I highly respect Joe Thorn as a preacher, and his podcast “Doctrine & Devotion” is one of the better Christian podcasts out there despite the some of the less than pointless banter between he and his brother in arms, Jimmy Fowler. However, I’m writing this article because Thorn published an article on the Doctrine & Devotion blog entitled, “Sip It, Don’t Dip It.”
In his article, Thorn makes an attempt to dissuade Christians from practicing the Lord’s Supper via intinction. For those of you who don’t know, intinction is the practice whereby you take the bread, dip it into the wine, and eat it. Apparently, this is an offensive practice within the ranks of the Reformed community, and until I read Thorn’s article and did the research, I didn’t realize that this was such a big deal.
First of all, I’m not writing this response to say that intinction is the only valid way to partake of the sacrament. That would be just as preposterous as saying that the only valid way to partake of the eucharist is by eating the bread first, and then drinking the wine. I’m simply defending the practice as being equally valid with the other ways in which the body of Christ has been known to partake throughout the ages.
Secondly, I’m going to kindly overlook the irony of a Baptist telling me that I shouldn’t ‘immerse’ the bread into the wine.
What I hope to accomplish is to start a conversation that might allow Joe Thorn and those who agree with him to reconsider their position of intinction as invalid. I could care less whether they personally practice intinction or not, but I feel holding to such a rigid position marginalizes brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to such a practice.
A Review of the Article in Question
Thorn starts out his article by saying that “rightly administering the Lord’s Supper is one of the marks of a true church.” Right out of the gate, Thorn is by implication stating that churches that practice intinction are not true churches because clearly he does not believe that this is a way to “rightly administer” the Supper.
As you continue reading the article you’ll find that Thorn has given us three reasons that he believes we should “sip it, don’t dip it” and I’ll examine all three of these reasons.
- The Command to Eat and Drink
- Thorn brings up an interesting point that there seems to be a separation in distributing and partaking of elements, but we have to ask ourselves if our Lord’s thought process behind this was because He foresaw the alleged evils of intinction down through the annals of time, and He wanted to make sure to prevent such a catastrophe by keeping the elements of the meal separate, or are the authors simply giving unfolding the events as they happened?We have to be careful not to read into the text what is not there, and what Thorn seems to be reading into the Gospel accounts is a command to separate the elements. In his paper on Scripture’s Normativity, Grant Gaines shares with us a couple of thoughts from N.T. Wright concerning the use of Scripture which I find relevant.
“As N. T. Wright reminds us, the Bible “is not a rule book; it is a narrative.”  To attempt merely to gather a collection of all the transcultural principles from Scripture is to “belittle the Bible” because it implies “that God has, after all, given us the wrong sort of book and [that] it is our job to turn it into the right sort of book by engaging in these hermeneutical moves.” 
- The Significance of the Blood Separated from the Body
- Notice what Thorn says here:
“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.”
This is going to probably sound more flippant than how I intend for it to be, but if the Lord’s Supper is simply a representation (as most Baptists would assert), then why does it matter? I mean if we’re saying that when Christ said, “This is my body” he actually meant “This is a representation of my body” then why would it bother Thorn for someone to practice intinction?
If we continue reading this section, we see Thorn again reading something into the text of Scripture that isn’t there. He argues that the Apostle Paul talks about the elements being separate and distinct in 1 Corinthians 10. If that’s the case, then let’s look at it. I’ll even play ball and look at it in the ESV.
“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, ESV
Paul certainly mentions the elements separately, but is this an explicit command for them to be taken separately? I’m not so sure. I think to say that this is a command for the elements to be taken separately is awfully akin to the Appalachian Pentecostals who believe that Mark 16 is a command to take up serpents and drink poison. I don’t see a command here. I simply see a statement about participating in Christ by partaking of the Supper.
However, Joe Thorn is adamant that “each taken separately is a “participation” in Christ.” By implication, he seems to be saying that the elements taken separately is not a participation in Christ. So, if it’s not a participation in Christ, then what is it? Well, the Apostle Paul seems to tell us in the 21st verse of the same chapter.
“You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” – 1 Corinthians 10:21, ESV
So, if the Paul is addressing intinction here (which he’s not) then that would mean that those who participating such a practice are eating and drinking at the table of Satan. I’m confident that Thorn did not mean to imply such a thing about well-meaning brothers and sisters, but that’s what happens when you read something into the text of Scripture that isn’t there.
- The Regulative Principle Cautions Us
- This third and final reason that Joe Thorn gives us assumes that the Regulative Principle even works to begin with.For those of you who don’t know what The Regulative Principle is, the Westminster Confession of Faith defines it in these terms,
“But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”
This means that we are to worship God only in the ways in which He has prescribed and not “according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan.” Sounds good, right? The problem is that Jesus Christ Himself did not follow the Regulative principle, as David and Tim Bayly point out here:
“Scripture tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue in Galilee on the Sabbath as was His habit, and there publicly read the Word of God, explaining Isaiah’s significance to the assembled people. In any Reformed church such action would be viewed as the the height of worship. Yet where in the Old Testament do we find express biblical warrant for synagogue worship? Where is routine public worship outside the realm of temple worship and public feast days positively commanded?”
Seeing as how Jesus didn’t observe this Puritanical practice, I’m not so sure that it’s useful for us to observe it either. Therefore, it’s not a valid reason to keep the elements separate in the Supper.
Concluding Thoughts on the Article
Joe Thorn concludes the article by trying to say that we are commanded to (in his words to “eat” and then “drink.” I find it humorous how he puts the the word “then” in there. It’s kind of like how one might put “a representation of” in between Jesus’ words, “is” and “my” in His statement, “This is my body.”
The last paragraph concludes with Thorn telling that us that “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.” So, basically he’s saying “don’t divide, just do it this way.” While I agree that it’s not issue to divide over (because my own home church doesn’t even practice intinction), I don’t think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed in such manner as to imply that those who practice intinction are not “rightly administering the supper.”
Why Does it Matter to Me?
If you read Rev. Lane B. Keister’s paper, then you’ll see that intinction was a practice that was probably introduced in the 3rd or 4th Century as a way for those who were physically ill to receive the Lord’s Supper without great danger of spilling the elements.
When I get the opportunity to partake of the Sacrament at a congregation that practices intinction then I am reminded that I am sick and in need of a Savior. I am reminded there is healing for me when I “participate” in Christ because He has said, “This is my body” and “this is my blood.” He is there. He may not be there in the that our Romanist friends say that He is there. I do not believe that the broken bread and the poured out wine is a sacrifice as they do, but I’m driven to believe that Christ is there in a very real sense.
But, when I partake of the Supper at a congregation that doesn’t practice intinction, the Supper is equally valid and equally special for me because I’m reminded just as elements are given to me separately so too was the suffering of our Lord given to Him separately. First, His body was beaten and tortured, then His blood was spilled, and just as the natural eating of bread gives life the body so does the death and resurrection of Christ bring life to the soul.
- N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?,” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991): 10.
- Ibid., 13. Elsewhere Wright states that “biblicistic proof-texting” is “inconsistent with the nature of the texts we have.” See N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 140. Wright contrasts the problematic approach of principlizing with what he considers to be a better way forward: “Rather than trying to filter out the actual arguments that Paul is mounting in order to ‘get at’ the doctrines that, it is assumed, he is ‘expounding,’ I have stressed that we must pay attention to those larger arguments and to the great story of God, the world, Israel, and Jesus, giving special attention to the ‘Israel’ dimension, within which the cross means for him what it means for him.” See N. T. Wright, “Reading Paul, Thinking Scripture,” in Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics, eds. Markus Bockmuehl and Alan J. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 70.