This web site was first published on September 19, 2017. That’s enough time for the author (me) to gain some perspective and new insights. Some of the following bits of wisdom have come to me as a result of people who saw the web site, and told me what they thought about it. I want to thank the many friends (you know who you are) who have helped me with their advice and support along the way. It’s been a series of encouraging and edifying discussions. Once again, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” As a way to repay the debt I owe to these brothers and sisters, I here offer a few miscellaneous observations and suggestions of my own.
First, I am surprised how strong the opposition to the use of wine is. As a general rule, people don’t like change. Nobody who has been taught from childhood that drinking wine is evil, and has used grape juice in the Lord’s Supper for, say, 50 years or more, is easily persuaded that they should use wine in the sacrament. I was under no illusions about that. The web site itself testifies to my expectations, since it shows the labors I undertook to meet almost every conceivable objection.
Nonetheless, the resistance to a simple idea—that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper using wine, therefore we should use it too—has been astonishing, and often shocking. Virtually every stratagem the sinful mind of man can devise has been deployed against it. While we all approach the Bible with one species of bias or another, many people who favor the use of grape juice have such a strong emotional and visceral opposition to wine that their prejudice simply cannot be overcome with arguments from the Holy Scripture and logic. For such people, a mountain of evidence from the Bible, church history and plain reasons will never be enough. As is often the case, people simply believe what they want to believe.
The most common way to resist the use of wine has been to simply refuse to seriously consider it. This refusal manifests itself in a number of variations. “It does not really matter whether we use wine or grape juice,” is one example. Akin to this is the suggestion that I am wasting my time with this web site; why devote time and energy to such a meaningless task? The answer, of course, is that what does not matter to us, can often matter a great deal to God. Moreover, how can we know it doesn’t matter, until we study the Holy Scriptures, with open minds and open hearts?
Another common method is to deflect to something else. I was amazed at how hard it is for people to stay on topic. Whenever the topic of wine in the Lord’s Supper arises, almost anything else becomes a preferable subject of conversation. Those subjects have included the sensitivities of other Christians, the question of whether leavened or unleavened bread should be used, the unity of the church, the authority of the various courts of the church, the traditions of some branch of the church, and so on. At some point, personal attacks or ad hominem attacks are sometimes brought into the debate—by people who ought to know better. I admit that these issues (except for the last!) have their place; but somehow, they do not remain in their place, but invade the question of whether wine should be used in the Lord’s Supper. Unless and until we all realize that those other subjects are at best tangential to the real question, productive discussion will be impossible. And that’s too bad.
Arguments based on the authority of the church or tradition are also much too common. They can never be substitutes for the word of God. “The Synod has decided” and “that’s the way we have always done it” are popular objections to the use of wine, but neither, by itself, can claim support from the word of God. Neither should satisfy a child of God, who ought to “test the spirits” (I John 4:1), and who recognizes that only the Holy Scriptures are the rule of faith and practice. We should all imitate the example of the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11), who were willing to examine the words of an apostle to discover if those words were true. That’s hard to do when our “sacred cows” are on the chopping block. Such work takes an intellectual and emotional toll on our flesh, yet, we must do it! Christians need to receive the Lord’s Supper with a clear conscience, but no one’s conscience can be satisfied with the judgments of mere men, whether originating in church courts or tradition, nor should they be. A Christian’s conscience can only find rest and repose in the words of his Shepherd, and his undershepherds should help him to find it there.
Probably the best-sounding objection to any change–or even a discussion of the possibility of change–is based on the objection that the peace or unity of the church will suffer as a consequence. But we ought to remember that a truly biblical peace and unity always rests on the foundation of biblical truth; the Bible is quite clear about that. This general principle is especially important for us to remember when the Lord’s Supper is under consideration, because the actual practice of this sacrament is so open and notorious. The Lord’s Supper is a public occasion. The actual practice of the Lord’s Supper–and not just our abstractions about it–is a testimony to a watching world of our love for Jesus and for each other, and so our differences in that practice publicly testify to our sad disagreements about it. We can often ignore our disagreements about relatively trivial matters, simply because they are easy to ignore. But how is it possible to speak of unity when congregations–and even Christians within the same congregation–engage in such widely divergent practices, while believing those who do things differently are simply wrong? When a minister of the gospel refuses to administer the sacrament, because the local congregation’s practice is different than his own view, how does this depict the unity of the church? When a Christian from one church tries to partake of the sacrament in another church, but is unable to do so, because of his personal convictions, what sort of unity is this? Such questions as these need to be discussed openly and honestly, and we are justified in thinking it is a dysfunctional church that cannot or will not ask and answer them biblically. A conspiracy of silence will accomplish nothing. I grant that a counterfeit peace and unity can result from compromise with the flesh or the world, but this sort of peace and unity should never satisfy us, even if it makes us comfortable.
My concern here is not merely with what is decided, but rather how it is decided. We seem incapable of thinking and speaking biblically. We are always prepared to confess that the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of our faith and practice, and that all men and church councils are fallible. But in actual practice, we are much more likely to consult our emotions, or our traditions, or the decisions of our courts, or the opinions of our most prominent men, or our speculations about the future results of our actions, than we are to bow before the authority of the word of God. Godly Christians should be willing and able to discuss any important subject with open Bibles and open minds, and they should follow the biblical evidence wherever it leads, but my experience suggests a very different reality. I regret that very much.
Our View of Wine Affects Everything Else
Here’s something else I have discovered. Our view of wine in general, and our view of wine in the Lord’s Supper, affects the rest of what we believe. For example, some of my beloved brothers believe that the Corinthians did not get drunk at the Lord’s Supper (I Corinthians 11). Why? Because getting drunk implies the use of wine, and this, they say, could never be. Other Christians have told me that Paul’s great discourse on Christian liberty in Romans 14 ends before Paul mentions wine. Why? Because if drinking wine is a matter of Christian liberty, it cannot be a sin to drink it, and the inspired apostle could never have implied such a thing! Here we have a case of putting the cart before the horse; our Bibles should shape our agenda, not the other way around. Distorting the Bible is both dishonoring to God, and a hard habit to break.
Hostility toward wine–especially when it comes in the form of the “two-wine” style of interpretation–also tends to undermine the perspicuity and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, because ordinary Christians interpret the word “wine” as simply meaning wine, the fermented juice of grapes. But now they are told that–while it may mean wine–it may also mean grape juice. Likewise, Christians throughout the centuries have been told that “the fruit of the vine” means only one thing, and that the Lord’s Supper uses only one thing–but now they must be uncertain on this point, and wait on adherents of the “two-wine theory” to explain the true meanings of these terms to them.
The witness of the church is also adversely affected by hostility toward wine. A world badly in need of Christ is taught that they must abstain from wine, if they wish to be faithful disciples of Christ, even though they cannot find this requirement in their Bibles. How can this be anything less than a needless obstacle to faith in Him?
Here’s another example. When the Bible discusses wine, it teaches us that wine is a good gift from God, and a blessing. The Bible warns against an ungodly asceticism that says, “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.” On the contrary, wine should be received with thanksgiving (I Timothy 4:1-5). When we drink wine, we are once again reminded of God’s goodness. But if we doubt that wine is a good gift to us from God, then we begin to doubt God’s goodness to us. I admit that many who doubt the goodness of wine have not traveled along that road as far as it goes, but there can be no doubt where it leads. Wine becomes—not a blessing—but a trap or a temptation. And if this is true about wine, what else is it true about? John Calvin was surely closer to the truth, for he taught us that wine is an example of God giving us more than what is necessary to merely sustain our lives, and is an example of his bounty and his abundance. We ought to react to wine with thanksgiving and cheerfulness, not fear and loathing.
I have despaired of convincing some people that wine does not cause drunkenness. Christians do not believe that women cause men to lust, or that guns cause homicides, or that the internet causes pornography, or that medicines cause addiction, or that money causes greed, or that surgical instruments cause abortions, or that cell phones cause distracted driving, or that food causes gluttony. Material things are not evil, nor do they cause human beings to sin. Yet many believe that wine is the cause of sin, and misery, and death. Why is wine an exception? It’s not! Galatians 5:19-21 says that drunkenness, like envy or sorcery, is a work of the sinful nature, and Matthew 15:10-20 says that nothing that goes into a man makes him unclean, but only what comes from his heart. Christians can drink wine in moderation without fear of sinning against God. I confess that I cannot persuade some people of this truth.
We Must Become Like Little Children
Jesus told us that we must become like little children. In other words, we must receive the word of God with a child-like faith. We are expressly warned about the danger of being “overly wise” (Ecclesiastes 7:16), yet we have done whatever we could to evade the clear word of God. If Jesus taught us to use wine in the Lord’s Supper, that is what we must do. The sinful mind of man may easily imagine a hundred reasons to not use wine, but they all ought to vanish like a vapor before this one consideration: We are to be obedient children.
We Need a “Theology of Wine”
We need someone to develop a “theology of wine.” Someone needs to tell us not only what wine is, but what it means. What should enter our minds and hearts when we drink a glass of wine, either as a beverage or as a part of the Lord’s Supper? Of course, we should hear and meditate on the words of institution. But how does the wine support, illustrate or reinforce these words of institution? Why did Jesus not use these same words of institution, but use them with another element? What’s so special about wine, that God should choose it? Answering such questions will help us to understand both wine and the Lord’s Supper. Elsewhere in this web site, I have discussed the subject of wine as a symbol, and hinted at what I think is an answer, but much more work needs to be done.
Hope for the Future
And now I must address myself to those precious brothers and sisters in Christ who have become convinced of the truth, and who I hope will receive my advice in the spirit with which it is intended.
My hope for change is not what it once was. As I said in another paragraph, people who have believed from childhood that wine is evil and grape juice should be used will change slowly, or not at all, unless God is unusually merciful to them. We older folks just don’t change our minds as easily as young people do. (As someone who is 62 years old, I speak with some authority here. UPDATE: I am now 64.5 years old.) In my experience, the people who favor grape juice are over 60, while those who favor wine are under 60. Students of history have often noticed that successful paradigm shifts (like the abandonment of a flat-earth theory, for example) only happen when those who tenaciously hold to the old paradigm begin to die or retire. I don’t want anyone to die, of course, but I think we have reason to believe that a new generation will see more clearly than one steeped in anti-wine bias from birth. That will take a while—maybe even a long while—but it could happen. What’s needed in the meantime, however, is clear teaching about the issues, even if such teaching benefits only those who are willing to listen. Error and ignorance will perpetuate themselves forever–unless they are supplanted and defeated with the truth of God’s word. Maybe my web site will help. I hope and pray that it will.
On the other hand, I am sometimes optimistic. It sometimes seems to me that we are living out the truth of what Ghandhi once said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Ghandhi was a pagan, and his observation is not God’s promise, of course, but I sometimes think we are somewhere between “they laugh at you” and “they fight you.” The laughter and the fighting can be a bit discouraging, but we ought to remember both why we fight and who we fight (Ephesians 6). We also should remember that the battle is the Lord’s, not ours. The laughter and the fighting are not indicators of the final result.
In the face of strong opposition, even those who favor the use of wine, or who have at least been willing to consider that matter, have surrendered or compromised. Christians who usually believe that God is always to be obeyed without reservation, have failed to apply that principle here. That is a pity. What good is believing God should always be obeyed, if we only obey Him when there’s no cost to doing so? When Jesus told us to count the cost of being His disciple, did He really mean that we should cave when the cost is too high? We ought to not defraud God with a half-hearted or lukewarm defense of His truth. Do not lose hope. Do not lose patience. Show brotherly love and kindness to those who disagree with you. Above all, do not compromise the truth of God’s word. At times, you will feel alone. But you are not. The LORD has promised to be with you always (Psalm 23:4-6, Hebrews 13:5-6). Let that truth, rather than the praise or approval of men, be your consolation and comfort.