Should We Use Wine or Juice for Communion?

Reformation Church Blog

In 1869, an American Methodist minister developed what he called, “Unfermented Wine.”  He did so by applying Louis Pasteur’s pasteurization process to grape juice–stopping the natural fermentation process of the grapes, and thereby preventing the juice from turning into wine. This minister’s name was Thomas Bramwell Welch, and his innovative beverage became what we know today as Welch’s Grape Juice.

But prior to this invention, in both American and world history, communion was universally partaken with wine rather than grape juice. In fact, in most countries and most denominations even today, wine is the chosen method of partaking of the cup of the Lord’s Table. But with Dr. Welch’s development of easily pasteurized grape juice (along with a Prohibition-era cultural disdain for alcohol), the American church slowly shifted in its thinking on communion wine. Although sacramental wine was explicitly permitted by Prohibition law, Methodist and Baptist churches (among others) opted to use Welch’s grape juice instead. Seemingly overnight, juice became the preferred substitute for wine among many American churches.

But here is the question we’d like to explore in this blog: is grape juice actually an acceptable substitute for wine? Or, to ask it in another way, is serving grape juice in communion the most faithful option for churches today?

But before we can deal with this question, we need to answer a few peripheral questions regarding the use of wine in communion.

  1. Is it sinful to drink alcohol?

Your answer to this question will obviously inform whether or not you think juice can or should be substituted for wine in communion. There are many churches and traditions that would maintain that drinking alcohol is, in fact, sinful (or at least unwise), and therefore assert that wine should play no part in the church’s partaking of communion.

Here’s the problem with this view: neither the Scriptures nor church history support the idea that alcohol is, in and of itself, sinful. Of the nearly 250 references to alcohol in Scripture, the majority are actually positive (about 150 are explicitly positive, while around 60 are neutral, and only 40 are negative). Based on the entirety of Scripture, it seems as though the old adage is true, “wine is from God, drunkenness from the devil.” In other words, wine and other forms of alcohol are gifts from our Creator to be used for our joy and His glory. As with any gift, wine can certainly be abused; but the fact that something can be abused shouldn’t lead us to negate or neglect its proper, God-given use. So, while drunkenness is certainly sinful, moderate drinking in and of itself is definitely not. In fact, it can be a form of worship and an instrument of joy.

So, to answer the question: no, it is not sinful to drink alcohol. It is certainly sinful to abuse alcohol, but you cannot say that drinking alcohol in and of itself is a sin.

We recently dedicated an entire article to debunking the idea that alcohol is inherently unrighteous or unwise. If you’d like to learn more about what the Bible says about alcohol in general, please consider this related resource because much of the weight for considering whether or not to use wine for communion rests on whether or not alcohol is inherently sinful.

Christians and Alcohol

2. Does God command the use of wine in communion?

Again, this is an important question to ask. If the reason we take communion is that we have been commanded by Christ to “do this in remembrance of [him],” then we ought also to pay attention to the details of the command he has given.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26–29

Careful exposition of Matthew, Mark, and Luke reveals that the word wine (Greek oinos) is not actually used in any of the passages describing the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Instead, the passages reference a “cup” and “fruit of the vine.” Does this therefore mean that any cup or any fruit of the vine is appropriate? So, for example, a cup of Dr. Pepper or a tasty glass of pickle juice (after all, cucumbers are a “fruit of the vine”)?

We need to consider these terms within a 1st century Jewish context. Though both expressions are somewhat ambiguous in modern English, it would have been unmistakably clear to the original audience that wine was being referenced.

Consider the following lines of evidence.


The Greek term poterion is so closely connected to wine that the most used scholarly lexicon (BDAG) contains a parenthetical remark that it is used “in Greek literature mostly for drinking wine.” 

The word “cup” is explicitly linked throughout Greek literature with wine. For instance, early poets like Alcaeus and Sappho (6th century B.C.) and the Greek historian Herodotus (5th century B.C.) use the word cup when describing wine in particular. Such is also the case in the Apocrypha as we see in Psalms of Solomon 8:15 which says, “He gave them a drinking cup of unmixed wine to drink, for drunkenness.

The word “cup” is linked throughout the Old Testament to wine. For example,

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.  (Psalm 75:8

Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering. (Isaiah 51:17

Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, making all the earth drunken; the nations drank of her wine; therefore the nations went mad. (Jeremiah 51:7

Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.” (Jeremiah 25:15

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, you who dwell in the land of Uz; but to you also the cup shall pass; you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare. (Lamentations 4:21)

You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand. Thus says the Lord God: “You shall drink your sister’s cup that is deep and large; you shall be laughed at and held in derision, for it contains much; you will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow. A cup of horror and desolation…” (Ezekiel 23:31–34)

From all of the above, we can conclude that the word “cup” in the institution of the Lord’s supper is functioning as a metonymy. 

What is a metonymy? 

It is a figure of speech in which a word is used to represent a larger concept as when we say that someone “ate their entire plate.” We don’t mean that they actually ate a plate, but rather the word plate is used as a metonymy for whatever was on that plate. Or, to give another example, when a journalist writes, “the White House said,” they don’t mean that a building spoke; both plate and White House are metonymies. 

Likewise, when Jesus speaks of a cup, He is not referencing the cup itself, but rather the contents of that cup. What would have been the contents of a cup within the context of a first-century Jewish Passover meal? Wine. We know that not only from the fact that the Greek word for wine is used in historical documents describing first-century Jewish Passovers (for example, the ancient Jewish Book of Jubilees), but also because neither refrigeration nor pasteurization had been invented yet (so, it would be nearly impossible to prevent grape juice from turning into wine)!

What about the phrase, “fruit of the wine”?

Fruit of the Vine

The phrase “fruit of the vine” in Greek contains two nouns, genematos and ampletou and both are worthy of further consideration. Interestingly, the typical word for fruit (karpos) is not used. Instead, genematos, which literally just means “yield” or produce,” is used. This word is often associated not just with any product or yield or fruit in general, but wine in particular. According to the most widely used theological Greek lexicon (BDAG), the word is often used specifically of “wine, as the product of the vine.”

As for the other word in the phrase, ampletou, that also is not a reference to any vine in general, but a grapevine in particular. For instance, consider James 3:12 “can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs?” In light of these considerations, we shouldn’t imagine that the phrase “fruit of the vine” could refer to any and every fruit of any and every vine. Instead, it refers to a particular product of a particular vine and in the context of 1st century Israel, that would have only meant wine. 

When Jesus speaks of the fruit of the vine, He references “this fruit of the vine.” Again, it is not just any fruit of any vine that He is referencing. Instead, Jesus is explicitly referencing the particular contents in His particular cup. Whatever was in His cup is what He instituted.

The word for vine is commonly used throughout extrabiblical Greek literature for a grapevine, in particular, and with wine as the obvious product or yield. For instance,

“And all the trees of the earth will rejoice exceedingly. It will be planted, and they will be planting vines. The vine that they plant will make pitchers of wine; according to each of the sown seeds it will make a thousand measures of olives. It will make up to ten jugs.” (Enoch 10:19)

The word for vine is most commonly associated with a grapevine throughout Scripture and is often used in contexts where wine is specified. For instance,

Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. (Genesis 49:11

And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ (Judges 9:12–13

…anything that comes from the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing… (Judges 13:14)

He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. (Isaiah 5:2)

The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. (Isaiah 24:7–9)

And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. (Revelation 14:18–19)

Therefore, if you are a first-century resident familiar with the Old Testament and other Jewish literature, the phrase “fruit of the vine” clearly does not refer to any fruit of any vine, but rather the particular product of a grapevine, which is – wine!

When it comes to the use of both “cup” and “fruit of the vine,” we need to bear in mind that communion was instituted during a traditional Jewish Passover festival which included the drinking of four cups of wine (Mishnah Pesachim 10:1). So, when Jesus takes a cup, it is a cup of wine. When He references fruit of the vine, it is the particular fruit of the vine that He is drinking in that moment. His cup is not full of juice, but rather the fermented yield of a grapevine. So, even though there is no explicit mention of wine, it is certainly implied in the meaning of the text. 

In other words, the question we need to ask ourselves is not, “What do we, today, consider to be a ‘fruit of the vine’ or a ‘cup’?” In English, these words could refer to a cup of grape juice, kiwi juice, watermelon juice, pickle juice, and so forth. But we are not concerned with what individual English words can mean in our culture, but rather what the biblical words mean within the biblical context. The question is, “What did this phrase mean to Christians 2,000 years ago familiar with the Greek language and Jewish customs and traditions?” To Jews and early Christians (who definitely did not think drinking was sinful, and who lived before the pasteurization process had been invented, and certainly before American Prohibition influences), “fruit of the vine” and the “cup” referred to actual, alcoholic wine. 

With all of this in mind, the burden of proof is on the person who thinks that the gospels refer to some type of magically (since refrigeration and pasteurization did not exist) unfermented grape juice, instead of on those who insist that wine was used. To say it another way, alcoholic wine must be the default interpretation until proven otherwise.

So, does God command the use of wine in communion? Yes. But does that mean that substituting juice is therefore disobedient?

  1. Is it wrong or sinful to use juice instead of wine?

This question might strike you as strange. Why not ask if it is wrong or sinful to use wine for communion since many, if not most, contemporary evangelical churches in America already use grape juice? 

But asking if it is wrong to use juice is actually the proper question, because the clear biblical default is using wine–not juice. Again, the burden of proof really rests on those who would prefer the use of juice rather than the use of wine. In other words, since wine not only has greater historical precedent, but was the original biblical element given to the Church by Christ, our default position should be to affirm the tradition and pattern passed down to us until a convincing exegetical case can be made for rejecting that tradition. 

In this case, the historical tradition and biblical pattern is wine, whereas grape juice is a more modern practice birthed out of misplaced cultural sensitivity rather than biblical exegesis.

But if we do reject that tradition, and choose juice instead of wine, have we sinned?

Before answering this, we need to first understand what the element (juice or wine) is actually supposed to communicate. That is to say, if communion is meant to be a symbol, then what does the wine symbolize?

The first and most obvious is that it symbolizes the blood of Christ (Matthew 26:28). The dark red color of the wine is similar to blood, and Christ uses this similarity to communicate the symbol of the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of blood. And like wine, grape juice adequately communicates this aspect of the symbolism of communion. Way to go, grape juice!

However, this is not the only message the wine in communion is intended to convey; wine also serves as a metaphor for joy, life, peace, and hope throughout the Scriptures. Consider the following:

Psalm 104:15 says God made “…wine to gladden the heart of man…”

Wine is linked to joy in Psalm 4:7, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”

Deuteronomy 14:26 shows how drinking can be a form of worship, “and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.”

Proverbs 3:10 says that if you honor God with your wealth the reward is wine, for your “…barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

Not being able to drink wine is seen as a form of judgment from God. Deuteronomy 28:39 says “You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them.”

Wine is commanded to be used and celebrated by the people of God as a form of worship in Nehemiah 8:10, “Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength’.”

In Isaiah 25:6, the vision of the eventual eschatological kingdom and God’s redemptive feast involves not only good food, but also well-aged wine.

In addition to that, wine is also a symbol of the inauguration of God’s kingdom and that is explicitly related to communion!

Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. (Amos 9:13–14)

I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matthew 26:29)

Furthermore, wine is also associated in Scripture with sorrow and lament which is certainly an aspect of our remembrance of the death of Christ. For example, 

Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. (Proverbs 31:6–7)

Lastly, wine is also used throughout Scripture to convey the imagery of judgment. For example, consider the following which were already mentioned above in considering the meaning of “cup” in the Old Testament.

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.  (Psalm 75:8

Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. (Jeremiah 25:15)  

Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering. (Isaiah 51:17)

In other words, an important aspect of the symbol of communion is that Christ has drained the cup of God’s wrath toward believers. We drink a cup of joy in communion only because He drank a cup of judgment on the cross.

Though grape juice and wine can both successfully illustrate the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of blood, it seems that other images associated with wine, such as feasting, joy, sorrow, and judgment, cannot be replicated by grape juice. This is especially relevant as communion points not only backward to our remembrance of Christ’s death, but also forward to His return. 

Christ says in His institution of the meal in Matthew 26 that He will not drink of the fruit of the vine again until the kingdom comes fully. This means that communion should also symbolize our future hope for a future marriage supper of the Lamb, a feast for the ages with rich food and good wine. Again, grape juice is somewhat lacking in communicating this imagery. R.C. Sproul put it this way: 

“real wine communicates to our taste buds both elements–pain and joy, sorrow and gladness–and somehow, in my opinion, grape juice just doesn’t do it. I think we lose something there because, in the worship of Israel, God associated certain truths with certain tastes.

That being said, can we say that it is wrong or sinful to use juice instead of wine?

Simply put, no. We cannot say that it is a sin to use juice instead of wine.

But, stay with us. Just because something isn’t sinful does not mean that it’s therefore the best or the most faithful. For example, some churches only have one person doing all of the preaching. Is that sinful? Not at all. But we would say that it is generally better and more faithful to have a plurality of preachers. Or, is it sinful for a church to only do topical sermons? No. But it is generally more faithful to do expository sermons. Likewise with juice and communion. Is it sinful? No. But is it what is best?

  1. Is it best to use juice instead of wine?

No. We believe that there is a significant biblical, historical, and theological preference given to the use of wine in communion over and above grape juice.

If our goal is to aim for the bare minimum, then juice is acceptable. Just like topical sermons are acceptable. But if our goal is to be as faithful as possible, the use of actual wine seems to be preferable for a number of reasons.

Let’s review some:

Wine is what was instituted by Christ in Scripture.

Wine has traditional and biblical connections to Passover and other Old Testament feasts in which drinking was commanded. If those historical and theological connections are important, then so is the element.

Wine is the element used in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the vast majority of Protestant traditions throughout church history.  

Wine better symbolizes the nature of feasting and joy and is even explicitly referenced in that manner throughout Scripture.

Wine is a reminder that we should be “controlled by” and “filled with” the Spirit.

Wine points forward to our final redemption and the marriage supper of the Lamb when we will drink wine with Him.

Wine symbolizes the judgment (cup of wrath) that Christ bore for us.

For these reasons, it seems clear that wine is the better choice. And again, the burden of proof should be on those who say that juice is preferable to prove their position. Though we would argue that grape juice is acceptable, we have to ask, is that the ideal? Is the goal of the church to strive toward acceptable substitutes or to be as faithful as possible to the Scriptures and traditions passed down to us for our good? When it comes to the use of juice, the question is not really whether or not it would be unfaithful, but rather whether or not it would be most faithful.

That said, we’re not suggesting that you must use wine in order to be faithful. Rather, we’re saying that churches must not forbid the use of wine. Unfortunately, that is what many churches do by making the very intentional decision to only offer juice. In so doing, they prohibit the use of what Christ has instituted. They would not say so in those words, of course, but in practice they prohibit others from taking what Christ has instituted by refusing to offer it.

The Practice of Reformation Church

In light of these convictions, you may be wondering how we will practice communion here at Reformation. 

The elders of Reformation Church take seriously the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture and the desire to be as faithful as possible. To be honest, we have to be willing to admit where and when we have followed culture rather than Scripture–and that seems to be the case when it comes to the use of juice rather than wine. Though many American evangelical churches today serve juice, we have determined that we will only offer wine as the preferred element for communion. 

That said, we know that change is difficult and we all tend to grow accustomed to old wineskins and resist the new, even when the new might be better and more biblical. Given that the use of juice is not necessarily sinful, attendees who would prefer to partake of juice are welcome to bring their own without fear of being called out or otherwise confronted. While we don’t generally think that is best, there may be certain circumstances where that is the better option. In such cases, we would hope that attendees would be willing to discuss their concerns with one of our elders so that we can listen and try to encourage you in this area.

That being said, there are four main concerns or objections that we need to address:

What about those with addictions?

What about those with weaker consciences?

Is it illegal for kids to partake of wine?

Is it inconsistent to emphasize the use of wine while not using only one cup or one loaf of bread?

What about alcoholics?

When the topic of communion wine comes up, one of the first objections is that this would present a stumbling block for those in the congregation with certain addictions. In response, it should be noted that the presence of those with such struggles is not a modern phenomenon; and yet, the Church has rather universally and for centuries held that wine is still preferable.

This is especially true when you consider what the Bible says about addictions and the Spirit. Part of the cultural assumptions regarding alcoholism is the idea that one who has “an addiction” is enslaved to alcohol and dependent on it. However, biblically, no one who has the Spirit of God is enslaved to sin (Rom 6:6; Gal 5:1; 1 Cor 10:13). While there is struggle to walk in freedom, freedom is available in Christ. In fact, Christ has already set us free. 

When Jesus commanded that all Christians take communion with bread and wine He already knew some people would be inclined to get drunk. In fact, we see that very problem in Corinth and yet Paul doesn’t prohibit wine (1 Corinthians 11). Why not? Because “alcoholism,” defined as someone who cannot control themselves, is not a biblical category for those who have the Spirit. Yes, it’s true that some people have a chemical proclivity for alcohol. So we are not in anyway diminishing the reality that addictions, and proclivities, and temptations are real; but we are pushing back against the unbiblical category of unbreakable addictions or irresistible temptations for those who have the Spirit of God.

Even so, for those who feel as though partaking of alcohol might endanger them, we welcome you to bring your own juice to partake.

What about those with weaker consciences?

Scripture is clear that the church has to accommodate the existence of those with weaker consciences when it comes to non-essential matters (called “adiaphora” or “morally neutral”). Those with stronger consciences are not to condemn the weak and the weak are not to judge the strong (see Romans 14)..

That said, the Bible does side with the strong in regards to upholding the freedom that we have in Christ. In light of this, the church should aim to slowly and gently guide the weak toward a liberated conscience. 

But we also need to keep in mind that if Jesus tells us to do something, that something is not actually a “morally neutral” or “adiaphora” issue. 

For example, imagine that you are magically transported back to ancient Israel under the Mosaic Law and you meet an Israelite who was conscientiously opposed to killing animals. Would their conscience therefore permit them to neglect the command to offer sacrifices? Of course not. When one’s conscience conflicts with a biblical command, the conscience is to be submitted to the Word.

Or, imagine that you were talking to a first-century Jewish Christian who said that their conscience did not allow them to hang out with and evangelize Gentiles. After all, the Old Testament and Jewish tradition certainly created a wall between Jew and Gentile. What would be your response? You would hopefully help them to see that their conscience doesn’t provide a grounds for disobeying the biblical commands to make disciples of all nations and to love and serve their Gentile neighbors. 

In both cases, we see the principal that our consciences must be submitted to biblical commands. When issues are truly morally neutral or adiaphora, we are free to lean upon our consciences, whether weak or strong. But where there is a biblical command, we must lay down our conscience in obedience. Therefore, if Jesus commands us to do communion with bread and wine, it can be argued that whether we use those elements or others is not actually an issue of “weaker consciences,” but rather a misunderstanding and misapplication that needs to be lovingly engaged.

But some might object, “Shouldn’t we seek to love those around us by not having wine if they are offended by alcohol?” There are two things to note here. 

First, it is always most loving to follow the Bible as closely as possible. Before we try to not offend others we should seek to not offend God. Following Scripture will undoubtedly offend others, but we follow nonetheless. 

Second, leading someone in a false belief is never loving. Yes we may have to have conversations and go slow, but Paul’s hope is not that we allow the “weak” to remain weak, but rather we teach them how to be strong and to shape their conscience around the Word of God. If Christ had instituted bacon and eggs for communion, it would not be loving to allow a convert from Judaism to refrain from communion (or to change the elements) just because they were offended by eating pork. Rather, we would teach them that bacon is good (perhaps the truest line in this blog).

Unfortunately, by only administering juice, churches actually reinforce cultural proclivities toward legalism by failing to confront people over their non-biblical attitudes toward alcohol–never leading them to grow into a healthy understanding and appreciation of not only the dangers, but also the joys of God’s good gifts.

Even so, those whose consciences would be burdened by drinking wine are encouraged to partake of juice while they continue to wrestle with what is most biblical and faithful.

What about our kids?

There is certainly a concern for the safety and health of our children when it comes to the potential consumption of alcohol. That said, for most of church history and Jewish history before that, people who love and trust God have stewarded the use of alcohol in such a way as to allow their kids to celebrate God’s covenants with them. In other words, for thousands of years, the Church has universally found that the benefits of using the biblical elements outweigh the various concerns associated with minors consuming alcohol.

But is it illegal? To some degree that should not be our primary concern. We are always under the authority of Scripture before the authority of the state. However, in many states there is an expressed religious exemption to laws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol by minors. Within many other states (such as Texas), there are also laws that allow for such consumption by minors with parental consent.   

But what if I don’t want my kids to see others drink alcohol? The first and foremost response would be “why not?” Why do you not want your kids to see others obeying Christ’s command with hope and joy? The real reason you don’t like it is because you still think there is something evil about drinking which gets us back to where we began. If drinking is inherently sinful and unwise, then the concern is somewhat valid; but if alcohol is a good gift from a good God, then the fear is exposed. Would you not want your kids seeing something that is in no way evil, is commanded in Scripture, and that Christians have done for 2,000 years of history (with their children!). The real issue is not wine. The issue is a false belief in your heart that says that the best way to protect against the abuse of something is to prohibit that thing entirely. But in order to protect our kids from sexual immorality, we don’t say that all sex is bad. Instead, we say that sex is really good, but that there are God-given boundaries (namely monogamous, heterosexual marriage). To protect our kids from materialism and greed, we don’t say all money is bad. The same can be said of music, literature, food and myriad other gifts. Those are all good things that can be abused or stewarded for our joy and the glory of God. Why would we not do the same with alcohol? Why not help our children have a healthy appreciation for divine gifts within biblical parameters rather than making God into a cosmic killjoy?

The desire to disciple your kids by teaching them to love God’s commands and refrain from sin is good, but discipleship also involves training our children to distinguish between what is forbidden in excess and what is permissible or even encouraged in moderation. If the consumption of alcohol is not inherently sinful or unwise and if Christ has instituted communion with the element of wine, then why would we be hesitant to allow our children to witness us partake with thankful and glad hearts? 

Even so, if parents do not consent to their baptized child’s use of wine, they are welcome to bring juice to consume.

Is it inconsistent to emphasize the use of wine while not using only one cup or one loaf of bread?

Perhaps this entire conversation seems inconsistent to some. For the church to insist on following the “letter of the law” when it comes to wine, while not being as dogmatic on using only one cup or loaf although those were what was originally instituted, might even seem hypocritical. So, is it?

Well, it is certainly true that part of the imagery of communion involves the use of one cup and one loaf to demonstrate the unity of the body. However, most churches today do not pass around one cup or one loaf. Obviously, to some degree, the use of multiple cups and pre-torn bread or crackers is lamentable. In an ideal situation and context, the use of one loaf and one cup would certainly be symbolically preferable. That said, we do not believe that it is actually inconsistent. Besides, even if the charge were correct, the appropriate reaction would be to institute the use of one loaf and cup rather than to argue that because we are inconsistent in one area that we should be inconsistent in another. In other words, two wrongs don’t make a right.

But why is it not logically inconsistent to insist on wine rather than juice, but not one cup or loaf? Because it seems as though the way we distribute the elements is not as important as the elements we use. 

Throughout church history, communion has sometimes involved only one loaf, but sometimes (with larger churches) several loaves. Sometimes it is unleavened bread (as in the west), but other times it is leavened bread (as in the east). Sometimes it is done by dipping the bread in the wine (intinction), sometimes by passing a cup, sometimes by having an entire meal, sometimes by a priest handing out individual wafers. 

Historically, it seems that how the elements are passed out is somewhat of a secondary issue. The same is true for baptism as well: whether one is baptized in a stream, lake, swimming pool, or baptistery, is of little consequence; what matters is whether or not that baptism took place in water. Likewise, the elements of communion themselves are what are most important because they represent the body and blood of our Lord. 

So, whether it is leavened or unleavened bread is not as important as whether we use bread or something like gummy worms which is an altogether different element. And whether it is one loaf or many is less important than whether we use a loaf of bread or instead attempt to substitute with a loaf of meat. The same holds true for communion. Whether it is one cup or many is less important than what’s inside the cup.

All of this to say, how the elements are passed out is not the same as changing the elements entirely. That argument fails to draw the analogy at the proper place. But obviously, if there were a hygienic and logistically realistic way to implement the use of one loaf and one cup, we would certainly want to implement that.

What if I’m still uncomfortable?

If you have read all of the above with an open heart and mind and still remain unconvinced that wine is a better and more faithful option for the church, we encourage you to wrestle with that discomfort in light of Scripture. In other words, it is a sign of humility when people are willing to question their presuppositions and submit them to the full counsel of the Word of God. Would you doubt your own doubts and give Reformation’s elders the benefit of the doubt by doing an extensive study on the topic of alcohol in Scripture, reading our longer paper on what the Bible says about alcohol, and/or talking to an elder about your concerns?

Our collective hope is that you would not assume that our little church is drifting, but instead consider the possibility that the American Evangelical culture of the past 150 years has already drifted; that you might see that this is perhaps an opportunity for Reformation to collectively strive to correct that slow slide away from what is most faithful for our good and the glory of God.

We want to end this lengthy blog by stressing that as “Sabbath was made for man and not man for Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27), so it seems that communion was made for man and not man for communion. Therefore, we would not want any of our members to think that they are necessarily being unfaithful for using juice. As we stated up front, the issue is not one of faithfulness vs. unfaithfulness, but rather which is preferable and most faithful and whether we as a church are willing to forbid what God has commanded.

So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:16–17)