We have a member in our congregation who has abstained from taking alcohol in any form due to health and other issues. It has been my experience with some other WELS congregations that in cases such as this, grape juice has been offered as an acceptable alternative. Is this, in fact, acceptable to the synod and can we follow the same procedure in this case? Thank you in advance for your response.
Since the institution of the Lord’s Supper took place during the celebration of the Passover meal, we know that wine—mixed with water, as was often the case in those days—was what Jesus and his disciples used. In addition, any grapes that were harvested in the previous fall and pressed into juice would most likely have been going through the fermentation process in the following spring (the time of the year for Passover).
And yet in the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:17), Jesus spoke of the “fruit of the vine.” What does that expression mean and not mean? Allow me to reference an answer to a previous question on this topic:
“The ‘fruit of the vine’ was used in one of the prayers at the Passover. This term was used to refer to the contents of the cup. There’s little doubt that it was often used to refer to wine. But to say that every Jew at the time of Jesus understood this as a reference to wine might be overstating the matter a bit.
“We also note that the wine used in the Passover was usually mixed with water. So the issue is not the amount of alcohol in the contents of the cup. When Scripture uses the term ‘fruit of the vine’ and not ‘wine’ in reference to the contents of the cup in the Lord’s Supper, it is not telling us whether or not this fruit of the vine should contain alcohol. It is saying it should come from grapes.
“We believe that the use of grape wine should be the usual practice because this most closely resembles what Jesus probably used. But in exceptional cases we believe the scriptural term ‘fruit of the vine’ is broad enough to include non-alcoholic wine or grape juice. Therefore in exceptional cases we believe it can be used.”
Finally, there is a brief article that was published in the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly that addresses this subject. You may find it valuable reading.