Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood, but I as wine.
- George Herbert, "The Agony" (1633)
Why should a church consider using wine (rather than grape juice) in its celebration of the Lord's Supper?
1. Wine Is a Symbol of God's Wrath
All throughout the Bible, God uses the imagery of wine (and drunkenness) to represent His judgment on sin. Jeremiah is told by God: "Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them," (Jer 25:15-16). In the book of Revelation, anyone who worships the Beast, "will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb," (Rev 14:10). This is an image that is repeated over and over again throughout the Bible (see Jer. 49:12; 51:7; Job 21:20; Ps. 60:3; 75:8; Isa. 51:17; Lam. 4:21; Hab. 2:16; Zech. 12:2-3; Rev. 16:19; 18:6). (For an explanation of drunkenness as a symbol of God's judgment, read here).
This is why Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane asks the Father, “Take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). The "cup" is the the wine of God's wrath. Jesus drinks to the dregs the foaming wine of God's judgment against sin.
When Jesus is explaining the Lord's Supper to His disciples, one aspect of the meal He explains is to remind us of His death for our sins. Thus, wine--an image of judgment--is a fitting symbol to be used.
Jesus drank the wine of judgment for me.
2. Wine Is a Symbol of God's Blessing
God gives “wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart,” (Ps 104:15) and fills vats till they "are bursting with wine" when we honor the Lord with our wealth (Prof 3:9-10). We are told to "drink your wine with a merry heart," (Eccl 9:7).
In Deuteronomy, when it came time to tithe, the worshipper was instructed to drink the wine that was tithed in worship (Deut 14:23). But if the distance was too far to travel to bring the tithe to the temple, then the worshipper was commanded to sell the whole of the tithe offering and, "when the LORD your God blesses you...spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household," (Deut 14:24, 26). (For a full reflection on the blessing of wine, read here.)
The Lord's Supper isn't only a somber reminder of Jesus' death, but it is also a joyous reminder of the "forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28). Thus, wine--an image of blessing--is a fitting symbol to be used.
Jesus' death allows me to drink the wine of blessing.
3. Wine is a Symbol of the Heavenly Banquet
The first miracle Jesus performs is the turning of water into (really good) wine at a wedding (John 2:1-11). We are told that this wedding banquet miracle was a "sign" which "manifested his glory" (John 2:11). A sign points to something else. What is this pointing to? The glory that Jesus will reveal at the ultimate wedding feast: The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:6-9). Joel looks forward to this day when "mountains shall drip with sweet wine" (Joel 3:18) and Isaiah speaks of the day when "...the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined," (Isa 25:6) and Amos tells us that "the hills shall flow" with sweet wine (Amos 9:13).
When Jesus is explaining the Lord's Supper to His disciples, after He passes the cup, He explains: "Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God,” (Mark 14:25). He is speaking of this heavenly banquet, where we all "drink it new in the kingdom of God." Further, Paul tells us, "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes," (1 Cor 11:26). So, each celebration is an anticipation of Christ's return and the heavenly joys we will experience with Him. Thus, wine--an image of heavenly joy--is a fitting symbol to be used.
One day, I will drink this wine new with Jesus.
4. Wine Is What the Church Has Historically Used
From the very beginning, this has been the overwhelming practice of all Christians. It wasn't until the temperance movement in the late 1800's that grape juice or water began to be used in place of wine. Nearly all of the confessions, catechisms, and creeds across all denominations specify that wine is to be used. While history/tradition is not authoritatively decisive, it is instructive and should no be disregarded flippantly.
5. Wine Is What Jesus and the Early Church Used
Jesus didn't use water or freshly pressed grapes, but wine. Sometimes, we just don't need to be more spiritual than the Bible and can simply say: this is what Jesus told us to do.
In light of these arguments, the elders feel compelled to begin to move our church towards including wine alongside grape juice as an option for worshippers during our Lord's Supper celebration. We do not have a date set when we will begin this, but want to give the congregation plenty of resources and time to explain why we are doing this.
A Concern: Won't Wine Cause Some Brothers to Stumble?
What of former alcoholics? Could tasting wine tempt them? This is a serious concern. Paul specifically tells us that we must work diligently not to set any stumbling blocks before a weaker brother that would lead them to violate their conscience: "It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble," (Rom 14:21).
However, interestingly, we have a scenario in the New Testament where people are getting drunk at the very event of the Lord's Supper! In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul writes, "When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat...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 Cor 11:20-22).
But Paul's response to this is surprising: "So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another," (1 Cor 11:33). Paul's primary concern (shockingly) isn't the drunkenness, but is the underlying issue: the wealthy members of the church are not waiting for or sharing with their poorer brothers, and so are feasting and getting drunk. But notice what Paul doesn't say: "Stop using wine since it is leading to drunkenness." Paul could have told them to use freshly squeezed grape juice or water, but he didn't. Why? He must have thought that wine was a very important element of the Lord's Supper.
This isn't to minimize in any way the danger of drunkenness nor to dismiss individuals whose consciences tell them that any consumption of alcohol is wrong for them. If your conscience forbids you from partaking, then we would encourage to continue to use grape juice during the worship service and trust that those who partake are doing so out of a sincere desire to honor the Lord (see Rom 14:1-12).