Friday, October 17, 2014

Renew The Table: Is Grape Juice Good Enough?

Renew the Table is a series of thoughts and opinions concerning the renewal of the Lord's Supper. For more information please see Goals and Disclaimers

We've already established that those who ascribe to Memorialism (knowingly or unknowingly) believe that the only thing that matters regarding the Lord’s Supper is that they obey the command “Do this”. It doesn't really matter how they do it, or how often they do it, just so long as their practice is good enough to meet the bottom line. In an earlier post I said that it was this logic that has allowed such brilliant ideas like substituting the Bread and Wine with Coke and Cookies or Pizza and Pop. I believe it is safe to say that most Grape Juice Memorialists think that Cookies and Coke are going a bit too far. But I have to ask, on what grounds can a Grape Juice Memorialist reject Cookies and Coke as acceptable elements for the Lord’s Supper? As appalling as it sounds, they cannot, with clear conscience and sound reason, appeal to Scripture, because Scripture calls for wine. The only way they can justify grape juice over Coke is because it has been determined that grape juice does a better job than Coke in helping us remember. Grape juice does a better job than Coke for a Memorialist/Pragmatist because it is good enough to meet the bottom line. It gets the job done. Grape juice, by all accounts, has been declared ‘good enough’.

There is a quick reaction one might have with the ‘good enough’ argument. If grape juice is better than Coke, isn't wine better than grape juice? To those who have no abstinence scruples, I’m sure the answer would be, “Of course it is better,” but their pragmatic Memorialism tells them that it just isn't necessary. We don’t need wine, therefore we don’t use wine.

So the next question we need to address is this: Is the bottom line actually good enough? For starters, yes, the bottom line is good enough. It’s just that the bottom line isn't where Memorialists have placed it. Someone else has set the line and standard that we are obligated to meet. Memorialists have not let Christ have the final say, and because of this they allowed the Spirit of the Temperance Age to determine the standard, the bottom line. So the question we ought to care more about is who has set the standard. And added to that, is that standard really necessary? For our purposes specifically; is grape juice good enough to meet the standard? Is wine really necessary? 

The Standard
Bread and wine are the Symbols of Christ’s broken body and poured out blood. In the Supper, in our eating and drinking in faith, we participate in the Reality that they symbolize. “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?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).

Because our eating and drinking is a participating in the Reality of that which is symbolized, this
ought to lead us to look, not only to the symbols themselves, but at Who it was that did the symbolizing. Christ Himself gave us the symbols. He took bread and told us to eat it. He took wine and told us to drink it. These are the symbols that Christ has commanded to be the means by which we participate in the Reality of that which is symbolized. When we diminish the symbol that Christ commanded us to use, we diminish that which it symbolizes. When we neglect the symbol, we neglect what is symbolized.

Gordon T. Smith says, “When we use bread it should look, taste, and feel like bread. The reason, in part, is that the incarnation was real, not an artificial humanity.” Christ commands bread to symbolize His broken body. To serve anything less than real bread, not only disobeys the Lord’s command, but causes a rift between the symbol and that which is symbolized. In the same way, when we use wine it should look, taste, and feel like wine. The reasoning is the same; Christ’s blood was real blood and not artificial blood. What is grape juice but artificial wine? In light of this, to say that grape juice is ‘good enough’ is to say that we desire the form of Christ’s blood but not the fullness thereof. It's like a Hollywood Old West movie set. It looks like the real thing, but when you step through the double doors into the saloon you find yourself on the backside of a propped up wall.

If we do not desire to participate fully in the symbol, then why should it be said of us that we desire to fully participate in the Reality that it symbolizes? Essentially the ultimate desire for grape juice as an element in the Supper indicates that we do not wish to participate in the fullness of the blood of Christ. I’ll make clear straight away that I don’t believe anyone consciously would say such a thing. I believe (and hope!) all Christians desire to participate fully in the blood of Christ. But functionally, when we serve something less than what Christ commanded, when we serve artificial wine, we functionally proclaim an artificial death.

If Christ gave us real bread and real wine to symbolize the reality of his broken body and poured out blood, why would we desire to turn to fake bread or fake wine? What does fake wine functionally symbolize? What do we proclaim with a counterfeit symbol?  

Going Deeper
Knowing all of this, there is a deeper layer to the question: What is preventing us from using wine instead of grape juice? The answers are abundant: because we've always used grape juice; we wouldn't want to offend a weaker brother; our denomination requires us to do so; alcoholism is a real problem in America and we wouldn't want to put a stumbling block in anyone’s way, etc.

But when we apply that deeper layer, we see the question in reality is this: What is preventing us from participating fully in the blood of Christ? Asking the question in this way immediately shines a light on our motives. We feel safer with the previous question. This one reveals that many things we thought were justifiable answers are now only excuses. If we were initially concerned that wine in the Supper would cause our brother to stumble, what are we now saying about Christ who commands wine and who cares more for our brother than we do? Who are we seeking to avoid offending; our brother or Christ? If the answer is both, you are correct, but we don’t accomplish it by negating Christ’s commands.

Do you see how this becomes more than just alcohol? Do you see how this transcends our arguments about Christian liberty? Christ has given us liberty to abstain or partake in everything but the Supper. He commands us to partake in faith at His Table. Christians are slaves to Christ. When we change His commanded symbol to please our scruples we are are not exercising our Christian liberty, we are in a state of rebellion against our Master. Christ is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. When we chose to revise (or ignore) Christ-ordained worship we have set ourselves up to be the Editors and Faultfinders of our faith. We are declaring that the Author made a mistake; the Perfecter is Imperfect.

The Supper is a picture of the Gospel. Who are we to tell the Master Artist that He should have painted it another way? We are like progressive art critics all standing around admiring the beautiful work, arms folded, chins stroked and we muse amongst ourselves, “Yes it is quite splendid, but—and please don’t get me wrong now—this part here, yes, the part with the blood, it is a bit over the top is it not? I mean, for its time it must have been quite effective and served its purpose nicely, but for my taste it’s a bit too, oh, harsh and jarring. Have you seen the rendition at NorthPointeBrook? No? Oh, it’s simply fantastic. It doesn't quite capture the charming rustic quality of the original, but you might say that they've smoothed the edges and toned the color down just enough. It’s subtle, but it makes all the difference in the world. Much more palatable for modern eyes.”

When we tinker with the symbols, we tinker with the picture of the gospel God has given to our senses in worship. When we purposefully lessen the symbol, not only does that lessen what is symbolized, but we lessen the picture of the gospel we proclaim; A picture of the gospel that is given for our good, for our benefit, for our joy, and for the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel. These are not light matters. J.C. Ryle said, “Nothing can possibly be of small importance which the Lord Jesus Christ ordained and appointed. Our Lord most distinctly commanded His disciples to ‘eat bread’ and ‘drink wine’ in remembrance of Him. What right has any Christian to disobey this commandment?" To say that grape juice is ‘good enough’ is to settle for a picture of the gospel that is incomplete (not false, mind you, but incomplete). To say that wine is unnecessary is to diminish the fullness of that which wine symbolizes; the blood of Christ.

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