In January 1534 the Reformed Church of Basel, Switzerland published a Confession of Faith. John Calvin’s theological mentor, Martin Bucer had requested that they publish such a confession to inform the Christian World that they were not “having the Supper without Christ.”
Here is a section of their confession as it pertains to the Supper: “In the Lord’s Supper, (in which with the bread and wine of the Lord are represented and offered to us by the minister of the church the true body and blood of Christ) bread and wine remain unchanged. We firmly believe, however, that Christ himself is food of believing souls unto eternal life; and that our souls, by true faith upon Christ crucified, are made to eat and drink the flesh and blood of Christ; so that we, members of his body as of our only head, live in him as he also lives in us…”
In 1557 at the Colloquy of Worms leaders of the French speaking Reformed Churches gathered. The delegates meeting included such noteworthy Reformed theologians as William Farel, and Theodore Beza (then at Luausanne); there were also representatives from Paris, Geneva, etc…. This esteemed group also produced a confession. Let’s look at this confession's section on the Eucharist. Here we read, “We confirm that in the Supper of the Lord not only the benefits of Christ, but the very substance itself of the Son of Man; that is, the same true flesh which the Word assumed into perpetual personal union, in which he was born and suffered, rose again and ascended to heaven, and that true blood which he shed for us; are not only signified, or set forth symbolically, typically or in figure, like the memory of something absent, but are truly and really represented, exhibited and offered to us…”
They continue, “As it regards the mode now in which the thing itself, that is, the true body and true blood the Lord, is connected with the symbols…We call a sacramental mode not such as is figurative merely, but such as is truly and certainly represented under the form of visible things, what God along with the symbols exhibits and offers, namely, what we mentioned before, the true body and blood of Christ; which may show that we retain and defend the presence of the very body and blood of Christ in the Supper…”
In 1559 the French Reformed Churches their Gallic Confession. On the subject at hand they write, “For although he is now in heaven, and will remain there also till he shall come again to judge the world; we believe, notwithstanding, that through the secret and incomprehensible energy of the Spirit, apprehended by faith. He nourishes and vivifies us by the substance of his body and blood… because this mystery of our coalition with Christ is so sublime, that it transcends all our senses, and so also the whole course of nature.” And then they add, “We believe, as before said, that in the Supper, as in Baptism, God in fact, that is, truly and efficaciously, grants unto us all that is there sacramentally represented; and so we join with the signs the true possession and fruition of what is thus offered to us. We affirm, therefore, that those who bring to the Lord’s Table of a pure faith, truly receive what the signs there testify; namely that the body and blood of Jesus Christ are not less meat and drink of the soul, than the bread and wine are food of the body.”
Now let’s turn to John Knox and the Scottish Church. In 1560, under Knox’s oversight, the Reformed Church in Scotland also produced a Confession. Here is a segment from Knox and company, “We do then condemn the vanity of those who affirm that the sacraments are nothing else but mere naked signs [i.e. the view of Baptists and many (most?) Reformed/Presbyterians today]. Rather we surely believe that by baptism we are inserted into Christ, and made partakers of his righteousness, by which all our sins are covered and remitted. And also, that in the Lord’s Supper, rightly used, Christ is so united to us as to be the very nutriment and food of our souls.”
What follows is a strong denunciation of transubstantiation, and then they continue, “…in the right use of the sacrament, is effected by the operation of the Holy Ghost… who causes us to feed upon the body and blood of Jesus Christ, once broken for us and poured out, but now in heaven, appearing for us in the presence of the Father… We do notwithstanding firmly believe that the bread which we break is the communion of his body, and the cup that which we bless the communion of his blood; and so we confess that believers in the right use of the Lord’s Supper thus eat his body and drink the blood of Jesus Christ, and we believe surely that he dwells in them and they in him…”
There is a good deal more that I can add, but this will have to do for this segment. I believe most of my Reformed and Evangelical brethren will be disturbed by the content of the Early Reformed Confessions. I doubt that very many Presbyteries in the PCA would ordain someone who, when he is being examined, repeated the early Reformed statements as his own.
Many, if not most Reformed Christians today, would fit into the group that Knox and his fellow Presbyterians accuse of believing that the sacraments are no more than “naked signs.” Remember what they said of such a position? They wrote, “We do then condemn the vanity of those who affirm that the sacraments are nothing else but mere naked signs.”
The Reformed Churches today need to revisit these issues and see why they are so at odds with the early Reformers like Calvin, Farel, Beza, and Knox on the subject of the Sacraments.