Friday, 6 February 2009

Holy Communion---Wine or Juice?

It is a well known (and laudatory) fact that Christ's first miracle was turning water into wine. It also a well known (and lamentable) fact that throughout history some Christians have been trying to un-do this miracle by turning wine back into water.

One expression of this “undoing the miracle” is the rejection -- against the 2000 year Christian tradition -- of using wine for the commemoration of the Last Supper which we call the Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist.

(The greatest of Christian heresies, Islam, went even further: it forbid wine altogether. I am using the word “heresy” in the technical sense: Mohammed, in his conversion from heathenism to Islam, learned his knowledge of “Christianity” from heretical monks and incorporated Jewish elements into his faith.)

The driving force behind an attempt to “undo Christ's miracle” is, unsurprisingly, not altogether Christ-ian. In some instances it echoes an anti-Christian prejudice. Although Scripture speaks univocally against misuses of wine, it is as unanimous in its approval of wine itself. Christ himself, our Lord and God incarnate, both made and drank wine; Paul adviced Timothy to mix wine with his drinking water to help him recover from some stomach problems; and so on.

I hope there's not too many unfriendly critics who think that I and other Christians who object to using juice instead of wine are “upset just because they can't have alcohol”.

The “paradox of puritanism” is that by denying something that is actually justified, the negative consquences outweigh the positive.

One negative consequence of adopting juice instead of wine is -- and this is pretty hard to explain but I'll try -- the making of the Holy Communion even less meaningful and profound than it already is in some churches.

It sends the message: We can change our customs, especially our customs that deal with bodily functions and outward signs, however we want to -- because after all, the Christian life is “spiritual”, not material. The Holy Communion is “only spiritual”, baptism is “only spiritual”, and so on.

This is not Christian at all. According to Christianity, a man has -- no, he is -- a soul and a body. You can distinguish between them conceptually, but in reality they are inseparable, man is a composite being, not a dualistic being. The soul is not the “good” part and the body the “bad” part, as Hinduism, Buddhism and early Christian heresies (Gnosticism and Manicheanism) teach. Man was made “good”, body and soul.

The “flesh” (as opposite of “spirit”) has never in authentic Christian understanding referred to the body -- “flesh” refers to fallen man in his totality, body and soul, insofar as he is opposed to God.

Similarly, the “world” (as opposite to “the kingdom of God”) has never in authentic Christian understanding referred to the creation -- “world” refers to the structures in creation and our societies insofar as they are against the will of God.

Of course, if a church does the other extreme -- replaces wine not with juice but with vodka -- the results would be as catastrophic. But in a different way: instead of Muslim puritanism we'd have alcoholism to deal with. Forced absolutism and alcoholism both spring from a certain “abuse” of alcohol.

So, as with everything, better just to follow Christ and avoid both extremes.


Jani said...

Extremely good and penetrating point into the wrongful understanding and meining of wine in our churches. Bless you brother.
By the way yes I like to enjoy wine like Jesus did and most importantly, no I will never even consider to enjoying it in excess, because after all, it´s meaning and symbol to christianity is by far too precious to be missused nor underestimated!

Anonymous said...

Very well written, Jason! Clear, concise, and to the point. And I'm not just saying that because I agree with you. :)

Krystal said...

While I don't necessarily disagree with you, I think there might be an important distinction to be made between the wine of Biblical times and the wine of today. The process of fermenting was VASTLY different, and in fact a wine with the % alcohol we drink (on avg. 12%) would have been classified as "strong drink" in the Bible and not wine.
(Merrick and I just listened to someone expound this issue, via the internet, and he spent much time in Israel talking to their local historians etc. to get a clear picture of what the Bible refers to when it refers to "wine".
If you wanted to hear it for interest sake, I would be more than willing to pass along the link.)
So while it's true that the Bible speaks out very clearly about the drinking of wine in EXCESS, it makes it difficult to COMPARE us drinking wine to Jesus drinking wine when faced with the drastic difference in alcoholic content...
Just something to think about anyways.
And hey, I'm no theologian... ;-)

By Jason Lepojärvi said...

Jani--well summarized, "neither abuse nor underestimation".

Saila--you're comment too was "clear, concise, and to the point" and I'm not just saying this because I agree with you.

Krystal--thanks for this! I have heard and read about the differences too. Wine may have been lower on avg.%, but I think some exaggerate the difference. For whatever the case, the wine Jesus and the fellow celebrants were enjoying at the wedding was clearly enough to intoxicate the guests, for the bridegroom was commended for "bringing out the choice wine" after everyone "had had too much to drink", not vice versa. Also, Paul advices to not "get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery".

A friend said that it may have been wise for me to say that there should be juice for those who want it, but no-one should be denied the use of wine.

Anonymous said...

"A friend said that it may have been wise for me to say that there should be juice for those who want it, but no-one should be denied the use of wine."

What are your thoughts on this, Jason? Do you think that juice should be available?

Krystal said...

One more thought:
What makes communion so much more meaningful when taken with wine rather than juice?
I mean, when I partake in communion, I am not thinking about the ELEMENT itself, but rather what Christ did for me on the Cross. The Lord's supper is the Gospel presented through the elements: Jesus' physical incarnation, His sacrificial death, His resurrection, and His coming Kingdom.
Also, when Paul talks about the institution of the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor 11, I don't see the use of the word WINE anywhere, but only THIS CUP.
So how does partaking in communion using juice reduce the significance of the remembrance of Christ's sacrifice in the life of the believer?

By Jason Lepojärvi said...

Saila-- I guess having the option wouldn't be that bad. We are talking about Protestant churches here; of course it would be unheard of in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. For those to whom alcohol is a "stumbling block" this could work. But denying the option of wine would probably make wine a tabu for -- "infect" the "stumbling block" on -- other members over the course of time.

Krystal-- I know of two close friends of mine who, during their compulsory military training in Finland in the same battalion, would sneak away and have "communion" with coke and donuts. I think this is great! The general atmosphere was not very supportive of Christianity etc. and all this probably made that communion more significant for them than wine and bread are for a lot of Christians at church.

But this is a happy isolated case, and is beside the point. It is probably impossible for me to analyse the "psychological" and "spiritual" difference of having juice instead of wine DURING communion, but I did try to list a few negative CONSEQUENCES of this, either immediate consequences or in the long run.

The one which I think is the gravest and which I struggled to articulate is the growing sense of the Christian life being "merely spiritual", not "material". There is truth in this, but taken at face value I don't think this is accurate at all. It betrayes (reveals) -- or eventually will bring about -- a worldview that downplays or (at worst) holds in contempt (undertood wrongly) the material world, human embodiedness, human sexuality, physical locations, fixed dates, etc.

You may think that I am exaggerating here and that it would never come to that. But I think that in many senses we are already there.

Secondly, I think using wine for holy communion serves as a convenient check (barrier) against two opposite unhealthy views on alcohol.

Thirdly, if using wine is a "stumbling block" for some Christians, using juice is too (in a different way of course). Why break yet another strand of communion between the churches in a divided Christendom? Why not give those members the right to enjoy wine who think it is meaningful for them?

These are rhetorical questions, don't worry about answering. :-)

Krystal said...

As I said before, I didn't necessarily disagree with you, I only have a tenancy to take a while to understand topics of which I have previously never spent any time thinking.
Merrick and I talked about it last night, and he suggested it in a way that made a bit more sense to me: Jesus chose the drink He did because it was Passover feast. Maybe we discount the actual drink He CHOSE because we are putting too much significance on the spiritual aspect of the ritual. He likened it to baptism, rather than baptizing in water, we would start baptizing in jello. Of course this sounds foolish, but why would we change what Jesus instituted in the first place?
Anyhoo, thank you for making me think about this, as I never have before, and being patient with me as I worked it through... :-)

By Jason Lepojärvi said...


"I only have a tenancy to take a while to understand topics of which I have previously never spent any time thinking."

As for myself, I have tenacy not understand some things I've spent a lot of time thinking about. ;-)

"Maybe we discount the actual drink He CHOSE because we are putting too much significance on the spiritual aspect of the ritual. He likened it to baptism, rather than baptizing in water, we would start baptizing in jello."

This is actually at the heart of the issue. Thanks for putting it so concisely. My friend here and Dar and I asked ourselves the other day: "If we can replace wine with juice, why not baptise in juice too -- or in air?"

"Thank you for ... being patient with me as I worked it through."

Thank YOU for patiently asking questions! It helps everyone, myself included. ;)