George Kalantzis and Marc Cortez. Come, Let Us Eat Together: Sacraments and Christian Unity. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.
The basis for this book is lectures that were delivered at the 2017 Wheaton Theology Conference, by theologians with Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox backgrounds and affiliations.
The sacraments divide a lot of Christians. There are Christians who believe that the “real presence” of Christ is in the Eucharist, as the bread and the wine in some manner become the body and blood of Christ. There are other Christians who do not believe in the real presence, seeing the bread and the wine as symbolic, and the Lord’s supper primarily as a memorial service. Some Christians believe that communion should be open, offered to everyone; other Christians hold to closed communion. There are Christians who accept the baptism of infants, while other Christians deem such a baptism to be invalid, upholding the baptism of believers alone as legitimate.
A key question that looms in this book is, with all of these divisions, how can the church be one body? Some contributors, particularly some of the Catholic ones, are rather pessimistic. They believe that Catholics must not share a communion service with Protestants who reject the concept of the “real presence,” for both have radically different understandings of communion. Other contributors look for an element in their own tradition, past or present, that may permit them to build bridges with Christians who have different views. For instance, an Eastern Orthodox contributor proposes that perhaps understanding all of the mechanics of communion is not necessary for the communion to be efficacious to a believer. A Baptist states that earlier Baptists had a stronger sacramentalism than the symbolic, memorialist view of the Eucharist that Baptists later embraced, a sacramentalism that believes that God is present in the sacrament and that the sacrament conveys divine help.
In the process, this book discusses the importance of communion, as well as other topics. One essay focuses on the importance of loving the body of Christ (the church) when taking communion. Another, drawing from John Chrysostom and John Wesley, wrestles with the tension between taking communion in a state of spirituality, and taking it out of a need for Christ due to one’s inherent unworthiness. Another contribution mentions the scholarly debate about whether the risen Christ’s breaking of bread in Luke 24:30 pertains to the Eucharist; more than one contributor highlights the importance of the preaching of the Word preceding communion, as occurs in Luke 24, where Jesus opens the two men’s minds to the Scriptures, before breaking bread with them. There was a chapter about how the Lutheran emphasis on grace influenced Christian art in Italy, including the art of Catholics.
The book also had anecdotes, which personalized it, and yet the anecdotes served to raise profound questions. For instance, there was the story of one contributor, who had an idea to serve oreos and apple juice to other young Christians for communion, and the Catholic woman who later became his wife questioned that practice.
One has reason to be pessimistic that the differences within Christendom can be overcome or resolved, yet this book does well to ask if there are bridges that can be built. The book is also edifying and informative.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.