Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Church Drinking Problem

Intinction, Wine, and Communion

 I have experienced intinction twice. The first time I was in attendance at a large gathering of PCA folks overseas. As a minister I was asked to help with the distribution of the elements. We received instructions that, as the crowd was large, we should dip the wafers into the cup and give the moistened wafer to the communicants who came forward to receive. I was not comfortable, but I was not administering the Supper, so I complied. On the second occasion, I was with family in a church of another denomination. I chose to commune rather than not to commune when the wafer was dipped into the wine and offered to me. Lately there has been some discussion of the matter within the PCA. To my mind there is no doubt that, when our Lord and the Apostle Paul spoke of taking the bread and cup, they were speaking of two distinct communion actions, giving and receiving the bread and the cup.  I believe that is what we should do. However, I also think we should keep in mind that we are talking about a method and the timing of receiving the contents of the cup. With intinction it is delivered by the medium of the bread simultaneously with the giving of the bread. However, here's another question: Does anyone think that either our Lord or the Apostle had in mind anything like receiving the wine, or more likely in our circiles the juice, via one of those little individual plastic cups?

I doubt that all those who are exercised about the practice of intinction are equally exercised about the use of grape juice in the celebration of the sacrament. It seems that more PCA congregations are celebrating the Supper with wine, while the majority continue to use Welch’s. The way I reason with myself about celebrating the Sacrament with purple juice as administrator or recipient is that with sufficient time and proper environment the juice could become wine. But, is there any real doubt that our Lord and the Apostles used and intended we should use wine? It is not the same matter as whether or not leaven is added to the lump of dough. That is a matter for discussion – the unleavened bread probably used by the Lord and his Apostles or the common bread of the time and place where we live. We could discuss whether the wine should be unadulterated or mixed with water. But grape juice is not wine. Our Lord and his Apostles knew all about the dangers associated with wine, and the Apostle Paul had stern words for the abuse of wine at Corinth in connection with the Supper. However, our Lord used wine at the institution of the Holy Meal, and the Apostles used wine as they followed his command. Which is “worse” – the reception of wine via bread or the reception of juice drink via a plastic cup?

Perhaps we need not get ourselves too worked about something most of us do so infrequently.


RMP said...

Intinction is of course necessary for health reasons when a common cup containing non-alcoholic grape juice is used. I have noticed it is on the rise among us Anglicans, along with increased public awareness of communicable diseases. Still, I have not heard of any documented case of someone catching even a cold from a communion cup where it was administered with a purificator to wipe the outside of the rim.

The question of wine or juice....well, you are doubtless aware that using juice is an American phenomenon arising out of the "temperance movement" (which would more accurately be called the "abstinence movement," if abstinence had not taken on other connotations).

It's an argument that will never be settled. Since abuse of alcohol will always be with us, teetotalers will always find justification for juice in church. I often think of John 6:55 in this context. As I believe Christ's blood to be "real" or "true" drink, I want it to be represented by something more potent than what toddlers have in their sippy cups.

Alcohol allows for the safe use of the common cup, a powerful symbol of the once and future undivided Church.

from Wikipedia:
The method of pasteurizing grape juice to halt the fermentation has been attributed to an American physician and dentist, Thomas Bramwell Welch in 1869. A strong supporter of the temperance movement, he produced a non-alcoholic wine to be used for [Methodist] church services in his hometown of Vineland, New Jersey. His fellow parishioners continued to prefer and use regular wine. His son, Charles E. Welch, who was also a dentist, eventually gave up his practice to promote grape juice. In 1893 he founded Welch's Grape Juice Company at Westfield, New York. The product was given to visitors at international exhibitions. The oldest extant structure associated with the company is Welch Factory Building No. 1, located at Westfield, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.[2]

As the temperance movement grew, so did the popularity of grape juice. In 1913, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan served grape juice instead of wine during a full-dress diplomatic function, and in 1914, Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, forbade any alcoholic drinks on board of naval ships, actively replacing them with grape juice. During World War I, the company supplied "grapelade," a type of grape jam, to the military and advertised aggressively. Subsequent development of new grape products and sponsorship of radio and television programs made the company very successful.

Wayne Sparkman said...

The use of individual, or "sanitary" cups began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from what I've seen in the Presbyterian literature of that era.

BillH said...

I will always be grateful when a church recognizes that sinful broken flesh is still prey, that we are not now "as He is", and the consequences of a previous lifetime of sin makes some of us susceptible to falling back into the pit He rescued us from. I know a number of people who were stumbled by something as innocent and wonderful as wine in the communion cup... my own Mother being one.

Make all the sippy cup jokes you like, I have heard them all, but the same Lord who pulled me up and granted me 21 years sober, a place in service to His church, and a place at His table is more than wonderful enough to also grant me the same grace and spiritual benefits as the one beside me whose cup has wine in it. Thank you my Saviour.

Steve said...

At least grape juice tastes good, unlike the gluton-free bread of the neo-temperance movement. But, yeah, I sure would like to see frequency become at least as important as the content of the cup.

JATB said...

The last church I served (a PCA church) offered both wine and grape juice, using the little "thimbles." (The center ring of each tray contained juice, and the rest used wine.) I'm now in the PC(USA) and our Book of Order states that when wine is used, we must offer a non-alcoholic alternative. That is at least a recognition that wine should be the norm and that grape juice is a substitute: it is not wine. The little thimbles aren't perfect: I would prefer a common cup (no intinction: I've taken communion from a common cup many times and have never caught cold from it), but so many are germophobes that I will endure the thimbles so people will partake without hesitation, and it allows us to offer both wine and juice without singling people out by making them get in a separate line or something. At least our church uses glass thimbles and not the disposable plastic ones.

lcarp51 said...


I can't prove a link of course, but I got the worst case of the flu I ever had in my life a day and a half after taking communion (with wine from a common cup) in a Lutheran church.

Kindest Regards,
Brian Carpenter

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Should've got the flu shot.