The Lord’s Supper and Alcohol-Removed Wines

A common area of pastoral concern regarding Holy Communion centers on the responsible communing of those with health issues related to alcohol (e.g. alcohol intolerance; medication reactions; alcoholism). There may also be members of a parish who have an aversion to alcohol due to some past experience in their lives.

First and foremost, every one of these cases is going to require individual pastoral care: discussion, prayer, and study of the scriptures together.

Questions arise from time to time – and in fact I came across one posted to Twitter overnight – concerning what may be used for the elements? For example: “Is it alright to use gluten-free hosts?” Another question (this is the question linked to above): “Is it permissible to use non-alcohol or alcohol-removed wine in the Supper?”

First, it is not in keeping with our Lord’s institution nor faithful to the meaning of the text of Scripture to use pasteurized, unfermented grape juice in the Supper. Amongst discussion of this topic, a common argument is that the phrase “fruit of the vine” used in Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18 would not mean fermented grape juice (wine) but instead unfermented (e.g. Welch’s Grape Juice). This is an erroneous interpretation of the text. The use of grape juice in the Holy Communion is a modern innovation, with exegetical arguments made following the change in practice.

The Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) has written concerning the question of not using wine, and includes discussion of pastoral practice when dealing with certain exceptional circumstances, such as those listed at the beginning of this article :

All four accounts of the Lord’s Supper speak of “the cup.” The content of this cup was most definitely wine. The references in Matt. 26:29 and parallels to the “fruit of the vine” would not have suggested anything else to Jesus’ listeners than the grape wine of the Jewish Passover ritual. In 1 Cor. 11:21 there is corroboration that the early Christian church understood wine for “fruit of the vine.” Some of the Corinthians, sadly, had abused the Holy Supper by becoming drunk.

The color, type, or origin of the grape wine is a matter which Christians can select in accord with their situation.

In the oft-cited pastoral circumstance of an alcoholic communicant, the counsel of foregoing Communion for a period of time or the action of diluting the wine with water (perhaps done at the Lord’s Supper itself) are preferable. In the extreme situation where even greatly diluted wine may lead to severe temptation, no fully satisfactory answer, in the opinion of the CTCR, can be formulated. The counsel of completely foregoing Communion is clearly unsatisfactory. In this situation, too, the actions of diluting the wine with water or intinction would be preferable. The substitution of grape juice raises the question of whether the Lord’s instruction is being heeded. Luther’s openness to Communion in one kind is difficult in view of confessional texts which strongly urge the Biblical paradigm of both kinds, though the Confessions do not address the extreme situation.

A similar pastoral problem is posed by those rare instances where a severe physical reaction is caused by the elements (as, for example, when the recipient is concurrently taking certain medications, or is simply allergic to one or the other of the elements). The pastor, in such cases, will surely stress the Gospel’s power and total effectiveness in the individual’s life and patiently seek a practical solution that both honors Christ’s word and satisfies the desire to partake in the Lord’s Supper.

(Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper, 1983, pp.15-16)

This is a helpful outline of the concerns and solutions, relying on faithfulness to the institution of our Lord while at the same time stressing the importance of individual pastoral care. There is debate concerning whether or not the practice of intinction is faithful (which the CTCR describes as a possible practice), but that’s outside of the scope of this article.

The CTCR does not discuss the use of now commonly-available wines which are advertised as “alcohol-removed.” A type with which I’m familiar is Fre from Sutter Home, although there may be others. The question cited above from Twitter directly relates to the use of this type of wine in the Lord’s Supper.

The question boils down to whether alcohol-removed wine is still truly wine. In the Scriptural use of the word “wine” (οἶνος), as well as in our common everyday usage of the word, wine is the “fruit of the vine,” that is, made from grapes, and is fermented. As the CTCR document discusses, the wine used in Holy Communion should be made from grapes; varietal, color, etc. are a matter of Christian freedom.

Fre wines are grape wines. As they state:

The process of making our alcohol-removed wine isn’t really that different from making regular wine. We source grapes from premier California vineyards known to produce the very best characteristics of each varietal.

After harvest, our winemakers carefully craft each wine using traditional methods. Once the desired flavor, texture and balance is reached, we use state-of-the-art spinning cone technology to remove the alcohol while preserving delicate aromas and flavors.

Likewise, the “fruit of the vine” used in Holy Communion should be fermented; that is, it is faithful to Christ’s institution that there be alcohol present. Fre wines, while being “alcohol-removed”, do retain some small percentage of alcohol.

Although we remove most of the alcohol during our spinning cone process, a small fraction of a percentage of alcohol remains—less than one half of one percent (<0.5 %).

It is my pastoral opinion, humbly offered, that it is acceptable to use Fre wine as an alternative to a “fully-alcoholic” wine in certain, carefully considered pastoral situations.For the sake of the conscience or health of each individual in these situations, I believe that using Fre wine or an equivalent is faithful to the institution of our Lord. I believe it to be more or less equivalent to placing a drop or two of regular wine into a small amount of water in order to be consumed by a communicant. I think either practice would be faithful, and thus guard that Christian’s conscience or health.

I do not think it would be a helpful practice to fully replace the usual sort of communion wine with Fre wine or an equivalent (that is, made from grapes and still retaining even a minuscule amount of alcohol). It would be better to retain commonly used communion wine for the sake of confession against those who insist on grape juice. This would also serve well the consciences of those who desire to be faithful to the institution of our Lord in using wine and who would not have had a pastoral conversation regarding the use of Fre wine or an equivalent.

For an introduction of any type of non-alcohol or alcohol-removed wine in his congregation, the pastor should do his homework and ensure that the wine is made from grapes, has been allowed to ferment (that is, allowed to become alcoholic), and following the process of alcohol removal still retains some measure – no matter how small – of alcohol.

Septua*what*ima?

I’ve recently begun sending a weekly pastoral letter to my congregation. When the contents of the letter are universally helpful, I’ll post them here for the benefit of all. This week, I cover the practice of preparing for Lent with the “Gesima” Sundays (something which was done in many Lutheran congregations through the lifetime of The Lutheran Hymnal, but which was dropped with the lectionary used in Lutheran Worship. It has been restored along with the Historic One-Year Lectionary in Lutheran Service Book. I believe this is one of the stronger arguments for use of the Historic One-Year Lectionary over against the Three-Year.

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Dear beloved in the Lord,

Last Sunday we said goodbye to our alleluias as we came down from the mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, Peter, James, and John. Just after the events of the Transfiguration, Luke records that “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)

Jesus knows that His glory is not revealed fully until He is hanging from the tree. When John writes in the beginning of his Gospel “We beheld his glory,” the event of the crucifixion for the sin of the world is to which he is referring.

We sing of this in the hymn “Alleluia, Song of Gladness” at the end of the Transfiguration Divine Service:

Alleluia cannot always Be our song while here below;
Alleluia, our transgressions Make us for a while forgo;
For the solemn time is coming When our tears for sin must flow.

That solemn time is all of Lent, though most specifically Holy Week (from Palm Sunday through sunset on Holy Saturday), when we hear of the full impact of our sin: the Son of God dies in our place.

The season of Lent is a penitential season in which we spend 40 days pondering the weight of our sin. We gather on Wednesday evenings to hear in Scripture and sermon of our desperate need for God to provide the solution to our sinfulness. Sometimes Christians will fast – that is, give something up – as an expression of their striving against sin. Lent itself is not static: As the season progresses the liturgical custom of the Church is to continue giving things up in the Divine Service. We’ve given up the Alleluia. On Ash Wednesday we give up the Gloria in Excelsis. Finally, from Judica (5th Sunday in Lent) we also stop saying the Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father, etc.) All this is done as an action which expresses our great sorrow over our sin. Is it mandated or required? No. But it is good to teach just how serious our sin is, and these ceremonies help convey this truth clearly to all who are gathered in the Divine Service.

In fact, Lent is taken so seriously by Christ’s Church that we’ve even set aside the three Sunday before Ash Wednesday to begin preparing for the seriousness of Lent. These three Sundays are called Pre-Lent or sometimes the older name of Gesimatide is used.

These Sundays are a way of coming down the mountain. We’ve been through the joyful Time of Christmas, ending with Transfiguration. Now we prepare to face the seriousness of our sin yet again. We don’t do this without hope, though: The conclusion of Lent and Holy Week has traditionally been the great Vigil of Easter, which takes place after sunset on Holy Saturday (the night before Easter morning). While we don’t yet meet for the Vigil here at Good Shepherd, we can keep in mind the main theme of the Vigil: baptized by God into the death and resurrection of Christ, our sin is conclusively dealt with, having been washed away from us as far as the east is from the west.

The Gospel readings for the three Sundays of Pre-Lent preview this truth that God Himself is for us, is with us, and is helping us. The three Sundays respectively reflect the wonderful Gospel truth that we are: saved by Grace Alone; converted by Scripture Alone; received by Faith Alone.

You’ll notice these three themes highlighted on the bulletin covers for the next three Sundays. Listen carefully to the readings, and especially the Gospel reading, to discover these truths. I’ll do my best – by the grace of God – to clearly bring these out in the preaching as well.

If you want to know more about Pre-Lent, look for an insert in this week’s bulletin. We’ll leave some extras on the center counter in the narthex if you’re unable to be in the Divine Service this Sunday.

In the Peace of Christ,
Pastor Schuermann

Religious Liberty on the Docket – Pray for Protection of Conscience

I penned this letter to my congregation this morning, regarding today’s arguments before the Supreme Court in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. May it be helpful to you, too.


Today Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby is argued before the Supreme Court.

You’re going to hear a lot about this case on the news, on social media, in the newspaper, on the radio; basically everywhere. It’s a very big deal. Some will falsely portray it as all about religion trying to impose a ban on contraception in the public square. Some will paint a politicized picture of a boss with one set of beliefs forcing certain health-care choices on his employees. Neither is correct.

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod – which signed an amicus brief in this case – holds to the Scriptures’ teaching that life is a gift of God, that God alone is the one who has the ultimate say over life and death (Deuteronomy 32:39), and that the willful, unauthorized-by-God taking of life is sinful (Exodus 20:13). The Green family (who privately own and run Hobby Lobby), being themselves Christians, hold to the same scriptural teaching.

They (and we) are opposed to the HHS Contraception Mandate of the Affordable Care Act because four of the twenty mandated contraceptive drugs act to prevent implantation of an embryo in the womb of the mother, thus causing an abortion. The Greens cannot justify paying for these drugs through their company’s health plans because they run Hobby Lobby as a Christian business. The LCMS has a vested interested in this case – as do I, your pastor, and as do you all – because the conscience of any particular Christian (or any religious person) should not be burdened with having to pay for drugs that end human life.

These abortifacient drugs will regrettably continue to be available for no cost to a large swath of the country under this HHS Mandate. We as Christians mourn this fact, and on other fronts should continue to work to stop the casual ending of human life that has become the norm in this country. However, this case isn’t about that. This case is solely about whether the government can impose a regulation on its citizens, even against their religiously-informed consciences.

Please be praying for all involved today, but especially that the Justices of the Supreme Court would ultimately decide to uphold the protections of conscience and religious liberty which are intrinsic to the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.

In the love of Christ,
Pastor Schuermann


President Matthew Harrison, of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, yesterday wrote an op-ed for the LCMS Reporter to encourage us all to not give up the spiritual warfare necessary in this matter. I encourage you all to read it for yourself:

Tired of Hobby Lobby?

For further information on various religious liberty matters that concern us, be sure to check out the Free To Be Faithful section of the LCMS website. There are plenty of excellent and helpful resources there.

Regarding Illinois Senate Bill 10

The following is a letter I wrote to my congregation today, regarding the “historic” passage of Illinois Senate Bill 10 on November 6, 2013.

Dear Beloved in Christ,

I write to you with sadness. According to His good and gracious will, our Lord has seen fit to allow the passage of Senate Bill 10 by the House and Senate of Illinois. Assuming that this bill is signed by Governor Quinn (and he has indicated he will sign it into law sometime this month), effective June 1, 2014 so-called “gay marriage” will be legal in the state of Illinois.

First of all, I want you to know that this is not the end of the world. While our culture and society are undergoing drastic upheaval, the only one who can end all things is the Lord. He has promised good for those who love Him – and for those He loves – and so we can rest assured that even now He has the very hairs of our heads numbered.

Second, I want you to know that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) So too God’s Word: “the word of the Lord remains forever,” as St. Peter quotes from Isaiah (1 Peter 1:25). No matter how much changes, no matter how much the devil rages and wreaks havoc in this world, the life-giving Word that delivers Jesus and His gifts to you will not be silenced; God will not cease to speak to you, and feed you with, His forgiveness.

Those are the things we can be certain about, and I find it very comforting to know this. But there are many unknowns still to come. While the bill intends to provide some sort of protection for religious institutions and organizations, it seems to be very weak in protecting the consciences of individuals whose practice of their religious beliefs may include not condoning or celebrating, or not providing services for, so-called “gay marriages.” In other states that have so-called “gay marriage” – and even in Illinois with its civil unions law – lawsuits have been brought, and fault found by the legal system, against citizens who choose not to provide services for so-called “gay marriages” or events related to them. For example, photographers or bakers have been drastically affected.

We also don’t know – and frankly, cannot know – how the normalization of so-called “gay marriage” will affect the view of the general public towards organizations, religious or otherwise, who speak a message, or teach, against so-called “gay marriage.” While we cannot know the future and what the Lord has in store for us, we must be aware that persecution may well come.

Yet we must also be aware that we are first and foremost called to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. I hope that you’ll join me at Good Shepherd every week to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners. I hope you’ll join me in Scripture Study so that we can delve into the blessed Word of God. Why? So that we can be assured of God’s pleasure with us for the sake of Christ. And so we can be ready to give that answer, ready to minister to those who are being misled and who very well might one day be faced with their sin and seek hope and help from us. We have been entrusted with the words of eternal life from our savior Jesus. Please come and hear them, so that, filled with the Holy Spirit through them, you will be ready to speak them to your neighbors and friends and family.

I have a few resources to suggest to you; I’ve listed them at the bottom of the letter. There are some episodes of Issues, Etc. (a Lutheran talk radio show) that deal with God’s Word about, and the Church’s care for, homosexuals. There are also some articles you can read. I’m also going to order copies of the October Lutheran Witness, which deals with sexuality issues in the culture and the Church’s response. Finally, I will order several more packs of the CPH tract “Same-Sex Marriage” for your use.

This is a big deal. And yet we must be diligent to not let this issue overshadow Jesus and His message of forgiveness. Homosexuality is a sin, but it is not the only one. Every one of us is just as guilty of our own personal sins, and just as much in need of Christ’s forgiveness. So as we speak about this, let us be gentle and full of love while being firm and unmoving from the truth of God’s Word. We want the whole world to know the truth of Jesus, because the truth will set the whole world free.

In the blessed name of Jesus,
Pastor Michael Schuermann

Audio
The Church’s Message to Those Struggling with Same-Sex Temptation” with Pastor Kevin Karner
Jesus on Homosexuality” with Pastor Tom Eckstein
Speaking the Truth in Love to Those Burdened by Homosexuality” with Pastor Tom Eckstein

Reading
Homosexuality and the Bible” by Pastor Tom Eckstein
Homosexuality in the Home” by Pastor Ryan Ogrodowicz
Bearing Their Burden” by Pastor Tom Eckstein
LCMS Marriage Toolkit” (Scroll down a select the “Marriage Toolkit” tab)

Mother’s Day – A Pastoral Plea

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. For the barren woman, attending church on this particular Sunday is often an exercise in frustration, woe, even great shame brought on by the absence of longed-for children. Far too often, we pastors help amplify these feelings in her.

This is a pastoral plea. Brothers, I beg you, remember every Sunday your entire flock. But especially this Sunday, remember all the faithful women who Christ has entrusted to your care.

Remember that a part of your flock have received from the Lord the blessed vocation of motherhood, whether their children are biological or adopted. In the prayers of the church rejoice with them, give thanks to God for them, and ask God to help them raise up these gifts from Him faithfully.

But remember too that many in your flock – whom you may or may not be aware of – have not received the gift of children from God. And they may be longing for that gift. Please be sensitive to them. Recall that the natural inclination of sinful man towards a theology of glory has resulted in them receiving countless “helpful” comments and encouragements that are nothing but empty promises and legalistic claptrap. Pray for these women, too, that they would receive what they long for: the gift of a child, biological or adopted. But also do not fail to pray on their behalf that God would give them the faith and trust to contentedly rejoice in what He ultimately does give to them. It may not be a child. In other words, help them to pray “Nevertheless, Lord, Thy will be done.”

And also remember the sheep of Christ’s flock who are past the time of having any expectation of receiving the gift of a child. Please don’t leave them out. Pray for them, too, that they would recognize in their lives all the good gifts the Lord has given to them.

Please don’t parade them in front of the congregation in order to offer up prayers on their behalf. Please don’t draw unneeded attention to them by giving flowers or some other admittedly well-intentioned gift only to those in the congregation who have children. Allow the barren to sit and grieve, to receive from their Lord, and to pray along with you. That’s your God-given task in the Divine Service, anyway: to lead them in prayer and to care for them with Christ’s true, comforting word and sacrament.

In fact, my encouragement would be, if at all possible, to limit your Mother’s Day references in the service to the prayers. Keep your whole flock focused on Jesus and His forgiveness present there for them today. But in the prayers do indeed pray, praise, and give thanks for the mothers, and mothers-to-be, and all those who desire motherhood but have not or will not receive that gift from God.

I think these words, included in this year’s Let Us Pray for Easter 7 from the LC-MS, fit the bill nicely:

Father of glory, Your Son, our Lord Jesus, in His incarnation, took on our created human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. He submitted to His mother, honoring and obeying her, so fulfilling the commandment where we have not. On this Mothers’ Day, graciously accept our thanksgiving for our mothers, whom you have given to us. Teach us to honor them aright — loving, obeying and giving thanks for them, as is fitting in Your sight. Strengthen all women with child and protect them in their deliverance. Comfort all women who long to have children, but cannot, that they may find their consolation in You and Your unfailing love. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

This is cross-posted on He Remembers the Barren