Sunday, August 23, 2009

Guest Post - Arlo D. Duba

The following is a "guest post" from my good friend of long-standing, Presbyterian minister Dr. Arlo D. Duba, former professor of worship, which he shares in response to my August 2 post on the question of when we started to use Communion cups.

There is a rather humorous and interestingly long episode in the history of the Presbyterian Churches on the matter of Communion cups, Communion wine and Communion etiquette. First of all, there is the original injunction in the Westminster Directory as used in the Kirk of Scotland that “communicants are to receive seated at the Table, not remaining in the pews.” Even as the transition came, two elders would stretch a “housling cloth” from one end of the pew to the other, to simulate a table cloth while the bread and the chalice were passed over it! However, at least two General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, 1825 and 1829, inveighed against the “lounging indifference” practice of “seated communion.”

Even so, the single chalice that was passed contained wine, not grape juice among American Presbyterians until shortly after the beginning of the 1900s. And the plates held broken (not cut up) pieces of bread. Before 1875 – 1900 Presbyterian congregations always used wine, not grape juice. The use of grape juice was advocated for the first time in 1869 by Dr. Thomas B. Welch, and dentist in Vineland, NJ, and a devout Methodist. He developed a process of pasteurization which would stop fermentation, and keep grape juice fresh (you may recall Welch’s Grape Juice).
The Digest of the Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly in the southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS), for example, shows that in 1892 the Assembly affirmed that “The Scriptural element to be used in the Lord’s Supper is the fermented grape-juice,” but added that “the use of the unfermented grape-juice would not necessarily vitiate the validity of the ordinance.” In 1893, having received objections, the Assembly rescinded the second part of that interpretation! I assume that means that it was the opinion that unfermented grape juice did vitiate its validity!

Northern “liberals” moved more quickly to grape juice. The 1895 PCUSA Assembly declared, “Unfermented fruit of the vine fulfills every condition in the celebration of the sacrament.”
However, in the PCUS in 1914 a Savannah, GA church was still asking for an opinion. Does the session have the right to decide between fermented and unfermented grape juice, and if so, are both equally valid? The Assembly responded “yes” to the first part, and did not respond to the second part. That did not satisfy some, and it came to the Assembly again in 1916. That Assembly responded that “Previous Assemblies had answered all needs, giving ample liberty for any session to be guided by its own interpretation of the Scripture.” That settled that! But interestingly, the record shows that wine continued to be used at the PCUS General Assembly communion services.

A similar humorous situation repeated itself with reference to the “Chalice – communion cups” debate. Although the northern PCUSA church affirmed as early as 1882 that the Session may determine what is bread and what is wine, and in 1895 confirmed that “unfermented fruit of the vine fulfils every condition in the celebration of the sacrament,” that same assembly said that it “sees no sufficient reason to change the primitive and historic method of administering the Lord’s supper, by the introduction of what is known as ‘the individual Communion cup,’ and urges upon its church not to make the change. Thus they endorsed the “one chalice” option.

This endorsement raised a firestorm! Objections cited biblical references, such as 1 Cor 8:14-17. People said that in the Bible, “cup” is always in the singular, etc. But there was a hygiene group that stressed the newly developing understanding of virology. They spoke equally loudly about the possibility of the transmission if disease. And there were objections from larger churches. They had long ago found it necessary to use two or more chalices to pass through the congregation.

In response, the General Assembly of 1896 concluded that it “leaves the matter of the number of cups to be used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper to the Sessions of our churches, where it constitutionally belongs.”

There is an interesting postscript. The Presbyterian Church in Floyd, Virginia continued to use chalices and wine on into the 1920s. They moved to individual cups and grape juice when several men were received into the church who had “an alcohol problem.”

Maybe at another time I will talk about the “Pouring-lip Chalice” possibility. It is my favorite communion distribution method.
Arlo D. Duba

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for joining in the conversation!