Thoughts on 40th General Assembly, Part Four: Intinction

This is part four of a four part series. Part one can be found here. Part two here. Part three here.

The fourth part of my series on this year’s GA deals with the issue of intinction. Inctinction is a mode of administering the Lord’s Supper whereby bread is dipped (Latin: intinctum) into the wine and that dipped bread is given to the communicant to eat. This dipped bread suffices for receiving both the bread and the wine.

The practice of intinction has become more common in PCA circles these days. The reasons given are practical and theological. On the practical side there are arguments that state that the practice is quicker (for certain situations that require a quick communion service, like the military) and easier to consume (for situations where hospital chaplains are administering the Lord’s Supper to the sick and elderly). Then there is the theological argument that states that partaking of one common cup is both theologically and aesthetically more fitting for the rite of the Supper than all the little plastic cups. Then, these men move from this theological rationale to a sanitary concern that many people find it revolting to drink after others for fear of disease. Thus dipping bread into the common cup and then eating is found to be more palatable.

Many folks in the PCA are uncomfortable with the practice of intinction. In the interest of full disclosure, I am personally against the practice for both theological and biblical reasons. Yet there are a sizable group in our denomination who not only oppose the practice, but want to make it illegal to practice. I am not a member of this later group for reasons I will explain below.

What occurred at this GA is that an overture came from the Savannah River Presbytery (Overture 30) proposing an amendment to our Book of Church Order (BCO) that would make the practice of intinction illegal in the PCA. In committee this overture was actually answered in the negative by a vote of 49-37-2. This means that the overtures committee were against banning intinction in our denomination. That the committee decided this is significant and leads to a certain prognostication about how this will be received in the presbyteries. More on this below.

In the same way as the recommendations on paedocommunion and the creation of Adam,  the minority on the committee composed a minority report on this recommendation by the committee. Under our current rules, a minority coming from either the RPR or the Overtures Committee is allowed to make a minority report and make a substitute motion on the floor of the General Assembly. The substitute motion was, of course, to answer the overture in the affirmative, which would start the process of amending the BCO. More on this process below.

A few words should be said about the debate on this issue. First of all, the debate on this issue occurred in the Thursday night session, the last session of the GA. This session was held after dinner and worship, starting at 9PM. As you might imagine, attendance for this session was low, some 100 votes or more lower than the earlier sessions. You may draw your own conclusions as to who might be more likely to remain out at dinner and not make it back to the late night sessions.

Debate went on for a good while, but not for the entire allotted time of one hour. Those who spoke for the substitute (for the ban on intinction) made sweeping claims of “liturgical anarchy” (ed. note: what liturgy?) and stated that since the Lord’s Supper is one of the marks of our church, we shouldn’t mess with it. They argued largely form scripture, from the institution narratives, especially 1 Corinthians 11.

Those who spoke against the substitute (against the ban) had several reasons. There were those practical and theological reasons stated above. In addition there were those, like myself, who do not believe that banning the practice is necessary. They argued that we should not be fighting over such relatively trivial matters, and that this strong armed maneuver would be injurious to the unity and peace of the church. Several who spoke against made the point that many of our churches already do not follow the letter of the biblical account nor our Confession by partaking of grape juice instead of wine. On a personal note: I felt that this was a very good point. How can people who do not obey the bible and instead use grape juice hold others to the fire for doing intinction? It just doesn’t make any sense.

After about 45 minutes the question was called and we proceded to vote. The vote was very close, and again, as with paedocommunion and the creation of Adam, a standing count was called for. When the dust settled, the substitute motion passed by 14 votes. Fourteen votes, my friends, out of 1,000 commissioners, that is all the majority could muster. Remember, there were 100 or so commissioners still out at “dinner.” I wonder how the vote would have broken down among them? I guess we’ll never know.

So what does this mean? First of all, it does not mean that intinction is now illegal in the PCA. The process to amend the BCO is a three step process and takes two years to complete. The first step is that it must pass GA. The second step is that it must pass 2/3 of all presbyteries by a majority vote. The third step is that it must pass the next GA.

I do not believe this will pass 2/3 of the presbyteries. My reasoning is twofold. First, because of the close nature of the vote on the floor of GA. The majority could not even muster a majority that would suffice as a statistical difference in any intro to statistics course. In other words, it may have passed, but it does not express the opinion of the majority, statistically speaking. To use election polling lingo, 14 votes is within the margin of error.

Secondly, I believe that the vote of the Overtures Committee better expresses the will of the PCA on this issue. The reason for this is that the Overtures Committee is a delegated body, meaning that only one elder and one pastor may come to that committee from each presbytery. The General Assembly, however, is not a delegated assembly. Every pastor and two elders from each particular church in the PCA may attend. Thus presbyteries that are closer to the Assembly, or who may have a greater proportional desire to engage on the GA level will be disproportionally represented in the GA. For this reason, I believe that this BCO amendment will not pass the presbyteries.

Lastly, what are we to make of all this? I said before that I was against the practice of intinction, but not for banning it. Why is this? Well, I am not for banning it because I do not believe that we should force our brothers to cease a practice that they of their own biblical and theological study and pastoral wisdom applied to their particular contexts have deemed is best for them and their congregations. I do however believe that we should engage in a debate and a discussion on this matter. My preference is that we would attempt to persuade our brothers, in love, and not to strong arm them. This is not the way of love. The world sees this and thinks, “Same old Christians. Same old junk.”

Yet, my overall impression is that entering into this first step of amending the BCO to ban intinction is a good thing. Why is that? I believe this because for the first time on the floor of GA I saw men taking out their bibles and making arguments from the scriptures regarding ritual and liturgical theology. I believe that this issue will force us to have rich conversations about what the bible has to say about ritual, liturgy, and sacramental theology, and I believe that that can and will be a good thing. I would encourage brothers in their presbyteries to have official colloquia at their stated meetings and invite men who are knowledgeable and studied on issues of biblical ritual, liturgics and sacraments to debate and discuss these issues. To be frank, our denomination has not reflected on these issues of ritual, liturgy, and the administration of the sacraments in a mature biblical way. If this forces us to do that, then I’m all for it.

Ultimately though, I hope that the amendment does not pass. I urge our brothers to discuss, debate, and dispute, in love, but not force our brothers against their will. Thus the same principle rings through all four of these major issues before the GA this year. In all of these a group wanted to force at least half of their brothers to do something against their will. The other half wanted the PCA to remain broad and inclusive for the sake of the kingdom and the gospel. Which side will ultimately win? The future of the PCA is at stake. I pray that we will all learn to understand that just because a brother across the country, or even across town, does not do everything exactly the way I do, it does not mean the gospel is at stake. On the contrary, if we make everything into an essential of the gospel, we have turned the gospel into pharisaical legalism and made the word “essential” meaningless. Furthermore, we have broken the commandment the Lord gave us on the night he was betrayed: ” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV)

These issues are important issues. We do not simply stand by idly and not debate and discuss these important issues. But we must do it in love. We must bear with each other in love and trust that Christ will rule over his church. I think many times we do not obey the command to love simply because we do not trust Christ. We don’t think he really meant what he said, and we don’t see how the church could possibly governed in love. Brothers, let us take this commandment seriously, and let us love one another and trust that our Lord Jesus, King of all and Head of the Church, knows exactly what he is talking about.

For further reading see this post on Vintage 73.

Author: Tim LeCroy

Tim LeCroy is Pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Columbia, MO. He is husband of Rachel and father of Ruby and Lucy