Sip It, Don't Dip It

Rightly administering the Lord's Supper is one of the marks of a true church. It occupies a critically important place in the life of God's people as a memorial of Christ, a preaching of the gospel, and a means of his grace. Yet, even among those who share this perspective there remain differences in practice. Throughout church history many have allowed for the use of white or red wine, wine or grape juice, leavened or unleaded bread, and a shared common up or individual cups. The frequency of the church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper also differs among Christ’s churches. All of this is worth debating, but one of the differences worth noting today is that of dipping the bread into the wine and then consuming the sopping bread vs. eating the bread and drinking the wine separately.

Some will no doubt believe I am spending too much time on too trivial a matter; but, in my estimation, this is an important matter to which we should give serious consideration. Should a church’s partaking of the bread and the cup in the Lord’s Supper keep the elements separate (eating and then drinking), or combine the elements by dipping the bread into the wine and then consuming both together?

What is Intinction?

Keeping the elements separate, eating the bread and then drinking the wine, is the earliest recorded practice of the church. Intinction is the dipping of the bread into the wine and then consuming both elements together. While we don't know exactly when this practice first showed up, we first read about it in the fourth century when Pope Julius I wrote against the practice. The early church did not combine the elements, so some time after the Apostles and before Pope Julias’ comments the practice arose. This new practice received increasing opposition until it almost entirely disappeared. Because it wasn’t the practice of the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation intinction didn't get much attention by the Reformers, though later theologians like Herman Witsius, Francis Turretin, and John Owen argued for keeping the elements separate.

Charles Hodge addressed the practice of intinction in his Systematic Theology, when he wrote:

“That it is against the nature of the sacrament, when instead of the two elements being distributed separately, the bread is dipped into the wine, and both are received together. This mode of administering the Lord’s Supper, was, it is said, introduced at first, only in reference to the sick; then it was practiced in some of the monasteries; and was partially introduced into the parishes. It never, however, received the sanction of the Roman Church.” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology Vol. III, p. 620)

This has been a controversial practice among our Presbyterian brothers and sisters, especially in the PCA. You can find much more thorough treatments of this issue by those brothers. But since intinction has been adopted by many baptists and baptistic churches without much pushback, I want to encourage people to reconsider the “combo-meal” approach to the Lord’s Supper.

Why Dip and Not Sip?

Most arguments I have heard and read defending the practice of intinction are not theological, but practical. Though this doesn’t necessarily make the argument bad, they fail to persuade me. For example, it more easily accommodates large gatherings, and requires less set up before hand. This especially appeals to a number of church plants that are mobile and have to set up and tear down the entire Sunday gathering each week. Perhaps this is why I’ve seen it practiced in a many new and young churches in my circles.

Sip it, Don’t Dip It!

1. The Command to Eat and Drink

Those who oppose intinction do so for a few biblical and theological reasons that, when combined, should compel us to keep the elements of the Lord's Supper separate.

Jesus himself separated the bread from the wine when he instituted the Lord's Supper, first giving the bread and then the wine to his disciples (Mk. 14:22-24; Mt. 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-20). In giving us this ordinance Jesus' command is clear. Eat and drink. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you...” (Matthew 26:26, 27)

2. The Significance of Blood Separated from the Body

Just as the Paschal lamb was sacrificed, its blood being poured out in death, so Jesus presents the Lord's Supper as a separation of blood and body. This separation itself signifies death and points explicitly to the death of our Savior. The Apostle Paul also presents the elements as separate and distinct in 1 Corinthians 10. Each, taken separately, is a “participation” in Christ:

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

When we remember our Lord's death in the Supper we are remembering that Christ "poured out" his blood and offered his body for us all.

3. The Regulative Principle Cautions Us

The Regulative Principle of Worship articulates the view that the church is only to include in corporate worship  those things that are explicitly or implicitly warranted by Scripture. It helps us decide what we do and how we do it. In taking the ordinances seriously we should maintain the meaning, elements, and form that Jesus established.

A Common Cup or Shot Glasses?

Some of my friends who practice intinction (and there are a lot of them!) press the issue of a "common cup." Many find significance in a common cup during the Lord's Supper, though most of them have to shift to more than one cup as their congregations grow. Nevertheless, the common cup to be shared by all is held as highly important for many. I am not one of them. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus does refer to a cup that was given, though the singular vessel itself does not seem to be the emphasis. It is what is in the cup and what it symbolizes that matters.

Additionally, when reading Luke’s Gospel we are told that Jesus actually took the cup and told the disciples, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves.” (Luke 22:17) It may even have been the earliest practice to see that everyone has their own cup.

My dipping brothers (and I don't mean that as an insult, I dip people in water myself!) sometimes give me a hard time for the "baptist shot glasses" we use in communion. "Better a real cup than a shot glass!" I have heard. But again, it is not the size of the cup that is relevant, not even one cup versus many cups that is important, but what we are commanded to do. "Eat" and then "drink."

Even if one finds the common cup argument persuasive it does not deal with the issue whether dipping or drinking is required.

When it comes to the worship of our triune God, the Reformed tradition calls us to be biblical in what we do, and careful in how we do it. The practice of intinction is not not found in scripture, and in fact is contradictory to the practice of Jesus, the disciples, and the early church. Thought this isn’t a practice over which one should break fellowship with a church, it is a practice that should be evaluated by the word of God and replaced with a separation of the elements.

*For those of you who keep the elements separate, you can purchase the Peter Voth designed, “Sip it, Don’t Dip it" tee from Doctrine and Devotion here.”

Joe Thorn