by Peter Ditzel
But What About the Alcoholic in the Church?
When this topic is discussed, the question will always be asked, What about the alcoholic in the church? Should we not use grape juice for his sake?
Certainly, we should be concerned about every member of the church. Nonetheless, this difficulty is based on an entirely unbiblical view of the condition of the person in question.
The Bible knows nothing of alcoholism. It never says how to treat alcoholics and never even uses the word. Why? Because alcoholism is a relatively modern invention (the word was coined in 1860) that is in complete contrast with the biblical view of drunkenness.
As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Benjamin Rush came up with the ideas of addiction and of abstinence as the proper treatment. He considered excessive drinking to be a disease. Today, although there is still debate, alcoholism is generally seen as an addiction and often as a disease. The causes that are suggested for the disease are a chemical or nutritional imbalance, a neurological problem, a genetic predisposition, or a combination of one or more of these. Various and sundry treatments have been devised for this disease. Almost all of them involve complete abstinence. By calling excessive drinking an addiction and a disease, modern medicine has placed it beyond our moral control.
Almost as if the world were trying to make a reductio ad absurdum argument (disproof of a proposition by showing an absurdity to which it leads when carried to its logical conclusion), we now hear of food addiction, sexual addiction, violence addiction, speed addiction, video game addiction, text messaging addiction, and so on. These are promoted as being beyond the person’s moral control. (Interestingly, it is the therapists who “treat” these “addictions” who lobby their professional associations and the insurance companies to get them to recognize them as official “addictions” and pay for their treatment!)
In contrast, the Bible speaks of sin and teaches that its roots are in our depraved, evil hearts. Instead of the disease of alcoholism, the Bible talks about drunkenness and condemns it as sin. It is not beyond our control, especially when we call upon the power of the Lord to help us (Philippians 4:13). And, of course, we should help each other. The church should be supportive of those who are weak, but not at the cost of changing the elements of the Lord’s Supper.
Romans 14 is often given as grounds for using grape juice for the Lord’s Supper. In this chapter, Paul instructs us how not to judge and offend a weak brother. In verse 20, he says, “All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.” Are we to then say that the symbol Christ instituted for the Lord’s Supper is evil because someone is offended by it? God forbid! The problem with using Romans 14 in this case is that Paul is not addressing the specific issue of the ordinances.
Since I have already in this article introduced the idea of reductio ad absurdum, let us try it here. Suppose a professing believer had a phobia to being dunked under water? Should the church change the ordinance of baptism for him, even for just one instance? Suppose there is a brother who will not drink not only wine, but also grape juice? He says it looks too much like wine and might send him on a binge. Now what? Do we substitute cherry Kool-Aid? But that, too, looks like wine. Are we to consider using water instead? Where do we draw the line? As this entire article has shown, we draw the line right at the beginning and dare not change the symbols Jesus gave us.
We worry about offending the so-called “alcoholic,” but why do some churches not care about offending those who want to do as Jesus told us? We have our priorities topsy-turvy if we think that changing the elements of the Lord’s Supper is the way to help a weak brother. Doing so does nothing to strengthen the brother while it introduces unbiblical innovation in worship. I sometimes wonder what would happen in these churches if a member came to understand the proper elements of the Lord’s Supper and insisted that those elements alone be used. Would he be put out of the church? How could the church justify doing so if they justify using grape juice on the grounds of not offending one or two so-called “alcoholics”? How do such churches choose whom to give in to? Would they put Jesus out if He insisted on the proper elements? Have they done so already?
When asked what to do when someone could not take the wine in the Lord’s Supper, Martin Luther replied that the person should not take communion at all “in order that no innovation may be made or introduced.” I agree because the Bible agrees. Someone who cannot partake of the wine in the Lord’s Supper lacks faith. Changing the element does him no favor; it only keeps him in his weakness. Paul gives us instructions in 1 Corinthians 11: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (verses 27-30).
If someone is so lacking in faith that he cannot take a tiny amount of wine that symbolizes the blood of His Savior who died to give him the precious gifts of forgiveness and eternal life, that person ought not take the Lord’s Supper at all. Instead of changing what the Lord instituted, we ought to pray for and with the weak brother, hold him accountable for his actions, and, as long as he allows the church’s help and stays out of gross sin, the members should encourage and help him as a brother. But if he continues to fall into drunkenness, he needs church discipline. Also, if someone who is known to have had a problem with drunkenness takes the Lord’s Supper, someone should stay with him the rest of the day to make sure he does not fall into sin.
We are indeed in great danger when we think that we know better than our Lord Jesus Christ, who knew men and their weaknesses better than any of us, and who instituted the Lord’s Supper with wine. To do so makes us the epitome of legalistic pharisaism, and sets us up as judging God Himself! Are we more moral than He? Whether it has been through ignorance or not, it is time to repent of such arrogance and return to the elements of the Lord’s Supper as they were given to us by the Lord.
Copyright © 2006-2009 Peter Ditzel