Let me say up front that I’m not going to entertain any malarky about wine in the Bible not being alcoholic. That’s a bizarre 19th century innovation which has been utterly discredited. In fact, if you can find me a single reputable Bible translation that renders the Greek and Hebrew words for wine as “grape juice”, I will give you a shiny nickel. There’s a good reason why no one will be getting any nickels, and that is that Bible translators understand the meanings of words, and the words translated “wine” mean fermented, alcholic grape juice.
That being the case, it is indisputable that Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper with unleavened bread and a cup of alcoholic grape juice (aka wine). That’s what they used in the Passover.
Just like he instituted baptism in river water. That’s just what they used.
Now, that doesn’t mean we have to use wine or bread produced exactly like Passover wine or bread, any more than we have to baptize people in the Jordan River.
But we do have to use wine and bread, and we do have to use water, or we’re just not doing the Lord’s supper or baptism.
Hence, I think it is basically a farce to have the Lord’s supper with grape juice, as is so common in many evangelical churches today. Indeed, our ability to do this is entirely the result of a historical accident, wherein we discovered how to prevent grape juice naturally fermenting into wine via Pasteurization during the prohibition period in the United States. Hard to believe such untheological events could have caused such long-lasting theological confusion, yet there it is. In any event, before 1869 it simply wasn’t possible, scientifically speaking, to make non-alcoholic grape juice. It would start to ferment as soon as it came out of the press.
So the answer must be “no”. We can’t have the Lord’s cup without wine.
Now the standard response to this is, “But what about recovering alcoholics?! Would you exclude them from the Lord’s table?”
In all honesty, this reminds me of the rape exception to abortion: find a fringe case and try to use it as a wedge to split a principled position apart with a pragmatic argument. And as with the rape exception, this simply won’t work: you can’t defeat a principled view by showing that it sometimes leads to unpleasant situations.
Mind you, I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to alcoholics. I’m not; addiction is terrible and we should avoid practices which could cause our brothers to stumble. But let me ask a simple question:
Do you think alcoholism was not a problem in the first century?
The answer, of course, is that it was—for instance, 1 Corinthians 6:10–11 specifically says that some of the Corinthians were previously drunkards. Yet the Bible nowhere suggests that the Lord’s supper should not be practiced with wine. The issue of alcoholism doesn’t even come up.
Since the nature of the Lord’s supper requires bread and wine, if you’re using something other than wine, then in that respect you simply aren’t doing the Lord’s supper. You are doing an imitation. The question about excluding alcoholics trades on the assumption that an imitation of the Lord’s supper with something other than wine is still the Lord’s supper—so alcoholics can still partake. But that seems like a fundamentally false assumption. If someone can’t drink wine then they can’t partake of the Lord’s cup because by definition the Lord’s cup is a cup of wine. Partaking of another cup doesn’t change this.
Of course, they can still partake of the bread. People who choose to avoid alcohol are not excluded from the Lord’s supper in toto.