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Changes to Communion In The Sunday Morning Gathering

This Sunday you will notice two changes having to do with communion, also called The Lord’s Supper. First, we will begin taking communion corporately, rather than individually or as families. If you have been to Encounter, it will be similar to how we do it at Encounter. Secondly, we will offer wine and grape juice along with gluten free bread. Yes, you read that correctly. We will not have the difficult to open pre-packaged styrofoam bread packets!

Why are we beginning to offer wine? 

In 1869 a British-American Methodist Minister by the name of Thomas Bramwell Welch developed what he called “unfermented wine.” He did so by applying the pasteurization process to grape juice, which stopped the natural fermentation process of the grapes. The result became what we know of as Welch’s Grape Juice.

Throughout most of American and world history, the communion drink was wine rather than grape juice. It seems that many American churches shifted from wine to grape juice after Welch’s development, along with the prohibition-era contempt for alcoholic beverages.

I am not going to seek to give a comprehensive teaching on wine in the Bible, but I do want to provide some reasons we are going to begin offering wine during communion at Sojourn.

Wine in the Bible

The Bible is filled with positive things to say about wine, and it is filled with warnings against drunkenness. Wine is a gift of God, but like other gifts of God, can be abused. If you’d like to hear more about what the Bible teaches about alcohol in general, you can find the most recent sermon we preached on it HERE.

Psalm 104:14–15
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

Joel 3:18
“And in that day
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and the hills shall flow with milk,
and all the streambeds of Judah
shall flow with water;
and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD
and water the Valley of Shittim.
Other helpful verses include Deuteronomy 14:23, Proverbs 20:1, Proverbs 23:31, Isaiah 5:11, Joel 3:18, John 2:1-12, Galatians 5:21, Ephesians 5:18, and 1 Peter 4:3-4.
Wine at the Last Supper

It seems clear that Jesus served his disciples wine at the Last Supper, which was the original communion. The gospels teach that the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and wine was the drink used in the Passover meal. Jesus said, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk 22:18). This leads us to believe that wine was the drink he had used in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. It seems wise and best to offer the same elements in the Lord’s Supper that Jesus used when he originated it.

Wine as a Symbol

Wine is a symbol of celebration and gladness. Psalm 104:14-15 and Joel 3:18 (above) show that wine is a gift of God for gladness and celebration. Psalm 104 specifically says that God gives wine to “gladden the heart of man.” Wine was used at the Passover meal, which was a celebration for God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt. Again, at the Last Supper Jesus said that from now on he “will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes,” which indicates that wine will be part of the celebration of our salvation. It seems good and best that wine is used in communion as a symbol of celebration and gladness that Christ’s death on the cross brings.

Wine is also a symbol of God’s judgment and wrath throughout the scriptures.

Psalm 75:8
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.
Isaiah 51:17
Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering.
Matthew 26:39, 42
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” … Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
For the symbolism of judgment and wrath, also see Isaiah 19:14, Isaiah 51:21-22, Jeremiah 25:15-29, Ezekiel 23:31-34, Revelation 16:19, and Matthew 20:22-23.
When Jesus uses wine at the Last Supper to represent his death, it seems he is connecting it with the cup of wine (God’s wrath) He was to drink on the cross. It reminds us of the cup of wrath he drank for us, that we may drink the cup of forgiveness and gladness.
The cup in the Lord’s Supper can symbolize for us celebration and gladness. It also reminds us of the wrath he endured in our place.
So, we plan to begin serving wine for communion, as it seems to be in line with scripture and the historical practice of the church.
What about those who struggle with addiction to alcohol?

We will continue to also serve grape juice. One of the main reasons we will do this is because it may not be wise for some to drink wine. If you struggle with addiction to alcohol, there is no pressure at all to drink wine. Although we believe it is good to serve wine due to the symbolism in the scripture and the historic practice of the universal church, we do not believe grape juice is a meaningless or bad beverage to use. It still has a color that makes us think about the blood of Christ and is from the same fruit.
What about those with weaker consciences?

Scripture is clear that we should accommodate those with weaker consciences when it comes to non-essential matters or matters of personal conviction. Those with stronger consciences are not to encourage or pressure those with weaker consciences to go against their conscience. Those with weaker consciences are not to judge or condemn those with stronger consciences. You can learn more about this in Romans 14.
We also need to keep in mind that Jesus himself originated the practice of communion with wine. Even still, if drinking wine in communion would burden your conscience, we encourage you to partake of the juice as you continue to wrestle with what is most biblical and wisest for you.
What about the kids?

Many Christians throughout history have allowed their children to celebrate communion, and passover before that, with them by drinking wine. They have found the benefits of using the bread and wine to outweigh concerns associated with minors consuming alcohol. Also, in the state of Georgia, it is legal for minors to consume alcohol in a religious worship service.
That being said, another reason we will continue to provide juice is for parents that desire their children to participate in communion but do not believe it best for them to drink alcohol at their age and maturity level.

This Sunday
So, we are looking forward to taking corporate communion during our service this Sunday. You can grab the elements during the service, or if you prefer you can grab them as you enter before finding your seat. The wine and the juice will be clearly labeled. All of the bread will be gluten free. We hope and pray that taking communion together when we gather will be worshipful for Christians as they participate. We also hope and pray that people who are not Christians will gain a deeper understanding of the gospel through watching believers take communion together. After all, Paul wrote, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
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