As I have watched the intinction debates unfold, both on the floor of General Assembly and in cyberspace since then, it has seemed that often times, both sides are talking past or around each other. So I created this chart that may be helpful in the discussion.
The area marked “1” is the physical stuff of communion. Things like do we use wine or juice. What counts as bread and what doesn’t. Gluten-free? Should we use a common cup or many cups. How should the table be set. The PCA has a huge diversity of practice in this area. Almost every church, for practicality or theology, does this differently.
The area marked “2” could be called sacramental action. How do we distribute and take the elements. Do we come forward or stay seated? Do we pass plates? Do we take the bread and wine separately or use intinction? This is where the debate currently lies in the PCA. The top line in the chart corresponds to a traditional means of taking communion. The bottom represents intinction.
The red lenses on the boundary between “2” and “3” represent the signs themselves as we receive them. In the case of the top line, a separate bread and cup. In the case of the lower line, bread dipped in wine.
The final area, “3” is the thing that the sacrament points to. In the case of the top line, it points directly to the last supper (and by extension the eschatological feast). When we take communion this way we can easily remember the way Jesus dined with His disciples on the night on which he was betrayed. This form of communion then only points to the cross by extension. On the other hand intinction symbolizes the cross, where we are reminded of Christ’ blood soaked body. We are secondarily pointed back to the last supper.
The debate, thus far is all about area “2” and our sacramental action. The difficulty is that a number of folks, myself included when I first realized there was even a question about this, accuse those who stand against intinction of an inconsistently atomistic reading of the text. They argue, it says “drink”; intinction isn’t drinking (an area 2 argument). Others respond, it says “wine”; why do you use juice? (an area 1 argument). This seems to be a well meaning red herring.
It seems to me that area 1 is going to have tons of varied opinions and arguing here is vain. What I am suggesting is that we talk about the things that our sacramental actions symbolize and signify. What are they pointing to. We need to discuss more about “body” and “blood” and that will inform the way we use eat/drink/bread/wine.
What do you think?
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.