On September 21, 2022, Pastor Derek Radney and I engaged in a debate on the subject of intinction, moderated by Brad Isbell of presbycast. You can watch the debate here. Subsequent to the debate there have been additional exchanges in the twitterverse, some of which have brough more heat than light. I am for public discourse, but only as a fair representation of a brother’s position. Since in the debate we were not able to deal with all the issues of intinction, I thought it appropriate to respond to Pastor Radney’s article in which he argues that intinction is legitimate and valid practice. To interact with the article is to interact with Pastor Radney’s stated position, as he has articulated it. As part of that article, he makes six arguments for intinction as allowable.
- Jesus did not command that we partake of bread and wine in two separate actions.
I respond: I do not think the Scriptural data supports Pastor Radney’s claim. On the one hand it is true. Jesus never specifically says, “You must partake of the bread and wine in two separate actions.” However, Jesus does clearly lay out how the Lord’s Supper is to be ordered. Scripture gives the structure of the Supper four times: Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23; and, 1 Cor. 11:23-29. In each text, eating the bread and drinking the cup are separate actions each with their own meaning. The bread is the body of Christ broken and the cup is the blood poured out. Pastor Radney does not believe Jesus had any mode of distribution in view. However, when He lays out the order of the supper He does so with two separate actions explicitly commanded: eating and drinking. So Pastor Radney’s statement is technically correct, but theologically wrong. Jesus does not command the church must partake of bread and wine in two separate actions. But He does not need to do so, because when He gives the structure of the Lord’s Supper He orders it with two separate actions.
- Intinction should not be rejected on the grounds of Regulative Principle of Worship because the words of the Gospels and 1 Cor 11 are not applied consistently.
As part of this larger point, Pastor Radney makes two sub-points. First, he identifies certain inconsistencies between the various accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. For example, only Matthew’s account directly includes the language “Take, eat.” and “Drink of it.” Only in Luke’s account does Jesus tell the disciples to divide the cup (Luke 22:17). Only in Mark did the disciples drink the cup before Jesus explained its meaning. Second, he criticizes opponents of intinction as being inconsistent in their readings of those texts.
I respond: To his first point, inconsistencies between gospel accounts must be understood by harmonizing them. Absence of information in one gospel does not imply the other is incorrect. If Matthew’s account includes the commands to eat and drink, but Mark leaves it out, that does not mean that Matthew is wrong and Mark is right. The accounts are understood together, each pointing to the truth in a unique way. The gospel accounts of the institution, supplemented by the apostolic explanation in 1 Cor. 11:23ff clearly have agreement and command the following:
- Eating the bread first;
- Drinking the cup after supper.
His second sub-point has Pastor Radney question the clarity of the biblical command based on other issues surrounding the supper that are ignored by critics of intinction. He gives several examples: 1) There was likely only one loaf; 2) There was likely a communal cup; 3) The Lord’s Supper as part of the larger Passover communal meal; and, 4) The meal was likelyserved with wine not juice. And here he makes a hermeneutical point for his critics. The commands to eat and drink are clear and cannot be understood to mean something else. However, the argument for the common cup and loaf, wine, and the implications of the Supper coming out of the Passover are likely true. In other words, these issues lack the clarity of the explicit commands of Scripture which are giving regarding eating and drinking. Even if the church must wrestle through the less clear questions as well, it can begin by honoring the clear commands of Scripture regarding the celebration of this sacrament.
- There are practical reasons why a session might opt to administer communion by intinction.
I respond: Appealing to the pragmatic is a terrible way to do theology. There are plenty of examples from Scripture that prove this point. What might be some practical reasons that a priest might alter the recipe for the incense to be offered in the tabernacle (Cf. Lev 10:1ff; Ex 30:9)? What might be some practical reasons that the Levites might move the ark on a cart rather than carry it on poles (2 Sam 6:5ff; Ex 25:14)? What might be some practical considerations that would justify Israel’s delay in invading the promised land (Num 13:1ff)? Of course, each example shows that obedience to God’s commands overrides any practical consideration that might be brought to bear. Pragmatism is never praised in Scripture because it tends to place what works over what is commanded.
- Nothing is lost in the significance of each element or the meal as a whole by partaking of the elements together.
I respond: The testimony of all Reformed theologians affirms that the distinct consumption of the elements is necessary to preserve what they symbolize. Many prominent voices have argued for the urgency of the spiritual significance of each element of the meal celebrated distinct from the other. Below are two sample quotes:
“It is to that end that in the Supper the body and blood are depicted separately, each by a sign of its own. To that end Christ expressly states that his body was given and his blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. To that end the significance of the blood is even explained at greater length in the words of institution than that of the body, for it is the blood that makes atonement for sins on the altar. Even though Christ is worshiped, the communion that is realized through faith and is strengthened through the Lord’s Supper is and remains a communion with his crucified body and with his shed blood.” [Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, translated by John Vriend, edited by John Bolt (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 4:579]
“We are not able to take this great mysterious fruit of God’s love in gross, in the lump; and therefore he gives it out, I say, in parcels. We shall have the body broken to be considered; and the blood shed is likewise to be considered.” [John Owen, The Works of John Owen (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1965), 9:527]
Other men like James Bannerman in The Church of Christ, Wilhelmus a Brakel in The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology, have also argued for the importance of bread and wine as separate.
- Intinction should not be dismissed because it is practiced by traditions with which we Presbyterians have other disagreements or because of its origins.
I respond: At this point I am in agreement with Pastor Radney. Though the source of certain ideas may give pause because of their origins, truth is truth, no matter who says it. Christians can learn from brothers in other denominations regardless of the points of disagreement.
- Intinction should not be dismissed on account of Judas dipping his bread at the Last Supper.
I respond: Again, we are agreed on this point. I have not heard people making this argument, but if they are, at the very least that would not be the place where I would formulate my objections.
From my interactions with Pastor Radney, I believe him to be sincere in his beliefs. And in an attempt to shed light on this subject, and as a follow-up to the debate, I have offered the following responses. The question of intinction is significant because the right administration of the sacraments is one of the three marks of the church of Christ. And this issue must be examined in light of Scripture. Debate and interaction are needed to bring clarity on a subject. It is my hope this article has contributed to that growth in clarity.