In the Church there has always been controversy, and though this is very disheartening at times, it is as God has ordained things to be and we must believe that He has a reason and a purpose in all of it. Over that last twenty plus years (as a layman) I have studied many of the great controversies that have rocked and shaken the Church of Jesus Christ through the centuries.
We see in the Scriptures themselves that theological controversies have existed from the beginning, even during the times of the Apostles themselves. Of course at that time Paul, Peter, James and John, etc… could and did settle such issues. They did so either by directly addressing them personally or by coming together, discussing the problem and then rendering a verdict. They did the latter at the Jerusalem Council which was presided over by St. James.
I’ve mentioned a number of times that I have been reading the Early Church Fathers (ECF). My reading of the ECF is not a systematic thing. I have bounced around reading one from this century and another from that century. I read one who writes in Latin and then another that writes in Greek etc...
I've noticed that the Fathers do not agree on everything. They had their disagreements and controversies also. This was true of such great men as St. Augustine and St Jerome. They had a number of serious differences with one another and there are plenty other examples that can be given.
One thing that I am struck by is when I come across a topic where ECF do appear to have true universal agreement. I find this especially interesting if the issue that all the Fathers agree on is one that modern evangelicals seem to reject out of hand, and believe the issue to be not even worthy of their consideration.
The presence of Christ in the Lords Supper, which is also known as Communion or the Eucharist, is one of those topics where the ECF are in total agreement. In reading the Fathers it soon becomes clear that they all clearly believed that when they participated in the Eucharist that they were truly, in some way, partaking of Christ including his body and blood. They all believed that Christ was present in the communion meal.
The question of “how” this was so became a controversy in later centuries. But even when controversy over the means or mode by which Christ was present in the sacramental did appear on the scene, it was still universally accepted that Christ was present, the debate was over “how” and never about “if” He was present in the Supper.
During the Protestant Reformation you find that both the Lutheran and Reformed camps strongly defend the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They differed with one another on the “how” issue. Many of the Lutherans strongly attacked the Reformed position, even at times, accusing the Calvinists of denying the true presence of Christ in the Supper. The Reformed Churches and theologians responded loud and clear that they did believe that in the Supper the believer did truly partake of the true body and true blood of Jesus Christ. They also made clear that they disagreed with both the Lutherans and Roman Catholics as to how one partook of Christ, but they were very clear in defending the fact that they did believe that they believed (as did the ECF) in the literal presence of Christ in Communion.
The Anabaptist did deny that Christ was truly present in the Eucharist. They denied that the supper (and baptism) was a sacrament or even a means of grace. It was the Anabaptist who broke with all the ECF and all the Church that had existed up until that time. Sadly, modern Evangelicals, even most Reformed Evangelicals, have abandoned the historic position the Church and have adopted the radical teachings of the Anabaptist.
I count myself as being in the Reformed Evangelical camp. I am Reformed and have been a member of a Presbyterian Church for over twenty years. I’m a Calvinist and I hold to Covenant theology. I’ve read a good deal of Calvin’s writings including much of his Institutes, commentaries, tracts and his letters as well.
Many of my Reformed brethren would have a hard time agreeing with Calvin and other founders of the Reformed faith, because on the Lord’s Supper and a number of other issues most modern Reformed Christians are far removed from both the 16th century Reformed Church and the ECF as well.
On issues like the Eucharist and baptism I am much closer to John Calvin, the 16th Century Reformed Church and the ECF than I am with many of my conservative Reformed Christian brethren. I believe, like Calvin and the ECF, that when I eat the bread and drink the Communion wine I truly partake of Christ and receive grace.