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Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


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Can you celebrate the Lord’s supper with a can of worms?

Just because it’s a symbol doesn’t mean you can do what you like with it.

A Catholic correspondent writes of the comments in my recent article:

Looks like you’ve opened a can of worms. As your Lord’s Supper is only symbolic anyway, it doesn’t matter whether you use wine or juice, leavened or unleavened bread or crackers.

In one sense this is true. However, as objections go, it’s rather like saying that since the sacrifices of Israel were only symbolic, it didn’t matter whether they used bulls or camels, or blemished or unblemished animals.

The validity of the sacrament doesn’t trade on some kind of magical ingredient. Unlike Roman Catholic sacramentology, the spell won’t go haywire and fail to transmute the liquid into blood if we use grape juice (or accidentally leave out the eye of newt).

The validity of the biblical Lord’s supper trades on faith in what it represents; and faith is characterized by obedience to the form of the sacrament as given. This is why in the comments with David White, I argued that it is perfectly possible to have a legitimate Lord’s supper with something other than grape wine—if using grape wine isn’t feasible. But by the same token, where grape wine is readily available, failing to use it constitutes disobedience to the form of the sacrament as instituted by Jesus. And we know from the Old Testament how God feels about rituals that are performed wrong for no good reason.

Mind you, this does mean I must attenuate my original position. I argued previously that celebrating the Lord’s cup with grape juice is illegitimate because it is a mere imitation of the sacrament—and so alcoholics can’t partake of the cup by drinking grape juice instead. This now seems rather overstated, since an alcoholic who uses grape juice is doing so in faith, trying to be as obedient to the sacrament as he feasibly can be—just like someone who doesn’t have access to wine at all. So I think it’s fair to say that celebrating the Lord’s supper with wine and juice, if you happen to have recovering alcoholics present, is legitimate. But unless your church is an offshoot of the AA, or has no access to wine, celebrating it sans wine doesn’t seem to be an option.

3 comments

  1. Phillip Shorter

    I am reminded of something Adrian Plass once wrote. He commented on seeing an alcoholic friend of his partaking of Holy Communion at his (Anglican) church that his friend was taking “both his problem and the solution” as he took the elements. The wine was of course his problem, but Christ of whom he was partaking by faith is of course his solution.

    The problem really is, at bottom the execrably low view of Holy Communion exhibited by so many Protestants. Once they allow their fuzzy thinking to glide past the question of judgement for taking it improperly the fact that they see it as “just a symbol” means there is no real anchor to stop what happened at parachute a few years back – an attempt at multi-denominational “communion” using coke and donuts.

  2. Robert Novak

    I’m an alcoholic (recovered 10 years). Once I was properly taught on the supper I began taking the wine. If Jesus can protect me from my wicked heart, surely he can protect me from a sip of wine.

  3. John

    Pretty much all church services have a recovering alcoholic somewhere. Don’t they call themselves alcoholics for life?

    So… Is the OT standard the same one as for NT? So women without head covering, or stopping anyone from prophesying or speaking in tongues are all major transgressions against gods law?

    Boy that add comment button is annoying, at least on IOS.

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