We have no authority to dip the bread in the wine as part of the administration of the Supper. We have authority to take, bless, give, and drink. The departure, in some NAPARC congregations, from the pattern instituted by our Lord in the Supper is indicative of a broader departure from the rule of worship (Calvin) instituted by our Lord. This ought to trouble all of us, even if we might think that intinction is, in itself, no great matter. If we may set aside our Lord’s institution and the Apostolic injunction here, why not elsewhere?
Intinction is the practice of administering the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) by dipping the bread into the wine rather than by giving the cup directly to the laity. It is not in itself a denial of the cup but arguably it is a step in that direction, as it has been in the history of the church. It is a practice that has grown in popularity within the NAPARC world and particularly among churches in the largest NAPARC body, the PCA. It is a practice with a long history, though it is not a practice that has been adopted by the Reformed churches. As Lane Keister notes, we first see the practice of intinction emerging in the mid-4th century. This is was a period of liturgical innovation and even corruption, so it should not surprise us that intinction appeared then too. Notably, Leo I and Gelasius both condemned intinction in the 5th century. There is no evidence that the earliest post-canonical church practiced intinction.
The Reformed theologian Herman Witsius (1636–1708) objected to intinction on the grounds that it departs from the evident institution of our Lord:
Next follow the actions of the disciples, and consequently of the other guests. And these, according to Christ’s appointment, are three: first, to receive both the bread and the cup; but each separately: for so Christ distributed them: in this manner he commanded his people to take them: thus the body of Christ, as broken for us; his blood as poured out of his body, are more distinctly represented: and in fine, as a complete entertainment requires both meat and drink, so this most complete spiritual repast, which we have in Christ, is thus most excellently represented. And therefore we cannot so well approve of that custom which prevailed in Cyprian’s time, to give a piece of bread dipt in wine, to infants and the sick: which was the practice in some places, about the year of Christ 340, in the public and ordinary celebration of the sacrament. The same judgment we are to pass on the custom of the Greeks, who crumble the consecrated bread into the wine, and take it out with a spoon (HERMAN WITSIUS, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, translated by William Crookshank (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1990, trans. orig. pub. 1822) vol 2, pp. 454–55; cited by Keister, ibid)./blockquote>
This morning, as our preacher (Bob Godfrey) was taking us through Matthew’s narrative of the institution of the Supper, I noticed two things in this regard. There was intinction and there was drinking of the wine but one belonged to the Passover and the other the Supper.
When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped (ἐμβάψας) his hand in the dish with me will betray me (Matt 26:20–23; ESV)
Our Lord celebrated the Passover meal prior to the institution and celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Notice that there is dipping of the bread in the wine as part of the Passover. We can confirm this from the parallel in John 13:26, “So when he had dipped the morsel” (ESV) and Mark 14:20.