I’m Going Crackers

Sigh. I know that the church we are attending is not everything I hoped and dreamed of. I know it, I do. But why oh why do churches use grape juice and crackers in the Lord’s Supper? It probably doesn’t phase a lot of folks, because they don’t think about it much, but once you think about it, it drives you…crackers…as the Brits say. People who know that every word of Jesus is important and to be obeyed think nothing of ignoring him when he says “bread” and “wine.” As if bread is the same as Saltines and wine can be grape juice.

James Jordan has put it better than I can:

But do the churches do these things? Let’s see. First of all, Jesus said to bring wine. How many churches use wine today? The American evangelicals have decided to give wine over to the devil, instead of claiming it for Christ. As a result, they use grape juice. Jesus, however, used (alcoholic) wine. He turned water into wine as the first manifestation of His Kingdom. He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard which shows what He was drinking (Matt. 11:19). He prescribed just this kind of liquid for His meal.

But do we do what He said? Usually not. And this is nothing new. For centuries the Western Catholic Church (“Roman” Catholicism) rejected the cup altogether. It has only been since the Second Vatican Council that Catholics have been able to drink wine in communion.

Well, what about bread? Suppose my wife phoned me at work and said, “Jim, would you go by the store and get some bread on your way home?” Now, let’s say I bought some saltines instead. My guess is that she would be unhappy. She would say, “Jim, that’s not bread; those are saltines. Don’t you know the difference between bread and saltines?” Or suppose I brought some pressed-out wafers home?

I think we know what bread is. I do. Don’t you? Bread is bread. If we believe in using unleavened bread, it should still be unleavened bread and not crackers or wafers.

Amazing, isn’t it? Jesus asks us to do two simple things, and century after century the Church comes up with weird substitutes. Why is this? Why can’t we just do what Jesus said to do? As I reflect upon this, it seems to me that the reason has to be that there is real grace in the Lord’s Supper, and that Satan fears that grace. Thus, Satan has persuaded people not to do what Jesus said to do.

I thought that at least a Presbyterian church would use real wine, never mind that they don’t allow baptized Christians to partake (the youth). But lo, they do not. Grape juice and crackers, just like every other shallow church on the block. Gag. Truly, the Protestant churches are much like the Medieval Catholics, as more and more folks are noticing:

Third, communion is administered infrequently, as in the late Middle Ages, so the faithful only receive a few times a year. And Evangelicals have found a new way to effectively deny the cup to the laity by avoiding the biblical element of wine. (Where is Jan Hus when we need him?) Against dominical command and the clear words of the New Testament, most Evangelicals persist in employing grape juice rather than wine in the sacrament. Paradoxically, those whose approach to Scripture might be deemed most literalistic choose to set aside Christ’s clear injunction.

Here, in a sense, is a modern Evangelical version of what the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles call a “work of supererogation.” Evangelicals may still reject the idea of accumulating surplus merit, but the implication of substituting grape juice for wine in the sacrament is that we know better than our Lord and can be more pious than Jesus. And some Evangelicals have an attitude toward alcohol that one could only describe as superstitious.

It’s really difficult to be a Christian in America when basic things like creeds, sacraments and liturgy are unheard of and wild notions to the vast majority of flocks. I hope it changes someday.

10 thoughts on “I’m Going Crackers”

  1. This is exactly how I feel….except you are being nicer. Watching the ushers slap the children’s hands away from the crackers being passed around made me mad. The mother’s stiffly ignoring their children’s cries to be included as well struck me as cruel. Even though you are baptized into the Christian faith, you are still not included until you prove yourself. We Christians don’t come into the faith that way. You don’t have to prove yourself worthy or even fit. The hypocrisy makes me literally ill. Sorry I feel so strongly about this.

    And eating crackers and drinking grape juice is so ridiculous, if you think about it. A bad analogy would be to say that it is like eating a generic brand Oreo instead of the real thing. A better analogy would be, I guess, going to dinner at someone’s house for beef roast and instead they serve you beef jerky.

    Perhaps the kids are better off not even having the crackers anyway if the church doesn’t take it so seriously.

    When holding the grape juice filled cup, my daughter said, “That is grape juice and not wine, isn’t it?”
    I smelled it. “Yes,” I said.

    “That’s too bad,” she said, shaking her head. Immediately she had the look of carelessness, like the thing she was disappointed that she could not have was now not worth the trouble.

  2. Thanks for writing about this because as a charismatic/evangelical (former United Methodist) person I had never given it even a moment’s thought. I just thought the churches that used wine were ‘different.’ It never occurred to me to investigate why they were different, or that it was based in conviction over Scripture rather than just a tradition.

    I would be remiss not to add that the contemporary American church is filled with disappointments for the person who is searching for a church that will uphold Biblical standards. If I focus on what it lacks, I will never attend. If I only focus on what it has that is positive, I become kind of shallow. The answer, I keep telling myself, has something to do with Leonard Ravenhill’s idea that we must feel the grief of what we are missing profoundly so that we spend time before God crying out for real change.

    If the shortcomings of the body of Christ in America pierce my soul, then I am called to cry out to God for change, for real revival, while participating in what I know is imperfect because I am part of what is imperfect, if I are part of the body of Christ.

  3. That’s a great story Rachel.

    Mindi, I think most people haven’t really thought about it. Evangelicals are largely un-sacramental anyway, so it’s rare to see churches thinking through what they do on this issue.

  4. Timely and hard hitting. This “grape juice and zesta” approach to the Sacrament of the LORD’s table is highly indicative of the state of American-style evangelicalism. Like so many other aspects, it reduces the covenant life of the faith to an “individual sport” with its little saltines (or bread bullets) and individual cups of high-fructose sugar water w/food coloring. This is a far cry from the common loaf (or loaves) of unleavened bread and the cup of blessing (the Birkat Hamazon) that was offered up to the twelve by the Messiah.

    So much of this error stems, I believe, from American evangelicalism’s (i.e. Baptistic)demotion of the Eucharist from a Sacrament to a mere ordinance. Words like “sacrament” strike fear in those who think its sounds just a bit too “popish” for their comfort level (But these too forget that there was a church before Moody and Darby…).

  5. But we also have to remember that communion is also the meal. In the early church they broke bread (communion) and ate meals together; so to split hairs communion is in combination with a meal. In defense of the grape juice (I do love wine), there are so many people who are recovering alcoholics and don’t touch a drop of wine (or alcohol) at all. Are we to exclude them from taking communion with the rest of us? On the other hand Mars Hill Church in Seattle Wa has each member come up for communion; they take the bread and dip it in either a glass of wine or a glass of juice. My husband and I really loved this. Last note, if you have a complaint then be the change you want to see. You may not be able to change the entire way your church performs communion but why can’t you have communion (the way you are convicted) with other believers in your own home?

  6. Andy – spot on.
    Jamie, the meal aspect is another issue.
    Yes, I would say that if someone cannot bring himself to drink wine in communion, he should abstain. But God created the sacrament and didn’t seem bothered with alcoholism.
    Mars Hill is doing what many, if not all, Anglican churches do. As well as Catholic, Lutheran, etc.
    I can’t have communion at home because it belongs to the Church and needs a pastor/priest to perform it. It’s not something that you can take so lightly and do yourself.

  7. Where in the Bible does it say that a pastor/priest must perform communion? And the first breaking of bread and drinking of wine was in a house, with a meal, and not the temple. Communion (which is a modern term in itself) is for believers to remember what Christ did on the cross. It is how we take communion in our hearts that is the real issue. I recommend reading Acts, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Song of Solomon (chapter 2) and Isaiah. We are free in Christ to take communion wherever and when ever we want to commune with God in that specific way.

    To go with the logic that only a pastor/priest can perform communion and only in a “church” would limit a vast majority of Christians in the world from taking communion. People who have home churches, either in America or in other countries, then aren’t allowed to take communion in their home. Many people in other countries have traveling pastors. A pastor’s flock can be spread over hundreds of miles. Are these Christians only to take communion when their pastor is present and no other time?

  8. Reference Jamie’s question, many churches hold to Confessions of Faith which delineate where they stand doctrinally. I know the Presbyterian Church holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith. I haven’t got any other Confessions in front of me, but I would guess they are all similar to the WCF as it relates to the sacraments. I looked up some of the scriptural proofs they base each article on and they seemed a bit weak on why they maintain the Supper of the Lord must be administered by an ordained minister of the Word. That said I believe that those who wrote the WCF were very knowledgeable, wise and godly men. They held to a high church view.
    Westminster Confession of Faith
    Chapter XXVII

    Of the Sacraments

    I. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace,[1] immediately instituted by God,[2] to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him:[3] as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world;[4] and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.[5]

    II. There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.[6]

    III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it:[7] but upon the work of the Spirit,[8] and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.[9]

    IV. There are only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.[10]

    V. The sacraments of the Old Testament in regard to the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new.[11]

    Chapter XXIX

    Of the Lord’s Supper

    I. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death; the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.[1]

    II. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead;[2] but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same:[3] so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.[4]

    III. The Lord Jesus has, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people, to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants;[5] but to none who are not then present in the congregation.[6]

  9. Hi Joel.

    Thank yo so much for your thoughtful blog. I was particularly excited to see your links to Nicholas of Cusa’s works.

    A couple of thoughts about this post. I do like wine at communion. At the monastery I visit every now and again they use port. Nice and strong. But, as a veteran of a 12-step group (not AA), I have a lot of sympathy for those who, upon even a small taste of alcohol, can find themselves off the wagon and in the gutter in no time. It is a very serious issue, and a source of some conflict for several folks I know.

    The best thing I have seen done, and this may be no better in your eyes, is to provide the choice of wine or juice. This is how the issue is solved at the (Methodist) seminary I attend (Candler at Emory).

    Just my $0.02. Thanks again for the great blog. I have placed it on my blogroll and will be visiting regularly.

    Yours,

    Paul Wallace

  10. Thanks for the kind words Paul. I’m not sure what I think about that, so I’ll keep silent about it for now.

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