The present position of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) is that congregations within the RPCNA are permitted to use wine, unfermented grape juice, or a split cup. Neither wine, nor grape juice, is required.
In the paragraphs that follow, we examine the recent decisions of the Synod of the RPCNA concerning the contents of the cup, as recorded in the minutes of the Synod meetings.
The Synod of 2019 made two important decisions regarding the contents of the communion cup. First, the Synod refused to consider a position paper, written by the author of this web site, about the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper.
Second, the Synod refused to consider an appeal brought to it by the author of this web site, in which he asked that the Synod overturn the censure of admonition that had been brought against him for statements on this web site that the session of Shawnee (Kansas) Reformed Presbyterian Church alleged were “contrary to the standards” of the RPCNA. The Synod justified its decision on the ground that a few previous synods had already ruled that the use of real wine in the Lord’s Supper is not required.
The Synod's Judicial Committee reminded the Synod of the work that was done in 2010 and 2002, and summarized its understanding of the Church’s position on the contents of the communion cup. "1. Synod has ruled that the contents of the cup may be either non-alcoholic or alcoholic in nature, and even that a split-cup is permissible. 2. Synod has ruled that the responsibility and authority for specifying the contents of the cup in each congregation lies primarily with the Session of that congregation. 3. When making that decision, the Session should seek the unity and full participation of the people as being of the utmost importance, even when the singularity of the cup must be sacrificed. 4. However, Synod does not require a Session to utilize an alternative in order to satisfy the conscience of a member. It may—for pastoral reasons unique to the congregation—choose to do otherwise."
After this, a special resolution was adopted. This special resolution said, "All members of the RPCNA maintain liberty of conscience — whatever fruit of the vine is administered by local sessions.”
The Committee to Study the Contents of the Cup in the Lord’s Supper made the following recommendations:
1. a) That Synod affirm that, as stated in the Committee report, the Biblical language used for elements of the supper are generic items, not specifically defined; b) that the scriptural requirements for the sacramental elements may be satisfied by bread that is either leavened or unleavened, and by the “fruit of the vine” that is either fermented or unfermented.
2. That every session make every effort to retain both (1) the singularity of the elements and (2) the participation of all communicant members of the congregation.
3. If the session is unable to find a single loaf of ‘bread’ or a single cup of ‘fruit of the vine’ that satisfies everyone’s health concerns or convictions to the point where members of the congregation have to refrain from participating in the supper, that the session provide an alternative. [This recommendation was not adopted.]
4. That this committee be dismissed.
A substitute motion to #1 was adopted. This motion said, " a) That Synod affirm that, as stated in the Committee report, the Biblical language used for elements of the supper are generic items, not specifically defined; b) that the scriptural requirements for the sacramental elements may be satisfied by bread that is either leavened or unleavened, and by the 'fruit of the vine' that is either fermented or unfermented."
Synod passed Recommendation 1 of The Committee on the Contents of the Cup which continued the definitions of Bread and Cup/ Fruit of the Vine as generic, not specific, and, so, could be satisfied with variations of bread and fermented or unfermented contents of the cup, so long as it qualified as “fruit of the vine.”
In 2010, Synod also passed Recommendation 2 of the same committee: “That every session make every effort to retain both (1) the singularity of the elements and (2) the participation of all communicant members of the congregation.”
Synod DID NOT pass Recommendation 3 of the same committee: “If the session is unable to find a single loaf of ‘bread’ or a single cup of ‘fruit of the vine’ that satisfies everyone’s health concerns or convictions to the point where members of the congregation have to refrain from participating in the supper, that the session provide an alternative.”
The Synod’s Judicial Committee considered three papers regarding the use of wine and unfermented grape juice in the communion cup. The Committee wrote, “It is clear that members of our Church have strong and varying views on this subject. Some do not want to participate in communion where only grape juice is served. Some do not want to participate when only wine is served. Others do not want to participate where the split-cup is served.”
Though one communication asked for the formation of a study committee, the judicial committee wrote “that is neither our task nor our passion.”
Pursuant to its work, the Judicial Committee presented a summary of past synodical decisions concerning the contents of the communion cup:
1. In 1857, Synod declared that the sale and use of intoxicating drinks, as a beverage, was an offense deserving of church discipline. At the same time, however, the Synod declared that this ruling did not apply “to the use of wine in the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper.”
2. In 1882, the sacramental use of alcoholic beverages was recommended against, but not forbidden by Synod.
3. Paragraph 5 of Chapter 26 of our Testimony currently states that it is “altogether wise and proper that Christians refrain from the use, sale, and manufacture of alcoholic beverages.”
4. In 1992, a report from Synod’s Judicial Committee was approved that included the observation that the word “beverage” has been understood by the church as that which would be used as refreshment or in connection with a meal (see the 1857 wording as one example) and that the use of alcohol in the sacrament is not included in the prohibition of our Testimony.
5. In 1992, Synod ruled that Query #8, which at that time forbade officers of the church from using alcoholic beverages, did not forbid officers from partaking of communion in churches with whom we have fraternal relations, which serve fermented wine in the Lord’s Supper.
6. Paragraph 3 of Chapter 29 in the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance (the Lord’s Supper) appointed His ministers to declare His Word of institution, to pray, to bless the elements of bread and wine ...”
7. Paragraph 14 of Chapter 3 in our Directory for Worship suggests as a prayer of consecration these words, “Bless so much of the elements of bread and wine.”
The Judicial Committee recommended that the Synod find that a “split-cup” is not inconsistent the law and order of the church; that sessions seek peace and unity; and that the “law and order of the Church, based on our best understanding of the teachings of Scripture, does not require fermented wine to be used in the Lord's Supper by all participants.”
The recommendations of the Judicial Committee were adopted by the Synod.
© 2019 Wine in the Lord's Supper, by Jeff Yelton