It is painful and bewildering when I see good people led astray by “new” or “rediscovered” doctrine (and by this they really mean “more appealing; more dramatic; meatier” than the perceived boring sameness of current Church practice or doctrine). Often these practices arise from factions within Christ’s own church and seem animated more by personal aggrandizement than any real sense of spiritual renewal. I feel I should have a category menu called “Don’t Fall for Crap” where we can talk about this stuff. Because if it’s happening in my little berg, then it’s probably happening in yours. And you know how I cringe at the doctrinal bully….. see Doctrinal Bullying: Don’t be a Victim.
One of the newest crazes that Brother Holierthanthou wants you to join him in is the secret sacrament at his house (or your house; or better yet, in the woods-how deliciously primitive!) where the Select are to use wine instead our world famous LDS church building tap water. I was incredulous when I heard that this was a THING. No really, it’s a THING. Not a smart thing, you understand, or a logical thing or even a scriptural thing – but a thing nonetheless.
I get it. LDS church services are often dull on the surface…. IF you just came down from hours of playing Skyrim AND now want a latte and rock band with your spiritual nourishment then the LDS Mormon church may put you to sleep. Heck, we NEVER even have loud and enthusiastic sermons on hellfire and brimstone, and I mean NEVER!
No, in our Church, every service presents talks by ordinary members, not skilled orators who study charismatic sermons on YouTube. Our talks are on quiet and non-loud topics such as “loving thy neighbor” and “being a good citizen,” by generally quiet and non-loud members, like me. On top of that, you are expected to sit calmly (or as we say in the Church, reverently) and sing from traditional hymnals (sometimes a cappella no less!), and ponder and discuss the Gospel.
Nor are our churches considered examples of architectural marvels. They are not adorned with ethereal visions in stained glass or dramatic domes embellished with divine murals. Our meeting buildings are not our temples. NO ONE ever says “on our vacation lets make sure to visit the West Jordan 131st Ward building.” Yeah….no one says that. The Church, in its Puritan-like ethic, has but a handful of cookie-cutter building plans. It’s more efficient and money–saving that way. If you visit other wards (church buildings) then you know what I’m talking about. I was recently at church a thousand miles from home and I knew exactly where the bathroom was because the church had the same floorplan as our stake center back home.
.. But I digress.
I have been to many, many non-LDS church services where they used wine for the sacrament that is drunk, nay sipped, nay, wetted the lips, from beautiful and shiny chalices by ornately clad clergy. As an experience, it is perhaps more dramatic and memorable than simply taking a small shot of tap water from a tiny plastic cup transported in industrial-grade steel trays passed by disheveled twelve–year–olds. However, it is only memorable, if at all, for the first or second time. But even the wine from the chalice experience still fades into obscurity after the hundredth time – just like the LDS water-and-stale-bread experience.
And why is that? Because, whether you are Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, or something else entirely, they all agree on this, the Sacrament/Eucharist is not about the fine chalice or the vintage of the chardonnay (or of the tap water for that matter). It mattereth not if you are sitting on a metal folding chair, a comfortable padded pew or kneeling at the alter. The Sacrament, when properly performed, is a ten-fifteen minute swath of your week when you recommit to Christ. A brief time to re-examine your faithfulness to your covenants with God. It is the perfect opportunity to find that sweet spot of spiritual connection in an otherwise all too harried and of-the-world existence. And the bread and water are actually mere symbols. They are stand-ins; imperfect representations of a perfect being. We can no more recreate the Christ than we can recreate the Creation.
And we, as Mormons, do not believe in the idea of transubstantiation (most Protestant denominations don’t). Remember, the LDS church takes much of its teachings from the early Church, (6th Article of Faith) before the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Trent (we could almost be called the Church of Peter). So transubstantiation is just not one of of our doctrines. But even if it were, think about that doctrine for just a few seconds and what it is saying: that God changes the bread to flesh and wine to blood when it is blessed as part of that Sacrament. Now, if God can change bread to flesh and wine to blood, doesn’t it stand to reason that He could change, say, crackers to flesh and water to wine? And that being the case, doesn’t it really mean that it doesn’t matter what you use for the Sacrament? I mean, if you believe God works miracles then why does He have to start with a certain type of liquid to affect this miracle? Couldn’t we just as logically use Chips Ahoy and Hi-C?
As it happens, that is precisely Church doctrine (OK, there is no mention of Hi-C). The LDS Church officially holds that it doesn’t matter WHAT you use for the sacrament because, to us, it is symbolic. According to Joseph Smith’s revelation: For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins Doctrine and Covenants section 27:2. But since that time water has become the “official” sacrament drink of the Church. It is, I suppose, used universally in the LDS Church at all sacrament meetings. But I suspect that is more convenience that anything else. Consider that in our modern and more-sensitive era, wards that have members with food allergies often choose to use items other than bread for the Sacrament – bland Rice Chex for example. And this doesn’t cause any problem at all. It doesn’t matter if the bread is hamburger bun or whole–wheat–sliced–open-topped-sandwich–bread because you are supposed to be partaking of the sacrament “with an eye single to my glory,” remember?
So, why would the use of water instead of wine matter? Simply put, what is in the cup doesn’t matter. For example, if you are in the high reaches of the Uintahs with your Scout troop and don’t have any clean water or bread handy, you can dig out an old bottle of flat Sprite from your trunk and the stale Cheezits from under the kids’ car seat and bless and pass the sacrament. It only matters that you do so reverently and “with an eye single to [God’s] glory.”
If, on the other hand, you are choosing your sacrament emblems to shock the blue-haired ladies in the pews or to make a statement about the patrimony, you’re not doing it right. And whatever choice you make, it is NOT about trying to make your Sacrament experience more fulfilling – whether by adding wine or anything else. We might as well add a wedge of brie and a French baguette. Mais Oui!
So, if you are invited to one of these Secret sacraments by Bro. Holierthanthou, you can politely refuse, knowing that you actually know more about the scriptures than he does! But, as always, be kind and sincere, and keep him in your most earnest of prayers as this desire to come up with reasons to use wine is likely a sign of serious and deeper struggles. Remember, the Gospel, as dull as it may sometimes feel, is all about Christ-like love, a quiet love, a peaceful love, and so it is important that when Brother Holierthanthou snaps out of his struggle, that you and others are there for him, without pretense…as if nothing ever happened.
Finally, this brings up an interesting question: should you partake of sacrament when visiting another church? If you are invited to visit, then by all means partake in their sacrament or Eucharist in whatever form it takes. Go ahead. It’s okay. You now know that it doesn’t matter that they use wine or grape juice. After all, you are getting nothing more than the wetting of the lips to remind you of something much better than anything they can ever put in that little cup.