The advantages of unfermented grape juice for the Lord’s Supper

See also: Bible says be sober again and again.

Caution with the vague term ‘wine’ in communion service

A minister today needs caution when using unfermented grape juice and simply calling it ‘wine’ during a communion service. Participants may become confused, unless it is specifically stated that it is not the fermented type. They may know the term ‘wine’ is variously understood by different Christians (more so than other terms). Whatever the meanings of ‘wine’ – the Holy Bible itself does not use this particular term ‘wine’ (oinos) in reference to the Lord’s Supper. In every case, the Gospels only say ‘the fruit of the vine’ or ‘the cup’ (Matt. 26:27-29; Mark 14:23-25; Luke 22:17-18,20). Usually, translations are literal on this (NIV, KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, etc.) and so these avoid adding the term ‘wine.’ But the CEV is generally less literal in many respects – and so supplies the term ‘wine’ – which may confuse readers who are not aware this is certainly not literal.

The advantages of unfermented juice for the Lord’s Supper (Communion, Eucharist)

Unfermented juice has multiple advantages. To those who maybe have allowed alcoholic wine in communion, please consider these advantages. To be fair, I suppose that many of you never had any intention of being ‘anti-teetotallers’*. You never turned a blind eye when others tried to compel alcohol for lifelong abstainers, former drinkers, etc.

1. Symbolism of purity

The bread (unleavened) and juice (unfermented) both symbolically represent sincerity and truth – the uncorrupted spotlessness of Christ our “Passover”. (1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:19) But yeast makes juice ferment. It also makes bread leavened (though not intoxicating). At times, some churches have used any type of these available, not necessarily because they thought leavened bread and fermented juice were more ‘symbolically proper’.

2. Former drinkers

Do people who want to quit drinking need further temptations of fermented wine? Sadly, if their own churches use alcohol, then they may be reluctant to sign a teetotal pledge. So even a little alcohol is a roadblock. Suppose if a minister serving the Lord’s Supper cannot in good conscience “giveth his neighbour drink” (Hab. 2:15), or give an opportunity to stumble, then should anybody hinder him from just serving grape juice only – to not violate his conscience about giving alcohol in the Lord’s Supper?

Do we not know what would be better for ‘whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin…’ (Matt. 18:6)?

Consider this anti-teetotaler Williamson: ‘… the best interests of the converted alcoholic are served by having [alcoholic] wine in the communion service.’ In effect, he echoes Satan’s temptation to put the Lord your God to the test, by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple, because the angels will catch you anyway (Luke 4:9-12). He says, ‘“They fail, as Prof. J. G. Vos puts it, to take the power of the Holy Spirit into their reckoning.” What the Church should do, in dealing with such persons, is not to educate them in falsehood – by making them think there is more power in a little wine than there is in the Third Person of the God-head. No, it should teach them the truth. The truth is that there is not – and never was – any destructive power inherent in wine … So, radical though it may seem to many in the Christian Church today, the best interests of the converted alcoholic are served by having [alcoholic] wine in the communion service.’

G. Williamson, Wine in the Bible and the Church, p. 25 and Johannes Vos, The Separated Life, pp. 25-27 [Also quoted by Stephen M. Reynolds, 2003, The Biblical Approach To Alcohol, p. 129].

Consider another sad example against the converted alcoholics of a church in the indigenous community of Yarrabah, Queensland. The community was ‘dying from alcohol’. For a time, their Anglican pastors had to abandon their church and meet under a mango tree – since they refused to serve alcohol in communion.

‘Fruit juice for a dry congregation’, The Australian, 11 Nov. 1994, p. 4.

The Standing Committee (of another diocese) has said grape juice should be available as of right, and not by concession from the Bishop, Parish Council or Minister. Sadly, some dioceses say only (alcoholic) wine should be available, despite the danger from alcohol.

c.f. Report of the Church Law Panel, Sydney, Mar. 2001.

‘ALL communicants at St Peter and St Paul’s, Yalding, in Kent, now receive non-alcoholic wine, in deference to the residents of a rehabilitation centre situated near by.’

‘The Vicar of Yalding with Collier Street, the Revd Paul Filmer, is Chaplain to the Kenward Trust, which runs a rehabilitation centre for men seeking to overcome addiction to alcohol and drugs.’

‘We had two options: to have an alternative non-alcoholic communion wine for those who preferred it, or to serve non-alcoholic wine to everyone. After much prayer and thought, we went for the latter as a more inclusive way forward, and one which will not in any way stigmatise any members of the congregation.’

‘… the Bishop, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, who is a Patron of the Kenward Trust, “fully understands and supports the desire of Revd Paul Filmer and his PCC to respond pastorally to the needs of those seeking to overcome alcohol dependency”.’

Madeleine Davies, ‘Alcohol-free wine served’, Church Times, 20 Sep. 2013.

[See also: Vicar stops serving wine during holy communion because of the ALCOHOLICS in his congregation]

3. Lifelong teetotallers

Should lifelong teetotallers (besides former drinkers) who want to partake of their own denomination’s sacraments be made to feel stigmatized for teetotalism, thus compelled to either request special permission for unfermented wine, or else find another denomination? Who will say the Bible frowns on teetotalism?

4. Teetotal membership

A number of Christian denominations require all members to be teetotallers anyway and of course won’t use alcohol for the Lord’s Supper.

5. Open communion

For denominations with open communion, visitors from other denominations may not wish to partake if they are concerned it may be alcoholic.

6. Dangerous precedent

Permitting any alcohol on church premises could sometimes become a pretentious excuse to hold unrelated scandalous events, drinking parties on church premises. Indeed, Levitical priests who drank at all in God’s house were even threatened with capital punishment.* With clear minds, they could distinguish between the holy and the unholy (Lev. 10:9).

7. Concerns of pious priests

Some denominations require consecrated elements to be consumed by the priest if they were unused. When attendance is less than anticipated, then a reluctant priest would feel compelled to drink more than desired. A priest may administer sacraments frequently, even for multiple services on the same day. If some alcoholic wine were unused each time, must the priest consume all that remains? A priest may become a bit concerned by the amount he is drinking. A pious priest may wish to quit using alcohol as a precaution. Must he request his superiors for special permission to use unfermented wine? Must he really require a doctor’s certificate before he actually thinks himself addicted already, or should he delay until he is addicted?

8. Children’s friends

Should children be introduced to alcohol earlier if they desire to partake of the Lord’s Supper? Subsequently, would this help adolescents withstand peer pressure from friends urging them to come to drinking parties?

9. Children’s enemies

From time to time, certain sacrilegious priests have dared to use sacramental alcoholic wine as a means to take advantage of adolescents and commit unmentionable crimes. After all, alcohol does reduce the inhibitions both of adults and of children. Arguably, if unfermented wine were the normal and accepted practice, then it could reduce occasions for such crimes to occur. (It could also reduce occasions to bring a bad name by association on others who would never dream of doing such crimes.)

Capital Punishment?

*Of course we (teetotallers) say none are actually put to death today for these wrongs: priests unfit to teach because of the drink, nor rebellious sons who cannot listen. Let nobody pretentiously accuse us of saying otherwise. Nevertheless, does this mean any Biblical principle should now be disregarded? In the New Testament, Jesus still applied the Biblical principles strongly: ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ (Ex. 21:17; Matt. 15:3-6; Mark 7:9-13) When somebody was caught in adultery, the pretentious Pharisees neither regarded the Biblical principle sincerely (Deut. 17:7) nor the death penalty (John 18:31). Rather, ‘This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him…’ (John 8:6)

Perceive another strong principle: ‘If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.’ (Deut. 21:18-21) Of course we say none are actually sentenced to physical punishments today for these wrongs. But unrepentant persons are put away from church membership, that is all. (1 Cor. 5:2,9-13)

Therefore, considering these strong Biblical principles, let us ask where does the Holy Bible even hint that ‘the priest and the prophet’ (Isa. 28:7) should ever be dismissed for putting away the drink itself from among you – the very drink which ‘is a mocker’ (Prov. 20:1)? Where does it hint they should be dismissed even for refusing to let it come into sacred places at all? Alas – dismissed for teetotalism? Yet ‘against such there is no law’! Honestly, will anti-teetotallers be as quick to dismiss somebody who would ‘err in vision’ and ‘stumble in judgment’ because of this drink? (Isa. 28:7)

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