Rightly administering the Lord's Supper is a mark of a true church. It occupies a critically important place in the life of God's people as a memorial of Christ, the message of the gospel, and a means of his grace. Yet, even among those who share this perspective there remain differences in practice. I will address the frequency of the Lord's Supper in a later post, but I would first like to address the method of partaking of the bread and the cup; specifically, whether or not we should keep the bread and the wine separate (eating and then drinking) or combine the elements by dipping the bread into the wine and then consuming both together.
I know that some of you will read this and think that this is straining out a gnat, missing the forrest for the trees, or spending too much time on a trivial matter. But in my estimation this is an important matter we should consider seriously.
Let me say up front that there are godly and learned men who come to different conclusions after serious biblical and theological reflection. Unfortunately, I believe most simply do what they do (on either side) out of mere tradition or convenience.
Keeping the elements separate, eating the bread and then drinking the wine, is the earliest recorded practice of the church. While we don't know exactly when the practice of Intinction, dipping the bread into the wine and then eating, first shows up, we first read about it in the fourth century where Pope Julius I writes against the practice. Intinction didn't get much attention during the Protestant Reformation, but Herman Witsius, Francis Turretin, and John Owen are examples within the reformed tradition that argue for keeping the elements separate. Charles Hodge speaks to the issue of intinction in his Systematic Theology.
Eat and Drink
Those who oppose intinction do so for a few different reasons that, when combined, compel us to keep the elements of the Lord's Supper separate.
The Command to Eat and Drink
Jesus himself separated the bread from the wine when he instituted the Lord's Supper, each person receiving them in turn (Mk. 14:22-24; Mt. 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-20). In giving us this sacrament Jesus' command is clear. Eat and drink.
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 Jesus. The Apostle Paul presents the elements as separate and distinct in 1 Corinthians 10. Each, taken separately, is a "participation" in Christ.
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.
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. Nevetheless, the common cup to be shared by all is held as highly important for many. I am not one of them. In Mark 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 is symbolizes that is being taught.
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 "shot glasses" we use in communion. "Better a real cup than a shot glass!" But again, it is not the size of the cup, but what we are commanded to do. "Eat" and then "drink."
Even if the common cup argument is persuasive it does not deal with the issue whether dipping or drinking is required.
At Redeemer we keep the elements separate. Yes, we use those little "shot glasses." People come forward during the service for the bread and (a) cup. We do what Jesus commanded and "divide it among [ourselves]" (Luke 22:17). For us it is an issue of doing what he commanded.
This may be a small issue to some. It is certainly not an issue I would break fellowship over. While I do think it is against the command and pattern we see in Scripture, when I am worshipping with my brothers and sisters who practice intinction, I join them. We are one body. One family. I love the Lord's Supper! It is a time for remembering, celebrating, and believing afresh the sacrifice that Jesus made through his body and blood. And I know that those who differ from me believe the same.
Intinction: An Historical, Exegetical, and Systematic Theological Examination, by Lane Keister
The Lord's Supper, ed. by Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R Crawford