Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Dialogue on Why Presbyterians Changed the Cup in Holy Communion from Wine to Grape Juice


This was an exchange from one of my comboxes with Presbyterian (OPC) "Pilgrimsarbour": a person with whom I have had several congenial dialogues, and whom I consider a friend. "Friendly sparring," one might say. Readers may decide which is the more "biblical" position: in conformity with biblical examples and norms. His words will be in blue.

* * * * *
Reformed Christians are also conservative Evangelical Protestants, but they believe in the "liberty of conscience," that is, the Scriptures alone have the power to bind the conscience of the believer. Therefore, they find (as one example) drunkenness to be sin, but not drinking per se.

On a somewhat related note: why, then, do Presbyterians use grape juice for Holy Communion, whereas the Bible refers to wine?

That's a good question, and there a couple of ways to answer it. Technically speaking, Jesus refers to "the fruit of the vine" in the context of the Lord's Supper, rather than "wine," as he does in other contexts. (See, for example, what He says about old wine in new wineskins, the fact that John the Baptist would not drink wine or strong drink, the wine mixed with myrrh, etc.) In this sense, grapejuice is as much "fruit of the vine" as is (fermented) wine, so most don't see it as a conflict with the Scriptures. There is, of course, another reason not to use wine:
It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Romans 14:21
In the early years of the 20th century, Reformed and Fundamentalist folks joined forces to combat the modernism that was taking over the mainline Protestant denominations, particularly in this case the Presbyterian Church USA. Both groups were called "Fundamentalist" without distinction then, but today most Reformed people would not refer to themselves as Fundamentalist. You probably know the story of the Independent Board for Foreign Missions, Princeton Seminary and the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy. When the OPC was formed, one of the earliest issues to resolve was what kind of denomination it would be--Fundamentalist or Reformed. Reformed thought won the day then. The thinking for Fundamentalists has been that the state of the culture and the amount of alcohol abuse demanded abstinence for the Christian. The Reformed folks did not agree, seeing this as binding the conscience of the believer to some mandate other than the Scriptures. However, they were also mindful of Romans 14:21. Today individual congregations are free to use either wine or grape juice according to their specific needs without conflicting with the Scriptures.

As for grape juice, isn't the historical reason the temperance movement of the late 19th, early 20th century? That is my understanding of it. Once it changed, then there was probably an urge to justify it on theological or spiritual grounds, as you have done, since caving into cultural movements without always stellar biblical backing is not exactly the best rationale in changing a time-honored Christian rite (which had already been ravaged by [largely] Protestant disbelief in the Real Presence).

Presbyterian Marion Lovett backs up my opinion as to why Presbyterians changed to grape juice, in the paper, "Why Did We Change the Grape Juice to Wine in the Communion Cup?"

The substitution of grape juice for wine had its origins not in the Bible, but in influences of American culture with the demands of the temperance movement in the mid-nineteenth century . . .

The change of wine in the communion cup to grape juice came about as a result of two dynamics that were working in the Church in America. First of all, as already noted, was the wrong view that alcohol is, itself, sinful. This was the precursor of audaciously changing the wine in communion to grape juice in violation of the clear institution of Christ. . . .

The second dynamic which resulted in the change of the element was a low view of the sacrament of communion. The doctrinal strength of the Church was waning and the sacraments were seen mostly as memorial “ordinances.” When the Church has a low view of the sacraments, then it is easy to be flippant with changing things around. . . .

All of the great reformed confessions of the 16th Century call for the administering of wine in communion (Belgic Confession; The Heidelburg Catechism; 2nd Helvic Confession). The Westminster Confession of Faith prescribes the use of wine (29, 6). The modern Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) manual of Church order designates the partaking of bread and wine. The London Baptist Confession of 1689 calls for the use of wine (30:5). Even the Southern Baptist Abstract of Principles of 1859 decrees that bread and wine is to be used in the Lord’s Supper. The Baptist Faith and Message written in 1925, long after the temperance movement, and long after Welch developed pasteurization for grape juice in 1868, called for bread and wine. The Church always believed the element in the communion cup was real fermented wine and never anything less.

When the proponents of abstinence and those who wished to change the element from wine to juice came along in the 19th century, some well-versed men of the Church strongly opposed the move. Theologians, such as Presbyterian A.A. Hodge and Baptist John Dragg were some of the first to be confronted with the question and were adamant in their refusal to change the elements of the Lord’s Supper to pacify the legalistic spirit of the age. . . .

It was wrong to change it, and since I had grown up in the culture of the Church that practiced abstinence, taught that alcohol was sin, and used grape juice in communion, I simply went along with tradition without questioning the practice. Not until I began studying the meaning of the sacraments did I see the serious flaw and the need to reform the practice according to what Christ intended.

PCA pastor Max A. Forsyth comments similarly:

Some of you, without the cultural baggage of the early and middle years of the Twentieth Century may well wonder why it is that we use Welch’s grape juice for our communion services when all of the appropriate biblical texts do indeed specifically read “wine”. The really interesting thing about the discussion of “The Fruit of the Vine” before us today is that it applies only to Americans in the specific historical context of the last 150 years.

Author Keith A Mathison, (whose recent book Given for You is being used as an outline of issues regarding the subject of communion for this series) makes the following accusation: 'The historical origin of the modern American evangelical practice of substituting grape juice for wine can be traced directly to the nineteenth-century temperance movement.'

Perhaps I have been unkind in using the word accusation? You will have to read the rest of his chapter to sense that he is impatient at having to discuss this topic at all. In fact, there is a growing consensus within Reformed circles that the use of non-alcoholic grape juices for communion is at the very least: 'quaint' or 'eccentric.'

I even found a guy from the OPC who advocates using wine and agrees that the temperance movement was what caused the change.


Martin said...

John the B. was an "old testement" figure so he doesn't apply....of course you could serve locusts and honey after.

I wonder if any of the concordences interpret "fruit of the vine" as anything other than fermented wine.

John said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is what happens when Faith has no Tradition. Something timeless gets changed because of 150 years of prevailing thought.

It certainly might as well be grape kool-aid if they are trying to pin new theological thinking in a backwards way. That's not systematic theology... it's hen-pecking.

This particular site is a knee-slapper for all except them:

Dave Armstrong said...

You're welcome!