The PCA’s debate on Intinction

A few weeks ago, at the General Assembly an overture was passed that if validated by 2/3 of the presbyteries will outlaw the practice of communion by intinction. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, intinction is when you dip the bread into the wine. I was strongly opposed to this overture. I personally support intinction and if I was planting a church it is highly likely this would be the mode of communion used. While on the floor for debate and since then on “the internets” debate has gone on over the merits (or demerits) of intinction.


For the most part the debate has been civil. There has been little name-calling and motive-judging. There has even been a minimum of “strange fire” references, though Uzzah has come up pretty frequently. Some of the strongest frustration with the intinction crowd have been voiced over at a blog called Green Baggins. Some of the best debate has taken place in the comments section of Vintage '73. I never really knew about V73 until this debate came up.

The debate seems to be shaping up along these lines. Those against the practice are careful to point out that Jesus command was to “eat” and to “drink”. Wanting to be careful observers of Christ words, they insist that dipping fails to meet the test of “drinking”. Those opposed to intinction will often then point to not only Jesus actions recorded in the gospels, but also to the repeated use of the phrase “eating and drinking” in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. This is, I will admit a strong argument. If you want a fuller picture of the argument, I recommend the Ohio Presbytery study committee's report and the response to it.

Those who want to defend intinction have put forth a few arguments thus far, a few of which are good, but probably aren't going to change anyones mind. Often, defenders of intinction will jump to the atomistic reading of the Lord's Supper texts and point out that no one else's practices are perfect either. They point out the substitution of grape juice for wine and the various types of bread used. This is true, but pointing out others inconsistencies isn't, ultimately, going to get anywhere in the long run. The argument's about the “common cup” largely fall into this same category. Some argue the practical nature of intinction, which is nice, but quickly is dismissed as practicality trumping Standards. Some other folks oppose the overture, citing the fact that this should fall under the category of things that the Bible is indifferent to (also called adiaphora). This is often met with loud cries of “are you saying the sacraments don't matter?!?” This often sidetracks the argument.

I would like to suggest a different argument in favor of intinction. I am not suggesting that it is adiaphora or practically beneficial. I would like to suggest that intinction is, in fact, biblically and confessionally a good form of the Lord's Supper. (Just a side note, I am working off of the paradigm the PCA currently uses allowing both pouring and sprinkling as normative means of baptism [BOCO 56]. Each of these different sacramental actions pictures a different nuance of baptism, and yet both are normative) A lot of attention has been paid to the “eat the bread and drink the cup” portions of the words of institution. I would like to suggest that more emphasis needs to be paid to the “Do this in remembrance of Me” part of the sacrament. Whenever we take communion we are proclaiming the Lord's death until His return. A separate bread and cup do a fine job calling to mind the last supper and the future marriage supper of the Lamb. However, when it comes to remembering the death of our Lord, intinction is a superior sign. A bloody sop of bread is a vivid and nearly gruesome reminder of the broken body and poured out blood of our Savior. Remember WLC 163 says that part of the sacrament is a “sensible sign”. See-Smell-Taste-Touch-Hear. Intinction is a strong, if not stronger than traditional “passing plate” communion, sensible sign. Ultimately Jesus was not commanding us to particularly remember the last supper when we take of the Lord's Table, He was commanding us to remember his death, which stands as short hand for his entire ministry on our behalf.


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About futonreformer

I am a pastor in the PCA serving in Myrtle Beach, SC. I am a sixth generation Tampa native and I love the Rays and Bucs!

3 responses to “The PCA’s debate on Intinction”

  1. greenbaggins says :

    Interesting thoughts. I am Lane Keister (Green Baggins), by the way, in the same Presbytery as you are. Here is my question for you: if intinction is a superior way of showing Christ’s death, then how come Jesus didn’t do it that way? The Scripture clearly says “AFTER supper, Christ took the cup.” They are two distinct acts, are they not?

    • futonreformer says :

      Hey Lane,

      We’ve met a couple of times, I have enjoyed reading Green Baggins since you came into the presbytery. I actually stumbled across it while googling you at your exams. Thanks for the thoughts and thinking together on this!

      As far as the superior sign goes, it may be helpful for me to unpack that statement a bit. I think that intinction is a superior sign of the death of Christ. I also think that separate bread and cup are a superior way of remembering the last supper and the future supper. This is where my analogy to baptism comes in. We, in the PCA, allow for both pouring and sprinkling as normative means of administrating the sacrament of Baptism. Each of these shows an aspect of baptism in a clearer way than the other. Pouring and it’s correspondence to the coming of the Holy Spirit; sprinkling and its correspondence to the washing away of our sins.

      I agree whole-heartedly that Christ took the bread and cup separately. Which is why when I serve communion, each element is explained, set apart from its common use and prayed for on its own. What I am suggesting is that we put this not in the category of adiaphora, but in the category of acceptable sacramental action like pouring. I don’t think every church should use intinction, just like not everyone baptizes using pouring.

  2. Will Parker says :

    I think you have focused in on the two critical elements of the debate. The notion of “sensability” is important as it is crucial to satisfying the “do this in remembrance of Me” imperative in the Scriptures. While I have no passion for the practice of intinction, I am passionate about preserving its “legality” according to our standards as a most satisfactory mode of receiving the sacrement. The notion of sensability is not something that we talk about much at the congregational level. It is a shame because this is a great tool in preventing the Lord’s Supper from becoming an empty memorial that simply involves our memory but not our experience.

    Not to jump from debate to debate but this is my primary reason for preferring actual wine as opposed to the “fruit of the vine” grape juice. A sip of grape juice is a sweet generally pleasant experience. It lacks the bite of first century wine that would have evoked a sense of the bitterness of the cross. I think we lose something in our experience of the Lord’s Supper with grape juice and yes, I do believe that there is a subjective experiential element to the practice.

    It bothers me to see such debates degenerate into silliness as it is suggested that the liquid element ceases to be drunk simply because it has been in contact with the solid element. Has a transformation taken place? What if the bread is placed in the mouth and not swallowed before taking the wine? Is there confusion of the elements in the mouth at this point? Are we eating or drinking? Perhaps we should have an overture at GA that would establish the minimum time interval between eating and drinking to ensure that no confusion of the elements takes place. Maybe we should pass out tooth picks between the elements. I am being obviously silly but it seems I have company…

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