One of the joys of being a Presbyterian pastor is voting on changes in the Book of Church Order. While I was a member of the ARP this was a joy I had infrequently. As a member of the PCA, it is one I have more often than I would like.
This summer at General Assembly, we had an Overture to explicitly prohibit the practice of intinction, or dipping the bread into the wine (or more commonly grape juice) when administering communion. I have had some experience in my life with the practice. At times in my youth, the Roman Catholic Church would practice it. How they administered communion kept changing. If you were away for awhile you could safely wonder how it was being done “now”.
I personally do not like intinction. We did dip one Sunday in the church in which I am pastor because we thought we had run out of communion cups. We celebrate weekly communion. It was a pragmatic decision based on our circumstances. It seemed less problematic than withholding the means of grace from the congregation. We actually had a new box of cups tucked away in the Administrative Assistant’s office. Surely the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover our numerous failings that day.
I view intinction as irregular. I refrain from using the term novelty, though in some senses it is appropriate. It is not taught in Scripture, and therefore a novelty. But it is not new. The Eastern Church has practiced it for many a century. It has been practiced at times in the Church of Rome. It does not have an extensive history, as far as I know, among Protestants. Therefore another word we could use is heteropraxy.
The issue for me is this: is it so irregular that we should censure those who practice it?
So, while I do not practice it, or encourage others to practice it I wonder if I should prohibit others from practicing it. How bad of a practice is it? This question often generates more heat than light. As a result, the Session has begun talking about it in light of the Presbytery debate and vote coming up on January. (Some friends think the BCO sufficiently prohibits intinction and changes are therefore unnecessary.)
Something about this rubs me the wrong way. I wasn’t sure why until this morning. Perhaps it was reading about logical fallacies in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God that helped me see what was bothering me about this debate. I began to ponder it anew.
Think along with me, perhaps. What I offer is not the “final word.” I don’t express this as “you have to agree with me.” But I hope you do (I think, but reserve the right to change my mind).
Let’s start with what the regular (according to the rule of Scripture) and irregular practice (intinction) have in common as practiced among Presbyterians.
- Both views reject sacerdotalism, or salvation thru the sacraments as expressed in either the Church of Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy.
- Both views maintain both the Word and the sign as part of properly administering the sacrament.
- Both views agree that the sign comprises both bread and wine. It is not either bread or wine, but both together.
- They both maintain biblical standards regarding worthy participants. This is not a debate over paedocommunion though some paedocommunion advocates may also argue for intinction.
Where they differ is on how they administer the elements: consecutively or simultaneously. Here is where the light bulb when on for me this morning (and some may say it is a CFL and should be tossed in the circular file). What we seem to be arguing about is mode of communion. I get frustrated over the arguments over mode of baptism, and this may be why I’m frustrated over this argument.
Those arguing for prohibiting intinction sound like those arguing for immersion (and Luther arguing against the Reformed view of Christ’s presence). Luther pounded on the table repeating “Hoc est corpus meum.” Baptists pound on the table repeating “baptizo means to immerse.” And those wanting to prohibit intinction say “take and eat, take and drink.”
That does not mean they are wrong, like I think the Lutherans and Baptists are. I agree with them!
What I don’t agree with is drawing the line in the sand and essentially excommunicating people over mode of communion. We don’t excommunicate people over the mode of baptism (I really hope I didn’t give someone an idea for more BCO changes because I was being sarcastic in the first few sentences of this post). The Baptists do that! Are we wanting to “go Baptist” in this matter and essentially declare that “take and eat, take and drink” are of the essence of communion and must not be violated?
Right now I don’t. I think the unity of the Body matters and we should not divide over yet another secondary issue. This does not seem to me to be essential to the faith or our Presbyterian heritage. We have too many divisions among Presbyterians regarding exclusive Psalmody, the use of instruments, whether a woman can be a deacon (I believe women elders and pastors are clearly prohibited) and who knows what else. I wouldn’t want to divide over the mode of baptism. I don’t want to divide (or exclude) over the mode of communion.
In Frame’s book, he talks about theological disagreement. I found these words particularly pertinent:
“Often a theologian will correctly identify a weakness in the view of another but will play that weakness for far more than it is really worth. Thus minor differences are elevated to major differences, and theological disputes become church divisions. … Positively, we must learn to theologize in love (Eph. 4:15), a love that edifies and that promotes unity, not division.”
I see this as a minor difference related to the mode of communion, not the meaning of communion. Many seek to make this more a matter of meaning, and divide the church on it. I would rather we promote unity, despite differences on mode, and therefore love. Not only is such a path in keeping with Ephesians 4, but also the beginning of Colossians 2. As a denomination we need to be increasingly knit together, but we are using truth to pull ourselves together. Let’s save the division, and censure, for major differences which are actually outside the bounds of the system of doctrine.
Perhaps someone will say something to me before I vote that shows me how this does shipwreck people’s faith. Or this is at least as important as the proper subjects of baptism.