The Methodists and The Real Presence

Do Methodists believe in the real presence?

Today? I don’t know, but John Wesley was a firm believer in the Real Presence.

I briefly attended a Methodist church and became an official member for some 8 months, during my unfortunate foray away from the Church. As far as I am aware, United Methodists do not believe in the Real Presence. I attended the contemporary service with my then GF, and the minister there used Hawaiian bread for what they called the “Lord’s Supper.” They made a point of telling that all were invited, no matter what your background or religious leanings were. They then let folks take home the leftover bread if they wanted it.

It depends. Some of their eucharistic prayers certainly suggest a belief in the real presence of Christ. Also, Gary if correct-John Wesley was a strong believer in the real presence, and I know from my 5 years at Duke Divinity School (on of the seminaries of the United Methodist Church) that there are some Methodists today who strongly believe in the real presence. On the other hand, some do not believe in the real presence.

They seem to believe in a mystical real presence. It is unclear if they accept a physical real presence like Lutherans or a spiritual real presence like Presbyterians. I know they use grape juice instead of wine.

I wondered this, too. My daughter (age 7) hours to church with her father at a United Methodist Church. But she sometimes attends Mass with me. She asked why she couldn’t take Communion at my church. And I exclaimed why, along with a but of a talk on real presence. I told h her I didn’t think her church believed in real presence, too. She came home from her father’s church the next week and said her Sunday School teacher said they do. Everyone hours to Communion at her church. I got curious and I found this:
" Do United Methodists believe the communion elements actually become the body and blood of Christ? “No, we believe that the change is spiritual. They signify the body and blood of Christ for us, helping us to be Christ’s body in the world today, redeemed by Christ’s blood. We pray over the bread and cup that they may make us one with Christ, “one with each other, and one in service to all the world.” (United Methodists and Communion brochure)" from
There is another paragraph that uses the phrase “real presence” but clearly they don’t believe in the elements actually becoming the body and blood. At least, this woulda seem to indicate the belief in a symbolic presence to them.

Also, please excuse typos. Using my phone and still getting used to swype. Hopefully you got the gist. “Goes” not “hours”; “explain” not “exclaim” etc.

As I previously stated, it depends. From my past experience in the United Methodist Church, and five years at Duke University Divinity School, I can tell you that some hold to a spiritual presence like you find in the Reformed tradition, and some believe very strongly that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ.

I grew up Methodist and I have to say I believed it was “real” for want of a better term. I remember being asked to be a Communion server a few years ago and really felt unworthy. Then my husband and I did it and he as a then fallen away Catholic really was freaked out. Investigating why was the road to the Church for me and I remember actually crying to God last year that I never knew what we were doing was anything less than His body and blood and accepting what the Eucharist really is was the absolute turning point of no return for me in terms of staying Protestant. As I went through RCIA I stopped taking communion in the Methodist church and now I no longer attend at all. Now my husband and I are Catholics and he is not freaked out anymore:)



Raised a Methodist and confirmed in it as a teen, Methodists do not believe in the real presence as the Catholic Church defines it. Since John Wesley was an Anglican Priest, the liturgical Anglican form that some churches still have may give it an appearance of a real presence but it is not. We did not receive communion until confirmed and they only had a communion service once a month. This was in the United Methodist church. I am not that familiar with Free Methodists but they are much more conservative than United and would probably view it as a memorial. United Methodists really don’t any more have clear stated doctrines and are all over the place. The religious director when I was confirmed opening did not believe in the Virgin Birth. Things were all over the place!

As I have already stated above twice, there are indeed some Methodists who believe in the real presence of Christ in the elements of bread of wine. In fact, there are some who actually believe in transubstantiation. I know this to be the case because I spent five years as a student at Duke University Divinity School (where the majority of students are Methodist) and encountered a number of classmates who hold this belief.

Sorry, but it really doesn’t matter whether they believe or not, bottom line is that they don’t have it.

An interesting page from the site of The Methodist Church of Great Britain:

This is what the United Methodist Church site has to say about the Real Presence:
Article XVIII—Of the Lord’s Supper

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death; insomuch that, to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine in the Supper of our Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshiped.

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.were

The Wesley’s were influenced by John Calvin and belonged to the Low Church Branch of the Church of England. What you believe about The Person of Christ influences how you believe in the Lord’s Supper and if that is wrong, then you will fall into the Zwingli camp where it is nothing more than a memorial meal or into John Calvin’s camp where Christ’s physical Body is confined to Heaven and can’t be everywhere at the same time. When the Calvinist partake of the Lord’s Supper, it is a spiritual eating and their souls ascend to Heaven to eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood.

The Wesley’s were influenced by John Calvin, specifically on views of the Eucharist? That’s news to me. You should check out some of their eucharistic hymns. They make it clear that they believed in the real presence of Christ in the eucharist.

Ryan, the UMC statement, like most reformed statements, is thoroughly Calvinistic in its understanding of the real presence. You have to be careful to read between the lines when statements are made about it. When someone who is reformed says “real presence,” it’s not the same as what Catholics, Orthodox, and Lutherans mean by real presence. They don’t believe the elements are changed at all. Even though Wesley was Arminian, Arminians still follow a reformed understanding of the sacraments.

I understand the difference between the Calvinist understanding of real presence (Calvin believed that the body of the risen Christ is located only in heaven, and that in the eucharist, the body of Christ on earth-the community of believers-is joined to the body of the risen Christ in heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit) and Catholic, Orthodox, or Lutheran understanding, in which the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Furthermore, I was not speaking of the UMC statement, but of the eucharistic teachings of John and Charles Wesley. However, I do stand corrected.

According to Lawrence Hull Stookey, the Wesley brothers were influenced by Calvinist understandings of the eucharist, but also by Lutheran understandings. An analysis of “O the depth of love divine” shows multiple dimensions of their eucharistic beliefs.

  1. O the depth of love divine, th’unfathomable grace!
    Who shall say how bread and wine God into us conveys!
    How the bread His flesh imparts, how the wine transmits His blood,
    Fills His faithful people’s hearts with all the life of God!

In this first stanza, you can see that the elements of bread and wine are understood to impart the body and blood of Christ. Please notice that I’m not claiming that the Wesley’s taught transubstantiation-it is well known that they did no. They did not believe that the substance of the bread and wine were changed (as the second stanza reveals); nevertheless, they understood the consecrated bread and wine somehow to convey Christ’s body and blood.

  1. Let the wisest mortals show how we the grace receive;
    Feeble elements bestow a power not theirs to give.
    Who explains the wondrous way, how through these the virtue came?
    These the virtue did convey, yet still remain the same.

Here, according to Stooky, Wesley is asserting that not even the wisest among us can explain how it is that the bread and wine impart grace, yet, in some mysterious way they do.

  1. How can spirits heavenward rise, by earthly matter fed,
    Drink herewith divine supplies and eat immortal bread?
    Ask the Father’s wisdom how: Christ Who did the means ordain;
    Angels round our altars bow to search it out, in vain.

Here, the Calvinist influence is seen, epecially in the first line.

  1. Sure and real is the grace, the manner be unknown;
    Only meet us in thy ways and perfect us in one.
    Let us taste the heavenly powers, Lord, we ask for nothing more.
    Thine to bless,’ tis only ours to wonder and adore.

Here, Wesley emphasizes that the sacrament is and sure means of grace, but he also emphasizes the mystery. Also, the third lines reference to “taste the heavenly powers” suggests a Calvinist strain.

So, those who are asserting Calvinist influences in Wesley’s eucharist thought are indeed correct. However, Wesley’s eucharistic beliefs were not determined entirely by Calvin. The first stanza of this hymn clearly demonstrates the belief that the elements of bread and wine impart to the communicant the body and blood of Christ. Transubstantiation? No, because in this system, the bread and wine remain bread and wine. However, they are not merely bread and wine (so, there is some sort of change that occurs), for they impart the body and blood of Christ.

That is the trick of Calvinism, the details are in the wording, they say the Real Presence but it is a spiritual eating. Their belief is that Christ’s physical Body ascended to Heaven and is confined there and only His Spirit can come to earth.

No Tricks. I am Methodist and have always been taught the REAL spritual presence of Christ in the elements of the Lords Supper. I am proud to say that all christians are welcome to the Lords Table.

Peace, JohnR

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