Attempts are being made in England to bring about reunion between the Methodist and Anglican (Episcopalian) churches. One of the main obstacles encountered is a very strange one: the use of wine on the Lord's Supper. Part of the argument in the controversy runs as follows:
On the other hand, none of the thirty-three occurrences of the word oinos are used in connection with the Lord's Supper. The Lord Jesus took the cup, potErion, and this must not be taken as necessarily meaning "wine-cup." Matt. 10:42 speaks of a "cup of cool," leaving open the question of what liquid the cup contained; but in a later occasion, recorded in Mark 9:41, a "cup of water" is specified. Yet someone may point out: "What about the Lord's reference to the cup as this, the product of the grape-vine" in Matt. 26:29 and also Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18?" It is nearly, if not quite, certain that, at that time, this could have referred only to wine. Someone pointed out that the reference to being drunken in 1. Cor. 11:21 implies the use of fermented liquor. Certainly some, if not all, of the Corinthians brought their meals with them and consumed wine before the observance of the Lord's Supper, so it is unlikely that the wine used subsequently was anything other than ordinary wine.
Nevertheless there is this to be said for the objection of some Methodists to the use of wine: certain persons such as those who have been under medical treatment for alcoholism: cannot take alcohol in any form without the gravest risk of lapsing. Yet that is not sufficient reason why wine should never be used in the Lord's Supper. To refuse its use thus is not only an implied criticism of the Lord Jesus for (almost certainly) using wine, it is an open denial of the Apostle Paul's statement in 1. Tim. 4:4. As another writer about this matter puts it, the inculcation of total abstinence from any food or drink as a duty for everyone is not Christianity but "a revival of the ancient Eastern heresy of Manichaeism." Yet the fact remains that if unfermented grape-juice is used instead of wine, a departure is made from the strict form of the Lord's Supper.
The Methodist quoted at the start makes what appears at first sight to be a good point about the bread; but he appears to be unaware that the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England does in fact define the bread (p. 244) as "such as usual to be eaten; but the best and purest Wheat Bread that conveniently may be gotten." Strictly, then, the bread should be made of 100% Wholemeal Flour, without any of the "improvers" and adulterants commonly added. The "Catholic" use of wafers should therefore also be avoided as an open breach of this rubric. Such wafers are no more bread than fruit-juice is wine.
It should, perhaps, be added that refraining from certain foods or drinks to which one happens to be in some way allergic does not imply going against 1. Tim. 4:4. Some people cannot eat strawberries. I happen to be unable to eat mackerel, but this does not mean that others ought to avoid this fish for themselves because it happens to make me very ill. Each must answer for himself in this.
And, after all, grape juice is itself "the product of the grape-vine"; so in using it instead of wine one is not going outside the literal terms of Matt. 26:29, etc. What is objectionable is rigid insistence for everyone either on wine or on grape juice, with no alternative. The common sense solution is to provide both.
What, then, of those who are in danger of relapsing into alcoholism if they partake of the wine? In these circumstances, the intention of the Lord's Supper would be adequately fulfilled for them if they refrained from the wine. Moreover partaking of the Lord's Supper is not a necessity for the Christian, as those who call themselves "Catholics" insist. 1. Cor. 11:26 and 29 are perfectly plain. The former says "whensoever"; leaving quite open the question of how often one should partake if at all. The latter deals with "drinking the cup of the Lord unworthily"—and surely, to drink of the cup when the consequences will certainly, or even only probably, prove disastrous, is about as unworthy an act as one can imagine. To take part in the Lord's Supper because one feels one ought to is to misunderstand its whole meaning and purpose. It is as free as air, and any constraint robs it of all its blessing as well as its validity.
So this controversy is actually an artificial one. It could never arise if the Lord's Supper were treated as the Lord Jesus intended.
R.B.W. Last updated 18.3.2006