This weekend, my presbytery (group of churches in a region from the same denomination) will consider whether to approve an amendment to our Book of Church Order that would effectively disallow a method of serving communion called intinction. I have had somewhat of an interest in the various discussions roiling in the blogosphere as I have tried to make my own peace with this issue. The two mostly distinct sides to this debate could be labeled as the purity-defenders and the adiaphora-defenders. The purity-defenders don’t see the practice of intinction in the scriptures. Instead, when they read about the Lord’s Supper/communion in the scriptures, they see a separation of the two eucharistic elements, and then they see that practice reinforced by our denomination’s constitution when it speaks about how we should administer the sacrament. To allow the practice of intinction would be to allow infidelity to right sacramental practice to exist in the church. This is the post I tend to lean against, for better or worse.
The other standard that waves above the discussion is that of those who wish to say that, because the scriptures do not disallow the practice of intinction, the matter of whether to mix the sacramental elements should be a detail left to each local church according to its separate needs and situations. To disallow intinction would be to restrict a Christian freedom concerning a facet of worship that the Bible doesn’t necessarily restrict.
(My apologies to either party if my summary has misrepresented the basics of your particular position. ‘Tis a danger of doing business in the world or words.)
But if these are the distinctive lines defining the purity-defenders and the adiaphora-defenders, I’d like to ask a loaded question. Where are the church-defenders? The church isn’t made up of adiaphora people nor is it made up of pure people. The church is made up of just people. And we should assume it’s filled with people striving to be more faithful today than they were yesterday. And part of that striving to be faithful is a striving after unity in the church. “But unity isn’t true unity if we sacrifice purity of doctrine or practice to attain it,” is the response that I can hear. And this is true to a point. But what about the doctrine of the unity of the church? What about the practice of striving toward church unity? If we jettison this doctrine and this practice to preserve or pursue a different slice of purity, we are sacrificing purity in the name of purity. The duplicity seems fairly apparent.
As a church striving toward peace and purity, we are always preaching a sermon about who God is. And the church who doesn’t strain after both peace and purity with all fervency, is preaching a lie about the Triune God. The purist church who latches onto the pole of purity says that God is three but not one. The union church who latches on to the pole of unity says that God is one but not three. (I’m sure the opposite could be argued.) But the church is called to latch onto both poles at the same time, and we must use the law of love to help us learn how to live in that tension.
So where does that leave us in the discussion on intinction? My suggestion is that we vote down the proposed BCO amendment, not to make way for the permissiveness of practicing intinction, but because the PCA’s constitution seems clear enough as is to disallow it. And let’s sit across the table from those who wish to practice it and try to convince them that their practice is not in line with scripture or our standards. And then do the radical thing of trusting Holy Spirit to work through His Word. But in the end, let them know that we will not “come after them” if they desire to continue to practice intinction because the doctrine of church unity is of a higher importance in the scriptures than whether the sacramental elements are kept separate.
We, as a church, have to be mature enough to be able to make this distinction, namely that some biblical requirements are more important than others. (Even Jesus said there was a “greatest commandment”, implying that there are lesser ones.) This doesn’t relegate any biblical requirements to an “unimportant” column of life. It just seems to put them in a proper order.
Jesus prayed in John 17 that we might be one as He and the Father are One, and the reason He prayed this is so that the world might know that the Father sent the Son and that the Father loves us. So I reckon the converse would be true as well. If we are not striving for unity and purity, then we are giving the world opportunity to deny that the Father sent the Son or that He loves us. Lord, may it not be so.