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 4)

The real objection to using wine in the Lord’s Supper is not that the Bible fails to speak of wine as the element used; rather, the real objection is that wine is an alcoholic beverage.  The Bible never authorizes grape juice for the Lord’s Supper.  It never hints that grape juice is the beverage the disciples used.  Grape juice is mentioned briefly in Genesis 40:11, but it is not the common beverage known in the 1st Century.

In the Bible, there are about 7 ways wine is mentioned.  (1) There are generic references to “wine” or “wines.”  These are all references to fermented and alcoholic wine.  (2) There is “red wine” mentioned in several passages.  It, too, is alcoholic, and the color typically serves (as mentioned in part 3) as a reference to “blood,” as in the Lord’s Supper.  (3)  There is “new wine” mentioned.  “New wine” refers to wine made from the most recent harvest. It was definitely alcoholic (Acts 2:13).  (4) There is “sweet wine” mentioned in places like Song of Solomon 7:9.  (5) There is sour wine (vinegar) mentioned with reference to the cheap, sometimes medicinal, wine that was no longer fit as a beverage.  [Some of the folks on Sunday probably thought this was the kind of wine they had drunk… but it wasn’t!]. This wine vinegar was produced either by extending the fermentation period or by not sealing it properly, thus having it ruin. (6) There is also mention of mixed wine and spiced wine, which are simply early versions of wine coolers—wines that had been diluted or flavored to make them more appealing.  This mixed wine was what most folks were drinking, and it was probably what Jesus and the disciples used.  It was wine mixed with (perhaps) 3 parts of water.  So, a 16 oz. skin of this “wine” would have 4 ounces of wine to 12 ounces of water.  It was diluted, to be sure, but it was also a wine (very weak wine, but wine).  Finally (7) there are a number of wines mentioned in Scripture by their locations: The Wine of Carmel, the Wine of Sharon, the Wine of Lebanon….

The point remains that when wine is spoken of in the Bible, it is spoken of as wine, not as grape juice.  The real objection to using wine is that it is an alcoholic beverage.  That’s the issue.  I understand and sympathize with those who have a concern about drinking alcohol.  I personally do not drink alcohol—by choice and by conviction.  I have experienced firsthand the damage alcohol causes to relationships.  So, with those of you who are uneasy about serving wine at the Lord’s Supper, I sympathize.

Personal feelings aside, however, we must walk by faith and not by sight.  The Lord in His infinite wisdom chose to use wine in order to make known the Lord’s death until His return.  Surely, the Lord knew the dangers.  He had studied the wisdom literature and knew that “wine is a mocker and strong drink a brawler” (Proverbs 20:1.).  He was not unaware of the fact that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9).  Yet, He himself drank wine.  As He admits,

“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her children” (Luke 7:33-35).

The Lord clearly came eating bread and drinking wine.  He knew the dangers of wine and the sinfulness of drunkenness. Yet, He drank wine, and He prescribed wine as a central element in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.   He was accused of being a drunkard because he (unlike John the Baptist) drank wine.  So, what are we to make of the fact that Jesus drank and expected His followers to drink wine?

I don’t think we are to take from this truth the thought that the Bible minimizes drunkenness.  There is no license in Scripture to become drunk with wine or any intoxicating substance.  Rather, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).  Leaders especially cannot be tempted to drunkenness (1 Timothy 3:3, 8).  Jesus drank wine, but He was never drunk.  There is a pattern for His followers.  He instituted the use of wine yet still forbids drunkenness.

This might feel like a perilous paradigm for us to follow, but it is the one which Christ Himself instituted.  We must carefully and faithfully adhere to it.  That is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.  Faith instead of sight will always have dangers on either side of its path, and the dangers are basically these two: legalism and liberalism.

The legalist wants a hard, fast rule to follow: No alcoholic beverage for anyone ever!  This allows the legalist to establish his own righteousness and thereby equips him with all he needs to exalt himself and to condemn everyone else who fails to meet the legal standard.  The legalist thinks that his abstaining from all alcohol is righteous, and he demands that everyone else do the same.  If some do not abstain, he judges them as being unrighteous.  Legalism has a way of instilling pride and feeding arrogance.  The Lord will allow none of that from His sheep.

The danger on the opposite side of the street is the danger of liberalism (not the political kind).  The liberals want no limits.  They extol the notion of being free from the Law.  They are free to enjoy a double scotch on the rocks or a martini slightly shaken, but not stirred.  While it is true (as we have seen) that drinking a drink of alcohol is not inherently sinful, it is not the case that we can be licentious.  We are not free to drink for the purpose of intoxicating effects: that is drunkenness.  We must not be drunk, but, rather, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The liberal does not want any restraints because restraints threaten his righteousness.  He will not have his righteousness questioned.  He doesn’t like to think about righteousness, and he doesn’t want others to bring it up to him.  His righteousness is beyond question.  He will not have his own behavior bound by others (unlike the Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 8 – 9).

Jesus challenges both errors in His instructions.  His instructions are designed to keep His followers on the narrow path that leads to life.  He guides His followers away both from the high and rocky walls of legalism on the one side, and from the steep, deadly drop-offs of liberalism on the other.  The Man crucified between two thieves still leads His followers down the via media that leads to life.  He follows neither of the opposing perils pressuring Him for allegiance.  He leads in the narrow way.

I think this middle way (the narrow way) of faith is indicative of Jesus’s preaching and teaching.  When Jesus came, He brought the new wine of God’s favor to God’s people.  But new wine doesn’t work in old wineskins.  For us to drink up the favor of God, we must be willing to put on the new skin that is suitable for the new wine.  We can’t hold to our rigid formulations of faith (whether our rigidity is of the legalistic or the liberal variety).  Instead, we must be molded and shaped by the Word which Jesus has spoken to us.  To be sure, because His wisdom is infinite, He will instruct us in ways we did not expect.  Christ will challenge us always to rethink our motives and our actions.  Christ expects us to listen to Him and follow faithfully where He leads, not where we are already comfortable or confident.

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.

Why We Use Wine (Part 2)

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…

Why We Use Wine

Why did our church change from grape juice to wine at our celebration of the Lord’s Supper?  And, why did we choose to change now, after I have been here more than 9 years?  These are the main two questions I have received since orchestrating a change in our Lord’s Supper observance.  So, I will answer them briefly in order.

First, we changed simply as an act of obedience.  When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with His disciples, He did so with bread and wine. It was wine that He and the disciples drank when they pulled the cup to their lips.  So, wine was the beverage He prescribed in observance of the Supper.  Wine ought to be the beverage we consume.

But what is the difference between wine and grape juice?  Or, to put the question another way, isn’t grape juice simply wine without the alcohol?  The answer is no. Wine and grape juice are not the same, regardless of alcohol content.  In other words, non-alcoholic wine is not the same thing as grape juice.  We did use non-alcoholic wine in our observance, but it was not grape juice.  Indeed, the shivers and quakes from some contorted faces affirmed for me the reality asserted here that wine—even non-alcoholic wine—is not the same as grape juice.  No one ever puckered up as though they had sucked on a green persimmon after drinking grape juice, but several lips were so puckered after drinking the wine.  Some of our congregation had never tasted wine before, and they were shocked by its bitterness.  No such shock ever followed a swallow of grape juice because the 2 substances remain quite distinct.  Jesus used the one (wine) but not the other.  The Bible knows of the possibility of drinking grape juice (see Genesis 40:11), but grape juice is never called wine.  Jesus used wine.

Wine and grape juice are 2 distinct substances; this is why we needed to change from grape juice to wine.  Jesus prescribed the one to be used but not the other.  Tea and coffee are each water-based drinks.  Probably 90% of these beverages is water.  Yet, neither beverage is water, and neither beverage is the same as the other.  Obviously, coffee is far superior to tea.  The two are not the same, and neither is grape juice and wine the same.  Jesus prescribed wine, not grape juice.  I don’t think it matters that they both originate from the same fruit any more than it matters that coffee and tea are each made up primarily of water.  They are not the same.  We should use the one Jesus used.

So, the question may arise (which it did), “Why use non-alcoholic wine if Jesus used alcoholic wine?”  This, I believe is a very good question.  I did not directly answer this question for the congregation because I believe it is a worthwhile conversation for us to have.  Should we use good wine containing alcohol?  Indeed, should we use the very best wine at the Lord’s Supper, especially if we consider the forward look of the Supper to the final wedding feast (Isaiah 25:6; Revelation 19:7-9; cf. Mark 14:25; 1 Corinthians 11:26)?  Questions concerning alcoholic content and wine quality are questions of “degree” related to the “wineness” of the wine.  The question we answered yesterday was a question of kind (of substance).  There is a distinction between grape juice and wine that is substantial.  The distinction between the characteristics of the wine is not substantial.  In each case, the substance is still wine.  It is important, I think, to use wine. It is not as important to use a particular wine, although I certainly understand the case for using alcoholic wine such as Jesus used.  We chose rather to take advantage of the technology available today which can make wine from grapes and then extract most of the alcohol back out of it.  Even without the alcohol, it is still wine, as the faces in the crowd made plain.

I will answer the second question in my next blog post.  Until then, you may want to hear the sermon  concerning wine. It should be available some time today, by clicking here.