Baptised with wine: how the Church came up with the combo-wafer

Holy Communion with both elements combined? One hundred years ago, the Church made this New Apostolic specialty mandatory for all districts. This new edition of our series on the communion wafer tells the story behind it all.

It was the first meeting of Apostles following the First World War. And very little of its content ever made its way outside that circle: in late July 1919, the Apostles assembled at the Chief Apostle’s residence in Quelle (West Germany) for “many hours of discussions that were not made public”. That was how the Church magazine known as the Neuapostolische Rundschau reported on the event a month later. The only things discussed and decided were matters of the Lord’s work that were important for that time.

But then the magazine went on to say: “As always, the highpoint of the Apostle meeting was Sunday’s festive divine service”—officiated by Chief Apostle Hermann Niehaus. In its report, the weekly magazine considered the “public, collective celebration of Holy Communion with both elements combined” to be particularly worthy of mention.

The Chief Apostle prepares the way

The Rundschau editors had already explained what this was all about some two years earlier—in response to a question from one of its readers: “Holy Communion was first administered in its modified format in Bielefeld on Easter”—of the year 1917—“and then gradually in most of the other Apostle districts. The wafers are baptised with the wine, such that the body and blood of Christ can be presented in combined form in the sanctified, baptised wafer.”

What is completely normal today was still unheard of at the time: the wine was no longer presented in a pitcher on the table of the Lord, but now took the form of a few drops sprinkled on the wafer. “This new form of administering the sacrament has been generally satisfactory so far,” reported the magazine. “The question of whether it will also be maintained in the time following the war will be decided by the Chief Apostle when the time comes.”

Some are still clinging to the chalice

Agreement was likely not quite so unanimous, however: “There are some who cannot seem to accept the new rulings, who, for example, still wish to drink from the chalice at Holy Communion,” the Neuapostolische Rundschau still laments in June 1919. And it counters: “Over the course of the centuries, the external form of administering the sacraments has undergone numerous changes.”

“Does this mean that baptism is any less valuable because it can no longer be performed at the Jordan? Or Holy Communion because it is no longer passed around as it was when Jesus introduced it 1900 years ago?” The clear answer is swift to follow: “By no means!”

From the present for the present

“From this we can see how the laws have always had to be issued anew in accordance with the conditions of the time. Therefore we must not remain stuck in the old ways either. After all, revelations have always been given from the present for the present.” The magazine went on to assert: “It is the task of the Apostles to recognise the plan of God for the completion of His work.”

These clear words had a great deal of weight, but this is something that only becomes clear after a second glance, as the Rundschau article is signed: S.N. And these are not merely the initials of some author. These letters stand for the statement: “Signed Niehaus”. In other words, this text was endorsed by none other than the Church leader himself.

So ruled by resolution of the Apostles!

So it was that the combo-wafer became mandatory shortly after the July meeting: “By resolution of the Apostles, this has now been ruled as the standard for the whole Church,” wrote then Apostle Johann Gottfried Bischoff to the congregations and ministers of his working area in September 1919. While the communion wine still remaining could be consumed, the following rule applied once it ran out: “The large communion pitchers should no longer be placed on the altar, only the chalices and patens.”

So now we know how the combo-wafer became official. But why was it even introduced in the first place? And is this method of administering the sacrament even appropriate? These subjects and more will be covered in future editions of this new series, which will be published in monthly sequence.

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Andreas Rother
Holy Communion, Doctrinal statements