Adiaphora and Intinction: A Novelty Motivated by Pragmatism

The failure of the majority side to provide grounds for its committee recommendation was telling. The overture marshaled an impressive list of arguments: biblical (Jesus’ Eucharistic words), theological (the sacrificial meaning of the separation of the body and blood), historical (two Western church councils and the uniform practice of Reformed Protestantism), and constitutional (the language of the Book of Church Order). The case was airtight. No rebuttal of these arguments was attempted, save that of adiaphora, indifference.

The Reformed principle requires that we worship “according to Scripture.” The Last Supper was a meal, a covenantal meal, with two distinct sacramental actions. Consequently, our administration of the Supper must mirror Jesus’ own. Though some of the particulars of mealtime customs may differ from culture to culture, we are to get as close as is practical to the original, while distinguishing what is important from what is indifferent.

“Tradition” is not a bad word. The Apostle Paul urges us to “maintain the traditions” (1 Corinthians 11:2; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6). Among the benefits of belonging to a denomination is that we don’t have to reinvent the liturgical wheel every generation. Our spiritual fathers and mothers have worked through a number of issues for us, and the Fifth Commandment would have us honor their work. They grappled with grape juice, with remaining in the pews, with multiple cups, with leavened and unleavened bread, and concluded that the churches have latitude when it comes to these questions. What they never approved of was intinction. They could not regard it as a matter of indifference, though the practice was known.