There are four primary views of the Lord’s Supper:

Transubstantiation (Roman Catholic view)

This is the view that the bread and wine are miraculously changed into the body and blood of Christ at the consecration of the elements by an ordained priest. The substance of the bread and wine are no longer present. Thus, the substances change, but the accidents (i.e., the appearances to the senses) remain as bread and wine.The 4th Lateran council (1215) defined 7 sacraments, and transubstantiation.

Consubstantiation (Lutheran view)

In this view, Christ is present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. When we receive the elements we literally receive Christ. This isn’t transubstantiation because the substance is not transformed into the body and blood of Christ but the substance of the body and blood of Christ is added to the elements. So, the substance of the body of Christ is received “with” the substance of the bread.

These first two views could be termed the “substantial presence” view.

Memorialism (or, Symbolic Presence view)

Although normally associated with Baptist’s, Zwingli was a proponent of it. Zwingli was greatly concerned with idolatry and he believed transubstantiation leads to idolatry. The error of idolatry is to focus on earthly things, not heavenly things. He believed the focus of the medieval church was on the elements of the Eucharist and the altar/priests instead of heaven/Christ. Zwingli wanted to get rid of the idea that Christ is miraculously called down to the altar and re-sacrificed and instead he wanted to stress the ascension of Christ. Therefore, the emphasis should be upon Christ as risen, ascended and seated at the right hand of the Father.

Zwingli held the Lord’s Supper as a memorial. It is a sort of pledge of allegiance. We receive the Lord’s Supper by faith. We exercise our faith by remembering Christ and by resting in his accomplished work. We thus testify to the world that we belong to Him.

Luther and Zwingli debated about the Lord’s Supper in writing and finally met at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529. Here Luther and Zwingli agreed on 14 articles of doctrine. They disagreed on point 15: The Lord’s Supper.

The fifteenth point reads:

“Although we are not at this time agreed, as to whether the true Body and Blood of Christ are bodily present in the bread and wine, nevertheless the one party should show to the other Christian love, so far as conscience can permit, and both should fervently pray God almighty, that, by His Spirit, He would confirm us in the true understanding.”

So while disagreeing, Luther and Zwingli did agree that Transubstantiation was wrong and that the Mass was not a sacrifice. They also believed that both bread and wine should be given to communicants as well as the need for every Christian to partake spiritually of the body and blood of Christ.

However, they disagreed concerning the bodily presence of Christ.

Most Baptist’s are associated with the memorial approach to the Lord’s Supper. The Anabaptist’s of the Reformation period emphasized the presence of Christ in the “body” of believers. Therefore, the presence of Christ was not viewed in a sacramental manner but as the congregation expressing Christ’s presence in His body and thus was a remembrance of Christ and also a celebration of the unity of the church brought about by Christ’s death. 

Spiritual Presence (Or, Dynamic Presence view)

John Calvin held that the meaning of the Lord’s Supper can be found in the understanding that we are nourished spiritually by Christ just as our bodies are nourished by the visible signs of the bread and wine. There is a real union of Christ with believers that is demonstrated in the believer’s participation in the Lord’s Supper. Calvin believed that the Lord’s Supper was more than just a memorial, but would not agree with Luther regarding the physical presence of Christ around the elements. But the bread and wine represent the invisible food that we receive from the flesh and blood of Christ.