Welcome to Wine in the Lord’s Supper
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is one of Christ’s greatest gifts to His Church.
In the Lord’s Supper, Christ blesses His people in many ways. He calls His people to remember Him and His saving work, as often as they partake of it. Christ uses it to remind them of His coming again in glory for them. The people of God renew their covenant with Him. They commune with Him, as their ministers, acting in His name, administer the sacrament according to His appointment, to their own growth in grace. As they recall how all Christians eat from the same consecrated bread, they are reminded of the love and unity that binds all Christians in one body and one faith.
Yet, in what is surely one of the great tragedies of history, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has become an occasion for confusion and division. For example, even men of good will, professing the Bible to be their guide, have disagreed as to the exact nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. More recently, Christians have differed about the frequency of communion and the subjects of communion. But we will not consider such matters as these here.
Presently, honorable men are engaged in a discussion as to what should be the contents of the communion cup. Should the cup contain wine, the fermented juice of grapes? Or should it be unfermented grape juice? Does it matter? What difference does it make, if any? Should church leaders accommodate both Christians who want to use wine, as well as those who prefer unfermented grape juice, by offering what is sometimes called a “split cup” or a “split tray”? In other words, what should be the second “element,” or the contents of the communion cup? And how should such questions—controversial as they are—be answered?
This website is intended to answer these questions.
First, on the next page of this web site, we will study a few Bible passages concerning the public worship of God in general. We do so for simple reasons. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV). Worship is a “good work,” but we are not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Only the Bible can teach us how to worship God in a manner that pleases Him. All our worship, including our observance of the Lord’s Supper, ought to rest on a biblical foundation.
Second, we will devote two pages to the Bible passages that concern the cup in the Lord’s Supper. One page will consider the passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. On this page, we will study Jesus’s words, “the fruit of the vine,” in their original context, and we will also learn how these words were used in the Passover meal before and during the time Jesus spoke them. The other page will consider the two relevant passages in I Corinthians, and what they teach us about the contents of the cup. Rather than grow our discussion beyond all bounds, we will limit ourselves to what the Bible says about the contents of the communion cup.
Third, since we cannot understand wine in the Lord’s Supper without also understanding what the Bible teaches us about wine in general, we will examine this topic too. We will see what the Holy Scriptures teach about the ways wine was used, whether drinking wine is a sin, the sin of drunkenness, the “two-wines theory,” and the wide-spread bias against wine.
Fourth, we will very briefly examine the importance of the content of the communion cup as a symbol.
Fifth, we will cite the statements of confessions, churches and prominent men, always remembering that such human opinions are not equal to Holy Scripture, but can sometimes shed light on the meaning of Holy Scripture. We will seek to imitate the Bereans of Acts 17:11, who sought to examine what they had heard from even the best of God’s teachers in the light of the word of God. We will adopt what is biblical and profitable, and reject whatever is not.
Sixth, since we cannot understand the present controversy surrounding the communion cup without doing so, we will very briefly survey the temperance movements of the nineteenth century.
On the next three pages of the web site, we will read articles by William B. Sprague, Moses Stuart, William Slater, and Dunlop Moore. These four nineteenth century religious leaders will give us their answers to the question Moses Stuart asked in 1835, namely, “What is the duty of the churches, in regard to the use of fermented (alcoholic) wine, in celebrating the Lord’s Supper?”
Since the use of unfermented grape juice is so popular, individual lay Christians may be confronted with grape juice instead of wine when they want to observe the sacrament. Therefore, we must briefly examine the Christian’s duty, whenever he or she is offered grape juice in the Lord’s Supper.
Then, we will answer such objections as are commonly offered to the biblical teaching.
We also briefly summarize the current positions of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, as described by synodical decisions in 2002, 2010, 2017, and 2019. This page also includes an analysis of these decisions.
After examining the evidence, we are compelled to consider a few questions about the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper.
The last three pages of this web site contain an epilogue, a list of suggested readings for those who want to pursue their study of wine in the Lord’ Supper, and information about this web site and its author. The about page also contains a link to a downloadable paper about wine in the Lord’s Supper. (This paper is available as either a .doc or a .pdf.)
Last, but not least, the about page offers a downloadable brochure, suitable for mass distribution and for anyone wanting a very brief summary of the subject of wine in the Lord’s Supper. Some readers may want a few copies for their church’s book table.
If anyone would rather hear about wine in the Lord’s Supper, instead of reading about it, he or she is welcome to watch a 14 minute video at Wine in the Lord’s Supper video. (However, this web site is much more complete than the video.)
A website such as this one may seem unnecessary and needless, because many men and churches have already spoken. Even when official statements are lacking, it might appear that the actual practices of churches and men have already decided the truth of the matter. And, indeed, we ought to give the opinions of men and the practices of the churches all the consideration they deserve.
However, only the Bible is inspired and infallible. Only the Bible can be the rule of our faith and practice. Where the Bible is silent, we will seek to be silent as well. Where the Bible speaks, we will seek to yield faithful obedience. Where it contradicts the opinions of men, or the practices of churches, we will say, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
We should agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith, which teaches us that “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” As it is with all controversies of religion, so it is with this one.
And so we begin. What do the Holy Scriptures teach about worship in general?