Wine at the Lord’s Supper - Why We changed
We are grateful to acknowledge that our Lord Jesus Christ is a good shepherd in every way. He always leads His sheep to green pastures and still waters. All of His ways are pleasant ways and all of His words are true and good. We rejoice to have such a kind and beneficial shepherd. This booklet addresses our desire to follow such a good shepherd in the change of our worship practices regarding the use of wine instead of grape juice in our observance of the Lord’s Supper.
THE NECESSITY OF REFORMING OUR PRACTICES ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE ALONE
It is important that we, along with every other church, continue to reform our practices according to our understanding of the word of God. So while undertaking this change, we pray that God will continue to bring conviction upon us so that our worship is increasingly free from human traditions. In Mark 7:6-13, Jesus rebukes those who make the word of God of no effect through traditions that have been handed down. Scripture alone should regulate the worship of God in the church, and we earnestly desire to live out that belief by identifying traditions that, though we did not understand it previously, invalidate what God has actually said in His word.
Even though Scripture promotes the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper and church history affirms it, we are aware that the majority of modern evangelicals have rejected its use. We, however, have come to believe that this majority view that it is inappropriate to use wine in the Lord’s Supper has resulted in a tradition of men. Thus, using grape juice instead of wine makes the teaching of Scripture of no effect. Our perspective is that the use of grape juice, which has only been prominent among the Lord’s people for the last 125 years, is not consistent with the testimony of Scripture, church history or the great Protestant confessions of faith.
CONSIDERATION OF PERSONAL BACKGROUNDS AND CONVICTIONS
We recognize that everyone has existing personal convictions that have been influenced by experiences, personal preferences, and past theological instruction. Some have a background of terrible and defiling experiences with alcohol in their own lives or with friends and loved ones as they have become entangled in sin. We wholeheartedly sympathize with the heartaches that are rooted in these experiences, and we recognize that this will have profound effects on our thoughts and feelings.
Several views exist within the body of Christ. Some are prohibitionists, who believe that any use of wine is prohibited by Scripture and therefore always unlawful, even in the Lord’s Supper. Some are abstentionists, who believe that wine is not prohibited in the Bible, but who choose to abstain, considering it to be the safest position and therefore the wisest practice. Finally, some hold that well-governed use of wine is acceptable, and that wine is the element that should be used in the Lord’s Supper.
Some maintain that the “wine” in the Bible, including what was used in the Lord’s Supper, was non-alcoholic. It has been argued that what was used in the Lord’s Supper may have been “new wine,” which they claim was unfermented grape juice, or wine that had been significantly diluted. Others contend that grapes were crushed and then refrigerated in deep lakes. Various conservative Christian groups have maintained that Jesus simply would never have turned water into an evil substance like an alcoholic beverage and that at the wedding at Cana, He turned water into unfermented grape juice. These perspectives are difficult to defend when they are informed by biblical texts that make it clear that the wine used in the early church was fermented and capable of causing drunkenness. This is why the Apostles were accused of being drunk on “new wine” (Acts 2:13). Paul contrasts the control of the Holy Spirit with the control of wine when he wrote, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). The Bible makes it obvious that the wine used was alcoholic. This is why Paul corrects the Corinthian church members who are getting drunk at the celebration of Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:21).
Because of these varying views, changing your practice may prove to be difficult for some. It will likely cause some soul searching and searching of the Scriptures. It may be offensive to some who are outside and potentially some who are among us.
Our desire is not to cause division but to encourage biblical thought and practice. Our first responsibility is to worship God according to our best understanding of what He has prescribed in His word, which is worship that is pleasing to Him. We want to foster hearts of obedience and worship as we enter into this change. To do this, it is essential to bring all of our personal convictions under the authority of the word of God, preferring what God has said as the basis of our convictions. This posture helps us to regulate our thoughts solely by the word of God and not our own experiences.
We also recognize that some churches, perhaps in reaction against the prevailing negative view of alcohol, have gone in the opposite direction and made their liberty with alcohol a focus of some of their activities. While Scripture teaches that God gave wine as a blessing, the focus of all our gatherings will continue to be on God’s glory and not on one of His many blessings.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT WINE
To understand why we made this change, we first need to acknowledge what the Bible says about wine. The Bible speaks of wine quite frequently, especially in the Old Testament. There are four primary contexts in which God’s word speaks of wine.
First, many references to wine in the Bible speak of it as a blessing and of its absence as a curse. One example is Psalm 104:14-15: “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart.” For additional examples, please see Gen 27:28, 37; Deut 7:12-13; Deut 11:13-14; Deut 28:39, 51; Deut 32:13-14; 1 Chron 12:40; 2 Chron 31:5; Neh 5:18-19; Prov 3:9-10; Isa 25:6-9; Isa 55:1-3; Isa 62:8-9; Jer 31:10-12; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13-15; Zech 9:17.
Second, the Bible also frequently warns against the sinful misuse of wine, such as Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” For additional examples, please see Gen 9:21; Gen 19:32-35; 1 Sam 25:36-37; 2 Sam 11:13; 1 Kings 16:9; 1 Kings 20:16; Prov 23:29-35; Isa 28:1, 7; Jer 13:13-14; Rom 13:13; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Eph 5:18. These instances speak of the dangers of drunkenness from lack of self-control.
Third, the Bible speaks of the use of wine in worship. For example, the wine was required as an accompaniment to the offerings to the LORD, such as in Leviticus 23:13, “Its grain offering shall be two- tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the LORD, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one- fourth of a hin.” For additional examples, please see Gen 14:18-20; Gen 49:10-11; Ex 29:38-40; Num 18:30-32; Deut 12:17-18; Deut 14:26; Deut 16:13-14; 2 Chron 31:5; Ezra 6:9; Neh 10:35-37; Neh 13:5; Rev 19:11-13 (compare with Gen 49:10-11).
Fourth,the Bible makes it clear that Jesus Himself and His disciples drank wine, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.” (Matt 11:18-19). Further, it was lawful in the eyes of the Lord and of the inspired Apostle Paul for wedding attendees, disciples, local church elders, and saints to drink wine (John 2:1-11; Matt 26:26-29; 1 Tim 5:23; Titus 2:3; 1 Cor 11:20-33).
When we think of wine, it is important that we consider it as God considers it: as a blessing, as something that can easily be abused, as something He commanded to be used in His worship, and as something the Lord Jesus Christ and the godly engaged in moderation.
For those who believe that drinking wine is unwise and unsafe, several questions need to be answered. Was Jesus unwise to turn water into wine at the wedding in Cana? Was it unsafe for Jesus to serve wine to His disciples in the upper room? Was it imprudent for the Apostle Paul to recommend it for those with stomach problems or to command serving it to the early church when there was a danger of drunkenness?
Following are the primary reasons why the Elders have determined to switch from grape juice to wine:
1. THE REGULATION OF WORSHIP BY SCRIPTURE ALONE.
God takes worship very seriously, so it is essential for churches to discern and emulate the pattern of Scripture. The use of wine appears to us to be a part of that pattern. The explicit testimony of 1 Corinthians 11 argues for wine, in which the cup indisputably contained fermented drink (see verse 21). Some in Corinth were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper. In verse 23, Paul says, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you...” The Corinthians were doing what Jesus had given to Paul and Paul had delivered to the church. It is also important to note that Paul had already acknowledged that the church in Corinth had brethren who had been drunkards before having been justified (1 Cor 6:9-11).
Though the texts containing Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20) exclusively use the terms “the cup” and “fruit of the vine,” not “wine,” the rich history of the use of wine throughout the Old Testament, so o%en pointing to Christ makes it difficult to imagine anything other than wine being used when Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples in the upper room, establishing the Lord’s Supper. The use of wine is consistent with so many shadows from the Old Testament that all pointed to Christ. Consider Genesis 14:18-20, where Melchizedek, a type of our great High Priest Jesus Christ (Heb 5, 6, 7) brought out bread and wine and blessed Abraham, the type of all of those who would receive righteousness through faith (Rom 4:1-12). Consider one of the many examples from the ceremonial law, Numbers 28:1-8, 14, in which the morning and evening sacrifices are prescribed to have three elements: (1) a male lamb without blemish (Christ), (2) bread (Christ), and (3) wine (Christ). Jesus Christ is the drink offering that was poured out once for all. Because Jesus is the substance of all of the ceremonial shadows, the fulfillment of those types points to the use of wine in the new covenant ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
Wine is a picture or a representation of what Christ’s blood is to His people, for He says, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matt 26:27-28; Luke 22:20; Mark 14:24). Wine is a sign of rejoicing (Jer 31:10-12), while true rejoicing is in Christ (Phil 1:26, 1 Thess 2:19, Heb 3:6). Wine is a sign of having victory (Gen 14:18), while our true victory is in Christ (1 Cor 15:57). Wine is a sign of feasting (Deut 14:26), while our true feast will be with Christ (Matt 26:29, Rev 19:7, 17). Wine is a medicine for the body (1 Tim 5:23), while Christ is the cure for the soul (Matt 9:12, 1 Pet 2:24). Wine is a sign of abundant physical provision (Ps 104:14-15), while Christ is our abundant spiritual provision (Tit 3:6).
2. WE SHOULD NEVER CALL EVIL WHAT GOD HAS CALLED GOOD.
Isaiah 5:20-21 says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” Drunkenness is always evil, but the wine itself was created by God to be a blessing. Many passages could be cited to establish this, but consider that wisdom provides wine for her guests in Proverbs 9:1-2: “Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars; She has slaughtered her meat, she has mixed her wine, she has also furnished her table.” From this, we can conclude that wine is figurative of something good that will be a blessing. God is not saying that wisdom is trying to damage those who come to her by giving them meat and wine. Repeatedly, God says that He will bless with wine or curse by taking wine away. Yes, the depraved heart of man can abuse any of the things that God created as a blessing, but wine is no more the cause of drunkenness than bread is the cause of gluttony or money the cause of theft.
3. THE SHIFT FROM WINE TO GRAPE JUICE REPRESENTED A HARMFUL THEOLOGICAL SHIFT WITHIN THE CHURCH.
The use of wine for the Lord’s Supper predominated until late in the 19th century. Beginning in the mid-1700s, men such as John Wesley (1702-1791) began to declare the use of wine or any alcohol sinful outside of the meeting of the church, “unless in cases of extreme necessity”1. This view arose because of the cultural ravages of drunkenness. In the next century, men such as Charles Finney (1792-1875) accelerated this trajectory within the church, advocating for total abstinence from alcohol. Finney makes this clear in his lecture titled “Total Abstinence A Christian Duty”2. While stopping just short of insisting on the removal of wine from the Lord’s Supper, Finney’s teaching propagated an increasing shi% away from the foundational biblical doctrine of total depravity. If the heart of man is not fundamentally evil, then what is needed for people to come to Christ and to reform society is to eliminate those things that tempt men to sin. As such, wine came to be viewed as a problem that needed to be solved with respect to the Lord’s Supper. Accordingly, various attempts were made to eliminate all alcoholic content, such as boiling raisin pulp or cooking water and grape skins3. A final solution came from Thomas Welch (1825-1903), who wanted to stop using “the cup of devils”4 during the Lord’s Supper. To solve the perceived problem, he employed pasteurization to stop the fermentation process. The history page of the Welch’s grape juice website reports, “Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch launches the processed fruit juice industry when he successfully pasteurizes Concord grape juice to produce an ‘unfermented sacramental wine’ for fellow church parishioners in Vineland, N.J.” (1869)5. In fact, Thomas Welch’s son and business partner, Charles, included this statement in his Last Will and Testament: “Unfermented grape juice was born in 1869 out of a passion to serve God by helping His Church to give its communion ‘the fruit of the vine,’ instead of the ‘cup of devils.’ ”6
All of this was driven by a theological shift regarding the nature of man that has progressively permeated most modern evangelical churches. It was a rejection of the biblical view of the nature of man as being deprived since the Fall (Gen 3), so that corruptions were now thought of as originating externally, not internally. The truth of Scripture is taught by Jesus in Matthew 15:17-20: “Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, the%s, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Jesus was simply restating the consistent testimony of Scripture, which teaches that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21), and that “The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9). Though external things such as alcohol can aggravate and inflame the corruption of the human heart, those external things are never the source of corruption. Our internal corruption is our common heritage from Adam, for “by the one man's offense death reigned.” Therefore, the solution is the atoning work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, not mere abstinence from external things (Rom 5:12-21; Eph 5:18).
4. THE POSITION OF OUR CONFESSION OF FAITH.
What is the testimony of church history on this issue? It is clear from church history that wine, until modern times, has been the standard substance used in the Lord’s Supper. Further, the great confessions of faith promoted the use of wine. For example, our church subscribes to the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, which carefully defines the observance of the Lord’s Supper. This confession, along with the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession, The Philadelphia Confession 1742, the Savoy Declaration, the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Abstract of Principles, the confession of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary adopted in 1859, specifically mention wine as the element that represents the blood of Christ. This broad testimony includes a version of the Southern Baptist confession of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message 1925. This confession specifically identifies the wine as the substance for the Lord’s Supper. However, a change was made in the 1963 version which switched the language to “fruit of the vine.” This change was sustained in the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000.
The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 says, “The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to a holy use, and to take and break the bread; to take the cup, and, they communicating also themselves, to give both to the communicants.” This confession expresses the way that reformed Christians have understood the Lord’s Supper. Confessions of faith have value for us on many levels. One of those levels is to see how our spiritual fathers interpreted Scripture. We learn from the great confessions of faith that there is a rich tradition in the church for the use of wine for the Lord’s Supper.
HOW THIS RELATES TO WHAT PAUL SAYS ABOUT STRONGER AND WEAKER BROTHERS
We do not believe the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper is a violation of Romans 14 or 1 Corinthians 8. In these two chapters, Paul puts before the people of God a vital truth: Christians should be willing to forego their own legitimate liberty in order to bear with the sensitive consciences of weaker brethren. This is simply a necessary application of the law of love, on which all the Law and the Prophets hang (Matt 22:36-40; Rom 13:10). No legitimate application of these texts can result in disobedience, which is not Christian liberty; nor should it result in calling evil what God has called good. The liberty we have in Christ is the liberty to obey God and enjoy what His word allows. The Doctrinal Statement of our churches, the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, says that we do not have the right to bind the conscience of our brothers and sisters, except with what Scripture teaches. Consider Chapter 21, “Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience,” Paragraph 2: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has le% it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to His Word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason.” In other words, there are limits to how far we can go to accommodate a brother’s conscience. For example, if a vegetarian comes to the church, fully convinced that it is sinful for us to eat meat, rather than everyone abstaining from meat, we should instruct that person with the texts of Scripture that say that eating meat is lawful and that it has been given by God as a blessing.
With that in mind, what is Paul teaching in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14? We believe that 1 Corinthians 8 gives the fullest and clearest view of what Paul is addressing: things sacrificed to idols.
Nothing inherent in the meat makes it something you should abstain from on behalf of your weaker brother, but its association with idolatry. Because the Bible says idolatry is evil, meat sacrificed to idols could be considered evil. In that chapter, only meat is mentioned, but Romans 14 mentions both meat and wine (verse 21). Deuteronomy 32:37-39 sheds light on this, saying, “He [God] will say: ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge? Who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise and help you, and be your refuge. Now see that I, even I, am He, and there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.” Paul is affirming what God has said in Deuteronomy 32 – there is only one true God. Therefore, meat or wine sacrificed to a false god does not become evil and may be eaten. However, if a brother’s conscience is sensitive to the association of the meat with the practice of idolatry, a practice universally condemned by God, other Christians should forego that liberty to prevent him from violating his conscience until his conscience can be recalibrated with the truth. The source of the questionable defilement is idolatry, something that God universally calls evil. To broaden the scope of these two chapters to anything that troubles the conscience of another Christian, including things that God has created to be a blessing, has broad consequences in areas that we may have never considered, including clothing, music, sex within marriage, etc. While we have compassion for those who have struggled with alcohol in their past, would we think it a proper application of Paul’s teaching to eliminate all meat from the fellowship meal whenever a committed vegetarian is saved and begins attending one of our churches?
IMPORTANT IS THIS ISSUE IN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER CHURCHES?
Wine vs. grape juice is not a test of fellowship. The Bible teaches that sanctification is progressive. According to His own wisdom, God waited many years to bring us to a consideration of this issue, and we have no intention of now insisting that our brothers and sisters in Christ conform to our change in practice. Think of a life in which every Christian and every church insisted on this! May it never be! Some believers and churches have never considered this issue at any level of depth. Some have considered it in depth and come to other conclusions. We accept that, and desire to continue in the sweetest fellowship in Christ, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). Other men have been appointed by God to lead other churches, and they must lead according to the word of God, led by the Spirit of God, working to keep a clear conscience before God, just as we ourselves desire to do. We implore the reader to have the same mind towards those who may disagree, either inside or outside of our church.
- Henry J. Fox & William B. Hoyt, Fox and Hoyt’s Quadrennial Register of Methodist Episcopal Church, (Hartford: Case, Tiffany & Co, 1852) Google Books, p. 200 Retrieved November 2, 2010
- The Rev. Professor Finney, Total Abstinence A Christian Duty, http://www.gospeltruth.net/1849-51Penny_Pulpit/ 500627pp_total_abstinence.htm
- Betty A. O’Brien, The Lord’s Supper: Fruit of the Vine or Cup of Devils? http://archives.gcah.org/xmlui/handle/ 10516/5999, p. 217.
- As quoted in Daniel Sack, Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture, (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2000), p. 29
- Betty A. O’Brien, The Lord’s Supper: Fruit of the Vine or Cup of Devils? http://archives.gcah.org/xmlui/handle/ 10516/5999, p. 220.
- Jennifer L. Woodruff Tait, Raise a Juice Box to the Temperance Movement, (Christianity Today), https:// www.christianitytoday.com/history/2017/march/welch- grape-juice-history-temperance-movement.html
- Jennifer L. Woodruff Tait, The Poisoned Chalice: Eucharistic Grape Juice and Common Sense - Realism in Victorian Methodism, (University of Alabama Press, 2011)
- William Chazanof, Welch’s Grape Juice
- William B. Sprague, Danger of Being Over Wise: A Sermon Preached June 7th, 1835, in the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany (Copyright © 1997 Naphtali Press)
- G. I. Williamson, Wine in the Bible & the Church, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Pilgrim, 1976; repr. 1980) Out of print, but a scanned copy is available at https:// www.nethtc.net/~giwopc/Wine_Book.pdf
- Kenneth Gentry, God Gave Wine: What the Bible Says About Alcohol, (Oakdown, 2000)
- David P. Brumbelow, Ancient Wine, and the Bible, (Free Church Press, 2011)
- Henry J. Fox & William B. Hoyt, Fox and Hoyt’s Quadrennial Register of Methodist Episcopal Church, (Hartford: Case, Tiffany & Co, 1852) Google Books
- The Rev. Professor Finney, Total Abstinence A Christian Duty, http://www.gospeltruth.net/1849-51Penny_Pulpit/ 500627pp_total_abstinence.htm
- Betty A. O’Brien, The Lord’s Supper: Fruit of the Vine or Cup of Devils? http://archives.gcah.org/xmlui/handle/ 10516/5999
- Daniel Sack, Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture, (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2000)
- Welchs, http://www.welchs.com/about-welchs
Scott T. Brown is the president of Church and Family Life and pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Scott graduated from California State University in Fullerton with a degree in History and received a Master of Divinity degree from Talbot School of Theology. He gives most of his time to local pastoral ministry, expository preaching, conferences on church and family reformation. Scott helps people think through the two greatest institutions God has provided — the church and the family.
Mike Davenport serves as one of the pastors at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He and his wife Judith have been married since 1992 and have five children - four boys and one girl. Mike currently works for an engineering firm in the Raleigh-Durham area and has spent more than 25 years in the architectural/engineering fields.