Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wine or grape juice at the Lord's Supper?

My friend Shane in seminary keeps running into guys who are arguing that wine should be used for the Lord's Supper. In Baptist land, we've used grape juice forever. He asked me why we didn't use wine, and I came up with the following five reasons, which I post here to stimulate discussion. Keep in mind I'm on vacation, and don't have access to my Greek New Testament, so be kind.

First, I'm going to argue, again, that this is NOT a dispute about what's biblically correct, but an argument about culture. It may sound like a biblical argument, but I'm quite confident that Shane's friends are all thoroughly enculturated as Reformed, 5-point nut cases who want to justify their beer, cigars, leather chairs and tweed smoking jackets. Ok... kidding about the tweed.... relax.

My thoughts.
1. The gospels refer to bread and "cup", not bread and wine. The word choice and its consistency seem relevant to me. Matt 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17, 20.

2. Jesus referring to the contents of the cup says "fruit of the vine," not wine. This too is consistent. Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18.

3. Even Paul in 1 Corinthians does not use "wine". 1 Cor 11:25ff. The context of Corinthians suggests that they were using wine, b/c theywere getting drunk, but that seems to me to contribute to the argument to NOT use wine.

4. I surmise, then, that the Bible contains NO explicit references to wine with respect to the Lord's Supper. (Without my usual study aids, I'm happy to receive correction on this point.)

5. Finally--and this is the kicker as far as my church goes--the reality of alcoholism is such that an alcoholic who has been straight for years can relapse upon a mere taste of the old substance. I have many friends recovering from alcohol abuse at different levels, and I would NEVER serve wine to any of them for this reason. Even if we are free in Christ to drink alcohol, we limit our freedom to accommodate our weaker brother (Romans 14).

These are not arguments for the superiority of grape juice, but against the notion that only wine is permissible, or that wine is best or "most biblical."

Come, do thy worst, ye wine-bibbing toads!


Chase Abner said...

I think you build a convincing argument. I'm sure those who insist on using vino in the Lord's Supper do so under the assumption that Jesus and the disciples were using wine. When the text says "THIS cup" they infer that it's referring to a specific kind of cup - one with wine in it. However, like you I think, I believe that the Lord was demonstrating His infinite foresight when He referenced not the contents of the cup. He intended and ordained the alcoholic to join your church and that the pastor would care enough not to set this particular stumblingblock along the path of sanctification.

Now I'll defend the nut cases. For some reformed folk, the insistence on using wine is part of a genuine desire to see the Church return to 1st Century belief and practice. I think this is because they have a greater commitment to the innerancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures than most church people. (That statement was not meant to start a fight. I know that I make it from my limited experience with Christians, particularly collegiate believers.)

Am I a nut case?

Caleb said...

Good arguments Mark. I think the most important point is from Romans 14. Are we free to drink alcohol in the Lord's Supper? I believe we are only to the degree that our doing so does not cause others to sin and as long as we are not showing off our so-called "liberty in Christ". If these things are happening then we only prove even more that alcohol shouldn't be used.

I am a 5-point nut case (and will gladly accept that label) and am certainly all for biblical fidelity, but I do not understand why some make a huge deal over this issue.

Mark said...

Chase, you are definitely a nut case.

But I happen to agree with both you points, particularly with the infinite foresight of the Lord. The more I study Jesus, the more intelligent I discover Him to be.

Chris Vacher said...

Are you okay with Canadians drinking beer for communion?

Mark said...

I'm sure that Canadians don't need my approval for anything, Chris.

But if we're talking about truly indigenous worship, I figure it'd be Molson...

Justin Tidwell said...

Mark as you know I can be a bit harsh when debating issues such as the Bible! With that out of the way, I feel that as Christians we need to move forward with things that matter, and by that I mean things that Christ has set us out to do! Things like Spreading His Word, Staying in constant prayer! Just to name two! Worrying about if we should use wine or grape juice gets us nowhere, except further away from the end goal! We as Christians need not worry about the unimportant. If Jesus served wine then great, BUT if Jesus were to come back down here to earth and serve His Supper again he would probly use grape juice too! Not to go on with this any more than I feel I need to but, they drank wine all the time! Do we know why? Anybody? Because that was thier culture and the water was not as good as it is now! In Europe the drinking age is way under ours! Should we debate over that? No! We have better things to do with our time! Again as Christians we need to stay focused!

Mark said...

I agree with you, Justin. Wine vs grape juice is not an important matter. I posted it in response to a question posed to me. It might be important to someone who's thinking through it. But it's clearly not one of the "big things."

Having said that, I think why we do the things we do always bears scrutiny. It's one thing to split hairs over minutiae, which I don't think I've done here, nor do I think I am prone to do so generally. It's another to think deeply about our faith and what really is most important.

What I argued for here (maybe not that well) is that acting in the interest of our weaker brother is more important than following a rule about what to serve at communion. I think that IS one of the "big things."

Anonymous said...

I believe it was actually a unique blend of goats milk and Gatorade. This is based on Mathew 84:10

mullinsworld said...

My first reading of your blog, wanted to see what the reasons against using wine is. So nothing new here; ambiguous in scripture (not really - talk about that later). Don't cause a brother to stumble (taken out of context - also later). We sorta make it up as we go; the real problem.

First disclaimer: I am Calvinist, Reformed and Biblical. This is certainly a biblical question not a cultural one, as if culture should have a place in the worship of the church anyway.

I subscribe to the regulative principal which states that worship should be based on what God explicitly commands in His Word as to how He wishes to be worshiped, not the way we wish to worship him.

First whether scripture denotes alcoholic fruit of the vine or nonalcoholic?

The same wine (Hebrew yayin) that made Noah (Gen 9:21), Lot (Gen 19:32-35), Nabal (1 Sam 25:37), Ahaseurus (Est 1:7, 10), and others (Isa 28:1, 7; Jer 23:9) drunk, was given to Abraham by Melchizedck (Gen 14:18), kept in the storehouses of the kings of Israel (1 Chron 27:27; 2 Chron 11:11; Neh 5:18) and permitted to all God’s people (Deut 14:26).

New wine (Hebrew tirosh) is the second most frequently used term. The first fruits of the vineyard were called new wine and usually mentioned favorably (Gen 27:28, 37; Num 18:12; Deut 7:13, 11:14). It was the Lord’s portion because it was the first and the best (Prov 3:9-10). Yet new wine had intoxicating properties (Hos 4:11) and was permitted to the people of God (Deut 14:23).

Other Hebrew words are also used to refer to wine and other intoxicating drink, but it is of note that in the Greek Septuagint the common word wine (oinos) is used to translate various Hebrew words. Since virtually all of the Hebrew terms referred to various kinds of fermented wine, it was natural that the Greek translators should employ the common Greek term for fermented grape juice.

So that leads us to the Last Supper which was instituted with wine, not grape juice. Jesus spoke of "the cup" as filled with "the fruit of the vine" (oinos) (Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18) which, according to some commentators, was an expression that designated wine partaken of at the Passover and on the evening of the Sabbath. It also recorded that some got drunk at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:21). Yet Paul did not condemn the wine but rather their wrongful use of it (1 Cor 11:22). Nor was it required of the elders and deacons to abstain from wine but rather to be moderate and truly temperate in their use of wine (1 Tim 3:3, 5:23; Titus 1:7).

So it is highly doubtful, Welch's was in Christ's cup when He instituted the sacrament.

So what about our brothers who have an addiction to alcohol?

1. All have sinned. All are saved by grace alone. The Lord's Supper is a remembrance of Christ's sacrifice to save us. I suggest that someone who would go off the wagon over a thimbleful of wine are not ready for the Lord's table. If the Holy Spirit is truly working within this person then certainly the God of the universe is powerful enough to keep this person from falling.

2. Should a holy sacrament that was instituted by the incarnate God on earth, be modified to keep sinners from sinning? Or should they refrain from sinning in order to receive the sacrament?

3. The very purpose of coming to the Lord’s table is to celebrate the victory of Christ over the powers of Satan and sin. At the communion table the converted alcoholic can begin to learn the difference between holy use and sinful abuse. Here, too, he can find the needed support to begin that new life of which Christ is Lord and His Spirit the power.

While I appreciate some of you may be trying to prevent a brother from stumbling, Paul was speaking about eating meat from pagan temples, not partaking of a holy sacrament. A bit of a difference there.

I also wonder when we try to do the Holy Spirit's job, are we not diminishing one of the Trinity. Are we not saying we know better. I also believe that the little accommodations we create in worship eventually lead to larger errors.

For an alcoholic brother, I would consult to him to pray and prepare himself for drinking the blood of Christ. If he feels he cannot avoid sin then I would consult him to abstain.

In Christ,

Alvin Mullins
All Saints Reformed Church
Brea, CA

Tom and Kathy said...

The Lord did say to drink of the cup...the fruit of the vine. He knew that Welch would make unfermented grape juice. If the Lord distinctly wanted us to avoid grape juice when celebrating the Lord's Supper...a holy sacrament...I believe He would have told us to drink vine (instead of the fruit of the vine).

Historically, wine was used for day to day consumption because there were no refrigerators...and the water probably wasn't too good. So culturally, wine at the Passover and Lord's Supper would be a no-brainer.

What does "the cup" which we have inherited mean? Certainly, it doesn't mean a debate over juice vs wine. Think about it.

Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Would it makes a difference if the fruit that we bear is expresses liquid which is fermented, unfermented; refrigerated or keep in a cellar keg.