There has long been a controversy in Baptist ranks over which of these two is the legitimate element to be used in the Lord's Supper, and it is not to be thought that this tract will settle the matter in every person's mind. However, we do wish to set forth some thoughts which might give occasion for reflection concerning the liquid element in this ordinance. It is needful, first of all, to establish what shall be the guidelines for determining this matter. What shall be our authority for determining which of these two is to be used?
Many churches determine this matter according to what they have always done since their first observance of the ordinance. This is tradition, plain and simple, and Baptist tradition is as bad as any other, and can as quickly become the competitor of the truth as it did in Jesus' day. Still other churches resort to human reasoning to establish its practice, and if they can reason our what seems a logical defense of the one or the other of these two elements, they are content, not realizing that the most seemingly logical human reasoning may be nonetheless wholly contrary to the Scriptures. The Scriptures command "Casting down imaginations (margin: 'reasonings'), and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," II Cor. 10:5. Since we are accountable for what is taught in the Bible, and of nothing else but what is in the Bible, then it is clear that the Word of God is to be our only standard in this matter.
"And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remissions of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom," (Matt. 26:27-29).
These are the only terms ever used in the Scriptures for the liquid element of the Lord's Supper. "Cup" is a figure of speech for something to drink, and had it been left by itself, it would have left the usage open to almost any kind of drink; but it is further defined by the words "fruit of the vine", which reveals that this is to be the expressed liquid of the grape. Neither of these expressions give any indications whether this was to be fermented or unfermented.
The only symbolism required by the terms used is that of the grape being crushed so that its juice might be "poured out", Luke 22:20 (Greek). The purity of the Lord is symbolized by the unleavened bread, but the Scripture is silent as to the fruit of the vine ever symbolizing the purity of Christ's blood, and we go beyond what is written if we insist upon this. Many people, however, do insist that fermentation is necessary to purify the natural juice of the grape of its impurities, and there are quotations from human authorities which seem to substantiate this reasoning. We believe that these authorities have been misread, and in some instances, actually perverted, but be that as it may, we have no concern about what human authorities may say about which of the two forms is the purer. Our concern is with what God says in the Word.
No where is the Bible is the word "wine" ever applied to the Lord's Supper, which is exceedingly strange, if so be that this is an absolute necessity to the scriptural observance of it. And our Lord in His omniscience must surely have foreseen the great controversies that would arise over this question. Why then did He not in the beginning set the matter at rest and tell us that it had to be fermented, if this was the case? The thunderous silence of the Bible about this is surely significant, yet this significant silence is drowned out by the loud voices of human reasoning and tradition which are raised in defense of the fermented juice of the grape. Now it is to be granted that the Lord's Supper is not to be found in the Old Testament. But the question, which, in God's sight, is the purer of the two elements, is settled by the Old Testament. Of Israel's wilderness trek, it is said, "Thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape," Deut. 32:14, so that if we can determine what Israel drank, we will know what the inspired word designates as the pure element of the grape. A very similar statement is found in Gen. 49:11: "Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes." Here we see several things proven. (1) The blood of the grape is found in the vine, not in the vat. (2) This fresh "blood" of the grape is sometimes called "wine" though it is unfermented. Actually, the Hebrew word for "wine" here means only that it is "pressed out". It is a generic term for the extract of the grape, irregardless of its condition. (3) Since the "blood" of the grape is found in the vine, then the pure blood of the grape is the unfermented juice of the grape.
Further proof of this is found in Deut. 29:6: "Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the Lord your God." God fed the Israelites on manna, and they drank of the pure juice of the grape which they pressed out from the vines in their wilderness trek. They drank no fermented wine nor other alcoholic beverages during the forty years in the wilderness, so neither of these could have been pure blood of the grape, which, for the Bible believer, makes it clear what God considers to be the pure blood of the grape. To which then shall we submit ourselves. Tradition, human reasoning or the Scriptures?
And we are not at liberty to dissent or disobey. Granted, human reasoning can bring up objections, difficulties and questions, but not one of these can stand against God's clear declaration. He has declared that only that "blood" of the grape which is found in the vine is the "pure" blood of the grape, so that this must be our element if we would use the pure element in our observance of the Lord's Supper. We are then faced with a decision. Will we obey the Scriptures, or will we go with the traditions and reasonings of the religious world, the majority of which uses the fermented extract of the grape? It will take considerable courage to stand against the practice of the generality of the religious world, and many do not have the moral courage to take such a stand. Do you?
If the "fruit of the vine" is not pure by nature, but must be purified by a process of fermentation, will this not suggest to the thoughtful person that Christ was not naturally pure, but that He had to undergo some sort of purification before He could redeem men? But on the other hand, if, as the Bible declares, the "pure blood of the grape" is found naturally in the vine, then this corresponds exactly with what we know to be Christ's true state: He is indeed a "lamb without blemish and without spot," I Peter 1:19, and needed no purification before He went to the cross. Let us praise God for this native purity, but let us also practice the ordinance in such a way as to symbolize this truth.
No objections, difficulties and questions have any weight when God's Word clearly speaks, as it has in this matter, and we should not think that they justify the disregarding of God's Word. In truth, where there is a confrontation between these, it is generally because the objections, difficulties and questions have arisen through a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the facts. Let us note some of these.
It is objected that there is leavening in the natural juice of the grape, and that this is purged out in the process of fermentation. ANSWER: there is indeed leavening in grape juice, but there is a much higher degree of leavening in fermented wine, so much so that to set off the process of fermentation, fermented wine is introduced to grape juice to hasten the process. Thus, relatively speaking, the fresh grape juice is the purer of the two, as the Scriptures above show. But as we have previously noted, no where is the liquid element of the Lord's Supper declared to symbolize the purity of Christ's blood. This is symbolized in the unleavened bread, which represents Christ's body, including the blood of His body. Quotations have been made from human authors to show that in the fermentation process, leaven is purged out so that fermented wine is free of leaven. It would be interesting to find these books and examine them (I have never been able to locate a copy of any of them) to see if this is what they really say, or if they do not rather say that in the fermentation process, there is produced a "pure leaven", which is a vastly different thing than being purified of leaven. A pure leaven is one which is nothing but leaven, having no other ingredients or impurities. This is what fermented wine is, a pure leaven, which, when introduced to grape juice, quickly leavens it also. If this is what the human authorities really say, then obviously we should shun the fermented wine if we would use the pure element. On the other hand, if they do, as claimed, state that the fermented wine is purer of leavening than the unfermented, then they set themselves against the Scriptures considered above, and they still ought to shun the fermented element.
Another objection is that Baptist have long used the fermented element and only since the arisal of Temperance movements have they thought otherwise. ANSWER: this is arguing from Baptist traditions, and Matt. 15:3 applies to Baptist tradition with equal force as against Jewish, Catholic and Protestant tradition. Where the Scripture has spoken, it is sin to follow tradition where it digresses from Scripture. To place Baptist practice above the Bible is to do just exactly what Catholicism and Protestantism has done for centuries in elevating their traditions above the Bible. God forbid that we should be guilty of such a sin.
Again it is objected that New Testament churches must have used fermented wine since members of the Corinthian church got drunk at the perversion of the Lord's Supper. ANSWER: nothing is said of any person getting drunk at the Lord's Table in Corinth. If one reads carefully I Cor. 11:20-21 he will find that the condition described was already existing "when ye come together into one place," verse 20, and resulted from "every one taking before other his own supper". This unconcern for the needs of fellow church members created a division between them that made it impossible to scripturally observe the Lord's Supper, verse 20 f margin: "Ye cannot eat the Lord's Supper." Not only so, but the Greek word rendered "drunken" in verse 21 (methuel) means only "satiated", and while this would be equivalent to drunkenness if applied to spirituous liquors, yet in this case, being used in opposition to "hungry", shows that it has to do with over-eating while neglecting the hungry brother, a sin in the light of I John 3:17. Certainly, there is no evidence here to prove that fermented wine was ever used in the Corinthian church, and it is a going beyond what is written to claim so.
Then it is objected that Jesus must have used fermented wine since He used the common elements of the Passover supper when He instituted the Lord's Supper. ANSWER: the reader will probably be amazed, as was the writer, to learn that fermented wine was never a part of the Passover celebration by divine command or example. That the Jews used fermented wine in their perverted celebration of the Passover may or may not be true, but this in no way proves that it was used by Jesus and the disciples, and it is purely gratuitous assumption to claim it, It is irrelevant what the Jews used in the Passover, for if the New Testament does not command the use of the fermented wine, or show an example of it, we are not obligated to use it, nor should we use it.
Another objection is that grape juice could not be preserved for any length of time apart from fermentation, and so this must have been the most common element in use. ANSWER: William Patton in his "Bible Wines, or The Laws of Fermentation", a very informative book in this controversy, shows that grape juice could be preserved in at least five other ways than fermentation, and that all were common methods of preservation in ancient time, so that anyone who desired to, could have unfermented grape juice at any season of the year for use as a beverage, or in the Lord's Supper.
Human reasoning and tradition can be used as an argument to sustain the use of fermented wine; but at the same time, human reasoning and tradition can also be called to witness against it, which only shows that these are not reliable bases for the practice. The one and only authority for the elements in the Lord's Supper is the inspired and infallible Word of God, which speaks of the elements of this ordinance as being "the cup . . .the fruit of the vine". If churches would use the pure fruit of the vine, then according to the teaching of the Holy Writ, it must be what Israel found growing upon the vines in their wilderness trek - the pure blood of the grape, Deut 32:14; Gen. 49:11, which was neither fermented wine nor strong drink, Deut. 29:6. This is what the Scripture saith, and this shapes our responsibility as to the liquid element of the Lord's Supper. You may reason out a contrary conclusion, but it will be contrary - contrary to the Word of God. What then will YOU use when you come to the Lord's Table? The pure blood of the grape or something else which human reason or tradition may dictate?