Intinction and Extinction: Where is Our Good Faith?

Intinction and Extinction: Where is Our Good Faith?

To Dip or Not To Dip

To the surprise of some of my fellow elders in my Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) presbytery, I voted against the proposed language change to the Book of Church Order 58-5 concerning intinction.(1) It is not because I believe or practice intinction. In fact, in my estimation, the exegetical and historical arguments against intinction deliver a knockout blow. 

Some defend intinction, claiming that its rejection logically requires the rigid adherence to a common chalice or the use of wine rather than grape juice. I don't mean to pass the cup, but such arguments simply fail to persuade. They confuse categories; they are apples and oranges - or perhaps better, bread and wine.

Others make a case for intinction because of its graphic value. "A bloody sop of bread is a vivid and nearly gruesome reminder of the broken body and poured out blood of our Savior."(2) Cultural trends evidence a fierce longing for multi-sensory experience in worship. Twenty-first century worshippers seek services which grip with the kind of emotional and graphic force of Mel Gibson's portrayal of the crucifixion (The Passion of Christ). Drunk with existential idols, worshippers want to feel something. Intinction drips alluringly for such contemporary instincts.

Yet in reflecting the biblical texts (Matt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26), our confessional language could hardly speak more lucidly: eat and drink, not eat in drink. Jesus himself regulated the Supper. He distinguished verbally and methodologically between the bread and the wine. Our Standards do not miss these distinctions. 

Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) (3) calls us to give and receive bread and wine "according to the appointment of Jesus Christ" (WLC 168). In keeping with the regulative principle, the catechism calls us not to a generic communion principle, but to the express command of our Lord. 

This theology in practice gets further explanation in WLC 169: ministers of the Word are ". . . to take and break the bread, and to give both the bread and the wine to the communicants: who are, by the same appointment, to take and eat the bread, and to drink the wine, in thankful remembrance that the body of Christ was broken and given, and his blood shed, for them" (cf. WSC 96). Intinction plainly does not honor the words of institution, the methods of the Lord of the Table, nor the theology of the sacrament itself.

So why did I oppose the amended language to BCO 58, forbidding the practice of intinction? For the same reason I oppose in thesi statements (declarations on a particular subject) on the historicity of Adam.

To Adam or Not To Adam

At the same General Assembly (2012), Westminster Presbytery (among others) brought an overture concerning historic Adam. Westminster's statement, which was subsequently delivered to all PCA presbyteries, was quite good. The statement communicated faithfully, clearly, even usefully. I liked it. I agree with it. I do not support it.

Why not? Because whether Adam was a special creation from the dust of the ground is not confessionally uncertain. Following texts like Genesis 2:7, which unambiguously express Adam's creation as a distinctive work of God, our Standards render Adam's unique creation with potent perspicuity. Adam was not, and then God made him from the dust. 

WCF 4.2 states that God "created man," and that he spoke to man and woman in the Garden. Remarkable fellowship follows the punctiliar creation. WLC 17 (cf. WSC 16) more explicitly expands the special creation of man by personal and immediate divine action. Again it is put in time ("After God had made all the other creatures, he created man male and female"), and describes a particular process ("formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man"), in which God's creating work was special and immediate. 

WCF 7.2 indicates that God made a "first covenant with man." The statement rests upon the personal, immediate work of God in the creation of our First Parents in his image (cf. WCF 6.1; WLC 21). In fact, WCF 6:3 describes these parents as the "root of all mankind," and Adam is described as a "public person" in whom "all mankind . . . fell" (WLC 22). Adam is both "covenant" head and genetic head (WLC 22).(4)

Advocacy--not mere affirmation or acceptance--of this historic Adam is a confessional non-negotiable, because its truth strikes at the vitals of religion (cf. BCO 34-5). In the Westminster Standards, the divine creative act is neither historically nor theologically elastic. We find no wiggle room.

Yet, many worm and squirm. So why all the wiggling?

Biologos ( has hit the evangelical world with a big bang. Working with a concordist model of science and faith, the organization claims, "evolution is a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes in creation" and "the Bible [is] the inspired word of God, and . . . is compatible with new scientific discoveries."(5) As their research and writing indicates, the "evolutionary creation" (yes, that is what they call it) model raises questions about the historicity of a first man. With echoes of Shakespeare, to Adam or not to Adam has become the pressing question.(6)

For the narrowing list of adherents to a real historical Adam, Derek Kidner's "modified monogenesis," or some kissing cousin of this paradigm evidently remains the only academically respectable position to take. Adam's Genesis 2:7 "creation" is really a pre-historic selection from a pre-Adamic group of hominids. With thanks to the ex cathedra interpretive conclusions concerning the genetic code, we now know the Adam you thought your Bible taught is not the Adam that was. . . or wasn't. 

Confused? Troubled? Don't be. Thus saith the scientific community and so followeth the evangelical academic Magisterium. 

The big bang has actually rattled still closer to home. Bruce Waltke's affirmation of theistic evolution on Biologos propelled his departure from Reformed Theological Seminary. Former Westminster Theological Seminary professor, Peter Enns now seeks to free evangelicals from the allegedly naïve union of history and theology. He winsomely explains how your mother's historic Adam is now extinct.(7) With Gumby-like hermeneutics, Enns not only denies this Adam, but actually espouses a post-exilic writing for the entire Old Testament, when the freed peoples defend their own existence through creative re-imagining. In this paradigm, Adam is not Adam; he is Israel in retroactive recapitulation. Clear as mud? Read Enns to see the ambiguity more clearly.

Enns no longer finds a real Adam a real need. "The more I look at this passage, the less I see how it makes a lick of difference to the force of Paul's argument whether Adam is an historical figure or not.  To my mind, the fundamental analogy still holds even if we were to add one more disanalogous element to those we have already rehearsed: whereas Adam was a fictional character of a mythic past, Jesus was for Paul an historical figure of recent memory. No matter. The comparison still holds. Jesus is, in some important ways, like Adam, just as He is said elsewhere in the New Testament to be like Moses, like Jonah, like Jeremiah, like Elijah, like a lamb, like a vine, like a door, like a shepherd, and like dozens of other things." (8) So there you . . . like . . . have it. Penetrating interpretive analysis at . . . like . . . its best.

Covenant Seminary Professor Jack Collins' book on Adam (9) leaves the historic and confessional interpretation of the Old Testament effectively an open question. Employing his well-rehearsed and at many points commendable literary approach, Collins seeks to preserve some (nondescript) notion of historicity within the Old Testament narratives, including the early chapters in Genesis. One of the open options is pre-Adamic hominid election. Adam and Eve could have been a pair chosen from out of groups of hominids, selected for divine purpose. As recorded in a Christianity Today article, Collins remarks, "'If genetics eventually forces reconsideration,' he could perhaps reconceive of Adam and Eve as 'the king and queen of a larger population' and thereby preserve Genesis' historicity.'" (10) 

What Then is the Problem?

Out of these contemporary considerations of Adam and the Lord's Table, the message blares loudly. The Westminster Standards and the PCA's Constitution are documents to interpret creatively rather than to advance sympathetically. In fact, for many, imaginative spinning elicits admiration rather than alarm. That trend in itself is alarming. Add to that drift the driving "theology of nice", where latitude in theology is a badge of honor and marking theological lines is inherently unloving, we find ourselves in an age when truth gets trumped by contemporary imports - academic and cultural.

It is no longer academically respectable to hold to Adam as a special creation from the dust of the ground. That thinking is dead and gone. Get with the times.  Even if it were true, it lacks cultural timbre. It is now more germane to soak your morsel in the communion cup. Let's not be so banal about the language or historical meaning of the Confession. This is a new day, and theology should not be so nasty, so separating, so rigid, so . . . historically reformed. Drop Adam and dip your bread in your wine. Adam is extinct, let's intinct.

It is no wonder that confessionally-wise PCA presbyteries like Westminster are concerned enough to pen in thesi statements. They are right to be disturbed. Should we not join them in reinforcing constitutional language, fortifying our commitments by declarative affirmations? 

It is no wonder there surged a new anti-intinction language proposal. Churches in our denomination do practice intinction and already stretch the language of BCO 58 beyond breaking point. Should we not strengthen it with more explicit language? 

Surely, it is thought, more clarifying words will save the day, preserve orthodoxy, and turn back the tide of cultural and academic compromises. For the peace and purity of the Church, we must speak, defend, and clarify. It sounds right. It sounds compelling. It surely intends faithfulness and integrity.

As good as they seem, I fear the tactics will fail. They may well backfire.

Don't misunderstand. I do not oppose BCO language changes. Believe me, there are changes that need be made and many of them I have advocated and supported. There are many times I'm tempted to lead the charge.

Nor do I principally oppose in thesi doctrinal statements. After all, I serve as chairman of the ad interim committee on Insider Movements, which intends to deliver Part Two of its report to the Assembly in June 2013. The men on this committee have not invested the hundreds of hours to such in thesi argument because they are opposed to all PCA "deliverances." We are writing because the 39th and 40th General Assemblies asked us to. 

We are also writing because our Church needs to evaluate something our Standards do not have in their immediate purview. For the sake of the gospel and its advance, it is our task to articulate the good and necessary consequences of our confessional standards concerning Insider Movement theology, hermeneutics, and methods. So we write, and Lord willing, will report.

Intinction and historic Adam (and we could add, among other things, paedocommunion here) are debates altogether different. That our Standards and Constitution already speak directly, forcefully, and unambiguously about these points of doctrine and practice suggests that the problem is not the words. Attempts at clarifying what is already clear suggest that what is clear is not clear. Redundant statements neither reinforce nor clarify. They dilute. Redundant statements neither reinforce nor clarify. They dilute. Redundant statements neither reinforce nor clarify. They dilute. 

You see what I mean.

By attempting to correct what is already correct, we miss the problem itself. G. K. Chesterton's insightfully responded when he was asked publicly to answer the question, "What is wrong with the world?" With wisdom that surpassed the wit, he penned, "I am." 

We need Chesterton-like humble, self-critical reflection. And I believe when we carry out this self-analysis, we will find that the problem is not the Confession, but those who confess and how they confess. We are the problem.

Are We Putting Good Faith in "Good Faith"?

At the 30th General Assembly, after a hard fought battle on confessional subscription (acceptance and submission to the doctrinal standards), the PCA adopted "good faith" theological subscription, the via media between strict and loose subscription. This centrist line blew like a fresh spring wind; choosing "good faith" put the PCA out of its theological subscription debate misery.

Yet however painful it might be, we must face the question again. Yes, already. And yes, really. Though the "good faith" language was advanced in, well, "good faith," its approach presupposed assumptions about language and meaning that are no longer universally shared. Times were changing, but the theories that then pushed higher academia to its limits have now become culturally pervasive paradigms. We are immersed in reconstituted, recalibrated senses of meaning; and this shift does "good faith" very badly.

Reader-centered and deconstructive interpretive approaches took root in the university systems in the 1970's through the influence of men like Jacques Derrida. "Mr. Derrida was known as the father of deconstruction, the method of inquiry that asserted that all writing was full of confusion and contradiction, and that the author's intent could not overcome the inherent contradictions of language itself, robbing texts - whether literature, history, or philosophy - of truthfulness, absolute meaning and permanence. The concept was eventually applied to the whole gamut of arts and social sciences, including linguistics, anthropology, political science, even architecture."(11) In the emergence of culturally cutting-edge ministries, we must add theology to the list. Meaning has taken a journey from author and text to the reader and his context.(12) 
While few consciously embrace Derrida in toto, his postmodern (deconstructionist) linguistic theory has revolutionized contemporary thought, including that in the church. As the hermeneutical chaos of the 20th and 21st centuries verifies, Derrida sympathizers have shaped not only the world of reading but the world of readers and thinkers. Texts mean what they mean to me. Leeching on Western narcissism, Derrida and company delivered intellectual justification for culturally pervasive drunken, self-absorption. Words on a page are mine, even those I didn't write.

For those scratching your heads, wondering what this has to do with your own world (as if you and I actually have our own worlds; thanks, Mr. Derrida and postmodernism!), consider your neighbors' opinions of faith and morality. They draw conclusions from opinion, experience, and feelings: "I feel all war is wrong because" or "in my opinion, in this case stealing is justified" or "the way I see it is" or "I think what someone does in private in their business. Why should I care?" In a world of self-absorption, morality flits between pragmatism and sentimentality. 

The church is in no way exempt. Think of the Bible studies we attend and the conversations with fellow church members about Scripture. "What I think it means" and "what I got from the verse" and "what grabbed me" dominate Bible--or is it self?--study. Even in the reading of Scriptures, many of us have swallowed ourselves whole. 

"Good faith" subscription under the spell of reader-centered hermeneutics naturally takes a perverse turn inwards. With language and meaning as primarily pragmatic tools in our own arsenals, ancient texts (the Confession and the Bible included!) and contemporary texts are dominated by the question, What does this mean to me? 

If meaning comes to words rather than from them, then confessing my faith can mean that I affirm the Westminster Standards as I understand them at the moment. Its meaning is my possession and at my disposal. It is not what the Confession meant, per se, but what the Confession means to me or even what I think it meant when it was written - which may or may not have that same meaning now. Times change. And because I determine meaning and my own contexts change, my meanings too can change, and can do so without perceived integrity failure.(13) 

Exacerbating the problem, the "theology of nice" has turned faith confession into a matter of good intent, rather than good content. As one well-respected PCA Teaching Elder voiced publicly two years ago, "What would it take today for a candidate not to pass an ordination exam in our presbyteries?" Bad answers are received as acceptable because the candidate surely means well. Bless his heart. Floor exams are difficult. He'll surely learn. Let's show a little love.

But at whose expense? His congregation's? His presbyteries? Our denomination's? Christ's Church? Who then do we really love?

Such an orientation, though often stealth, drives subscriptionism against the ropes. "Good faith", as currently implemented, simply cannot withstand these body blows. Want proof? Consider exhibits A and B: intinction and Adam. In these debates we pound the Confession and Constitution with restatements of clear statements. In so doing we miss the real problem - the confessors themselves, and inflame another - stimulating the felt sense of ambiguity in our constitutional documents. "Good faith" collapses under "good feeling," and we fall right into the ooze of postmodern mush.
The Western Church (that's us!) is in varying stages of sinking into that gushy theological gook, and we must find a life rope.

Restoring Good Faith in "Good Faith"

Properly employed, "good faith" assumes that the Confession expresses meaning meaningfully because God has spoken, and the Confession attends to receiving and expressing those divine words faithfully. "Good faith" subscription can operate with effectiveness only because the constitutional language itself possesses and conveys actual meaning. In "good faith," the speaker ex animo (from the heart, sincerely) supports, believes, and commends those content-laden words. "Good faith" subscription means that I receive the resident meaning of the Westminster Standards as my own. Exceptions arise for precisely the same reason: conscience before the supreme standard-the divinely revealed, content-laden Word of God.

To be clear these comments issue no plea for strict subscription. Only to the Scriptures do we pay that pledge. Rather it is a plea to revisit "good faith" subscription, and to put our own ordination vows and those of the next generations of ministers to the "good faith" test of what "good faith" intended. Good feeling--even sincere good feeling--and pure doctrine are not blood brothers. Postmodernism has birthed murkiness, and treats orthodoxy like a redheaded stepchild. Combine such reader-centered, interpretive fog with our "theology of nice," and our precious doctrinal integrity will slip right through our intinction soaked fingers. 

How do we respond? For starters, we need to ask the hard questions and face the hard answers. We must recognize the problem in the mirror: the problem is not the Confession, but we, the confessors. The problem is not the Constitution, but its advocacy. 

Practically speaking, committee and floor exams must move from abstract affirmations to appropriated implications of our Constitution. We must address licensure and ordination candidates head on with contemporary theological and methodological questions. The following questions merely illustrate.

* What do you believe the Bible teaches about the historicity of Adam? Defend your answer biblically and confessionally.
* Explain how the special creation of Adam grounds the gospel, and how that teaching brings hope.
* Your most senior elder's son is a geneticist, and he and his family are also members of your church. The geneticist son believes that Adam was not an historical figure but serves a good theological purpose. He wants to teach a Sunday School course on Genesis in your church. What will you do and why? What if he wants to teach Romans?
* Name the biblical passages and confessional teaching that direct your practice of the Lord's Table. 
* You serve in a community of former Roman Catholics, and some are now coming to your church. They want to intinct. You want to be pastorally warm. How will you use your Bible and the Confession to address their insistence upon intinction?

How candidates answer is as important to assess as what they answer. And clear, confident, and confessionally sympathetic answers must come forthrightly. If they do not, the candidate must not pass. It is that simple. And such rigor applied to our and the next generations is the loving responsibility of the Church.

Does the Westminster Confession of Faith possess historical value only or does it possess relevant truth today? Is it a document to work around or work under? Does it free us or bind us? Do our confessional standards promote and preserve gospel ministry or pressurize and prevent it? 

Such questions are anything but arcane. "Good faith" subscription is not only about how we hold the Confession, but how it holds us.

If we do not revisit the ex animo commitment to our ordination vows, if we do not test our budding candidates with increased rigor and the highest of standards in thought and practice, and if we do not revisit our good and received faith and its "good faith" subscription, we will go the way of Adam. The PCA, as we will know it, will be extinct.

May Christ help us to strive for the peace and the purity of his Church. Only when "good faith" is in the good faith, once for all delivered to the saints, will we do so.

Dr. David B. Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and Assistant Pastor of Teaching, Proclamation Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, PA

1. Intinction is the practice of dipping the bread in the wine and partaking of the elements simultaneously. The PCA's Book of Church Order (BCO) contains the Form of Government, The Rules of Discipline, and the Directory for the Worship of God.

3. The Westminster Standards consist of three statements of doctrine: the WCF = Westminster Confession of Faith; the WLC = Westminster Larger Catechism; the WSC = Westminster Shorter Catechism.

4. Original sin comes to all humans "by natural generation" (WLC 26).

5. (Accessed February 13, 2013).

6. For an excellent treatment of this question, see J. P. Versteeg, Adam in the New Testament: Mere Teaching Model or First Historical Man? (Second Edition; translated by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2012).

7. Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say About Human Origins (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2012).

9. C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).

10. Recorded in Richard Belcher's "Review of C. John Collins' Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?" (Accessed February 13, 2013).

11. Jonathan Kandell, "Jacques Derrida, Abstruse Theorist, Dies at 74," The New York Times (October 10, 2004). (Accessed February 15, 2013).

12. See David B. Garner, "Did God Really Say?" in Did God Really Say? Affirming the Truthfulness and Trustworthiness of Scripture (ed. by David B. Garner; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2012), 129-61.

13. I know personally two scholars accepted for faculty positions at two different prominent, evangelical theological institutions. Their views differed substantively from the schools' doctrinal standards. Both men, who consciously reject interpretive relativity, were told by the senior administrative and academic officers not to worry about their differences with the doctrinal statements, to keep a low profile about their disagreements, and to join the faculty anyway. At the end of the day, advocating personal gymnastics routines with the meaning of words is a massive integrity problem.