GA: Intinction is Inappropriate: Practice "conflates sacramental actions"

Last night the General Assembly rejected the Overtures Committee’s recommendation to answer Overture 30 (regarding intinction) in the negative. The overture called for the addition of this sentence to Book of Church Order (BCO) 58-5: “Intinction [dipping the bread or wafer into the wine], because it conflates Jesus’ two sacramental actions, is not an appropriate method for observing the Lord’s Supper.”

The Assembly voted in favor of a minority report / substitute motion. That motion calls for answering Overture 30 in the affirmative, and for further amendments to BCO 58-5, including the sentence: “As Christ has instituted the Lord’s supper in two sacramental actions, the communicants are to eat the bread and drink the cup in separate actions.”

Because the motion calls for amending the BCO, it must  be approved by two-thirds of the denomination’s presbyteries.

37 Responses to GA: Intinction is Inappropriate

  1. Larry Edison says:

    My heart breaks at debates like this – so legalistic. I guess it breaks the hearts of those who think others are violating the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, but it appears to me that the lack of freedom granted, and the conformity demanded simply majors in minors

    • Douglas A. Logan, Jr. says:

      Amen Pastor Larry! thanks for your work on infant baptism, it has been a bleesing for me and my team here in Camden NJ.

    • Robert Demarest Cuminale says:

      I am sorry you think we are being “legalistic” a term thrown at anyone who desires adherence to tradition. In spite of the reasons given for the supperlike quality and the lesson taught by our Lord Himself you insist on a practice that obliterates these lessons. It is this attitude that leads to schism. Why? Because a practice like this will eventually lead to another individualistic practice with the result being resentment on your part that others are “majoring in minors” and judging your deviations from the norm.
      Many of us here were PCUSA or RCA at one time and have seen this “progressive” position before. Is it time to reform the reformer?

  2. Timothy says:

    Move in the right direction. There are all kinds of Biblical problems with this individualist communion practice.

  3. Saji George says:

    It’s stuff like this that gives me tired-head about the PCA. This is classic “gleaning out gnats and swallowing camels” stuff.

    • Douglas A. Logan, Jr. says:

      As a denomination I think it’s sad that we are talking about this!
      This is what runs people away from our denomination(PCA). praying for unity!

  4. Matt Brown says:

    Even though I dislike the practice of intinction, this is an unfortunate decision for a number of reasons:
    1. It’s schismatic;
    2. It’s unwelcoming to visitors from various church backgrounds;
    3. It’s impractical and unenforceable;
    4. And worst of all, it’s insulting people’s intelligence. Just because you dip bread into wine doesn’t mean you can’t figure out the diffence between the two. I’m pretty sure every catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, orthodox Christian I’ve ever met knows the difference between biscuits and gravy, donuts and coffee, chips and dip.

    • Vincent Wood says:

      I am amazed that so often the ones who correct an error are accused of wrong-doing. To say that the decision, to eliminate intinction, is schismatic and unwelcoming to others is a prime example of attacking the ones who correct an error. Those who introduced intinction into the worship of PCA churches even though they took vows to follow the Westminster standards and the BCO are those who brought the current division. Rather than practice The Lord’s Supper in accord with the Standards until the issue is decided, once again, individuals simply follow their own thoughts (Philippians 2:3-4).

      It seems that those who want to allow intinction should demonstrate that such a practice is consistent with the Word of God, the Westminster Standards and our BCO. The writers of Overture 30 (which happens to be a Presbytery of our Church) gave arguments from the Scripture, our confession, the BCO, and Church history to support their request limiting the practice of intinction. They offered this overture in accord with our constitution and did so without impugning the character of any who disagree with their position. I hope the debate regarding this issue will follow this same example over the next year.

      • Matt Brown says:

        Vincent, I didn’t attack anyone in my post nor did I question people’s motives. I am simply describing the effects this decision.

        To your accusation about violating ordination vows, I believe precedent can be found in scripture (see Martin’s point below) and do not think the practice violates our standards (Saji’s post). As a matter of fact, the bread and wine will eventually mix in the digestive system so intinction is just getting a jump on things.

        I personally don’t like the practice because when people dip pieces of bread in the chalice you inevitably get floaties that are less than appealing. We could use wafers to avoid the problem, but I like the practice of breaking break.

  5. Rae Whitlock says:

    The vote was 348-334, FYI. The church is clearly not of one mind on this.

  6. RE Bob Barber says:

    I agree the whole debate has a flavor of straining at gnats, but faithful men were closely divided on the matter. The minority report carried by only 14 votes and the difference of opinion was sharp. I voted for the minority report, not so much as a vote against intinction, but rather that we might now have a greater conversation, reasoning together broadly about this matter in particular and the supper in general. I see no need to fear such a discussion about what it means to be more faithful. Such conversation has been strongly advocated as the preferred means of engaging our diverse polity. I would hope it would be welcomed and trust it will indeed result in deeper understanding and greater clarification.

  7. Sam Wheatley says:

    This whole debate left me scratching my head. How does something like intinction rise to the top of important issues for the denomination to deal with?

  8. Martin Ban says:

    I’ve been a Senior Minister more than 20 years and have been practicing intinction for at least 15 of those years in the churches in which I serve. I do this as a preference. I’m flummoxed why this is a problem. Eating and drinking were present during the evening of the Last Supper (Luke 22) and so was intinction (John 13). Please no snarky remarks regarding Judas….correllation does not mean causation.

    Bread is a utensil as well as a food in near eastern culture during the apostolic era. It still is so today. When we practice intinction, the bread itself becomes the container of the fruit of the vine. The juice or wine does not evaporate. It’s still a liquid. Two distinct actions do occur. The bread is taken first and then it is dipped into the one cup. Bread first, then the fruit of the vine. Regarding the conflation of the substances- they always conflate whether in our mouths or stomachs regardless of our preferred communion practice.

    I kinda think the intinction issue is a symptom of another issue, a bigger issue that is not being spoken of- but I’m not sure what that is. Maybe it is the frequent practice of the Lord’s Supper, or the variety of liturgies in the PCA, or the dress of some clergy or the application of the covenant of grace or something else. Whatever it is, I hope we talk about these things throughout our presbyteries while we are discussing and deliberating the matter of intinction during this next year. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. My hope, prayer is that we lean into the Holy Spirit as we discuss these matters.

  9. Kevin Labby says:

    I am not overly concerned about this vote or ready to impugn the motivations of either side. Knowing many good men on both sides, I don’t believe – at all – that this is one end of the spectrum’s subterfuge or the other’s gnat-straining. We simply have different convictions and, in the Lord’s providence through the plurality of elders, we now have an entire year to pray, study, and dialogue with gentleness and respect. I am confident that the Spirit will produce unity if we commit ourselves to seek his guidance, his way.

  10. Saji George says:

    Vincent, what is the error? What is it of the scriptures that’s being violated by someone drinking of the cup via a piece of bread?

    This is what Larger Cathechism question 169 says: “How hath Christ appointed bread and wine to be given and received in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper?A. Christ hath appointed the ministers of his Word, in the administration of this sacrament of the Lord’s supper, to set apart the bread and wine from common use, by the word of institution, thanksgiving, and prayer; to take and break the bread, and to give both the bread and the wine to the communicants: who are, by the same appointment, to take and eat the bread, and to drink the wine, in thankful remembrance that the body of Christ was broken and given, and his blood shed, for them.

    How does drinking from the cup via dipping a piece of bread into it violate the standards outlined in this answer? And how does drinking communion from a little plastic thimble abide by the standard that those against drinking via dipping bread have erected?

  11. RE Emeritus Dwight L. Allen says:

    Why is it that someone or some group is always trying to fix something that has never been broken?

    • Robert E. Hays says:

      Dwight, That is my thought exactly! I have been in the PCA since day one, was a visitor at the first GA, and then became a commissioner three years later, and I just want to say sometimes, “Where do these folks COME from? Is it necessary to reinvent the wheel every day we get up?” And this is not a new phenomenon, either. I remember the first stated clerk saying to me, some 15 or so years after our formation, “The PCA has changed more in the last ten years than the PCUS did in the last 50.” Some folks just can’t leave well enough alone.

  12. While I am hopeful that, as some have pointed out, the debate this coming year will be charitable and demonstrate a spirit and willingness to consider various church practices, I can’t help but be troubled by this decision all the same. The BCO on communion was written in such a way as to protect the fencing of the table and prepare hearts for a worshipful meditation of what Jesus did for us but prohibiting intinction is a gross abuse of the intended freedom of practice within those boundary markers.

    And if we are going to consider prohibiting intinction, it is hypocritical to then not consider prohibiting grape juice since Jesus refers only to wine. How are we then not moving towards legalism if we are drawing tight circles beyond what the BCO has already said? I believe the opponents of this practice in no way believe they are practicing legalism and I know they are sincere but I also believe they are sincerely wrong.

    I fear the PCA is now becoming known more about prohibition than permission in areas of Gospel freedom.

    • Vincent Wood says:

      I felt compelled to point out that Jesus never refers to “wine” at communion. The words that the Bible uses are “cup” and “fruit of the vine”. These words would allow for fermented or non-fermented grape juice. This fact might remove some level of the hypocrisy alluded to.

      • Scott Armstrong says:

        Let’s not kid ourselves on a technicality on language here Vincent. No scholar worth their salt would ever argue that Jesus and His disciples enjoyed a little Welchs that evening. Wine was the common practice of His day and what He Himself preferred–see Wedding at Cana and the miracle of water to wine as Evidence #1.

  13. Rob French says:

    First, and I’m just guessing here, I would suspect that the debate / discussion at the GA itself was amicable. I don’t know that for sure, I’m just guessing. It is here, on the Internet, that you and I need to be careful about this becoming more a point of contention than it needs to. Yes, we can have reasonable discussion here on the Internet too–it’s just an easy place to forget our manners, as it were.

    Second, I guess at a gut-level, I would say that intinction doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, nor does it seem to violate the Standards. My *impression* (I’m no church history expert) is that it has long-standing practice in the church at large, so I would tend to view it charitably.

    Third, we need to be careful about the legalism charge at those disagree with intinction (or anything else for that matter). I wasn’t under the impression that they were making intinction antithetical to salvation. Clearly God has standards for how His redeemed people live. We may disagree with others on what exactly those standards are, how they’re to be applied, but I would hope we don’t generally think that any notion of proper Christian conduct is legalistic.

  14. G.K. Sexton says:

    Will the intinction issue result in hostage-taking in the deliberations? Is the issue revealing of a kind of Protestant Scholaticism in some sectors of the PCA? Isn’t mode of consumption actually a matter of adiophora? Will the watching world scoff at the scandalization of one another? Meanwhile, in the aggragate where is the concern for the lost emphasized? Just wonderin’

  15. Robert Demarest Cuminale says:

    In all the responses I saw none that reminded us that Jesus performed two different actions in instituting the sacrament. In Luke 22 he says the ha motzi before the breaking of the bread but not the boray pri before passing the cup. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14 he does both. It’s obvious He intended to show that his flesh will be broken and His blood will be spilled. No Merchant of Venice here. He wants His suffering to be ably demonstrated to all. The poster who said that intincture is going to take place in the stomach misses the point. Who will see this take place? If He thought this demonstration needed to be strong who are we to differ?

    • LE Hall says:

      What is the preferred practice? drinking from a common cup? individual separate cups? I read the article and have been searching comments, but I can only find what is prohibited, not what is expected.

  16. Rob French says:

    Robert,

    Thanks for your reminder of the picture of the gospel. As expressed in my previous comment, I guess I’ve held a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward the specifics of communion (although I am opposed to the word “legalism” being thrown around in this context–by either side–and hope that it can all be discussed charitably).

    However, when I read your comment, I considered how unlikely it would be for us to be similarly ambivalent on the subject of the verbal proclamation of the gospel. Indeed, one might argue that, like many denominations, we came to exist because we were passionate that the full, accurate gospel be powerfully proclaimed–that there be no watering down of a bloody cross, a crucified savior, a freely offered salvation appropriated by faith alone, and so forth.

    If the Lord’s Supper provides a powerful picture of the gospel, complementing the verbal gospel proclaimed by the preaching of the Word, then it stands to reason that we should be similarly protective of that picture. I’m not saying this erases disagreement on the particulars–I’m just saying that it makes it a conversation worth having, that it is far from an irrelevant controversy that will just make us look odd to outsiders. One way or another, preserving the sacraments goes hand in hand with preserving the preached Word.

    So again, thanks.

    -Rob French

  17. The way I read the Bible, we should ‘do this’ in such a way that resembles, symbolically, both the meal with Christ (a gathering of disciples ‘around’ a table, word, bread and wine blessed and eucharized, eaten and drunk by all disciples present), and also the sacrifice of Christ (the bread broken, the wine outpoured, given for us, the blood of a new covenant). The sacrificial side of the supper seems to imply at least two distinct acts of consecration, if not two distinct acts of ingesting the elements. Most scholars agree that Jesus and his disciples would have drunk many cups of wine between the breaking of the bread and the final, ‘after the supper had ended’ cup–think Greek symposium and Jewish seder.

    What I don’t like about the way this all went down at GA is 1. the rush to address a serious question by way of a simple majority; I would love to see the sacramental actions of the PCA mature and grow in unity. That is guaranteed not to happen now. We need to learn how to take our time and seek wisdom from sessions and Presbyteries;

    2. the seeming unwillingness of those who see intinction as a violation of Scripture to try to see things differently, or perhaps publicly remove the ‘grape-juice thimble’ violations of our constitution and their touted adherence to the RPW from their own communion tables before seeking to remove the soggy bread violations from their brothers’ communion tables. I’m not one to argue that one error excuses another, but acknowledging that most likely all of our churches, and certainly all the GAs I’ve attended, have allowed for unfaithful sacramental innovations, and some practical adaptations might display the much called for humility and charity our divisions require.

  18. Mark Midyette says:

    My fear in reading all this (I was not at the GA) is borne from past experiences in other churches/denominations where disagreements led to schism. There are, surely, certain tenets of our faith, our order of worship, our adherence to certain processes, &c. that are non-negotiable. Then there are other activities or processes of our community that can be challenged by some in our midst. The opportunity for this discussion to progress beyond collegial and amicable resolution, by having the discourse conducted over the internet with anonymity is troubling to me and something we should all be concerned about. We must exercise caution in our words as escalating the rhetoric will definitely not serve the purposes of His Kingdom.

    I must say that I thank God that I am now a member of the PCA where such care is given by our leadership to assure that all that we do is in accordance with Scripture. I do realize that this can seem tedious and perhaps even legalistic to some, but it is a necessary discipline and will serve us all well going forward in His service.

  19. Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s as a son of First Pres. Jackson, MS, our Lord’s supper was tiny cubes of fresh yeast bread with Welch’s Grape Juice served in thimbles – first glass, later plastic.

    Innumerable coons’ ages ago (1973) we were church-planting among the Kamba tribe in the Kenya bush. The Lord’s Supper was scary – stale yeast bread and dirty river water into which had been poured a packet of strawberry Kool-Aid (according missionary invention in the 1940s) so that it was pale pink – served in plastic thimbles – probably why I had bacillary and amoebic dysentery for our first 18 months in-country.

    Later, at our church-plant in Nairobi (with Sanders Campbell ’76-’77), it was fresh yeast bread and real wine served in plastic thimbles. Why wine? It was safer than Nairobi tap water known to carry . Our second time in Kenya (’93 – ’03) we were not church planters, and it was fresh yeast bread and grape juice served in plastic thimbles.

    During our 6 years in England(’05 – ’11) it was fresh yeast bread you broke for yourself and fortified communion wine – POWERFUL stuff – from a silver chalice – yes a common cup, the rim wiped with a napkin after each one drank. We would go up front in small groups where first, a bread server (one of the ordained Readers) would look us in the eye and say, “Johnny, this is the body of Christ broken for you.” Then our pastor would come round with the chalice, look us in the eye and say, “Johnny, this is the blood of Christ shed for you.” Then you could just stand there for awhile and pray. I can’t remember a time when I returned to my seat tearless. I miss that in our PCA churches today – the more “supper-like” worship that nurtures you so that your don’t forget to remember Him – look at Him – bless and than Him.

    We were visiting one church here that did communion via “intinction” and I found it strange, but it was the before and after – the rush – the impersonal un-supper-like formality of it all that made me have to struggle to get in touch with Jesus (and I don’t know that I did).

    If we REALLY wanted to be biblical (and we do, don’t we), why not have a real seder and use unleavened bread (real matzoh can be ordered from NYC) and real wine? Because it’s too much trouble? Really, now! We are so far from 1st Century practice, aren’t we’re kidding ourselves when we protest that we’re doing it “according to Scripture”? – Johnny – just me tuppence

  20. Robert Byrne says:

    Intinction does not necessarily “conflate” Jesus’ action any more than serving grape juice or soup crackers. Intinction simply moistens the bread. Assuming the words of institution are pronounced and the table is properly fenced, intinction can be an excellent option for people suffering from dysphagia (Dysphagia is the medical term for the symptom of difficulty in swallowing). As a VA Hospital Chaplain I served dysphagic veterans communion by intinction every Month.

    Debating intinction is one thing. Denying communion is another.

    • Robert Demarest Cuminale says:

      I don’t believe anyone would argue the use of intinction in this case and others like it. I would wager though that the use we’re discussing here has more to do with time than anything else.

      • Sam DeSocio says:

        Yes, people might not argue that those who struggle with swallowing should be able to intinct, but if this overture is approved that is the effect it will have.

  21. Willa Ibach says:

    It occurs to me that one issue that has not been brought up and is one that may serve to make the discussion of intinction more relevant is the issue of paedocommunion. The two are, in my opinion, necessarily linked by the practical reality that intinction has been a primary method for administering paedocommunion to very young infants. So does a decision to declare intinction inappropriate add strength to opposition of paedocommunion? Just a thought.

  22. Bob Myers says:

    Sad that this is even being brought up, and once again, I find that the agenda that dominates our GA is so far from a Biblical, Missional, and Kingdom agenda that I am only confirmed in my non-attendance at GA. I can’t justify the expense, the time away from ministry, or the time away from family.

    It is straining at gnats, seeking conformity of practice rather than rich, Biblical, unity, and effectively signals to people from other cultures and backgrounds that they are viewed with disproportionate suspicion by a more “holy” PCA culture. The PCA is effectively declining in numbers, especially if you remove new church plants. The only churches I know that practice intinction are church plants that reach African American or other culture groups. This action effectively alienates them even further.

  23. Frederick McFarland says:

    I am a retired PCA USAF Chaplain who used Intinction for over 20 years when I was in “Field Conditions.” So I am wondering, Why the fuss now? That being said, in a sanctuary I prefer common bread and a common cup of wine to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
    Presbyterians moved from common cups to what was referred to as congregational cups, and then, from wine to grape juice in the 19th century. I hear no great cry to get back to a more Biblical celebration of the Lord’s Supper. WCF 29:3
    In church history it is the words of institution, not the state of the officiate, that make a sacrament “valid.” It is the words and the presence of Christ that make a sacrament a means of grace not the actions of men. WCF 27:3, 29:8
    When each person comes after the words of institution and fencing of the table to receive the elements of the Lord’s Supper when Intinction is used, I then say to each person- first as they received the bread, “This is the body of Christ given for you,” then before they would dip the bread into the cup of wine, “This is the cup of the New Covenant, this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, do this in remembrance of me.” The person, after hearing the words for both the bread and the wine, will dip the bread in the wine and then consume both. If there are two stations, an elder with the bread and an elder with the wine, the words of institution are spoken at each station before consumption of the elements. There are two actions and one consumption, that is the only difference.

  24. Tim Ling says:

    The Ohio Presbytery erected an Intinction Study Committee last year, and it issued a final report early this year that covers the history, theology and application of intinction. The report should be helpful to PCA elders in the current discussion. The report did address the common cup argument for intinction.

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