As for the second question, why change now from grape juice to wine? The answer is a little more complex. The most succinct—if not the most forthright—answer is simply, “I don’t know.” I am not sure why now is the right time to switch—or even if now is the right time for our church to change from drinking grape juice at the Lord’s Supper to drinking wine. I have to believe—by faith—that the moment of conviction is normally the best moment for corrective action. Once we know what the will of God is, how long should we wait to obey it? I think the sooner we obey, the better, right?
Of course, it is possible to delay in order to achieve the full benefits of repentance. Consider Zaccheus—that wee little man who climbed up in a tree. When the Lord told Zaccheus that He would be going to his house, Zaccheus was immediately overcome by the condescending grace of our God that he repented at full throttle. Yet, Zaccheus—a wealthy tax collector—didn’t simply begin handing out money. Rather, he embarked on a mission to discover whom he may have defrauded, pledging to pay them back 4 times what he owed them. Such a thoroughgoing repentance takes a plan, and plans take time to enact. In one sense his repentance was immediate, yet in another it was more slowly enacted. Such is the case with our changing from grape juice to wine.
Most immediately, I have been reading a book (which I first read several years ago) in preparation for teaching at Southern Seminary. The book chides churches which use grape juice instead of wine. The author, Donald Macleod, offers a rather frank rebuke against the use of grape juice in the place of wine:
“Many, probably even most, evangelicals today, use unfermented grape juice…. They object in principle to the use of alcohol. Many of us, however, find this scrupulosity deeply disturbing. It not only involves a clear departure from biblical precedent, but implies adverse criticism of the wisdom and integrity of our Lord. The sacrament is not administered according to the mind of Christ if it willfully departs from His example” (Macleod, Priorities for the Church, 117-18).
In past readings, I went by this paragraph with no serious consideration of altering church practice. The reason, I think, is not so much because it was overlooked or considered unimportant; rather, the reason was most likely because our church was wrestling with much more basic issues at the time—or at least more urgent issues. The early years of my ministry here at Cedar Grove were spent mostly on church order and missions (both of which remain integrally important). The elements of the Lord’s Supper were not urgent priorities in view of other things which needed to be addressed.
But now, our church is more mature and ready, I think, to embrace boldly all of the instructions of the Scriptures. We don’t flinch when we are corrected by the Scriptures. We genuinely mean the line we sang as children, “the Bible tells me so.” When the Bible tells us so, we respond by believing it, putting our faith into action.
With Macleod’s critique on my mind, I headed back to the Scriptures and then to the elders of the church. We had a good discussion about the biblical teachings in relation to our practices as a church and concluded that there was no good reason to use grape juice instead of wine (particularly the non-alcohol wine which we chose). So, we put together a plan to introduce the wine at our January 2nd service.
Whether this was the right time to introduce the change to our church or not, I suppose I still don’t know, but I think that it probably was for at least two reasons. First, this move challenged us to be biblical instead of traditional. The Protestant Reformation placed a sharp emphasis on the necessity of the church to be always willing to conform to Scripture whenever Scripture and tradition collide. Our tradition—for the entire life of this local church—has been to use unfermented grape juice. We gladly altered that tradition in light of the Scriptures. Surely, that is a good thing, a mark of spiritual maturity and growing faith as a church. (It is always the right time for such faith to be practiced).
Second, because we are exercising faith, we are strengthening our own faith. Faith operates in the same way as our biceps. If we hope to keep them strong and healthy, we must give them a workout. Changing our practice at the Lord’s Supper offers us the opportunity to work out our faith. Anytime we work out our faith, it grows stronger. Already, I have received testimonies of folks who had never before seen the connection between the wine we drink at the Lord’s Supper and the glorious, aged wine we will drink at the marriage feast when Christ is finally and forever gathered with His bride, the Church. The wine is a foretaste of glory. We see that glory more clearly now because (by faith) we moved to wine.
In addition, I have also spoken with several folks who have asked about the bread Jesus would have used. Was it leavened or unleavened? Whichever it was, it most certainly was not the paper-flavored Chic-lets we are now receiving. One guy said he thought they were unseasoned croutons. No one has mistaken them for bread. So, come March 6th, we will likely be serving new bread with our new wine. And this, too, is healthy for a church body. One act of faith usually does open doors to other opportunities for faith, just as strengthening our biceps opens opportunities for us to do heavier lifting. It is good for us to give our faith a biblical workout. I am glad to be part of a church body which makes this exercise possible.
And now for answering some objections…