Don't Dip That Bread In My Grape Juice!

For the past month my family and I have been attending a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation in Greenville, South Carolina. I was a member at a PCA church through high school, college, and a little beyond, but for the past eight years have been at a CRE church.

The CRE and its ministers are overwhelmingly settled on a view of the Lord's Supper that caused a lot of controversy within the PCA. The CRE takes a more "small-c" catholic approach to the sacrament, opening it to all baptized Christians. Since the CRE is a Reformed and covenantal denomination, they open the table to all baptized children. That is my family's view of the Lord's Supper: that it is God feeding us. We are not to prove ourselves deserving in any way, but simply to receive his blessing and nourishment. (The injunction against eating and drinking unworthily I understand to be specifically a warning prohibiting not sharing food with other Christians in your church whom you despise; it is not a command to "understand" what is happening in the sacrament.)

So I spent almost a decade out of the PCA, listening to the wars and hearing rumors of wars over covenant and communion in that denomination over those years, then hearing that those wars had been been settled for at least a while.

So imagine my surprise when I met with a PCA pastor recently and heard that intinction, the practice of dipping bread (or a cracker or wafer) in wine, was being practiced and debated over in his denomination. Today Rick Phillips, the nationally prominent pastor of Greenville's 2nd Presbyterian Church, has written a brief but very interesting critique of those in the PCA who are defending the practice of intinction. You can find the article over at The Aquila Report.

In it pastor Phillips argues that those Presbyterians who defend the practice of intinction were the "least concerned to be biblical about the Lord's Supper". He is unsettled by a lack of biblical backbone shown by these men in their laissez-faire attitude toward biblical example. That is to say, if the Bible says that Jesus took the bread, broke it, and served it, then took the wine and served it, then we should do likewise. Communion is not simply a ritual to be gotten through, but a rich and positive thing in which we can do no better than to emulate Christ.

From what little I've picked up, I think there's some justice in what pastor Phillips is saying. The small exposure I've had to this debate does seem to have the proponents of intinction saying that since it's not prohibited, and is way more convenient to administer, the practice should be permitted.

That sort of lazy lack of positivity is indeed dangerous. And that is one several reasons I'm against the practice.

But that's not what I want to point out here.

If the positive emulation of Christ and the biblical model is what we're after, how on earth is this debate being had in a denomination where the overwhelming practice is to serve grape juice instead of wine?

The PCA church we're attending/visiting right now serves communion weekly. They serve bread and wine, just as the Scriptures command. I know that at least some of the men are pro-intinction, or at least, not anti-intinction. But they are showing enough reverence and positivity to want to celebrate the Supper weekly, and to do it with wine. How many of the churches and pastors passionately arguing against the practice of intinction don't blink at their complete failure to serve one of the two elements of the Supper?

One of the biggest objections I have to the practice of intinction is that it goes in the Roman Catholic direction of saying that "since Christ is sacramentally present under each of the species, communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace." (Catechism of the Catholic Church) Intinction tends toward moving the Supper away from being a meal, and toward being a simple presentation of magical elements.

Well, guess what? That's already what happens in so many churches around the country. These churches are only serving one of the elements. Bread and grape juice? That is not what our Lord commanded. If the mere symbolism of the rite is all that matters, then the use of grape juice is fine. But then, so would the practice of intinction be. How is that any less of a memorial? But according to the very doctrines of the PCA, communion is more than a memorial.

The lack of positive obedience in the "intinction camp" is nothing compared to what we Protestants have been doing for centuries now. Instead of focusing on prohibition, perhaps we ought to be focusing on building up a joyful and positive celebration of the Feast. The Feast is only for Christians, and for the sake of God, his church, and unbelievers, it ought to be fenced and protected. But within those boundaries, are we feasting or meditating? Are we celebrating or prohibiting? Teaching and practicing positively is always better than hunting for errors in others. There is a place for both, but our Protestant house is too messy right now to go hunting trouble.


  1. Joffre,

    You said,
    "If the mere symbolism of the rite is all that matters, then the use of grape juice is fine."

    I don't think that we can concede even that much. As Tim Gallant argues,
    "Wine plays a specific function within Scripture, and it cannot be replaced by grape juice. In Scripture, wine is symbolic of many things: potency, joy, celebration, bounty, banqueting. Grape juice shares none of these biblical associations...Even if we say that the elements are merely and only symbolic, they still must be symbolic of some thing. They don't refer back to themselves. One of the common errors is to suppose that the point of the element is the colour, which reminds us of Jesus' blood. Now, I do not deny that the colour is probably intended to be part of the association between wine and Christ's blood. But it at least begs the question whether colour is the only intended association. Otherwise, cherry Koolaid or some other red beverage would be equally appropriate...What if our practice is reinforcing a wrong conception of the sacrament to begin with? What if Jesus intends us to see His life, abundant life?...Isaiah 25.6 has a glorious prophecy regarding the time of the Messiah. 'And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees.' Is it so strange to think that the wine of the Lord's Supper is intended to evoke and embody such a promise? Is it so strange to think that we are (as we claim to be doing) to celebrate the Lord's Supper?"

    Not only is the use of grape juice a failure to do what Jesus did (and let's face it, most congregations are forced to legitimately adapt the circumstances of the sacrament in one way or another), but it actually does miss the symbol altogether.

    1. That's what I'm saying, brother.

    2. Is there any Biblical reference to "grape juice"? I'm no expert, but I just wonder if what was called "wine" is the same thing as we call wine? Maybe "wine" included a whole variation of the extent of fermentation.

    3. Joey, you need to read Francis Farrar Capon on wine in "Supper of the Lamb". Hilarious.

  2. I think it's a matter of preference whether or not someone uses intinction. The guy at the cookout who prefers not to dip his fries in ketchup isn't wrong and isn't participating less by not doing so. The Eucharist is the way by which all Christians can be nourished communally by the body and blood of Christ. We are both communing with God and with the other people around us. It seems like another excuse to cause conflict over something that doesn't matter. People should be enthusiastic about communion and feel fed by God no matter which way they choose.

  3. We've since moved away, but I believe our old church (in Greenville) puts a little bit of vinegar in the grape juice during communion. The idea being that the fermented wine has a mix of bitterness and sweetness (which is easily a symbol of Jesus' death). I think it's a neat idea.

  4. See what the early Christians thought:


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