Communion at Sojourners: Why Wine? Why Every Week?

One thing we are always trying to do better at Sojourners Church is communicate our “why” for our “what” we do. So, this blog is simply meant to show our “homework” and discussions as we’ve decided on how to do communion at Sojourners church. After you read this, please feel free to come and ask us more questions. We are eager to talk and engage with you on these things.

Why Wine at Communion?

Was wine/alcohol considered “bad” in the Bible? No.

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1)

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. (John 2:7-11)

(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) (1 Timothy 5:23)

Wine points to the abundant goodness of the gospel at no price, Jesus uses it to show that the best wine, the New Covenant, has come after the weaker wine of the Old Covenant, and it is even seen as practically helpful for stomach ailments. We cannot say the Bible takes a stand against any use of alcohol, but instead is seen often in a positive light.

Was wine/alcohol considered “dangerous” in the Bible? Sometimes.

Astonish yourselves and be astonished; blind yourselves and be blind! Be drunk, but not with wine; stagger, but not with strong drink! (Isaiah 29:9)

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)

Misuse of God’s good gifts (just like sex) is dangerous. Here drunkenness is seen as judgment personified and as opposed to the work of the Spirit.

Was wine what they were drinking when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a totally new reality? Yes.

Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:17-20)

They are eating the Passover and Jesus is transforming the Passover from a time when the Jewish people would remember when the angel of the Lord passed over the houses with blood in Egypt (Exodus 12) to a time when all who trust in Christ (the New Covenant Church) would remember that Jesus had passed over their sins because of the blood of Jesus and was returning to bring them to himself soon. (1 Corinthians 11)

Where in the Old Testament where instructions for Passover are given is the command for the cup given? (Exodus 12, 34, Leviticus 23, Numbers 9)

The answer: nowhere. There is no instruction given in the Old Testament about using wine for Passover, just instructions about the Lamb.

By the time Jesus took Passover there were four cups drank during the Passover meal (Kiddush (sanctification), the cup of plagues, the cup of blessing or redemption, and the cup of hallel (praise) (though this differs some depending on tradition).

So, why would Jesus take a tradition of man and make it a symbol of his New Covenant? Because of the imagery of the cup symbolizing and reminding us of God’s wrath and his blood being poured out like a cup (a term Paul uses for his life of sacrifice later).  

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. (Luke 22:42)

Jesus had to drink this cup of God’s wrath so that we never would if we trusted him. And so we drink it over and over to remind ourselves of his drinking our judgment.

Is America More Culturally Susceptible to Drunkenness? Doubtful.

Were there dangers of drunkenness in Bible times? Yes, see Ephesians 5:18. Did that stop them from using wine in the Lord’s Supper. No.

In fact, Paul is angry that some people are “getting drunk” while others are not even eating (social class separation in church) and calling it the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:21), but he doesn’t go on to say “don’t use wine.” Instead, his point is that sin is happening and church divide is happening at a holy, blood-bought family meal.

So, we cannot say that America’s dangers to drunkenness are unique enough that should preclude us from using wine at communion.

In fact, wine was largely used at communion almost everywhere it was available in America until the prohibition movement, which itself proved to be a massive failure because it was driven by human will and not by the Spirit of God (cf. Romans 7).

Is the Wine itself the most important element? Is the wine what Paul emphasizes as he unpacks communion? No. Remembrance, Fellowship with Each Other and Christ, and serious examination is the emphasis.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord bin an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. ( 1 Corinthians 11:23-30)

The Lord’s Supper is a time of fellowship with Jesus Christ, with his body, the blood-bought local family of God who are one in Christ and for the purpose of examining ourselves for sin, remember the death of Jesus, and receiving sanctifying grace to put aside sin and division for the sake of Christ.

Therefore, is it sinful to not use wine? No.

We can certainly show from the New Testament that descriptively wine (alcoholic) was being used. It wasn’t biblically prescribed in the Old Testament, but was a tradition Jesus took and transformed in the New Testament.

Our best case for the reason and meaning behind why Jesus chose that symbol is that it’s a “sour” or “bitter” cup that Jesus had to drink, which makes us feel in our moment of fellowship with Jesus the bitterness of our sins and the “thanks” (cup of blessing) for our forgiveness all at once.

However, at no point in the explanation Paul gives us for the application in the church now can we say that the main thing Paul is concerned with is the type of  bread being used (it was likely unleavened) or the type of drink being used (it was likely wine that was three parts water, one part wine), but that the bread was a powerful picture of his broken body and the drink was a powerful picture of his blood poured out (see John 6 as another place where Jesus gets them ready for this analogy he’ll use later at the Lord’s Supper).

Therefore, churches that don’t use wine are likely not sinful in their practice. So, we’d want to be careful about being dogmatic about our stance, wherever we land.

Summary

Is the fear of wine likely a cultural fear that America has more struggles with drunkenness than other cultures? Yes. Is that likely true? No. All good gifts can be abused and misused and wine obviously was at times in the New Testament Church times as well (Ephesians 5:18, 1 Corinthians 11:21).

Do some people really have a hard time with the idea of alcohol because of extreme hurt caused in families or in their own lives? Yes. Should we care about that? Yes. Especially because we don’t want to bind people’s consciences that simply cannot take alcohol at this point.

So, in light of some of the probable symbolism we see and the descriptive reality that wine was being used, along with the reality that it is not sinful because of the weight of how Paul teaches the application of the supper, how do we love people and make what we do at communion about the main thing?

We lean toward still having wine as our main option at communion and continuously teaching on it to disciple people, but also opening wide the door for continuous communication between us and our people and providing other options for those who have issues of conscience or health with the use of wine.

Why Communion Every Week?

Again, we would want to be careful to state that we do not think that churches that do not practice communion every week are sinful or disobedient. The four reasons we’ll list here simply drive the reason we have decided to make communion a part of what we do each week we gather at Sojourners.

  1. We think Scripture leans that way...in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 which is talking about the Lord's Supper, the phrase that keeps getting repeated (5x!) about the frequency is "when you come together." So, we try to follow that pattern of taking it "when we come together” as a blood-bought family.
  2. We believe there is sanctifying (not SAVING) grace when we eat and drink together as a blood-bought family. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 says that we "fellowship" with Christ as the many-membered, one body of Christ when we come together. The word for fellowship there implies real communion with Jesus and his people, by the Spirit of Christ. So, if there is real fellowship with Christ and his church, then we don't want to miss an opportunity for that.
  3. It seems that communion is always a great way to respond to worship and the word. Confession, repentance, and rejoicing in the gospel is something we hope always fits what God is doing in people's hearts as we gather...so it's just a natural fit for us (especially because of the above two reasons.)
  4. Our last main reason is that it seems this was the way the early church seemed to understand it and it seems they got lots of help from it. When we read Acts 2 and 4 and see the church, they are hearing the word, praying, and breaking bread together (I think the Lord's Supper), and then God meets them with help in care for each other and evangelism.

So, that is why we use wine and why we take communion every week. Again, please feel free to ask questions as we are eager to engage and serve you. If you have more questions about why we do what we do at Sojourners, let us know! We’ve got lots of resources we’d love to share and a big desire to meet and chat!