Recently I received a letter from a brother in New Jersey responding to an article which I wrote for theStandard Bearer on the subject of the use of unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper. His letter is as follows:
While reading the guest article “Should we use Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper,” by Rev. Mark Hoeksema, (Standard Bearer, August, 1975) I was set to thinking about the symbolism involved. It would have been interesting to know on what basis those Lutheran Churches mentioned were taking their stand of using unfermented wine in their observance of the sacrament. My experience in the past, when discussing the grape juice question, was that all those people favoring it founded their stand mostly on the purity of the bread, so also the wine that flows from the berries in the winepress, as the pure blood of Christ was the unadulterated kind. The symbolism being primarily the one bread baked in the (hellish) heat of affliction, and the one wine (the blood of Christ) pressed out in the garden and on the cross. Is. 63:3. Symbolism of the Old Testament pointing to Christ is always the choicest and the purest, I Peter 1:19 .An unblemished lamb was required to sprinkle the pure unadulterated blood on the altar. Never the disease-ridden blood of a second grade lamb was to be used to sprinkle as a sacrifice.
Is the artificially induced joy of alcoholic wine a symbol of the joy and forgiveness of salvation?
No doubt alcoholic wine is not condemned in Scripture to be used as a medicine, as a remedy for physical sickness, not restoration from spiritual death unto life. But many passages of Scripture speak of it disparagingly, see Ps. 75:8, Prov. 20:1, Prov. 23:31, Is. 5:11, Eph. 5:18, I Timothy 3:3. In Deut. 15:14 the Israelite is admonished to give to his poor brother liberally, live animals from the flock, fresh grains from the threshing floor, and fresh wine (grape Juice) from the winepress, not wine where the nourishing sugar has been-substituted with alcohol through bacterial action.
So, shouldn’t it be unleavened bread and nonalcoholic wine to be used in the sacrament?
Thomas Y. Nelson
In answer to these remarks, I would, first of all, like to thank the brother for his letter. It is always encouraging to see evidence that the people of God are .thinking and studying and asking questions. Secondly, the point of the brother’s letter seems to be that he raises objections against the position I took in my original article, though at the same time I would point out that I wrote primarily concerning unleavened bread and not wine, and that his arguments concerning wine do not speak directly to the question of unleavened bread. Yet, this subject of wine is interesting; and its many facets can be profitably studied. I will attempt to answer the questions and objections raised concerning its use without going into the many other aspects of this subject.
1. As far as the Lutheran grounds for the use of grape juice are concerned, I must confess that I have never heard the explanation given by Mr. Nelson. I do know that mainline Lutheran bodies such as the American Lutheran Church and Missouri Synod use fermented wine, and that this reasoning does not come from them. As to the group to which the minister mentioned in my article belonged (I cannot recall its exact name; I do know that it was a small Lutheran splinter group), I cannot answer for them. The only ground for the use of grape juice with which I am acquainted is that which is given by such people as Baptists and Methodists, i.e., they refrain from the use of wine to avoid giving offense to possibly alcoholic members of the church. It must be remembered that this reasoning is also based on the idea that sin lies in things, with which we certainly cannot agree.
2. Concerning the text in Deut. 15:14, I find no grounds whatsoever for your assertion that the grain and wine must be fresh; all that the text teaches is that the needy be furnished liberally out of the flock, the threshing floor, and the winepress. Also I would point out in this connection that unfermented grape juice was virtually an impossibility as far as the ancients were concerned. It is a scientific fact that the juice extracted from grapes begins to ferment immediately through a natural process. It was only with the advent of pasteurization that grape juice became possible.
3. Regarding the Scriptural passages cited concerning wine, I would point out that Ps. 75:8 speaks of wine and the winepress as a figure of judgment, and therefore has no bearing at all on the question before us. Further, all of the other texts cited condemn without exception not the use, but the abuse of wine. Finally, Scripture never forbids the use of wine, but even advises it (I Timothy 5:23), and at least speaks positively concerning its proper use, cf. Ps. 104:15 and Eccles. 10:19. Certainly, wine cannot according to Scripture be used to restore from spiritual death to life; but I know of no claim that it can.
4. Regarding the contention that the joy of alcohol is artificially induced, in a sense I would have to agree. But after all, is not all joy an emotional response to some sort of stimulus? Is not physical joy induced by wine, and spiritual joy by, for example, the preaching of the Word? The point is that joy never exists all by itself, but is always our reaction to something else. And in this connection I would point out that I did not associate wine and joy. Scripture does, and that association I must accept.
5. Concerning the purity of the sacraments in connection with the Old Testament sacrifices, the assertion of the brother is correct regarding the required perfection of sacrificial animals. But the implication of his statement is wrong. He evidently means to imply that because wine is impure, its use is incorrect. But this is begging the question. He has not showed that wine is impure; and my opinion is that he cannot do so, for Scripture never speaks this language. But perhaps the best answer to this objection is simply to point to the fact that according to Numbers 15:5, 7, 10, wine was to be used in the sacrifice called a drink offering. Whatever else this may signify, this certainly shows that wine belonged in the sacrifice.
I hope that this has answered the brother’s questions and objections. There is a great deal more that could be said about the whole matter of wine, but I will maintain my position that its use in the sacrament is correct. If the brother has any further thoughts, I will be more than willing to discuss them again.
Rev. Mark Hoeksema