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Use of grape juice

14 December 2012


How do Evangelicals and Protestants justify the use of grape juice and non-alcoholic wine for holy communion, given the Lord's use of wine and his command to "Do this in remembrance of me"?

Several Free Churches give communicants only non-alcoholic grape juice in individual glass cups. This can be seen as not being biblical in several ways. The usage arose from their active ministry among alcoholics, and extended to all church members' being required to "sign the pledge".

It was and is considered that the continuing ministry to former alcoholics was more important than pedantic interpretation of the biblical narratives. Jesus said, "You ought also to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example" (John 13.14-15). If one is to be pedantic about "wine", then why not be pedantic about washing the communicants' feet in advance of reception?

In Jesus's time, wine was healthier than juice, as the alcohol killed off bacteria. Free Churches would argue that since this can be done by modern processes, there is no need to ferment the juice. They also take comfort that Jesus sometimes referred to "the cup" and "the fruit of the vine" rather than to wine (e.g. Matthew 26.27 and 29).

There is a difference between Free Church usage where everyone drinks grape juice and so all are equal, and Anglican usage where everyone drinks "the fermented juice of the grape" (Canon B17.2) except for a few who, presumably by dispensation, have a special chalice of grape juice reserved for them. In my experience, some former alcoholics simply refuse the cup, believing that Jesus is truly and fully received in either element. Both these approaches have the disadvantage that not all are treated equally.
Christopher Haffner (Reader)
East Molesey

People who are not familiar with Temperance history may well find it strange that some church traditions do not use alcohol in the communion elements. Before they decide that this is contrary to scripture, however, perhaps they may reflect on how peculiar it feels for those used to receiving something that is recognisably bread at communion to be presented with a small hard disc stamped with a crucifix.

I suspect that the number of such wafers on the table in the Upper Room was no greater than the number of bottles of grape juice.
John G. Ellis (Moderator-elect of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church)
Tonbridge, Kent

It all hinges on what "do this" means. We don't believe that the physical bread and wine are by themselves the complete essence of holy communion; and Article XXVIII says that the body and blood of Christ are received "only after an heavenly and spiritual manner" and "by faith". Nor do we believe that the bread has to be unleavened as it was at Passover: Canon B17, for example, specifically allows either.

St John's Gospel does not mention bread and wine, and puts Jesus's eucharistic teaching in the context of loaves made of barley instead of wheat, and fish instead of wine.

It is not surprising that different Christians have adopted different customs. What unites them is the principle that "Do this" means "Take them, give thanks over them, and share them as a participation in Jesus, particularly in his death."
(The Revd Dr) John Hartley
Eccleshill, Bradford


Is there a reason why the word "visit", so powerful in the Authorised Version (e.g. Genesis 21.1, Exodus 3.16, Ruth 1.6, 1 Samuel 2.21, Luke 1.68, 7.16) is not used in the same way in the New Revised Standard Version? It is used also in the collect for Advent Sunday (1662), but not in Common Worship. Why is this?

J. K. S.


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