It is the practice of our church to use real wine when we partake of the Lord’s Supper (we do offer grape juice as an alternative). Our practice has raised questions about alcohol in general and alcohol at communion in particular. So here are some thoughts…
In the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, the absence of wine represents sorrow and loss (Isa 24:11; Jer 48:33) and wine accompanies the promises of a day of great joy. On that great day, when God swallows up death forever and wipes our tears away, God will “make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine” (Isa 25:6). This is the setting into which Jesus comes. Wine is the language of joy and celebration. Wine is shorthand for talking about the day of God’s blessing.
Jesus’ first miracle announces this. Jesus (John 2) attended a wedding feast and turned water into wine; and not just any wine – the really good wine! His wine is that well-aged wine that can only come from the wine cellar of God. Why does John record this miracle first? This miracle is a summary of Jesus’ entire ministry: Jesus changes peoples’ sorrow into joy, their filthy water into heavenly wine. And this is only the beginning! The Revelation of John ends where the Gospel of John began… a wedding. The wine mentioned by the prophets does not just represent joy, according to Revelation it represents the great Marriage Supper between Jesus Christ and his Bride, the church (Rev 19). On that day we will finally be married to our Savior, Lord, and King, and the banquet will be a fine feast indeed. On that day Jesus Christ, just as he did in John 2, will be our host and provide us with our joy and our new wine.
That great banquet will be the next time Jesus drinks wine with his followers. The last time he shared wine with his disciples he instituted the Lord’s Supper (Mat 26:29; Mk 14:25; Lk 22:18). This communion meal looks forward to that wedding feast where our shadows will become reality. It became the practice of the earliest church to celebrate this communion meal whenever they gathered for worship and wine was certainly an element of their practice. We know that the New Testament church used real wine at communion because the Corinthians were scolded by Paul for actually getting drunk on it (1Corinthians 11:21)!
We don’t use wine simply to be unique. Nor do we simply do it because we can. We use real wine because we desire to be faithful to the Scriptures and we believe that the deep imagery of the Lord’s Supper demands that we use it. We use real wine because Jesus did and will use it.
Meanwhile, conservative Christianity in the Southern United States has gone to great lengths to convince the church that alcohol is indeed bad. There is simply no biblical evidence for this position and, to the contrary, the Bible even attests that God gave us wine “to gladden the heart of man” (Psa 104:15). The rejection of alcohol is actually a recent phenomenon in Christianity and peculiar to America – it really took force in the 1880’s. Our church aims at submitting to Scripture alone concerning matters of faith so we will not preach that consumption of alcohol is wrong when the Bible does not say it. Much of the New Testament was written against teachers who would add cultural and legalistic trappings to the central message of Jesus Christ – we refuse to do so (see Galatians, Colossians, etc).
Some people do not drink for personal reasons and that is commendable. And, of course, there are times when the use of alcohol is wrong. Drunkenness is explicitly forbidden in the Scriptures. Drinking before the legal age is against the law of our nation/state and such usurping of authority is forbidden in Scripture. Our desire is to be faithful to the Scriptures without “going beyond what is written” (1Cor 4:6). It should be the Christian’s aim to believe what the Bible teaches, and add nothing else to the Christian faith – especially a cultural phenomenon that is rooted in nineteenth century America.