Saturday, 7 February 2009

Wine or Grape Juice?

It seems to me that the most powerful argument advanced against using wine in the communion cup is that it discriminates against alcoholics. Living in a city with a large proportion of citizens who suffer from alcoholism, this one is a live issue.

What must a congregation, which has a significant number of current/ex-alcohol abusers, do with the cup? I'm told by some ex-alcoholics that just a taste of wine can be enough to send one hurtling off the wagon.

Does that mean therefore that we should be serving grape juice in our communion cups? It would certainly seem the loving thing to do. It would express a godly solidarity with our weaker brothers and sisters. It would affirm the apostolic command to do nothing which causes the weaker sibling to sin.

I'm wrestling with this one because I feel that something important is lost when we use grape juice. First, Christ commanded that we use wine. In Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25 and Luke 22:18 Christ described the last supper drink as the "fruit of the vine" (ESV). It's pretty hard to argue that this means grape juice. Indeed, the NLTse translates Luke 22:11 as "For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come." My NLTse Study Bible note on this passage says:

The traditional Passover celebration used four cups of wine - at the opening benediction, after the Passover explanation, after the meal and after a concluding psalm. This was probably the first cup that introduced the ceremony. (p1755)

It was wine...with alcohol, not grape juice, not Baby Sham but wine. If Jesus said we should use wine, then we should use wine. If we're not willing to swap bread for pizza, we should ask ourselves why we're so willing to switch the cup.

Second, I do think a drink of wine at communion has a powerful impact on the recipient. As we sip the bitter taste and feel our throats burn, we remember that Christ drank a bitter cup for us, the cup of wrath (Matt 26:29). Christ drank the cup that was full of maddening wine, a bitter wine reserved to disorient the wicked (Psalm 75:8). He drank that cup, so that we could drink the cup of the new covenant. Without doubt the use of wine has a gospel impact.

I'm sure that there are other, more significant reasons for using wine. Yet these are the two that come most readily to my mind. I think they are strong reasons for using them, yet again I'm torn. What of the weaker brother? If we change the wine for grape juice because of alcoholics, should we change the bread to rice cakes for the sake of the obese?


Steven Carr said...

Drunkeness was certainly an issue at Corinth (1 Cor. 11:21). However, interestingly enough, Paul never advises them to stop using wine. He tells them that they should tarry for one another, but if they are really hungry they should eat at home (vs. 33,34). Paul's advice is simply this: practice self-control, and do whatever it takes to maintain self-control. Someone could retort, "Isn't drinking grape juice a way to maintain self control?" To this I would say that Paul in 1 Cor. 11 never suggests that that is an option. Besides drunkeness, the Corinthians were gluttonous. Some people, when they get one bite of food can't stop eating. Does that mean we should skip the bread in communion? Is gluttony less of a sin or even less of an addiction than drunkeness? Practice self-control--what is more, when Paul says "tarry for one another" he is also exhorting them to practice community and fellowship. Community and fellowship entails esteeming other people better than ourselves, bearing one another's burdens, praying for one another, admonishing and edifying one another in brotherly love, etc. I think the better alternative to using grape juice instead of wine is practicing self-control and fellowship and community.

Nick Mackison said...

Steven, I like it.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but think that you guys have absolutely NO idea about the true nature of addiction otherwise I'd hear a bit more of, say, compassion, in your great theological struggles.
You're basically saying that if an alcoholic becomes a Christian & wants to partake of communion but can't (yes I mean CAN'T) drink the wine, then tough. His/her problem. End of story.
But then why listen to me - I'm just one of those "liberals" you so despise.

Nick Mackison said...

Anonymous, if it suits you to think that I despise you, knock yourself out.

But if you want a response from me, at least have the courtesy to put your full name to a post and stop taking anonymous potshots.