Drink the Wine

I strongly believe churches should use wine in their communion. Now I’m not gonna get into the discussion of was wine really fermented grape juice in the Bible. The argument to me seems odd and it always ends with “Well you know, wine in the bible had hardly any alcohol in it so it wasn’t really wine like we think of wine.” That conversation reminds me of one of the classic scenes from The Princesses Bride,

“Well it just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. . . . Now mostly dead is slightly alive. All dead—well, with all dead, there’s only usually one thing that you can do.”

“What’s that?”

“Go through his clothes and look for loose change.”

By some accounts, the wine used in the Bible is “mostly” grape juice. And we know “There’s a big difference between mostly” grape juice and “all” wine. Apparently not for the Corinthians because Paul says,

When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:20-22 emphasis mine).

These Christians were getting drunk off the “mostly” grape juice but Paul doesn’t tell them to start teetotaling. He tells them to share the wine and start loving each other like Jesus (1 Corinthians 13). Part of that love would certainly include accountability, admonition, encouragement, and speaking the truth of the gospel into the lives of those within the covenant community who were drunkards.

It’s often head scratching that these objections are made by Christians who love the Scripture and value it as our own rule for faith and practice. Some of these same Christians may condemn the NIV for being fast and loose with the text but play the same game with the communion wine. The second objection after squabbling with these brothers about how much wine we’re talking about “mostly” or “all,” they want to care and love our brothers and sisters who struggle with drunkenness. I give a hearty amen to this concern but I wonder if this reveals a much deeper problem. If Jesus established communion using wine and bread, by bypassing the wine what we are really saying is that we know better than Jesus. Did Jesus not know that drunkards would be in the covenant community? That’s absurdly obviously. Paul in that very same letter to the Corinthians says

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (6:9-11 emphasis mine)

“But such were some of you.” What a powerful word of hope. You may be asking “What are we losing by not using wine? Isn’t grape juice close enough?” It is close but when has close enough ever been good enough when God demands perfection? The “unauthorized fire” offered by Nadab and Abihu was close enough. But the Lord rejected it and rejected them because it wasn’t what He commanded.

Finally, and most importantly, it communicates that God’s grace is not greater than our sins. Paul said within the Corinthian church some of them used to be drunkards (6:9-11) but he still commanded them to partake in the communion wine (11:20-22) because there is a real grace to be found in the wine and bread. It’s a picture of the gospel and the power each of us has by the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. By neglecting the wine, we are neglecting the power of the gospel. We are saying by our actions that God’s grace is enough to save but not enough to sustain and sanctify. So drink the wine.