Have you ever thought of these provocative variables in the form and substance of the Lord’s Supper:
- Should we not emulate the NT church’s practice of sharing an entire, sit-down meal?
- Must the bread be unleavened?
- Must the wine be alcoholic?
- Must the wine be red or can we use Champagne instead?
- Where does one draw the line? For example, can pizza and Coke count as communion? I.e. can the bread be sweetened, or have a topping? What about milk and cookies?
Makes the blood boil a bit, doesn’t it? You may have got stuck on the milk & cookies on, and you would probably say: “Obviously not, don’t be dumb.” And you’d be right to say that…but why?
Here are some principles by which we can make these decisions.
1. Jesus instituted a practice of breaking and sharing bread and wine, therefore the substance of the meal must correlate with his intention.
Thus breaking bread is essential, as it represents the breaking of Christ’s body. The bread represents the body. It was the symbol Jesus selected, perhaps because he also called himself the Bread of Life (John 6:35).
This is why he said “Do this in remembrance of me” as he broke the bread. He clearly meant “Break bread.” Not, break a cookie, or cut some pepperoni pizza slices.
The question as to substance is, Does it correlate to what Jesus intended? Wheat crackers, unleavened pita, or even your regular store-bought breadloaf all accurately manifest the image of Christ’s body being broken as bread.
Likewise the contents of the cup is significant. At that Last Supper it was most certainly alcoholic wine, as there was no other kind available. Fermentation can only be delayed by refrigeration, invented later than 33AD. The wine may have been highly diluted, but this is speculation, and thus not stipulated in Scripture as a requirement. After all, Paul had to rebuke the Corinthian gluttons to not get drunk on the communion wine (1 Cor 11:21).
But today’s non-alcoholic grape juice is still an accurate manifestation of the symbol. The cup was intended to symbolize Christ’s blood being shed. Also, Jesus clearly said that he would not drink of the “fruit of the vine” until the kingdom comes (Luke 22:18). This pries open the category to include any fruit of the vine, like grape juice, or even perhaps Champagne (calm down, it’s just wine made in a region of France called Champagne). Though the white color is usually a no-no for conservative types, it must be noted that the color of the communion wine is never mentioned in Scripture, it is only assumed, and therefore should not be stipulated as an unwavering regulation in our churches. And yes, the bubbles are ok. Fermenting grape juice always produces bubbles, it’s just a matter of quantity, which again has not been limited by Scripture.
On a practical note, we use grape juice and never wine because of the epidemic prevalence of alcohol abuse in our society. Those who are repentant drunks find it unhelpful to be tempted back into their debauchery each time they are trying to remember the shed blood of their Lord at church. Our grape juice is not legalism, it’s courtesy.
2. Jesus instituted the practice for us to remember his death, namely his broken body and shed blood, therefore the form of the practice must be an accurate reflection of his original intention.
So, it doesn’t matter if we recline or line-up or remain seated in our pews, as long as we all share. It does appear the Corinthian congregants each had a meal (1 Cor 11:21), but Paul rebukes this practice. The object of the exercise is to share a common piece of bread. Whether this is done as part of a sit-down meal (which I observed with believers in Israel), or by queuing at table, or being served in the pew, it is the sharing that is symbolic.
It was a distinct moment in the mail that Jesus said “Do this” as he broke bread and “likewise” has he passed the cup (Luke 11:19-20). The “this” was referring to the moment of breaking and sharing, not to the whole meal. Which, incidentally, is also why foot-wshing is not one of the ordinances (as the Bretheren movement takes it to be). It was done as a precursor to the meal, but not part of the the “this” we are instructed to perform; neither does foot-washing aid in the remembrance of the death of Christ through symbolism.
Some insist that there is only one cup and that it should be passed around. But the command was to “Take this [cup] and divide it among yourselves,” (Luke 22:17). There is no stipulation on how to divide it. At our church, for example, we divide the grape juice into single portion shot-glass-type cups that are distributed. I have also divided the wine among 300 Russians the other way: a single cup complete with floaties and lipstick marks.
As long as the form is an accurate representation of the Lord’s intention, it counts.
The Lord’s Supper is one of the most precious events on our calendars. It should be experienced with reverence, purity, and joy. The elements employed should reflect this attitude. So no Oreos and chocolate milk. At the same time, there has been given us tremendous liberty to accommodate various cultural norms and denominational quirks.
Let’s keep the main thing the main thing, and not spend too much effort straining out the gnats or other floaties in the communion juice.