For several months, our church’s Worship Committee and Session (board of elders) have been discussing the addition of wine to our ordinary celebration of the Lord’s Table. This is in no way an expression of unhappiness with three decades of worship at Covenant. After all, worship isn’t something that should change much in the life of any church. Our elders love the worship of our church. We believe Sunday morning reverence and winsomeness is an enormous strength of Covenant, and (thankfully!) we certainly don’t have strong disagreements about our worship. To be honest, our own confessional statements tell us that no earthly church worships perfectly anyway: “the purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.” [Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) 25.5]
The Worship Committee is one of the elder-led committees of Covenant (like Personnel, Finance, Shepherding). The committee is chaired by me and normally meets on a monthly basis. Even though worship isn’t something that should change much in the life of the church, there is actually a surprising amount to talk about on this committee.
During Covid, we adjusted our Sunday morning worship service to translate better to home worship, which is what many Covenant families experienced personally. We also drafted a plan to distribute communion in a safer manner. Lately, we have discussed how to get back to our pre-Covid worship service with the addition of more refined livestreaming. Other topics include individual elements of worship (like confessions, Prayers of the Church), future publishing projects like a CPC hymnbook, elder leadership participation, how to celebrate Advent and Easter, the experience of Little Theologians, and other items. The committee also responds to comments from the church body regarding worship at CPC. There are other items, but to be honest, the committee spends a lot of time socializing and fellowshipping together.
For large decisions, the committee will make a recommendation to the elders at a regular session meeting. A few months ago the Worship Committee sent a unanimous recommendation to the elders, asking that we make both juice and wine available when we celebrate the Lord’s Table. We will do this for the first time on Sunday, November 7.
We are compelled that Scripture does not command the exclusive use of wine. Our practice of using juice has not conflicted with the Bible and doesn’t conflict with church practice through the centuries. However, we are also compelled that Scripture does not exclude the use of wine, and in many ways, Scripture makes most sense, and the Lord’s Table makes most sense, when wine is used. Documented in the history of the church since A.D. 90, congregations ordinarily used wine (or wine mixed with water). This is true even though in the history of the church, congregations were free to use other kinds of liquid in place of wine.
We have spent time investigating this and wholeheartedly believe that adding wine to our celebration of the Lord’s Table at Covenant most faithfully honors God’s Word. We believe Scripture teaches that wine is the most appropriate element for the Lord’s Table, an interpretation of Scripture evident over the course of church history. This is true even though juice is an appropriate accommodation. For some, the addition of wine will be a familiar practice. For others, it will take some time to get used to this. We are not moving in a direction in which wine will be the only element offered for communion. Our normal practice at Covenant will be to always offer juice and offer wine in distinct, clearly marked cups.
The historical confessions of our denomination do not proscribe or command particular elements for the Lord’s Table. Even when wine is explicitly mentioned (like WCF 29.6 and the Book of Church Order, 58.5), this is not interpreted as an explicit command. For this reason, there are a variety of practices in the PCA.
There are a number of places in the Bible where wine is mentioned: at least 150 times in the Old Testament and 72 times in the New Testament. There is also a rich history of the church from which to learn. Through articles like this one, we will share some of our rationale along with shepherding wisdom for your continued nourishment at the Lord’s Supper here at Covenant. We want to encourage you to watch for upcoming articles to be published on the church website. Our staff will make sure to tie these articles together so that, if you miss one, there will be a single page containing links to this article and others.
~ John Jones