We at KCPC are privileged to serve wine exclusively in the Lord’s Supper that we celebrate weekly. Our use of wine is not intended to be a stumbling block to any, and we certainly recognize with deep compassion the fact that some have struggles with alcoholic beverages.1I write this as a pastor who no longer drinks alcoholic beverages, and who understands with deep sympathy the great temptations of alcohol abuse from my own experiences in life.

Why would we use wine exclusively then? We believe there are three main reasons: 1) Historical; 2) Theological-Biblical; and 3) Practical.

Historical

The Church of Jesus Christ has historically used wine in the Lord’s Supper since the time of the apostles. This was never significantly disputed, nor contested in the church until the time of the early twentieth century in America. I stress the date of the early twentieth century, and the narrow context of American Christianity. The reasons for Americans to begin using grape juice instead of wine was due to the movement of Prohibition in America, as well as a fundamentalistic Christianity that avoided alcoholic substances because they believed they were sinful.2See Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (Oxford Univ. Press, 1980), 13, 31-36, 66-68, 126-128, 207, . Hart, D. G. Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 135-137. One of the distinct emphases of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church from her beginning has been to stress Christian liberty rather than abstinence from alcoholic beverages (see WCOF, chap. 20, sections 1-4). See also D. G. Hart and John Muether, “J. Gresham Machen and the Regulative Principle,” http://opc.org/OS/MachenRegulative.html (accessed Sept. 6, 2014). Rev. Dr. J. V. Fesko asks the appropriate question about grape juice in communion: “…Grape juice was not used in the sacrament until its invention in the 19th century by Thomas B. Welch, founder of Welch’s Grape Juice. While grape juice is nice, should we not follow Christ rather than Mr. Welch? We must be faithful to the example, and essentially command, of Christ.” “The Use of Wine in the Lord’s Supper” http://www.genevaopc.org/media/pubs/res_pdf_17.pdf (accessed Sept. 6, 2014). There was a right concern about drunkenness in these movements, but we believe that the churches accommodated too much to culture when they changed the historic practice of the church in this way. Today, we live in a very therapeutically charged cultural atmosphere in America, that presents constant challenges to the church to affirm certain legitimate concerns of our culture, while avoiding accommodation to the culture. As Christians, we do not want to lose the uniqueness and distinctives of the historic Christian faith, and we especially want to seek to worship God as God has commanded us to worship Him.3It is important for God’s people to consider whether the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper is a mere circumstance of worship, or an element commanded by God that must be followed (see WCOF, chap. 1, sec. 1.6). In seeking to avoid accommodation to the culture, we especially desire as God’s people to worship God only in the way He has commanded (WCOF, chap. 21, secs. 1, 5). I realize this is an intramural debate between Reformed Christians. We affirm that alcohol is a substance that can be abused; we deny that because of this we should serve something other than wine in the Lord’s Supper.

Theological-Biblical

The Bible does not condemn the moderate use of wine (Psa. 104:15; Deut. 14:23; Joel 3:18). But we are taught not to be drunk with wine (Eph. 5:18: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…”). In Ephesians 5:18 the contrast is being controlled by the Spirit or by alcohol. We are forbidden as Christians to be controlled by anything other than the Blessed Holy Spirit Jesus Christ secured for us, Who is our Comforter-Counselor-Guide, Who seals us unto the day of redemption (Eph. 1:14; John 14-16). We are taught clearly throughout Scripture to beware the abuses of wine (Prov. 20:1; 23:19-22, 29-35; Hos. 4:11-12). This we must heed seriously.

Jesus uses fermented wine in the New Testament. His first miracle is turning water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee (John 2). The wine of the New Testament may have been to some degree diluted, but nevertheless, when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on the night He was betrayed, He used fermented wine that had always been used for the Passover Supper.4The Bible never condemns the moderate use of wine, only it’s abuse. When the Bible speaks of wine, it means fermented wine, see: Proverbs 23:31; Hos. 4:11; Isa. 5:11; 49:26; cf. Eph. 5:18; 1 Cor. 11:17-22. See also Rev. Jack Lash, “Why Do We Use Wine in Communion?” http://www.gpcweb.org/why-do-we-use-wine-in-communion- (accessed Sept. 6, 2014). Fermented wine was set apart as being the common means of communicating grace through Jesus, received by faith.5If it was not fermented wine, why would many think the disciples were “drunk with wine” in Acts 2:13? It is obvious that others knew that they used real wine, and this was used as slander in an unfair way against them. Also, how could some of the Corinthians be getting drunk at the Lord’s Table if the wine was not fermented? “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” (1 Cor. 11:21-22a). Jesus fulfills the Passover Feast in His ministry for sinners, and institutes the Lord’s Supper, both of which were signs and symbols of the Heavenly Feast that Christ would eat in the restoration of all things (Isa. 25:6).

Why wine particularly in the Lord’s Supper? I think the signs are valuable teachers for God’s people. What can be the particular symbolic value of wine for God’s people? Wine in Scripture can be a picture of both blessings and curses (Deut. 28:39; Joel 1:10; Hos. 2:21-22; Amos 9:13). Wine can symbolize God’s goodness to man, for instance in making his heart merry and making his face shine (Psa. 104:15). Wine can also symbolize God’s wrath (Jer. 25:15; Isa. 63:6).6Ryken, Leland, Wilhoit, James C., Longman III, Tremper. “Wine” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downer’s Grove, Il: IVP Press). Isn’t this a lovely picture of the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross for sinners?

On the cross, we see that Jesus is both crushed for our iniquities, and undergoes the curse of the Law and the wrath of God for sinners, but this brings the blessing of joy and eternal life for all who believe. Wine helps us to experience both of these aspects of God’s revelation in the Lord’s Supper: blessing and curse. Jesus gives the blessing to us by grace alone, because Jesus becomes the curse (Gal. 3:13-14); we get the glorious and gracious benediction because Jesus received our malediction. Wine, when we drink it, often goes down with a bitter finish, but it is also sweet: there is the taste of God’s wrath poured out on Jesus, as well as the sweet results that come from the cross that are experienced in our partaking of wine. Let us glory in the cross of Christ! Oh, the sweet love of our Savior–much like wine if we were to write love poetry to Him:

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine…Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you….How beautiful is your love…How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!” – ESV Song of Solomon 1:2, 4; 4:10

Practical

For one who struggles with a drinking problem, for one who is struggling with self-control and sobriety, what better picture of redemption than this: that Christ would use the substance that has tried to harm you, to bring healing and sanctification, so that you can live more and more self-controlled and sober in Christ alone. Could this be a stumbling block? If this was a stumbling block to cause you to sin, would our kind and merciful Lord Jesus have used it? Consider this:

The Lord Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with wine knowing intimately the dangers of wine abuse that were taught in the Proverbs (23:19-22, 29-35):

19 Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. 20 Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, 21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags. 22 Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old… 29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? 30 Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. 31 Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. 32 In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. 33 Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. 34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. 35 “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.”

The Lord Jesus instituted this sacrament with wine as an important element knowing these scriptures, and also encouraging wine use at the Lord’s Table to believers in a culture known for its drunkenness, dissipation, excessiveness, and Bacchanalia feasts. It is possible that some of the disciples were former drunks, we certainly know that Christians in the early church had struggled with this sin (Luke 21:34; Gal. 5:21; Pet. 4:3; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).7“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – ESV 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

Yet Jesus takes wine, a good gift from God (Gen. 1:31; Psa. 104:15; Judges 9:13; Eccl. 10:19; Prov. 31:6-7; 1 Tim.5:23), even though it had been used and abused as an element at pagan feasts, and sanctifies it be used symbolizing what His blood and powerful grace can do in our hearts.

We can change by God’s grace. I know some folks who are characterized as alcoholics, and who believe that they can never drink again without falling into sin, yet who desire to have wine at the Lord’s Table with Jesus, to make them more sober, careful, watchful, strong in the face of temptations to drunkenness.8As Christians, we have Christ. Christ and our relationship with Him is our ultimate identity. We can be tempted to label ourselves according to the culture of our time, using such terms as “obese,” “alcoholic,” “smoker,” “addictive personality,” and/or “a worrier”, etc. While these may be real sins that easily beset us (Heb. 3:13; 12:1-3; 1 Cor. 10:12-13), our ultimate identity as Christians is that we are “Beloved,” “God’s joy and crown,” “forgiven, blood-bought, adopted children of God, who are recipients of all of Christ’s grace and power to aid us in our struggles (Eph. 1:1-14; Isa. 61:10; 62:3-5; Zeph. 3:17). Though we are still tainted by sin, perhaps by temptations to alcohol, we are God’s Beloved ultimately, and this should be our main identity! Taking names or descriptions of yourself from culture, especially therapeutic culture, is to accommodate yourself more to culture rather than Scripture. We must affirm the struggle and the sin, but deny the accommodation of labels used by our culture. What a glorious foretaste of the wedding supper of the Lamb!!

Though alcoholics cannot enjoy drinking as a gift of God regularly NOW because of sins that so easily beset them, nevertheless they can feast with Jesus in worship, and have a foretaste of the Heavenly Wine and be joyful, knowing that one day soon, they will be rid of all sin to overindulge, and will enjoy drinking again with Jesus. Isn’t the greatest incentive to stay sober the fact that you have been loved and redeemed by Jesus? Do you think Jesus would do something to harm you? What an incentive to stay sober, yet affirm God’s good gift of wine, and the power of God’s grace, as you partake by faith in worship at the Lord’s Table in communion?!

Because you struggle with self-control, you may have to say with Jesus: “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18), and this may be the best decision for you. But would you consider that the self-control and temperance you so desperately need is a promise of the Covenant of Grace where God promises to give you all you need for sanctification and complete the work He has begun in you (1 Thess. 5:23-24; Phil. 1:6). The New Covenant is given in signs and seals through bread and wine. Isn’t this a place where you can enjoy a foretaste of the Heavenly, eschatological feast now, as you trust in Christ for all things?

We believe that it is good for us to use wine in the Lord’s Table, and we invite all to come and partake with us as a congregation. The use of wine at the Lord’s Table is not intended in any way to be divisive, and this brief paper is not written as a polemic against other Bible-believing, faithful congregations who may disagree with us. In every congregation, a call must be made that seems good to the elders and to the Holy Spirit in their estimation (see Acts 15:28). This doesn’t mean that this must be the only way to practice the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but it does mean that we believe it is our way that is consistent with history, biblical theology, and even the practical, sanctifying hopes we have in Christ and His ministry through us in the Lord’s Supper.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

References   [ + ]

1. I write this as a pastor who no longer drinks alcoholic beverages, and who understands with deep sympathy the great temptations of alcohol abuse from my own experiences in life.
2. See Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (Oxford Univ. Press, 1980), 13, 31-36, 66-68, 126-128, 207, . Hart, D. G. Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 135-137. One of the distinct emphases of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church from her beginning has been to stress Christian liberty rather than abstinence from alcoholic beverages (see WCOF, chap. 20, sections 1-4). See also D. G. Hart and John Muether, “J. Gresham Machen and the Regulative Principle,” http://opc.org/OS/MachenRegulative.html (accessed Sept. 6, 2014).
3. It is important for God’s people to consider whether the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper is a mere circumstance of worship, or an element commanded by God that must be followed (see WCOF, chap. 1, sec. 1.6). In seeking to avoid accommodation to the culture, we especially desire as God’s people to worship God only in the way He has commanded (WCOF, chap. 21, secs. 1, 5). I realize this is an intramural debate between Reformed Christians.
4. The Bible never condemns the moderate use of wine, only it’s abuse. When the Bible speaks of wine, it means fermented wine, see: Proverbs 23:31; Hos. 4:11; Isa. 5:11; 49:26; cf. Eph. 5:18; 1 Cor. 11:17-22. See also Rev. Jack Lash, “Why Do We Use Wine in Communion?” http://www.gpcweb.org/why-do-we-use-wine-in-communion- (accessed Sept. 6, 2014).
5. If it was not fermented wine, why would many think the disciples were “drunk with wine” in Acts 2:13? It is obvious that others knew that they used real wine, and this was used as slander in an unfair way against them. Also, how could some of the Corinthians be getting drunk at the Lord’s Table if the wine was not fermented? “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” (1 Cor. 11:21-22a).
6. Ryken, Leland, Wilhoit, James C., Longman III, Tremper. “Wine” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downer’s Grove, Il: IVP Press).
7. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – ESV 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
8. As Christians, we have Christ. Christ and our relationship with Him is our ultimate identity. We can be tempted to label ourselves according to the culture of our time, using such terms as “obese,” “alcoholic,” “smoker,” “addictive personality,” and/or “a worrier”, etc. While these may be real sins that easily beset us (Heb. 3:13; 12:1-3; 1 Cor. 10:12-13), our ultimate identity as Christians is that we are “Beloved,” “God’s joy and crown,” “forgiven, blood-bought, adopted children of God, who are recipients of all of Christ’s grace and power to aid us in our struggles (Eph. 1:1-14; Isa. 61:10; 62:3-5; Zeph. 3:17). Though we are still tainted by sin, perhaps by temptations to alcohol, we are God’s Beloved ultimately, and this should be our main identity! Taking names or descriptions of yourself from culture, especially therapeutic culture, is to accommodate yourself more to culture rather than Scripture. We must affirm the struggle and the sin, but deny the accommodation of labels used by our culture.
 

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