New wine, new wineskins
Do this in remembrance of me." Jesus' command to his disciples as they ate their last meal together has undergirded Christian worship and theology for more than two millennia. At the original Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples would have partaken of wine from a common cup and unleavened bread. How did portions of Protestantism arrive at the modern practice of receiving grape juice in individual cups and leavened bread?
The early Western church maintained the custom of wine and unleavened bread. The Eastern church soon began to use leavened bread, seeing the leaven as a symbol of new life in Christ. In the West, the unleavened bread became thinner and more stylized until it assumed the form of a thin wafer. By the high Middle Ages, amid growing concerns about reverence toward the bread and wine as Christ's actual body and blood, the church ceased to offer laity the cup. The Protestant Reformation urged more frequent reception of Communion by the laity "in both kinds" (bread and wine), as well as emphasizing "real" bread. From the 16th until the 19th century, the majority of Protestants communed using wine from a common cup and leavened bread.
Leaders of the 18th-century "evangelical revival" in Britain and America, though concerned about the immoderate use of alcohol, did not see wine, cider, and beer as alcoholic in the same way as distilled spirits (such as gin and brandy). However, in the 19th century, temperance became "teetotalism" or "total abstinence," moving all alcohol (wine included) into the list of forbidden beverages. Many began to question why a beverage considered dangerous to drink was still used on the Communion table.
Believing both in the authority of Scripture and the scientific proof of alcohol's poisonous ...