The Church’s Witness to the Responsible Use of Wine

My last two posts dealt with Scripture’s testimony to the responsible use of wine, both socially and in the context of worship. Most nowadays would be satisfied to stop there and hear no more, but let us be reminded that Scripture does not speak to us in a vacuum. We receive its testimony through the teaching ministry of the church, and over the millennia, plenty has been said. Let’s consider that which Keith Mathison has brought together for us in this excerpt from his very informative book, Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

The Testimony of the Church

We have already mentioned that wine was universally used by the entire church for the first 1,800 years of her existence. During those years, there was never any suggestion that another drink should be used. In the early church, for example, we find clear testimony to the use of wine by such men as Justin Martyr (The First Apology, 65) and Clement of Alexandria (The Instructor, 2.2). In the eighth century, the Synod of Constantinople bore witness to the continued use of wine in the Lord’s Super (See John H. Leith, ed., Creeds of the Churches, 3d ed. {Louisville: John Knox, 1982}, 55.).

At the time of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, there were disagreements over virtually every other issue related to the sacraments, but there was no disagreement over the use of wine. All of the churches continued to teach that bread and wine are the proper elements to be used in the Lord’s Supper. Martin Luther taught this in his Small Catechism of 1529, and the Lutheran church continued to teach it in the Augsburg Confession (art. 10). The Anglican Church taught the use of actual bread and wine in the Thirty-nine Articles (art. 28). Even the Anabaptists continued to teach this in the Dordrecht Confession of 1632 (art. 10).

In the Reformed branch of the church, the use of wine was taught and practiced by John Calvin (Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.1). It was also taught in the great sixteenth-century Reformed confessions, such as the Belgic Confession (art. 35), the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 79), and the Second Helvetic Confession (chap. 19). The use of wine is also clearly taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. This Confession teaches that Jesus has appointed his ministers to “bless the elements of bread and wine” (29.3). The Larger Catechism repeatedly declares that the elements of the Lord’s Supper are bread and wine (Qq. 168-69, 177). Every Reformed theologian from the time of Calvin forward taught that bread and wine were the proper elements to be used in the Lord’s Supper. This teaching is found in the writings of

Robert Bruce (Robert Bruce, The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper, trans. Thomas F. Torrance {1590-91; reprint, London: James Clarke, 1958}, 43, 76.),

William Ames (William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, trans. John Dykstra Eusden {Durham, N. C.: Labyrinth Press, 1983}, 212),

Francis Turretin (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James t. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1992-97), 3:429),

Wilhelmus a Brakel (Wilhelmus a Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans. Bartel Elshout {Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1992-94}, 2:528),

Jonathan Edwards (Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards {Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1974}, 1:458),

Herman Witsius (Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man {Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1990}, 2:449-50),

Charles Hodge (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology {Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989}, 3:616),

A. A. Hodge (A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology {1879; reprint, Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1972}, 633-34)

Robert L. Dabney (Robert L. Dabney, Systematic Theology {Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1985}, 801),

W. G. T. Shedd (W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology {Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.}, 2:573),

B. B. Warfield (B. B. Warfield, “The Fundamental Significance of the Lord’s Supper,” in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield–I, ed. John E. Meeter {Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970}, 333),

John Murray (John Murray, The Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 2 {Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1976}, 366, 369),

and Louis Berkhof (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. {Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996}, 617), among many others.

The use of wine in the Lord’s Supper not only is unanimously taught by all the Reformed theologians and confessions from the sixteenth century forward, but also is explicitly taught in modern Presbyterian directories of worship. The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America, for example, is clear in its teaching that the proper elements to be used in the Lord’s Supper are bread and wine:

The table, on which the elements are placed, being decently covered,
and furnished with bread and wine, and the communicants
orderly and gravely sitting around it (or in their seats before it),
the elders in a convenient place together, the minister should
then set the elements apart by prayer and thanksgiving. (58-5 [emphasis added])

The Presbyterian Church in America’s directory of worship is in perfect agreement with her doctrinal standards. Both the Confessions and The Book of Church Order clearly declare that the proper elements to be used in the Lord’s Supper are bread and wine, not bread and grape juice.

It may come as a surprise to some, but even the great theologians and confessions of faith in the historic Baptist church taught that bread and wine were the proper elements to be used in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Great Baptist theologians such as

John Gill (John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity {reprint, Paris, Ariz.: Baptist Standard Bearer, 1987}, 918),

John L. Dagg (John L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order {reprint, Bridgewater, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 1998}, 208-9),

and James Petigru Boyce (James Petigru Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology {Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1996}, xxiii),

all taught that wine was to be used in the Lord’s Supper. The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 closely follows the wording of the Westminster Confession of Faith when it says, “The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine” (30.3). The Southern Baptist Abstract of Principles of 1859 says, “The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of Jesus Christ to be administered with the elements of bread and wine . . . ” (art. 16). Even the Baptist Faith and Message, written in 1925, long after the beginning of the temperance movement, declares that bread and wine are to be used in the Lord’s Supper (art. 13) (cf. Leith, Creeds of the Churches, 348).

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the use of wine in the Lord’s supper was simply a nonissue for Christians. Agreement on the matter was so universal that most confessions and theologians in the history of the church mention the subject in passing, as if they are simply stating the obvious. They do not even bother to present arguments for the use of wine because no one had ever suggested that anything else be used. They consider the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper to be as biblically self-evident as the use of wate in baptism. The nineteenth-century theologians, such as the Presbyterian A. A. Hodge and the Baptist John L. Dagg, who were the first to be confronted with the question, were adamant in their refusal to change the elements of the Lord’s Supper in order to pacify the legalistice spirit of the age.

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  1. […] Witness to the Responsible Use of Wine  The New Testament Witness to the Responsible Use of Wine The Church’s Witness to the Responsible Use of Wine The Rejection of Wine Objections to Wine Use Answered  Traver writes:  Your post says […]

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