Whether it is acceptable to serve (and/or receive) either wine or grape juice during communion is a debate that can be very divisive. People defend their position with great zeal, and, in an effort to defend the position they’ve taken, many people seem to lose sight of the greater issue, and that is what the liquid in the cup represents—the shed blood of our Lord and Savior establishing the New Covenant.
That wine was consumed in Old Testament times is abundantly clear in Scripture. We first see its use (or misuse) when Noah became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent (Genesis 9:21). And later we see King Melchizedek serve wine to Abram after returning from a battle (Genesis 14:17–18). In Exodus 29:40 we see God commanding the use of wine as part of the Levitical sacrificial system, and when David was made king, his men feasted for three days with food and wine (1 Chronicles 38—40). In fact, Psalm 104:15 tells us that God made wine that gladdens the heart of man. And we also see the LORD preparing a feast for His people someday of rich food that includes a “banquet of aged wine” (Isaiah 25:6).
Now, in the New Testament we know that Jesus’ first miracle was changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1–11). And our Lord Himself not only drank wine (Luke 7:34), but He said He would also drink it in heaven with us (Matthew 26:29). Additionally, the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to use wine instead of “only water” so as to make his stomach better (1 Timothy 5:23).
Notwithstanding the frequency with which we see the use of wine all through the Bible, it is equally clear that drunkenness is never acceptable. In fact, Ephesians 5:18 states it quite succinctly: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” As indicated, the proponents of drinking wine clearly have much Scripture available to support the position they take, and the above examples (with the exception of Noah) reflect how wine, when used properly and in moderation, can indeed be a good thing.
Those who feel wine should not be used also make some cogent arguments, and it should be noted that they too have scriptural references to cite in support thereof. (See, for example, Proverbs 4:17; 20:1; and 23:29–32.) And in Leviticus 10:9 we see the LORD tell Aaron that neither he nor his sons were to drink wine whenever they went into the tent of meeting or they would die.
As for using wine or grape juice in the Lord’s Supper, there is no hard and fast biblical rule that states either one is preferred or acceptable. For those who use wine, certainly, if someone won’t drink from the cup because of its alcoholic content, then that is a valid concern. Or if someone is going to be distracted in any way as he or she approaches the cup, then that, too, is a valid concern as it may cause him to lose focus as to the real issue and thereby disregard Christ’s very command that we do this in remembrance of Him.
Along these lines, the apostle Paul said, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27–29). Accordingly, the important question is whether or not we are drinking from the cup in a worthy manner. As we approach the altar to partake of the Lord’s Supper, are we doing so in a ritualistic fashion? Are we simply going through the motions? Is our sinful human nature causing us to be indifferent; do we have an unrepentant heart? Perhaps a spirit of bitterness or any ungodly attitude? Unconfessed sin? We need introspection here, looking into our hearts and making sure we remember the magnitude of what we are doing and what Christ has done for us, before we drink from the cup.
Nowhere in God’s Word do we see a command or requirement relative to the fermentation level of the cup’s contents. Nonetheless, if anyone has a strong opinion either way about what their church serves, that is fine if the zeal stems from a desire to do that which, in that one’s opinion, best honors the Savior. But we must be careful not to cross that line wherein our zeal causes us to lose focus of the very real, very sacred issue as to what the cup represents. If it were not for the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we would not be able to be in the presence of our great God in the first place (Hebrews 10:19–25). Any religious endeavor, practice, issue, or debate that causes us to lose focus of the sanctity of the cup takes us down a road the Lord would prefer we not traverse.