Why We Use Wine (Conclusion)

Finally, allow me to say that there are issues to consider concerning the Lord’s Supper and the use of wine.  First, there is the issue of liberty.  Liberty comes from Christ (Galatians 5:1; John 8:31-32).  However, the Apostle Paul instructs us concerning our liberty that it is not an excuse for leading a weaker Christian astray.  We may not take our freedom and with it cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble.

Since prohibition, evangelical Christians in America have been strongly influenced by the teetotalism position, and Christianity (at least in part) has been defined by a strict morality relating to drinking alcohol.  (As the saying goes in Arkansas, “We don’t drink; we don’t chew, and we won’t date the girls who do”).  Many (most?) Christians think it is a sin to drink alcohol.

Because of this moral code, some Christians believe that drinking a single sip of wine is itself a sin.  This, of course, cannot be so because our Lord drank wine.  And Paul commanded Timothy to drink wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23).  Probably, this was the diluted wine mentioned earlier, but, again, it was still alcoholic wine.  In fact, the alcohol is the implied reason Timothy should drink the wine.  The alcohol might kill bacteria in the water which could have been causing Timothy’s stomach trouble.  So, it would be the case that alcohol has a positive effect in some instances (and without drunkenness).

We understand from this that drinking a glass of wine is not itself a sin.  Yet, we ought to be considerate of others who have come out of alcoholism or lifestyles in which alcohol has had devastating effects.  They rightly sense the danger, and we must not be cavalier in our exercise of our “rights” as Christians.  We may be free to drink a glass of wine, and yet we may be better served to abstain from drinking.  If we are truly concerned for Christian liberty, then we must recognize that we have the right to drink a glass of wine—and the freedom to decline it.  Like Paul, we can “try to please everyone in everything [we] do, not seeking [our] own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33).

Second, many will assert that drinking wine at the Lord’s Supper is wrong because it hinders the recovery of former alcoholics.  According to AA, the alcoholic will always be subject to the temptation of alcohol and always in danger of entrapment if he takes even the first sip.  What a tragedy if that first sip were offered at a worship service.

This issue is tricky.  On the one hand, the danger is real.  Alcohol is a temptation to sin for some people.  Some are deeply scarred by their former drunkenness.  Yet, on the other hand, we must trust the wisdom of the Lord.  He is the one who instituted this practice, and, as I said earlier, He is the one who knows best the awfulness of sin, including the sin of drunkenness.

The key which I believe will unlock this dilemma is found in 1 Corinthians.  In chapter 6, Paul acknowledges that drunkenness is a defining sin which will keep a person from the kingdom of God.  Drunkards will not inherit the kingdom.  Yet, Paul then asserts a most wonderful proposition.  The alcoholic can be washed, cleansed, sanctified, and justified by God Himself through the washing with the water of the Word (1 Corinthians 6:11).  Paul seems to say that once you are born again by the Spirit and the Word, you are no longer an alcoholic.  You are no longer a drunkard.  You are no longer barred from the Kingdom.  You are, in fact, a saint.  You are set apart for holiness.  You are justified in the sight of God.  You are born again as a new—non-alcoholic—creature.

The Christian who was saved out of alcoholism is NOT an alcoholic any more.  He is a new creature in Christ Jesus.  This manner of thinking is contrary to some postmodern psychology, but it is in concert with God.  God changes us from the inside out.  We are born again.  And, because we are born again, we are no longer slaves to the sins which once held us captive.

Far from serving as an entrapment to further sin, drinking wine at the Lord’s Supper is a spectacular way to picture the complete redemption of the saint who once had fallen to drunkenness.  So, former alcoholic, drink the wine of redemption.  Remember the manner in which you had once become a slave to the sin of drunkenness, and now eat the bread of forgiveness and drink the wine of release.  Proclaim the Lord’s death as you drink the cup.  It was His death which took away your captivity to the sin of drunkenness.  It was His death which set you free to become a child of God.  And children of God are not drunkards any more.  Celebrate this glorious reality by sipping a cup of wine at the Lord’s table.  Drink wine in the manner the Lord intended it instead of in the way the Devil perverted it.

I understand in all of this there must be caution and wisdom and care taken.  Honestly, this was a factor in our decision to use non-alcoholic wine.  Though non-alcoholic wine does have trace amounts of alcohol in it, it does not have enough alcohol to affect any kind of “buzz.”  Non-alcoholic wine, for instance, would be—at most—1 proof (.05% alcohol by content).  The important thing is not the content of the alcohol but the substance itself.  It is wine.  Just as the Lord instituted for His followers to drink.

Why We Use Wine (Part 3)

Most commonly, evangelical churches today do not use wine; rather, they use grape juice as a representation of “the fruit of the vine.”  In the gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper, the word for “wine” is not actually used.  Instead, you will find simply, “the cup,” or “the fruit of the vine” (See Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-23).  To conclude from this use of language that the element must have been grape juice instead of wine would be something like concluding from Paul’s use of the term “saints” (instead of Christians) that he must be referring to Mormons. But, of course, he wasn’t.  He was speaking of Christians, and no one thought anything else.  Neither have Christians thought that the wine was anything other than wine until about the time of Prohibition in America (1919-1933).  As late as 1894, Edward Hiscox, in his Principles and Practices for Baptist Churches, notes that Baptist churches used wine for the Lord’s Supper.  Bread and wine were the elements used by Baptists in the 19th Century.

The truth of the matter is, the terms “cup” and “fruit of the vine” refer to the wine in its various symbolic functions.  The “cup” is a double entendre, meaning that it functions with two important meanings.  First, it functions as the cup of God’s wrath which Christ drank for us (Luke 22:42).  Christ is the Passover Lamb sacrificed for the salvation of God’s people.  As such, His blood is spilled and covers them from the angel who executes God’s wrath.  The “cup” of the covenant in Christ’s blood is a reference to the symbolic function of the wine to remind us of the Lord’s sacrificial death for us which is the basis of our salvation (just as the blood on the doorposts saved Israel’s firstborn from the death angel in Egypt).  Christ, of course, drank the cup when he spilled his blood for us.  Those outside of Christ do not have such a cup of the covenant.  Rather, they must drink the cup of God’s wrath alone, and the cup of God’s wrath is also—not coincidentally—a cup of wine:

“If anyone worships the beast and his image , and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:9, NASB).

The cup of the covenant (which is filled with wine) is a sobering reminder to us of the wrath of God which Christ drank for us.  No wonder there is a little bitterness to the cup of wine we drink.  We are supposed to remember the awful death Christ died for us in our drinking of it.

And yet, it is precisely here that the second—sweeter—function of the wine appears.  The “fruit of the vine” is a term of thanksgiving.  It is a sign of abundant blessing.  Wine is mentioned in the Scriptures as an offering of thanks to the Lord (Exodus 29:38-41); as a tithe of the firstfruits of harvest (Nehemiah 10:36-39); as a blessing from God that “gladdens the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15); as a gift from God that signifies His abundant blessings (Deuteronomy 7:13).  As a blessing to us, the cup of the covenant filled with the fruit of the vine reminds us that Christ has swallowed the wrath of God against us—a great blessing indeed!

And more, the fruit of the vine in the cup of the covenant is the wine of God’s favor toward us, His people.  It is the wine promised by the prophet Amos, who said a day would come when the people of God would find the mountains dripping with sweet wine (Amos 9:13), and the hearts of God’s people would be glad because of it (Zechariah 10:7).   The fruit of the vine we drink at the Lord’s Supper is not the wine of God’s wrath, it is, instead, the wine of His favor.

In fact, the wine we celebrate at the Lord’s Supper is the wine of the bride of Christ.  It is a cup of blessing indeed which serves to remind us of our past deliverance from sin and death and our future reservation at the King’s table with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and believers from every nation, tribe and tongue (Matthew 8:11).  We who are in Christ (that is, His Bride) will definitely be at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9), and we will be drinking with great rejoicing the finest aged wine when we get there (Isaiah 25:6).  The fruit of the vine in the cup of the covenant reminds us of the sweetness of our future at the table of Christ.  No wonder there is also a sweetness to the cup of wine we drink.

Wine has long been a celebratory substance at wedding feasts, which is why the folks were distraught in John 2 at the wedding in Cana whenever the wine ran out prematurely.  Mary told Jesus to do something, to which He replied, “My time has not yet come.”  The time for Jesus to pour out the finest wine was a time yet future.  He was already pointing to His own wedding feast in future glory when he changed the water in Cana of Galilee to a very nice wine.