Grape Juice (Communion in One Kind — Part Two)

Having been encouraged to study the Book of Concord (see my previous post), my Wednesday evening adult Bible class turned to Luther’s Small Catechism.

Beginning in the Preface, we found quite a bit to provoke discussion. I was surprised at the direction that this discussion took, when Luther made passing reference to the practice of ‘Communion in One Kind’:

“O ye bishops! … You command the Sacrament in one form [but is not this the highest ungodliness coupled with the greatest impudence that you are insisting on the administration of the Sacrament in one form only, and on your traditions] and insist on your human laws, and yet at the same time you do not care in the least [while you are utterly without scruple and concern] whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or any part of the Word of God. Woe, woe, unto you forever!”

If you are a lifelong Lutheran, you probably read right through this passage. (You may have paused to shake your fist in disagreement against those Roman bishops.) Most of us don’t give ‘Communion in One Form’ (or Species or Kind) a serious second thought, because we don’t really see this as a problem that is taking place in our churches today. In our churches, all those who partake of the Sacrament are allowed to both eat and drink.

This topic, however, caught my Bible class’s attention. A number of participants in this class had formerly belonged to the Roman church. While they were in that church body, they had experienced this practice. Communicants were only given the Body of Christ to eat, while the Blood of Christ was reserved for someone else – usually, the priest.

As noted in Luther’s Preface, such a practice had also been taking place in the sixteenth century. In the Augsburg Confession, the Lutheran confessors addressed ‘Communion in One Kind’ as an abuse. Article XXII states that this practice goes against the clear command of Christ: “Drink ye, all of it.” It also argues that ‘Communion in One Kind’ goes against the practice of the church at the time of the Apostles (1 Corinthians 11:20 and following). The confessors wrote: “It is evident that such a custom [(Communion in One Kind)], introduced contrary to God’s command and also contrary to the ancient canons, is unjust. Accordingly, it is not proper to burden the consciences of those who desire to receive the sacrament according to Christ’s institution or compel them to act contrary to the arrangement of our Lord Christ” (Tappert, AC XXII:10-11).

The sixteenth century Lutherans opposed ‘Communion in One Kind’ because it violated ‘the arrangement of our Lord Christ’. They said that this practice was an intolerable change to our Lord’s institution of the Sacrament.

At this point, someone in my class asked: “What about those churches that use grape juice?”

This question opened my eyes to the fact that ‘Communion in One Kind’ is still a problem that we face today. Even among Lutheran Pastors and Congregations, you can find those who have changed our Lord’s institution and arrangement of His Supper: They substitute grape juice for wine. They usually attempt to justify this change, citing concern for those who either cannot or will not drink alcohol. Yet, these attempts at self-justification only serve to underscore the point: A change has been made. This substitution leaves the Sacrament being celebrated with only one of the kinds according to which our Lord Jesus instituted this Sacrament.

When the good of people of Minnesota North encouraged everyone to study the Book of Concord, I don’t know if they really knew what exactly they were encouraging. Yet, Pandora’s Box has been opened. Some of those who read this book will find it life-changing (see especially the video posted by Paul McCain in response to my last post). I hope and pray that our District-wide study of the Book of Concord will press us to ask hard questions about our own teaching and practice, that we will continue to examine ourselves as we strive to be faithful today.



Here is a paper that Pastor Curtis links to in comment # 4 below:

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