The Rejection of Wine

If the entire church used wine in the observance of the Lord’s Supper for 1,800 years without any controversy or disagreement, what caused the change that is so prevalent in American churches today (Much of this section is taken from my “Protestant Transubstantiation,” IIIM Magazine Online 3, no. 4 (January 22-28, 2001))? The historical origin of the modern American evangelical practice of substituting grape juice for wine can be traced directly to the nineteenth-century temperance movement (Cf. Horton, “At Least Weekly,” 168. For a concise summary of the movement, see Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, rev. ed. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1975), 2:1269-70.). This movement, which arose in reaction to the widespread abuse of alcohol, ultimately came to the conclusion that the solution to abuse is not right use, but nonuse. Proponents of “temperance” ultimately concluded that any use of alcohol was evil.

While the movement talked about temperance, its ultimate goal was the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of all alcoholic beverages. The American Temperance Society was organized in 1826, and by the 1850’s thirteen states had outlawed the sale of alcohol. Significantly, many of the leaders and members of the movement were Christian clergy and laity. Of course, the idea that alcohol is inherently evil had an impact on the practice of the Lord’s Supper in American churches. The logic of the movement was widely used to reinterpret Scripture. If the use of alcohol is sinful, and if Jesus never sinned, then Jesus could not have used an alcoholic beverage such as wine in the Lord’s Supper. He must have used some other beverage, and it was argued that grape juice is also the “fruit of the vine.” Gradually, churches that had adopted the temperance gospel changed the elements of the sacrament and substituted grape juice for wine.

The history of the temperance movement and Prohibition is fascinating, but it is beyond the scope of this work to trace it in any detail. Suffice it to say that the temperance movement was a moral, political, and cultural failure. The movement failed culturally because it shared one of the flawed presuppositions of Christian liberalism. It placed the responsibility for sin in an external object rather than in the human heart. Getting rid of alcohol did not and could not get rid of sin and evil in the heart of man. The movement failed morally because it allowed itself to be deceived into setting up a higher standard of righteousness than the word of God. By prohibiting what God allowed, the movement fell into self-righteous legalism. The movement’s only lasting “success” is found in those churches that used its logic as the basis for replacing wine with grape juice in the Lord’s Supper.

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5 responses

  1. Fundamentally Reformed | Reply


    I assume the whole post is an excerpt from Mathison’s book again, am I right?

    Regarding the rejection of wine, isn’t it also true that grape juice as we know it was only able to be produced and preserved as it is now first in the 1850s or so. I heard someone mention that Charles Welch (of Welch’s Grape Juice) was instrumental in the movement to replace communion wine with grape juice. Have you heard anything along these lines?

    Just wondering, thanks!

  2. John D. Chitty | Reply

    “I perceive thou art a prophet!” Yes, this continues my excerpt of Mathison’s book. My time was short yesterday, so I squeezed it in as quickly as I could, so I didn’t even bother removing the redundant titles (yet!).

    I can’t verify how early it was possible to preserve grape juice, but it certainly makes sense that non-alcoholic grape juice is going to have to be kept refrigerated.

    You’re definitely correct about THOMAS Welch’s part in the replacement of wine for grape juice.

    Here’s a link:

    And here’s another link:

    Thanks for linking me to your old post on wine. It really helped me get a sense of actually looking at wine as a source of joy, rather than an evil to be suspected. Whew! One less thing to worry about!

  3. Good Stuff! Nothing like capitalism to effect one’s orthopraxy.

  4. Fundamentally Reformed | Reply


    Thanks for the links, I was already researching this issue on my own and came across the Welches company history doc.

    I just did a post on this, having come up with much supporting documentation. I did use your other link, hope you don’t mind.

    God bless

  5. […] 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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