By Ed Mellott
In Scripture we learn that Jesus, on the night that He was betrayed, instituted what we know as the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:7-23; 1 Cor 11:23-26). He took bread and wine, and gave it to His disciples to eat and drink in remembrance of Him. It was fitting that he chose this time to give them this sign of grace, for He would soon be taken from them. Though He would return to them after His resurrection, that would be temporary. By this sign, His people would be reminded of Jesus’ work for them. Though He is not with us in a way that we can see with our eyes, we know that He sustains us, and that is what is signified in this sacrament, or ordinance, if you will.
Over the ages, different aspects of this ordinance have been the subjects of controversy. Should the cup be administered to the laity, that is, members of the congregation? Should the liquid be wine or juice? Should the time of its administration be in the morning or the evening? These are only some of the questions which have been asked and answered through the years.
One unusual wrinkle in the administration of this rite has been introduced in the teachings of Mormonism. One who has never before visited a Mormon sacrament meeting will be struck by the fact that they serve, as its elements, bread and water! It has been observed by more than one individual that there is not one Christian doctrine which has not been in some way changed in Mormonism. The significance of the deviation in this sacrament is much more extensive than one of preference. It strikes at the foundation or meaning of the sacrament itself.
Water was not always used in the LDS version of the sacrament. From the beginning, wine was used, after the longstanding Christian tradition. This is seen in the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants regarding the organization of the Church as well as the Word of Wisdom (D&C 20:75; 89:5,6). The use of wine was called into question by Sidney Rigdon, a staunch temperance advocate, who joined the Church in August of 1830. Accordingly, Joseph Smith received a vision of the Lord in the same month in which an angel of the Lord told him that he was not to purchase wine or strong drink of his enemies, and that wine was not necessary to proper observance of the sacrament (D&C 27:1-4). The first time water was used in the sacrament was in 1837, though the issue would vacillate back and forth until 1900. After the turn of the century, water became the permanent element in the LDS observance.
What is so important about the use of wine, juice, or water in the sacrament? For centuries, there has been a difference of opinion whether wine or juice should be used, which controversy continues even today. Why is the use of water such a problem? Isn’t the substance used a symbol of something else even more important?
Indeed, the variance of the element used in the LDS observance of the sacrament is only a part of a larger problem, for the LDS interpretation of the Lord’s Table is as far from what scripture intended as it can be. For one, the use of water is obviously in conflict with the revealed Word of God. Jesus, when he instituted the Supper, referred specifically to the “fruit of the vine” (Matt 26:29; Mk 14:25; Lk 22:18). This may be wine or it may be juice, but it certainly is not water. The use of the fruit of the vine as a symbol of the blood should be obvious because of the color of the liquid. Though water speaks of cleansing, and ties are made between the blood of Jesus and cleansing, this relationship never enters in when the sacrament is discussed in scripture.
As mentioned above, however, the problem is deeper than the difference over the external symbol. The very significance of the Lord’s Table in Mormon theology diverges from the biblical norm. For in scripture, when the Lord counselled his disciples to partake of the Table “… in remembrance of me”, the things they would remember referred to the sacrifice which he made for them, and by extension, all of his people. When we receive the Lord’s Supper, we reflect on the body of our Lord, which he took upon himself voluntarily to bear our sins. We remember the blood of Christ, which tells us that he died for us in our place. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” (Heb 9:22). In short, as in baptism the Christian recognizes his need for union with Christ (see Rom 6:1-4), in the Lord’s Supper, he recognizes that he is sustained in and by the work of Christ.
In what way does the doctrine of the LDS Church differ from the above? It is in a very vital aspect that it does so. Mormon theology views the death of Christ as a victory over the Fall in Adam, from which everyone is guaranteed a part in the resurrection. What then makes the sacrament so special, if everyone benefits from Christ’s death and resurrection? To the Mormon, there are three things signified to him by the sacrament:
- He covenants to always remember the son.
- He takes upon himself the name of Christ.
- He covenants to keep the commandments as long as he lives.
This three-fold formula is found in works by Bruce McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, Spencer Kimball, and Ezra Taft Benson. It is not merely one man’s opinion!
It should be noted that in the symbol which Christ instituted to remind us of the benefits of his death for us, the teachings of Mormonism persist in maintaining the importance of works. Mormonism is incurably a works-righteousness system in which the laborers must toil diligently for their hire. Grace (as it is biblically defined) cannot enter in, so the blood is taken out. Thus, instead of the fruit of the vine, which symbolizes Jesus’ purchase of his own, there is water – bread and water. Bread and water are stereo-typically the diet of one who is condemned and on death row. For him there is no hope. Bread and wine are the symbols taken by those whose hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in him that we hope, and not in what our works will do for us (See Isaiah 64:6).