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Friday, April 10, 2015

The Communion Controversy: Fermented or Unfermented.

There are many intramural debates within Apostolic Pentecostalism. Among them is the Communion Controversy--specifically fermented versus unfermented grape juice. There are many other aspect of communion that are debated within Christendom, but the chemical condition of the grape juice seems to be the preferred issue of dispute for Apostolics. Of all the points of contention for Apostolics, whether or not grape juice is fermented during communion ought to be near the bottom of the list. 

I know that this post is going to enrage or disappoint the activists from both sides of the aisle. And I have personal friends on both sides. In fact, I once was a strong advocate for unfermented juice only. I no longer am. I will be shot at from both sides. I will be accused of straddling the fence. I will be accused of compromise. But I really have come to believe that the bible does not provide a prescription for the chemical condition of the communion cup. I dogmatically insist on scriptural ambivalence.

With that being said, in a later blog I will recommend a book of a friend of mine that argues for fermented wine and he does an excellent job of presenting his case. There are also excellent books from the unfermented camp as well. 

I will list a few reasons why I reject dogmatism from both sides and insist on Christian liberty. Then I will state what I consider to be ideal.

REASONS:

1. The New Testament writers conspicuously avoid using any one of the three Greek words for wine (gleukos, oinos and oxos). If Jesus had used any one of these three words for wine at the last supper, instead of "fruit of the vine," there wouldn't be a debate. The phrase "fruit of the vine" grammatically allows for the entire chemical range of juice from fresh squeezed to naturally fermented. It is never to early to call juice from the grape "fruit of the vine," and it is never to late to call juice from the grape "fruit of the vine."

2. Paul allows for a person--because of conscience--to never drink wine (Romans 14:21). The bible allows for total abstinence. However, Paul also allows that a person can drink wine with faith (Romans 14:22). Whether one obstains or participates in drinking wine, it must come from a place of faith (Romans 14:23). But Paul does allow for absolute abstinence. This must include communion. So, do we insist that a person who cannot drink fermented wine because of conscience and faith  cannot participate in the blood of Christ? Or do we correctly conclude that unfermented grape juice also fits Jesus' prescription for "fruit of the vine?" It must be the latter. The same must apply to the reverse proposition. We must not allow the thing that is designed to make the body one divide the body.

THE IDEAL:

Ideally, if I were pastoring, I would juice grapes on Friday and serve them on Sunday. It resonates with me to follow the crucifixion-resurrection model for communion. I am certainly not saying this is  Scripturally commanded, I just like the imagery. I think fresh squeezed juice is ideal. I don't like the idea of store bought wine or Welches.

CONCLUSION: This should provide a nice conversation starter should anyone chose to comment. As always, all feedback is welcome. 


8 comments:

  1. John is my good friend, but I disagree with his logic in this post. He stated the term “wine” was conspicuously avoided. This is something he cannot prove. Not using a term does not indicate or imply that the term was “avoided.” This is speculation. All one can say is that the term “wine” was not used. Also to say that the idiom “fruit of the vine” was used to avoid the term “wine” is also speculation. This would be like saying a woman who refers to her spouse as “my ole man” conspicuously avoided the term “husband.” Again, it is speculation that cannot be proven. Secondly, it is error to think that the idiom “fruit of the vine” allows for any juice squeezed from grapes. If this is the case, then “fruit of the vine” would also allow for the juice squeezed from any fruit that grows on a vine (watermelon, tomato, etc.). It’s interesting that although neither “wine” nor “grapes” are mentioned, John understands that the “fruit of the vine” has some sort of reference to a beverage made from grapes. The fact is the idiom “fruit of the vine” is the Jewish liturgical term for fermented wine. In the prayers spoken at Passover, the Jews hold the glass of wine and say, “Thanks O God who has given us this ‘fruit of the vine’.”

    Lastly, I disagree that Romans 14:21 teaches or allows for total abstinence. The passage allows for temporary abstinence at best. Notice in the text that it is the weaker brethren who is offended by wine, much like those who are offended by meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:7). The goal is for these brethren not to remain weak, but to reach a level of maturity in which they are strong. This is similar to those who are “babes” in Christ, who Paul called “carnal” and could not eat the spiritual meat (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Heb. 5:12-13 states that these “babes” are “unskillful in the words of righteousness.” Again, the goal is not for brethren to remain weak, but to grow into spiritual maturity in which they will not be offended by meat and drink.

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  2. I am contemplating Jason's comments from the first paragraph. However, I do not think that his comments from the second paragraph satisfies my point about the brother who is weak and wine.

    I agree with Jason that the person who cannot drink wine due to conscience and faith is the weak brother. I also agree that the goal is to strengthen the weaker brother. However, the goal of strengthening the weaker brother is not necessarily so that he will himself drink wine, but that he will no longer judge those who do drink wine.

    Even if the goal for the weak brother is to drink wine eventually, what is he to do during his period of weakness. His weakness with regard to wine may last for years. Should we refuse him communion during his weakness? Or should he be allowed to drink unfermented fruit of the vine (grapes)? I suggest that his weakness should not alienate him from the table of the Lord? Furthermore, there are many Christians who will never advance in their conscience and faith to drink alcoholic fruit of the vine. Again, should these Christians be prohibited from the Lord's table. I insist not. The truth is that a Christian can be a true Christian and remain weak in this area.

    I am interested in hearing Jason's proof that a particular chemical state of the juice of the grape is required for communion to be valid.

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  3. Fine post, my friend! I would tend to fall in your school of thought on this issue.

    Mr. Weatherly, I take your point that saying "fruit of the vine" does not prove that the term "wine" was avoided. But, it is equally worth noting that all of the synoptic evangelists are unified on saying "fruit of the vine" as opposed to using the word "wine" when it comes to communion. οἶνος (wine) is used 33 times in the entire New Testament;it is interesting that this word is never used in connection with communion. I take your point that we are arguing from silence; but the silence indicates that---Biblically, at least---communion does not HAVE to be with wine.

    Again, I take your point that "fruit of the vine" could technically include fruit from any vine; but in the Bible there are only two places to my knowledge where the word "vine" specifically refers to a plant that does not bare grapes (2 Kings 4:39, James 3:12). The overwhelming majority of the time, the word "vine" in the Bible makes reference to the grape vine. By telling us that "fruit of the vine" was a liturgical euphemism for fermented wine, you actually prove John's assumption correct: that the vine in question is a grape vine. But, as we said before, the Greek term for fermented wine is never hard-and-fast applied to communion.

    I think I agree with you, Mr. Weatherly, that fermented wine is what ought to be used (in my opinion). But since the New Testament does not spell this out plainly, I do not think that we can be dogmatic on the issue.

    I enjoy the dialogue, so any thoughts from either of you good men are welcome. ~Clayton

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    2. Clayton, great to see you commenting on a post. Please feel free to do it more. I just saw your comments. I hope they weren't waiting long.

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  4. I personally disagree with both! But great article

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    1. What is your view? I am very interested in hearing it.

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  5. It is true that no writer used the Greek word oinos when referring to the Lords supper. Wine is referred to as the fruit of the vine. I believe that the fruit of the vine is the fresh unchanged juice that comes from a grape. Grape juice contains around 20 percent of sugar and no alcohol! Jesus said, "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." (Matthew 26:29) fermentation is the process of which much of the sugar is destroyed and alters what the Fruit produced. So therefore it is changed and no longer NEW. So fruit of the Vine does not include fermentation as it is not what the fruit originally created. The Lords supper was instituted when Jesus and his friends eating the Passover. In Exodus 12 The law of the Passover was that no one was to eat any thing leaven. The word used for leaven was "seor" which meant that the couldn't eat anything that went through the process of decay or fermentation. In Exodus 12:19 it is said that nothing fermented could be eaten or drank. God forbaid these things because fermentation whic is "decay" symbolizes sin. In matthew 16 Jesus told his disciples not to listen to the leaven of the Pharisees. 1 Peter 2:22 states that "no sin was found in Jesus' mouth!" Jesus came to fulfill the Law (matthew 5:17) and in proverbs God states a moral command saying "look not upon the wine when it is red when it moveth itself aright" proverbs 23:31. Proverbs also condemns wine as a "Mocker" and "Raging". Woe unto him that gives his neighbor drink and makes him drunk," (Habakkuk 2:15). If Jesus came to fulfill the Law then I think he'd follow the Passover law to the teeth. In Jewish times wine was not used as today either. grape juice freshly squeezed, grape juice preserved,juice from dried grapes, grape juice made from grape syrup and water, unfermented stored wine diluted with water at a ratio as high as 20 to 1. So to me I don't see why Jesus would drink a leavened drink and then make his disciples do the same thing. That would make him a hypocrite to me.

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