The Lord’s Table: Is a Christian Allowed to Avoid Wine?

8 March 2010

(Given the discussion that’s occurred here over the last week, I feel a need to preface this post. The posts categorized “Preaching” are excerpted from my weekly Sunday sermons, generally a light edit of the charge at the close of the sermon.  I appreciate my brother Bobby and his online contributions, and I hope to continue discussion as we have opportunity to engage the deeper hermeneutical issues that underlie our disagreement.  Nothing here should be interpreted as a slam at Bobby; some of my thought has been shaped by interacting with him over the past week, but I’m not going after him here.  I am, however, expressing my convictions, with which he disagrees.)

The Scriptures are quite clear that the wine served at the Lord’s Table is wine—alcoholic, possible-to-get-drunk-on, wine. The Scriptures are equally clear that Jesus instructed us to eat and drink at His Table. It is highly inappropriate for us as Christians to start messing with the menu. I mean, imagine the scene: we come to church and hear the call to worship. The ceiling opens, the walls grow thin, and we are carried into the Holy of Holies in the heavenly tabernacle to worship our God as priests of the New Covenant. We offer our praises; we hear a word from God, and then Jesus, the priest after the order of Melchizedek, invites us, children of Abraham by faith, to come eat bread and wine at His Table. Can you imagine, in that setting, quibbling with the Lord about what He serves, and trying to make a substitution on Jesus’ menu?

Yet this is exactly what we do when we insist on something other than bread and wine. The proper course of action here is obvious: submit to Christ and eat and drink what He serves.   Simple.

Unfortunately, we come from a culture where there are long-standing bad connotations attached to alcohol—so much so that drinking grape juice is assumed to be the default position. There couldn’t be anything wrong with that, people think, and anyone who wants to see wine in a communion cup has a long, hard uphill battle to justify their position—as biblical as it plainly is. However cloaked in explanations, it is idolatry to elevate our tradition above what God actually says in His Word. The only thing we can offer in defense of our well-meaning brethren is that most of them have never given it a second thought, and those that have are often mired in a few centuries’ worth of very bright folks muddying the waters–which is to say that the idolatry is rooted very deeply in American church culture.  We won’t get free of it overnight.

That said, there is always a tension between where we ought to be—perfect holiness—and where we actually are, and we have certainly not attained perfection either. As Christians, we are called to love one another and stir one another up to love and good deeds. As we seek to grow the Church to maturity, we must do it without losing anyone, and without provoking them to rebel against the truth. So we change incrementally. The fruit of the Spirit is patience.

In practice, this means that if insisting on wine in the communion cup will have the practical effect of dividing the Body, then we can’t do it. The Table both celebrates and sustains our unity; to divide the Body over the way we observe the Table is to partake in an unworthy manner — and this we must not do. If necessary, we will serve Welch’s with joy and thanksgiving, rightly discerning the corporate Body of Christ that eats and drinks at the table. We will look at the grape juice in our cup and pray, “Lord, this is wrong. It’s wicked. Please bless it; the alternatives are far worse. Please hasten the day when we can stop committing this sin without doing something worse in the process.” And confident in God’s mercy, we will eat our bread and drink our ersatz wine with gladness and simplicity of heart.

Of course, the brother whose convictions run toward Welch’s ought to be as willing to drink wine for our sake as we are to drink Welch’s for his; no one should be willing to breach the unity of the Table over what’s in the communion cup.  In our case, we will seek to serve both wine and Welch’s at communion, so that each person can choose as he will, and no one’s conscience need be troubled by what he drinks.  This is not a perfect solution, by anybody’s lights.  But perfection is reserved for glory, and in the meantime we trust in God’s mercy.

The Lord’s Table: The Meaning of Wine

28 February 2010

As with bread, we are tempted to impose our own personal meaning on wine. Wine means excess and wild parties and losing control; wine means your drunk father who beat you; wine means scandal and appearing like a sinner; whatever. But no.

Wine means what God says it means. Lack of wine is either a form of fasting or a curse from God. God says wine is our labor blessed by His hand—which is to say it is the result of man having dominion over the earth, which is fulfilling his role as the image of God. It is God’s blessing. It is the gift with which Jesus blesses a wedding, the drink served by Wisdom, part of the Ascension offering lifted to God in the morning and evening sacrifices, the drink that Melchizedek the royal priest brings to Abraham and the drink that Christ serves to Abraham’s children by faith at His Table. Wine is rejoicing and fellowship.  Good lovemaking is better than wine—but not much else is.

As with any blessing, wine can be abused, and Scripture is filled with warnings about that; it is a wicked mind that turns God’s blessing into an occasion for sin. It’s an equally wicked, pinched, joyless mind that thinks rejecting God’s good gift is a holy thing to do. Both of these sins stem from a lack of gratitude.

My charge to you is to think of wine in this way, and to behave as Moses and Solomon instructed: Go and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has accepted your labor. Do this that you may learn to fear God and keep His commandments, because that is your whole duty.

The Lord’s Table: The Meaning of Bread

21 February 2010

When we consider the question of what bread means, we face constant temptation to sidetrack the question into areas that are more comfortable:

  • “What does bread mean to me?” – a question of individual emotional association, or
  • “What does bread symbolize in the Bible?” – part of our question, an important part – but to ask the question this way is to stop with the academics, which is missing the whole point.

We live in a meaningful world.  Everything means something; everything is a message from a loving, majestic Triune God.  Only when we begin to ask what each thing means do we begin to understand the world and our place in it.  So what we’re asking is what bread means in the world itself.  When you see a loaf of bread sitting on the counter in your own kitchen, what does it mean?  The Bible does speak about the meaning of bread, not just because bread symbolizes something in God’s Word, but because bread symbolizes something in God’s world—the only world there is.

Bread is provision, it is blessing, it is strength.  It is the product of dominion, a cooperation between God’s blessing of the crops and man’s labor in the fields, the mill and the bakery.  Every loaf of bread is God’s kindness, a demonstration of the image of God, of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, and when we eat this blessing, we receive strength.  And so, of necessity, every loaf of bread is also a call to thank God.

Knowing this about bread, begin to ask yourself what the other things in your life mean.  Don’t be afraid to find that you don’t know.  God wants you to know; He will teach you if you will trust Him.