Unity is essential among Christians, but unity does not mean uniformity; and one of the most remarkable patterns in church history is that God uses his church and blesses his children even when they disagree. History’s first missionary team, Paul and Barnabas, argued over John and Mark. Wesley and Whitefield were at odds over various points of theology. And the Reformers themselves, strong-willed men, crossed swords over, among other things, the nature of the Lord’s Supper.
The Swiss Reformers, led by Ulrich Zwingli, insisted that the Lord’s Supper was a memorial service, while the German Reformers, led by Martin Luther, insisted that Christ is actually present in the consecrated bread and wine.
The conflict was so sharp that a local political leader invited the men to his castle in Marburg on October 1, 1529. In the banquet hall a long table, covered with a velvet runner, sat in the middle of the room. Before the proceedings began, Luther reportedly took a piece of chalk and, on the cloth in front of him, wrote the words, “This is my body.”
The debate raged for three days. Zwingli insisted that the verb “is” in the phrase “This is my body” should be interpreted as “represents.” Luther said, “Where in the Bible does the verb ‘is’ ever mean ‘represent’?” Zwingli showed him several places. But Luther wouldn’t budge. At the end of the three-day conference, the delegates had agreed on 14 of 15 areas of former confusion. But on the fifteenth—the Lord’s Supper—they failed to reach agreement, and the Reformers were unable to join the German and Swiss factions. As a result, Zwingli lost the support of the German princes. The five Catholic Cantons of Switzerland sent an army against him, and he died in the Battle of Kappel.
But nothing could stop the Reformers’ fire, and despite the failure of the Marburg meetings, the doctrine of justification by grace through faith spread across the continent.
During the meal Jesus took some bread in his hands. He blessed the bread and broke it. Then he gave it to his disciples and said, “Take this. It is my body.” Jesus picked up the cup of wine and gave thanks to God. He gave it to his disciples, and they all drank some. Then he said, “This is my blood, which is poured out for many people. … ” (Mark 14:22-24)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Oct. 1.