Posted On April 20, 2013

Wine in the Lord’s Supper: A Reformed, Historical, and Biblical Appeal

by | Apr 20, 2013 | The Gospel and the Ministry

In an effort to be to-the-point, and at a risk of coming off a little abrasive, I offer the following points as succinctly as possible. I have become increasingly convinced that many churches are exchanging the “regulative principle” (allowing Scripture to inform our worship) for a “cultural principle” (allowing culture to inform our worship) which is neither safe nor right. Please consider the following confessional, historical, and biblical observations:

• “The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to declare his Word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 29-3; cf. 29-5, 6; Larger Catechism, 168-69, 177)

• “The table, on which the elements are placed, being decently covered, and furnished with bread and wine…the minister should then set the elements apart with prayer and thanksgiving.” (PCA’s Book of Church Order, 58-5)

• “When we see wine set forth as a symbol of blood, we must reflect on the benefits which wine imparts to the body, and so realize that the same are spiritually imparted to us by Christ’s blood. These benefits are to nourish, refresh, strengthen, and gladden.” (John Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.3)

• Scottish Presbyterian, John Willison, in his book, A Sacramental Catechism (1720), describes why wine in particular should be used in the Lord’s Supper (pg. 77):
o Wine, in order to prepare it for our use, must be squeezed out of the grape, which for that end is crushed and bruised in the winepress. So our blessed Saviour was crushed in the winepress of His Father’s justice.
o Wine refreshes and cheers the heart of man (Psalm 104:15). So Christ’s blood much more cheers and refreshes the soul of a humble penitent sinner who makes application of it by faith.
o Wine warms the cold heart. Much more does Christ’s blood warm the cold affections with the heat of divine love.
o Wine is useful to animate and encourage the fainthearted. Much more does Christ’s blood revive and embolden the poor, dropping, and disconsolate soul. It heartens him to go with a holy boldness to the throne of grace.
o Wine is good for medicine; it cleanses and cures. So the blood for Christ is the most medicinal thing in the world, for it cleanses and cures and putrefying wounds of the soul.

• Jesus not only made wine and gave wine (John 2:1-11); he drank wine (Luke 7:33-34) and used wine when he infused the Passover feast (in which wine was traditionally served) with new meaning as His Supper.

• The OT points toward a time when “the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine” (Is. 25:6).

• Wine was used in Israel’s worship (Deut. 14:23, Neh. 8:10; 10:37) and symbolized the Lord’s blessing (Gen. 27:27; Deut. 7:12-13; Ps. 104:15; Prov. 3:10; Eccl. 9:7; Is. 55:1; 62:8; Jer. 31:12; Joel 1:10; 2:19; Amos 9:14). Diluted wine—mixed with water—was a symbol of covenant unfaithfulness (Is. 1:21-23; 65:11).

• The OT Jewish culture, from which Jesus came, connected the ideas of “vine” and “wine” (cf. Deut. 28:39; Is. 5:2; 16:10; 24:7; Num. 6:4; Hab. 3:17). One must execute exegetical gymnastics to bend the liturgical phrase “fruit of the vine” (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18) into something other than wine. The weight of historical and Reformed commentary affirms this position. For example, “By speaking of the ‘fruit of the vine’ Jesus undoubtedly refers to wine.” (Hendriksen & Kistemaker, NT Commentary, Mark, pg. 575)

• In the NT, wine was also linked to medicinal purposes (Luke 10:34; 1 Tim. 5:23), for the alcohol killed certain types of bacteria, etc.

• If the biblical writers wanted to use the word for unfermented grape juice, they had a word available to them, trux. However, inspired by the Holy Spirit, they instead (in every instance) used the common word for fermented wine, oinos.

• In the institution of the Lord’s Supper, recorded in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul argues that those who partake of the sacrament should not get drunk (v. 21). How would people get drunk if the element was simply juice? In writing this, then, Paul affirms both the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper while cautioning against drunkenness. The abuse, not the use, of wine is clearly condemned in Scripture.

• With regard to the “weaker brother” argument (taken from Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8), Paul states that eating meat and drinking wine are, in and of themselves, indifferent matters. These passages teach that our love for our brothers in Christ should be put ahead of our “rights.” As Elders, we have a responsibility to help weaker brothers (and sisters) grow in spiritual maturity, not to let them remain weak indefinitely. Moreover, nothing in these passages has anything to do with the Lord’s Supper.

• For the first 1,800+ years of the church, the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper was an undisputed and noncontroversial practice. The substitution to grape juice has its origins in the temperance/prohibition movement of the later nineteenth century.

• Alcoholism and drunkenness are nothing new; they were just as prevalent during the first century as they are today. Yet, this reality did not prevent the institution of wine in the Lord’s Supper. This fact is also affirmed by the early church fathers.

The confessional, historical, and biblical evidences clearly affirm the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper.

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