Since the use of unfermented grape juice in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is so popular, an individual Christian may find himself attending an observance of the Lord’s Supper in which only grape juice is offered to him. In such circumstances, what should a Christian do?
Three principles must be kept in mind. First, every Christian must worship God according to His word. Second, we must not participate in the sins of others. Third, we must worship God with a clear conscience.
In the following sections, let's look at each one of these three principles.
On a previous page of this web site, we discussed the importance of the regulative principle of worship. The regulative principle of worship teaches us to worship God according to His word. No Christian has the authority to add anything to the worship of God; likewise, no Christian can subtract anything from the worship of God (Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 12:32). This means that no one is authorized to add grape juice, and no one is authorized to subtract wine, from the Lord’s Supper.
Public worship, especially the administration of the sacraments, is the special responsibility of the officers or leaders of the church, who must always remember that they are servants in the church. They are shepherds and ministers, not lords or tyrants. They must help the people of God to worship Him according to His word, and not encourage or compel them to worship God in a manner that violates the Holy Scripture and the Christian’s conscience.
However, individual lay Christians also have a responsibility. Individual Christians must also obey the regulative principle of worship. If they are tempted to worship God in an unbiblical manner, they must resist this temptation. Such temptations can originate from almost anywhere, even from well-meaning leaders in the church. However, even in such circumstances, every Christian is commanded to “test the spirits” (I John 4:1), and to examine what they are told in the light of God’s word (Acts 17:11, Psalm 119:99-100). The duty of such examinations cannot be delegated to the leaders of the church; they are the duty and privilege of each and every Christian, no matter how lowly and humble he or she may be.
The individual Christian's duty to worship God according to the Holy Scriptures extends even to the observance of the Lord's Supper.
Since the public worship of God is the responsibility of the leaders of the church, many Christians are satisfied to simply do what their leaders tell them to do during the worship of God. But the leaders of the church are fallible men; like of all us, they can make mistakes. The mere fact that an act of worship is encouraged or required by a leader in the church does not, by itself, make that act of worship biblical.
True, every Christian must honor his leaders and submit to his shepherds (Hebrews 13:17). Nonetheless, all such submission must be “in the Lord.” Only God and Christ deserve our unqualified and unreserved obedience. Since God and Christ deserve this unqualified obedience, the obedience the Christian owes to authority in the church is limited to what God commands him to render. If leaders or elders command him to commit sin, he must disobey them, and not follow them. This is true, even if the leaders of his church have the very best of intentions.
Unbiblical worship is displeasing to God, and should be rejected by every Christian, even if it pleases men or agrees with tradition.
Faced with the choice of obeying his leaders by accepting grape juice, and obeying God by refusing it, the Christian must obey God.
Every Christian is taught that he must “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11). God tells every Christian that he must “not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). Every Christian is responsible—not only for his own soul—but also for the welfare of those closest to him; he must not follow his brothers and sisters into sin; instead he must do what he can to stop them from sinning.
Indeed, a Christian does his leaders Christian service, if he respectfully refuses to follow them in wrongdoing. By both his words and his example, every Christian should gently reprove and correct his leaders, whenever in God’s providence he is called to do so.
This principle is applicable whenever the individual lay Christian is offered grape juice, instead of wine, in the Lord’s Supper. Unless individual Christians are willing to receive grape juice in the Lord’s Supper, the leaders of the church cannot and will not give it. By respectful words and a humble example, the Christian must encourage his brothers to avoid sin.
God is often pleased with such a testimony, and it may be that the leaders of the church will give heed to it.
We must never forget that the giving and receiving of the Lord’s Supper is an act of worship. We must always remember that the Lord's Supper is an occasion for intimate communion and fellowship with our Lord Jesus.
We must also remember that God seeks worshipers who will worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). We must offer all our worship to God with a clear conscience and a sincere heart. This principle is perhaps most important when we observe the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; it too must be given and received with a clear conscience and sincerity.
How can we observe the Lord’s Supper with a clear conscience? Many volumes have been written about the Christian conscience, and we cannot explore that topic here. However, this much must be said: We must be persuaded that God will receive both us and our worship when we observe the sacrament. We must be confident that God will receive our persons (I Corinthians 11), and be pleased with the means we use when we come to Him.
So far so good! But another question is suggested by the previous paragraph. We must have faith that both ourselves and the means are acceptable to God. Yet, how can we have faith that God will accept the means we will use? After all, Nadab and Abihu also approached God (Leviticus 10:1-4), but what they brought into His presence was rejected by God. How can we avoid the sin of Nadab and Abihu?
The answer is surprisingly simple—so simple, in fact, that a mere child can understand it, while the worldly-wise may regard it with contempt. In a few words, we must observe the Lord’s Supper according to the instructions given to us in the word of God. If we do, we can be confident that God is pleased with it. If we do not, we must lack any such confidence, and our consciences must be uneasy when we use the sacrament as our means to commune with God.
“Whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23), but faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). Our faith and confidence must be grounded in the word of God, and in it alone. We cannot have faith that God is pleased with grape juice, because the use of grape juice is not authorized by the word of God; and since it is not from faith, it is a sin to be avoided. Therefore, grape juice must be rejected by every Christian, whether he is a leader in the church, or merely a partaker of the Lord's Supper. On the other hand, the use of wine is appointed in the word of God; therefore, every Christian is assured that wine pleases God, and this is the reason he can approach God with confidence in the sacrament. Nothing less than wine can give us confidence when we commune with Him in the Lord's Supper.
Three biblical principles must rule the Christian, whenever he is confronted with grape juice in the Lord's Supper. First, he must only worship God according to the word of God. Second, he must not participate in the sins of others, even if they are leaders in the church. Third, he must worship God during the Lord's Supper with a clear conscience, and such a conscience can only be grounded in a biblical faith.
These three principles must invariably lead an informed Christian to reject grape juice whenever it is offered to him as a part of the Lord's Supper.
© 2020 Wine in the Lord's Supper, by Jeff Yelton