Most people come to our churches from the broader evangelical world. If you grew up Roman Catholic or Lutheran, you are accustomed to the use of wine in communion. But if you come to one of our services from an evangelical background, the use of wine can be quite a surprise. And because, as mentioned earlier, we usually observe communion weekly, this is an adjustment you have to deal with every week.
We do this because we are convinced that Jesus used wine when He first established the meal, and we believe that we do not have the authority to alter what He established. The Jews used wine in their Passover meals, and Jesus established this sacrament in the context of that meal. The “cup of blessing” that Paul refers to (1 Cor. 10:16) was the third cup in the Passover meal, and it was a cup of wine. Indeed, in an age without refrigeration, it would not have been possible to keep and maintain what we think of as grape juice.
One of the ways we know that the wine in the Bible was alcoholic is through the constant reminders not to drink too much of it (Eph. 5:18). If biblical wine were simply grape juice, these moral exhortations make no sense. The master of the wedding feast at Cana was not amazed that the best grape juice had been saved for last, after all the third rate grape juice had dulled everybody’s senses (John 2:10).
Some might feel that including alcoholic drink in a sacramental meal is somehow disrespectful. But this is actually a modern version of letting the traditions of men (which can exert a powerful influence) set aside the Word of God—which Jesus said not to do (Mark 7:9). In the Old Testament, tithe money was to be used to buy shekar or strong drink (Deut. 14:22-26). In the New, the word for wine is oinos, and is clearly alcoholic as multiple contexts make clear.
There is one more point worth emphasizing. The wine we use in communion should be like the gospel—and that is potent. As with anything potent, abuses are possible (e.g. “shall we sin that grace may abound?”), but the possibility of abuse should not be allowed to replace the authority of Scripture. We want in the first place to be biblical people. This means we do not want a grape juice gospel, but rather a gospel with a kick.