Question of the Wine and of the Cup

Pastor John Frahm sent this out to several people; we at BJS thought it a good reminder that there is nothing new under the sun. These are concerns in the church in 1933.


by C. H. Little, D. D., S. T. D.
Professor of Dogmatic and Systematic Theology in the
Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada, Waterloo, Ontario

From a book published in 1933 by THE LUTHERAN LITERARY BOARD, BURLINGTON, IOWA

There was a time within the memory of many pastors still living when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated with great uniformity and all due solemnity in our Lutheran Churches. But that happy time is past. When we visit a strange Lutheran Church now on the occasion of the Holy Communion, we do not know what is going to take place. Here fanatical and Reformed influence has done its worst.

For the wine, which the Lord instituted to be the bearer of His precious Blood, fanatical influence has in some places substituted grape juice.

The ground back of this is the fanatical view that wine is in itself an evil, and consequently should have no place in this sacred act. These innovators do not have the courage of Tatian, who, in the early days of the Church, holding similar views, substituted water for wine. They claim that in using grape juice they are not departing from the Lord’s institution of the Sacrament, since He spoke of the contents of the cup as “the fruit of the vine.” But this is a sophism and a misrepresentation of the expression. The word translated “fruit” is misleading. The Greek word is “genema,” which means “a product,” and designates the content as that which is made from the vine.

The fact that it was real wine that was used is made perfectly clear by St. Paul, who in rebuking the Corinthian Christians for their excesses in connection with the Lord’s Supper, declared, “And one is hungry and another is drunken,” but said nothing whatever about their using the wrong kind of wine. In fact, such a thing as unfermented wine was utterly unknown. Dr. Thompson in his “Land and the Book” tells us that when he mentioned the matter to natives of Palestine, it appeared as absurd to them as if he had spoken of sour sugar or sweet vinegar. The substitution is an insult to the Lord Jesus Christ, who performed His first miracle by changing water into wine at Cana of Galilee, and thereby manifested forth His glory. Fanatics of His day called Him “a gluttonous man and winebibber”; but He declared, “Wisdom is justified of her children.” With what face can we condemn the Roman Catholics for mutilating the Sacrament by withholding the cup, if we wilfully change its contents? The one mutilates the Sacrament as much as the other, and in each case the Church sets itself up above its Lord.

The change of the container from the one cup to the many individual cups has been even more widely adopted in our Lutheran Churches. This innovation first found favor with the Reformed, and entered into our Lutheran Churches through Reformed influence. In the case of the Reformed, as they were dealing only with earthly elements of a symbolic nature, they had not much to lose. It came in their case also after they had long substituted grape juice for wine. Without the alcoholic content, which was antiseptic, they felt that there was real danger of infection. Consequently they made the change without any scruples in the matter.

But why should Lutheran Churches take up with this Reformed innovation and depart so radically from the Lord’s institution, which in every instance speaks of the cup as one? How can we face the Reformed and charge them with changing the word “is” into “signifies,” when we just as perversely change the word “cup” into “individual cups”?

Besides this, the innovation utterly destroys the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper as the Sacrament of union with one another and of brotherly love. It also goes against the whole history of the Church, displays a lack of faith in our gracious Lord, and diminishes the solemnity of the sacramental administration.

May the time soon come when this modern innovation is done away with! Else we may yet arrive at the further innovation to which some Reformed Churches have already succumbed, and be found using paper cups, which after use are gathered up and destroyed. When a Church looses itself from the old and safe moorings and starts upon a course of innovation, there is no telling how far it may go or where it will stop. Our Church as an historical Church should beware of innovations.

Send by:
Pastor John A Frahm
Greeley, CO

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