The Sacrament and the Use of Wine
The Most Consequential Reason behind Doctrinal Errors Gaining Acceptance in the LDS Church
A careful student of Mormonism’s scriptures will, at some point, inevitably notice a puzzling fact. The most high-profile teachings of Mormonism, those that most distinguish the LDS Church from other Christian religions, are at odds with the teachings of the Book of Mormon and Bible. Counterintuitively, the student finds that the book for which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is most famous–the Book of Mormon, Mormonism’s namesake–has been repeatedly contradicted, upstaged and supplanted by the teachings in two books the Church has canonized–the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price— and by the ideas that resulted from Joseph Smith’s many claimed revelations and heavenly visitations. Biblical teachings have suffered the same fate. This observation is the subject of a book currently being written by M.S. Brothers entitled Restoration II: Defending the Bible and Book of Mormon against LDS Theology. Orthodox Mormons accept the doctrines and practices promulgated by Joseph Smith, even if the conflict between those teachings on the one hand and the faith’s first two canonical books on the other hand, is obvious upon a comparative reading.
For example, the doctrine and gospel taught by Christ in the Bible and Book of Mormon is dramatically different than the LDS theology of exaltation and godhood through rituals performed in Mormon temples. This discrepancy is the subject of an essay on his website entitled “Jesus’s Doctrine and Gospel versus Mormonism’s Teachings of Temple Priesthood Ordinances and Exaltation.”
Another clear example is the unequivocal condemnation of baptizing little children found in Moroni Chapter 8 in the Book of Mormon. But such straightforward message from the prophet Mormon did not stop Joseph Smith from claiming a revelation from the Lord in which church members were commanded to baptize their children at the age of eight. As a result, the Mormon Church now practices the baptism of eight-year-olds. This discrepancy between straightforward Book of Mormon teachings (which are also strongly implied in the Bible) and current LDS philosophy and practice is addressed in this website’s essay “The Baptism of Eight-year-old Children.”
A third example, though not as important as the ones outlined above or discussed elsewhere on this website, is one that is immediately noticed by non-Mormons who visit LDS sacrament meetings for the first time. They are invariably surprised to observe the use of water in place of wine in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. The Bible suggests “the fruit of the vine” should be used; the Book of Mormon unequivocally requires the use of wine. But Joseph Smith, after initially accepting the Book of Mormon’s requirement of wine, later claimed the Lord had revealed to him that it didn’t matter which drink was used in the sacrament. Accordingly, Mormons some 70 years later adopted the use of water in place of wine. This subject is addressed in this website’s essay “The Use of Wine in the Sacrament.”
Many, many other examples could be cited, and most of them will soon become the subject of essays here if they have not been written about already. But the question of why Mormons are so willing to accept and adopt Joseph Smith’s revisions and replacements of doctrines taught in the Book of Mormon, even if those doctrines are taught by Jesus himself to be immutable, remains. In this writer’s opinion, it boils down to this: Though Mormons purport to accept that Joseph Smith was human and fallible, they absolutely cannot accept that he could be fallible enough to declare his ideas to be revelations from the Lord when they really weren’t. Other men and women in the church might be guilty of this, and Joseph might have comparatively minor flaws, but, the reasoning goes, Joseph simply couldn’t have THAT flaw. Mormons are sure that if Joseph Smith were capable of having an idea that originated with him, but which he claimed had been revealed to him as the word of God, spoken in the first person,he wouldn’t be a good enough man for the Lord to have chosen to bring forth the Book of Mormon as a choice seer.
Similarly, and even more steadfastly, Mormons cannot accept the suggestion that Joseph Smith, as opposed to other church leaders and upstanding members, and religious leaders from all other churches, could ever have been capable of claiming a heavenly manifestation or visitation he didn’t actually have. This would disqualify him as being too sinful for the Lord to use him for the purposes Mormons believe he was used for.
As a result, when a conflict occurs between the teachings contained in Joseph Smith’s claimed revelations and visitations and the clear theology of the Bible or Book of Mormon, the overwhelming majority of active LDS church members adhere to what Joseph taught, and try to ignore Book of Mormon and Bible theology to the contrary.
The Mormon Use of Water instead of Wine in the Sacrament
(Note to reader: The text below was the latter part of a letter sent to seven LDS apostles in late 2014. No response was ever received.)
Related to the subject matter above [concerning the baptism of eight-year-old children], though admittedly not as important, is the practice of using water for the sacrament instead of using wine as ordained by Jesus. More should be said on this issue than to merely point out that Jesus, when he ate the last supper with his twelve apostles, used wine to symbolize his blood, saying, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Matt. 26:27-28. For, after his resurrection, when he instituted the sacrament among the Nephites, he actually commanded his people on how the sacrament should always be administered thereafter, stating that they should use wine in remembrance of his blood. The two words I’ve placed in italics in the previous sentence aren’t mine; they were actually used by Jesus. See III Nephi 18: 8-14. As you know, the sacramental prayer which he ordained for use in this holy ordinance contained the word “wine”, not the word “water”. See Moroni 5: 2. Jesus never did suggest to the Nephites that water was permissible as a substitute for wine for use in the sacrament, nor did he make any aspect of the sacrament optional, or modifiable to the preferences of later congregations or church leaders. We read in Moroni 4:1 these unequivocable words: “The manner of their elders and priests administering the flesh and blood of Christ unto the church; and they administered it according to the commandments of Christ; wherefore we know the manner to be true . . .”
In 1830 the church adopted in every respect the Book of Mormon teaching and practice regarding the use of wine for the sacrament, Joseph Smith representing that this had been received from Jesus Christ. See D&C 20:78-79.
Somehow, though, Joseph Smith later felt free to produce a purported revelation from this same Jesus Christ contradicting his previous straightforward commandment on how to always administer the sacrament. In Doctrine and Covenants 27:2, we are told that “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament . . .” The context of this modification, according to the caption preceding the text of Section 27, is that Joseph had gone to procure wine for a religious service, but returned without it, claiming that an angel had met him along the way and told him his errand was unnecessary, and neither bread nor wine were vital to the ordinance.
One doesn’t have to be particularly cynical to entertain the thought that Joseph Smith’s explanation for why he returned from his errand empty-handed sounds a little self-serving. But one needn’t reach that issue, since Christ had left no room in the first place to materially alter the symbols used in the sacrament. He deliberately instituted wine because its blood-like color reminds us of the blood he shed for us. It also helps us recall that he drank wine as he explained the imminent shedding of his blood to his apostles during the last supper. D&C 27 therefore cannot be authentically from God, unless we believe the teachings of the Book of Mormon were not necessarily for us in the latter days after all, and that though those teachings were originally declared irrevocable by Jesus himself, they were always revocable if Joseph Smith claimed he’d been instructed otherwise. D&C 27 thus becomes much like D&C 132 and 68 in that it directly contradicts and reverses the teachings of the Book of Mormon. This is the same Book of Mormon described by Joseph Smith in its Introduction as “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion,” and by Joseph again in D&C 20:9 as containing “the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also.”
(D&C 27 is historically and doctrinally problematic for several other reasons which I’ll not discuss in full here. These problems are thoroughly covered in H. Michael Marquardt’s 1999 book The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary, pages 72-80. Among these issues is the fact that none of the thirteen verses of spectacular text after the word “earth” in verse 5 of this 1830 revelation was included in Edward Partridge’s handwritten manuscript version, or in the first three published versions from 1831 through 1833. The added text only appears for the first time in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, and speaks of heavenly manifestations as if they had already occurred before August and September of 1830. Verse 12 of the 1835 version is the first time Joseph Smith claims he had been visited by Peter, James and John, though the event is inferred by the church to have occurred sometime in May or June of 1829. Also, the text in verse 11 identifying Adam as Michael wasn’t first taught by Joseph Smith until late 1833, so this appears to be another anachronism. And though the Bible makes clear Elijah and Elias are the same person, Joseph in verses 6-9 not only represents them to be two individuals who both visited him, but also claims the angel Gabriel to be Elias. Neither Partridge’s handwritten manuscript, which is held in the LDS Church archives, nor the 1831 text published in the Painesville, Ohio newspaper The Telegraph, nor the church’s March 1833 Evening and the Morning Star 2 and 1833 Book of Commandments Section 28 versions contained any of this material.)
Using wine in the sacrament would in no wise threaten the sobriety of our otherwise teetotaling LDS Church members, nor inhibit our ability to discourage substance abuse. Until 1911, Mormon congregations used wine for the sacrament, with no alleged deleterious effects on members. And, since the dangers of alcoholism are graphically portrayed in the Bible and Book of Mormon, and both books repeatedly highlight specifically the dangers of drinking too much wine, restoring sacramental wine wouldn’t alter the church’s Word of Wisdom emphasis. Instead, it would add meaning to the emblems we partake of in our sacrament meetings.
Perhaps it is felt that it would be unwise to allow children and teenagers to develop a taste for wine early in life by allowing them to partake of sacramental wine. This concern for children, which would be expected of any conscientious parent, makes sense. But it is irrelevant here, because in the church of Christ, children aren’t supposed to be taking the sacrament in the first place. After instructing the Nephites in the manner of administering the sacrament, Jesus told them, “And this shall ye always do to those who who repent and are baptized in my name,” (see III Nephi 18:11) which automatically excluded children, as we have seen above. Children don’t understand the gravity of the ordinance. The result of our current practice is that at a very early age, long before they’ve made any covenant with God, much less understood the gravity of those covenants, the sacrament is trivialized in the minds of LDS children.
The reasons such a large number of our membership become inactive early in life, and stay that way, can be best understood if we imagine the answer we’d get if we asked an inactive Mormon this question: “Brother Jones, how could you have fallen away from the church, after having made such solemn covenants with God when you were baptized, and having renewed those sacred commitments almost every week for the next four or five years when you took the sacrament?” Brother Jones would surely respond something like this: “Well, I didn’t really think about it back then. I was too young to understand how serious it was to do those things. My parents had me baptized when I was eight, and I was probably about two when they started giving me the sacrament.”
May God help us all to discern his truths.