Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fruit Of The Grape

When you do communion, do you use wine or grape juice? A lot of churches use the latter, even though there is no scripture for it at all. These include all the churches I’ve attended since I became a Pentecostal. Why? It’s an interesting question, and the answer can be found in this article here.
It traces the practice to the 19th century temperance movement and the pioneering work of Thomas B. Welch, founder of Welch’s Grape Juice. It also includes a link to someone arguing that the practice of unfermented juice goes back to the ancients. To do this it presents us with the many means available for the preservation of grapes, without turning them to wine. Or so it claims. If you take the time to go through it, you quickly realize that many of the methods used would produce a preserve—meaning a jelly—or even raisins, not grape juice. The author notes that fresh grape juice was called vino and then goes on to use the terms interchangeably, as though every reference to wine could mean juice. But if you take the time to search out the terms used, you’ll discover that we are still dealing with wine, not grape juice.
The sources of this confusion are two-fold. One is the insistence by many churches that their practices be founded in Scripture. A worthy goal, but one that becomes a problem when there is no clear link—or no link whatsoever—between their practices and the Scriptures. Then you have to make one, no matter how tenuous. The other is the contempt with which many early Reformers held the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (mass or communion), Confession, Unction, Holy Orders, and Marriage. All but two were declared unscriptural, and those two, baptism and communion, were subjected to a great deal of debate and re-interpretation. There was no consensus on these matters, though the fact that some of these were no longer seen as a sacrament did not mean they were thought unimportant, or outside God’s will, but the gates were opened to questions of where or whether these things fit into God’s plans for His people. The Thomas B. Welches of the world had no trouble redefining centuries of practice according to their own values. In his case, if a little abstinence was good, a whole lot of abstinence was better. Why forbid alcohol everywhere, but the Church?
Where do I come down on this? As the child of an alcoholic, I don’t drink and don’t encourage it, but I also recognize that mine is not a scripturally derived value. The Bible condemns drunkenness, not alcohol. The Churches I have attended do use grape juice. Communion has never been a big deal for Pentecostals. A part from Easter and special New Year’s services, we don’t usually celebrate it at all. And this is probably wrong of us. Every historical record I’ve seen indicates it was a big part of the early Church’s worship. A few years ago the (then) minister of our church decided to forgo communion on Easter itself. I wasn’t happy about that and decided to include it in our family altar that week. The same thing happened that next year. After that I decided to make it a part of our family devotions. We don’t do it once a week, as some churches do, but we are doing it on a roughly quarterly basis. At least four times a year, in addition to whatever is done at church. And, yes, I do use actual red wine at home. Why? Because that’s what the early church did.

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