What Led To Grape Juice Being Used In Communion?

The development of pasteurized grape juice by Thomas Welch as a substitute for Communion wine is well documented. Welch, a pietistic, temperance-minded nineteenth-century Methodist, pioneered what is today a $650 million-a-year grape juice business, a business that benefited directly from Protestant churches in the nineteenth century caught up in the burgeoning temperance movement. Welch’s motivation in pasteurizing grape juice was utterly clear–he sought the end of the “scandal” of serving alcohol in the church. Perhaps just as fascinating, at the same time there began the first theological attempts at claiming that wine was not used in Communion in the New Testament and that Jesus was actually a teetotaler.

Taken From: “The Defense Never Rests,” By Craig Parton (Concordia Publishing House, 2003), 142.

For More Information On This Subject See:

  • Richard Ostling, “Wine or Grape Juice: A Communion Conundrum,” Associated Press article, Salt Lake Tribune, 18 May, 2002.
  • William Chazanof, Welch’s Grape Juice: From Corporation to Cooperative (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1977)
  • Betty O’Brien, “The Lord’s Supper: Traditional Cup or Innovative Cups of Individuality,” Methodist History 32, no. 2 (January 1994): pp. 79-98.


About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


What Led To Grape Juice Being Used In Communion? — 6 Comments

  1. I’ll drink to that! Today’s Gospel (Fourteeth Sunday after Pentecost- September 2) puts all of the pietistic silliness to rest regarding wine in Holy Communion. Remember- God loves you more if you avoid alcohol (which would put Jesus Himself out of God’s favor) and He loves you less should you sneak a nip. The Eucharist used wine exclisively until the nineteenth century. Ah, American innovations- including the mega church innovation! How the devil must be dancing whenever another innovation opens. My two cents!

  2. The pietistic hatred for alcohol is understandable. The first Methodists were outraged that the Church of England had little to say when the English government subsidized the production of gin (arguably the first product of modern industrialization), for the purpose of mollifying unemployed workers in big city slums. Those early Methodists saw how cheap gin was hurting the men and their families. That fueled the Baptists to adopt pietism also. I am sympathetic to their motivations.
    I have seen the case made by well-meaning Baptist theologian authors that say Jesus was actually talking about grape juice. Any well-read layman can easily dispute all their points.

  3. It was A. Van Derwerken, of Brooklyn, N.Y, in 1882, who suggested using individual communion cups in a church service, and in 1887, published an article in the Annals of Hygiene advocating the use of individual cups in communion. In 1893 individual cups were first used in a communion service in New York.

    Lutherans initially opposed the use of individual cups, but in 1918, Christ Lutheran Church in Remsen, Iowa, became the first LCMS church to make use of the individual cups for the purpose of hygiene during the time of the influenza pandemic.

    As for any concerns by Thomas Welch about his white beard, his 1869 pasteurization process worked just as well on Niagara grapes as Concord grapes. The Niagara grapes were developed in 1868. From these came white grape juice.

    Individual communion cups, used for individuals in hospitals, etc., were in existence long before Mr. Welch. Here’s an antique silver communion set made in 1840. The chalice is 10 cm in length.

  4. My LCMS parish is unapologetic about using both wine and grape juice. You get to choose!
    I would like to know how prevalent this abuse is within the synod. We now also have gluten free hosts.

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