Blame the Methodists

Here is a bit of trivia for you–Methodist minister Thomas Bramwell Welch developed non-alcoholic grape juice in 1869. You can read all about it in this article from Christianity Today.

As a Lutheran, I do not understand providing grape juice for the Sacrament of Holy Communion. That’s not what our Lord used when He instituted the meal on the Thursday before His death. But Welch was trying to address a problem of his day and inadvertently created other issues at the same time.

In my congregations, those who have had issues with wine have usually found ways to deal with it without the wine not being used for communion. Most times, they were able to receive the wine because they understood that the wine had been brought together with the blood of Christ and the bread joined with the body of Christ to give us a powerful meal for the forgiveness of our sins. In other words, the wine and the bread weren’t seen as those simple elements. Rather, they were given to us joined with the body and blood of our Savior for a unique purpose–to cleanse us of our sins. That made a difference in the meal.

For those churches who see only bread and wine, I could understand where those receiving that meal might not see the wine as anything but an alcoholic beverage since it is nothing more than a remembrance of Christ and His suffering. When God’s Word is added to the physical elements, what we receive is far different.

I have known some Methodist ministers to use wine at communion so there is no consistency in how Communion is viewed within that denomination. When they see the meal as a gift from God for the forgiveness of our sins, then I will know that they are reading Scripture as our Lord intended.

7 thoughts on “Blame the Methodists

  1. Couple of things – If our focus is on the nature of the elements, then we lose the meaning of the meal. The use of grape juice and the acknowledgement that we are gives some, for whom alcohol may be a problem, the opportunity to take communion. The same thing would, I think, to those who cannot partake of the bread because of the gluten. Are we to deny people communion because the elements of the communion are a threat to their physical well-being?

    Second, may I repost this on my blog? Thanks!

    • You’re right–the elements are not the most important part of the Sacrament. It is the Word of God joined with the bread and wine that brings to us a meal of heavenly proportions. The bread and wine by themselves offer us nothing other than a short respite from our hunger.

      Alcohol can be a problem for some and we try to address those cases on an individual basis. I have had one lady who could only take grape juice and I’ve had other alcoholics who did receive the wine. Again, when we focus upon what the meal is and what it does (a gift from God and it offers forgiveness of our sins), for many the alcohol issue becomes irrelevant.

      Same with the bread–we have gluten free bread for those who need it. We do not want to stop people from receiving this precious gift!

      And–you may repost this message.

      Thanks, Tony, for your thoughtful insights.

  2. Interesting article, just a question, would you object to denatured (alcohol removed) wine for those who have allergic reactions to the alcohol regardless of the mindset of what you are receiving. Date: Thu, 22 Sep 2016 11:34:45 +0000 To:

    • Dean,
      This is more a comment about words but, as a chemist, the term “denatured alcohol” implies alcohol that has additives in it designed to poison the alcohol and make it undrinkable. The term you might be thinking of is unfermented (which is what Thomas Welch was trying to accomplish).

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