Lord’s Supper, Anabaptist Interpretations
The Anabaptists, being followers neither of Luther nor of Zwingli nor of Rome, had to develop their own understanding of the ordinance of the Lord's Supper and its meaning. That it was a ceremony for the remembrance of the death of Christ brings the Anabaptists somewhat in the neighborhood of Zwingli's interpretation. But beyond that, the Brethren developed quite an original viewpoint elsewhere little appreciated in Protestant circles, which emphasized the idea of fellowship or brotherhood in connection with the Lord's Table or the Supper. It meant to the Anabaptists not only the memory of the Lord's supreme sacrifice, but also a new dedication of the idea of Gemeinschaft, that is, living and, if need be, suffering together as a fellowship of dedicated disciples. This interpretation perhaps goes back to the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:17. The eating and drinking together in a solemn meal was to them a symbol of their perfect togetherness in which the individual fuses with the group as a whole, foregoing self-will of any kind.
To illustrate this idea, the Anabaptists revived an old parable of the early church which runs somewhat as follows: "As the grain-kernels are altogether merged and each must give its content or strength (Vermögen) into the one flour and bread, likewise also the wine, where the grapes are crushed under the press, and each grape gives away all its juice and all its strength into one wine. Whichever kernel and whichever grape, however, is not crushed and retains its strength for itself alone, such an one is unworthy and is cast out. This is what Christ wanted to bring home to His companions and guests at the Last Supper as an example of how they should be together in such a fellowship" (Andreas Ehrenpreis, 1652).
The story of this parable is quite interesting. We find it for the first time in the "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" (in Greek called Didache), of about A.D. 120 when primitive Christian brotherhood was still strong in the churches of the Near East. We find the same parable again in the 63rd Epistle of Cyprian (A.D. 250). How it was handed down to the Reformation period is not known; perhaps it was through Eusebius. It is true that of a rather early date even Martin Luther quotes it in his "Sermon about the most venerable sacrament of the Holy Corpus Christi," of 1519; but obviously he could not follow up this idea when he began to develop his own new theology.
Among the Anabaptists, however, we meet it time and again. A random sampling of Hutterite literature yielded at least three references in this area: Claus Felbinger's Confession of Faith of 1560, Peter Walpot's Epistle to the "Swiss" Brethren at Modenbach on the Rhine, 1577, and also Andreas Ehrenpreis in his great Sendbrief of 1652 (printed) quotes this parable in full. In each case the Brethren wanted to emphasize that self-giving or self-denial, renunciation of self-will, for the sake of the brotherhood, is the very essence of discipleship, to which every brother should rededicate himself ever again at the solemn occasion of the Lord's Supper.
However, not only the Hutterites, but also Menno Simons taught the same ideas, perhaps drawing from the same sources as the Hutterites (Eusebius?). This is what Menno Simons had to say about the Lord's Supper: "Gelijck als dan een natuurlijck brood van veel korens in de meulen gebroocken met water gekneet/ van des vyers hittigheydt tot een broodt gebacken wordt/ alsoo wordt oock de gemeynte Christi uyt veel geloovingen/ met de meulen des Godlijcken woordts in have herten gebroken/ met dat water des Heyligen Geests/ en met dat vyer der reynder ongeverweder liefden in een lichaem gedoopt" (Krahn, 142).
It was perhaps from Menno Simons (or from some other, not yet known, tradition among the Brethren) that the Amish later borrowed this parable, to be used at their communion services. It is still used as a sermon topic (referring to 1 Corinthians 10:17) on communion Sunday. To be sure, the emphasis with the Amish is slightly different from that of the Hutterites, yet in both cases the parable is to illustrate the meaning of the meal as a symbol of a closely-knit brotherhood and as a collective rededication to the path of discipleship.
"Claus Felbinger's Confession." Mennonite Quarterly Review 29 (April 1955).
Friedmann, Robert. "The Epistles of the Hutterian Brethren." Mennonite Quarterly Review 20 (1946): 169.
Krahn, Cornelius. Menno Simons. Karlsruhe, 1936: 142.
Müller, Lydia. Der Kommunismus der mähr. Wiedertäufer. Leipzig, 1927: 66.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 394. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Friedmann, Robert. "Lord’s Supper, Anabaptist Interpretations." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 19 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/lord2019s_supper_anabaptist_interpretations.
APA style: Friedmann, Robert. (1957). Lord’s Supper, Anabaptist Interpretations. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/lord2019s_supper_anabaptist_interpretations.