What is the biblical substance to be used in the cup during the observance of the Lord’s Supper by His church?
It is incredible to see the number of articles and blogs on this very subject. Some helpful, most are not. The reason for the debate stems in large part from reactionism to the temperance movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of what sustained the temperance movement was wholly unbiblical and sought to bind the consciences of Christians and to keep the lost from acting like the lost when it came to the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The simple truth is, that the only prohibition of alcohol in Scripture is applied to those who took the Nazarite vow and those involved with the priestly administrations in the temple. Neither one of these were life-long prohibitions.
I, for one, see wine as Scripture overwhelmingly sees it. The presence of wine is a blessing and the absence of it is a curse. Over consumption to the point of drunkenness is a sin. Otherwise, whether you partake or do not partake of strong drink, we are not to bind the conscience of others with convictions not grounded in Scripture. Pretty simple.
However, the debate that so many have is whether or not wine is required for the Lord’s Supper. Is grape juice sufficient to be in obedience to the imperative given to us concerning the Lord’s Supper? Doctrinal systems have been constructed and assumptions have been made concerning implicit applications to the Lord’s Supper based on Passover celebration requirements. And of course, the church at Corinth was getting drunk during the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, the requirement for the cup is fermented wine. Right?
I cannot think of any explicit command given in Scripture in which there is ambiguity. This is true for the explicit commands of our Lord Jesus Christ concerning the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s table. For the Baptist, this is incredibly important to understand. We ought not be in the business of applying systems of doctrine and philosophy to Scripture. Our great undertaking is to seek to allow Scripture to inform our systematics and doctrine. Submitting ourselves to the plain teaching of Scripture concerning the commands of Christ for His church will always aid in our obedience to the Lord.
When we arrive to the explicit command of Christ Jesus concerning the second ordinance, which will later be repeated by apostolic writing, one is not at liberty to say that Christ Jesus commanded fermented wine to be used during observances at the Lord’s table. I know that many argue that this is what Scripture teaches, but we must not take the explicit command of the Savior to us and then add what we think is implied. What he said is either true, or it is not.
What did Christ say?
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth 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)
Did Christ Jesus have fermented wine in the cup? I am sure that he did. But he did not reference the wine in His cup. He only said, “fruit of the vine.” Did Christ simply assume our understanding from implicit statements in Scripture, or did He speak with intentionality here. He certainly understood what the word for “wine” was, did He not? And yet instead of “wine” he used “cup,” and “fruit of the vine.”
What about apostolic teaching regarding the elements at the Lord’s supper?
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Again, Paul, a man of learning and one who spoke several languages did not add to the command of Christ by proclaiming that fermented wine is to be the element used at the Lord’s table. He certainly could have, and if it were of such great importance that only fermented wine be used at the Lord’s table wouldn’t he have been sure to instruct us concerning this specific requirement? He didn’t add to the words of Christ Jesus, and neither should we.
You may be thinking at this point that my argumentation is too simple. And yet I would say that this does not need to be difficult. According to the language of the explicit command of our Lord to this ordinance of worship, to say that the element within the cup must be fermented wine or that it must be grape juice is arbitrary at best and at worst it is putting words into the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is no need for tension in the mind regarding these things. Is it proper to use fermented wine in the cup at the Lord’s supper observed by the local church? Yes! Is it proper to use grape juice at the Lord’s supper observed by the local church? Yes! The only requirement commanded by our Lord for the element used in the cup to remember His death until He comes again is “fruit of the vine.” Both are “fruit of the vine.”
To say that fermented wine is commanded by our Lord for the observance of His table is simply not true. Neither is it true that only grape juice is suitable for the table. What is true? We are to partake of the fruit of the vine as a sign of the new covenant of the Lord’s blood shed for His redeemed people.
Many article and blog authors claim that they are bound by their conscience to the use of either fermented wine or grape juice. However, I choose to be bound by the explicit command of Christ Jesus. Whether fermented wine or grape juice, I can be confident that I am obeying the command to partake of the “fruit of the vine.”
Now, when it comes to the individual local church, they may serve wine, or they may serve grape juice. In either case, your conscience need not be offended. What is by far and away more important is that you submit yourself to the church and its elders and testify of your unity with them in Christ by partaking of the bread and of the cup. There is no need to argue for or against fermented wine or grape juice. There is, however, a great need for saints to flee vain wranglings, contentions, envy, and strife within the body. There is great need for unity in Christ Jesus.
If the sign becomes greater than that which is being signified in the Lord’s supper, we become guilty of looking back to Rome.