cities are Rome, Wittenberg, Zurich, and Strasbourg. When one thinks of Calvin’s ministry, the first city that comes to mind is Geneva. However, the first written expression of what has come to be known as the “Calvinist” or “Reformed” view of the Lord’s Supper was made by theologians from Strasbourg, France.

The Tetrapolitan Confession was an attempt by Martin Bucer and others to create concord between Lutherans and Zwinglians through “a middle way”. They represented four cities (hence the name of the confession) in southern Germany which had become bastions of Reformation: Constance, Memmingen, Lindau, and Strasbourg (modern day France). Written and presented to Emperor Charles V in 1530, the confession was the earliest attempt of “The Reformed Church” to answer the question “What do we believe?” For nearly a decade, individual leaders had defined many important doctrines and created consensus around their teachings. However, as one can clearly witness from church history, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli could not come to an agreement on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper and five centuries later, neither have their children.

In a few days, a group from the church of which I am the pastor will travel a mere two hours south to visit Strasbourg. While there, we will take a “Reformation Tour” and spend some time in Europe’s oldest Christmas market. It would be naïve to believe that the theology and faith of the Reformers are imprinted on the city of Strasbourg any more than Jesus’ faith was imputed to Jerusalem. By calling and vocation it is, perhaps, incumbent upon me to encourage those who visit Strasbourg (or even dream about doing so) to do more than recall the Reformation. Instead, let us all “remember” Jesus!

For further study on the importance of Strasbourg and the Reformation:

The Tetrapolitan Confession

Theologian for the Ages: John Calvin

John Calvin: Father of the Reformation

Martin Bucer: The Protestant Melting Pot

Strasbourg: In the Steps of Calvin (tour of the city)

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