Call to Reform: The Church and Alcohol

On All Hallows Eve, 496 years ago, a brave priest/monk/theologian/dropout lawyer nailed a handwritten list of reforms to the door of the Church Castle in Wittenberg, Germany. This list of reforms, called the 95 Theses, focused on the unbiblical practices of selling indulgences, worship of relics, and doctrine of purgatory. It was through the work of Luther, and other contemporaries, that the church of Jesus began to return to Jesus.

Luther’s work ultimately started the Protestant and Evangelical branches of Christianity. His efforts included translating the bible into his native German, which is now the most accessible, and most stolen, book in the world. Since then a number of wonderful men and women have done work to keep the church true to Jesus and the bible; John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, William and Catherine Booth, Billy Graham, Rob Bell, and Mark Driscoll and the like have all been a part of the discourse and efforts of church reformation.

The call to reform marches on with us. One area the Church in America may need reform is alcohol. My reasoning is twofold: 1. The church can grow culturally out of touch which results in people leaving the church (The portion that concerns alcohol is small, yet still relevant) and 2. when it comes to young leaders/pastors, who have grown up drinking alcohol properly, they must ask themselves why they stop when they could embrace another denomination. You will end up with pastors and their wives and their staff that are closet moderate drinkers who sign the position papers to be credentialed, then celebrate with each other over a SINGLE glass of wine or beer. I’ve heard from enough pastors from many prohibitionist denominations who drink to know that reformation is necessary.

To start, let’s look at a common position on alcohol taken from a major evangelical denominations (Assemblies of God) website.

The Assemblies of God’s position papers on the subject state,

“The General Council of the Assemblies of God has historically opposed the consumption of alcohol in
any form. Early documents of the church declare, without reservation or compromise, a position of total
abstinence.”

The position of abstinence from alcohol in any form is a widely accepted stance among the majority of evangelical churches in America. This position is greatly different than our Christian brothers and sisters across the pond in Europe who tend to lean more towards moderation than abstentionism. The bible clearly states that alcohol can be destructive (See:  Proverbs 23:29-30 “Drinking causes woe, sorrow, fighting, babbling, wounds without cause and red eyes.”), however it promotes the moderate use, and enjoyment, of the beverage (See: Ecclesiastes 9:7 “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.”)(Also: John 2 – The miracle of water turning to wine). Therefore, biblically, there is a place for alcohol in the life of a Christian and as such the need for reform in the American church regarding it.

One great ancient voice of Christendom, St. Benedict wrote regarding alcohol in his book of rules, “Indeed we read that wine is not suitable for monks at all. But because, in our day, it is not possible to persuade the monks of this, let us agree at least as to the fact that we should not drink till we are sated, but sparingly… (RB 40).” Martin Luther explained the entire reformation as, “…while I sat still and drank beer with Philip and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow.” Even John Calvin received a salary which included over 250 gallons of wine annually to share with his guests!

Without being completely exhaustive on the subject of how the church might reform it’s perspective on alcohol let’s address three areas. 1. What the bible says, 2. What the bible doesn’t say, and 3. How we might apply the bible to our current cultural setting in order to reform dated denominational stances.

1. What the Bible says…

The bible is a mixed bag when it comes to references to alcohol. Psalm 75:8 even has a weird reference to God pouring wine of justice down the throat of the wicked. I assume that is not a pleasurable concoction to partake of. Still, there is one overriding theme that cannot be ignored when it comes to alcohol. Drunkenness is a sin. Straight up, no questions asked, black and white SIN. If you ever have a question as to where or why or how, please see the following scriptures. (Deuteronomy 21:20; Ecclesiastes 10:17; Matthew 24:29; Luke 12:45; 21:34; Romans 13:13; I Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 5:18; I Peter 4:3).

There are one of two reasons to avoid alcohol. The first is drunkenness and what it leads to, and the second is the conscience of a redeemed alcoholic (A.A. states that alcoholics are always alcoholics. It is a part of their seven step program). Mark Driscoll has a great article on alcohol and he lists some of the sinful behaviors associated with drunkenness,

“Sins associated with drunkenness include incest (Genesis 19:32-35), violence (Proverbs 4:17), adultery (Revelations 17:2), mockery and brawling (Proverbs 20:1), poverty (Proverbs 21:17), late night and early morning drinking (Isaiah 5:11-12), hallucinations (Isaiah 28:7), legendary antics (Isaiah 5:22), murder (2 Samuel 11:13), gluttony and poverty (Proverbs 23:20-21), vomiting (Jeremiah 25:27, 48:26; Isaiah 19:14), staggering (Jeremiah 25:27; Psalm 107:27; Job 12:25), madness (Jeremiah 51:7), loudness combined with laughter and then prolonged sleep (Jeremiah 51:39), nakedness (Habakkuk 2:15; Lam. 4:21), sloth (Joel 1:5), escapism (Hosea 4:11), depression (Luke 21:34), and staying up all night (I Thessalonians 5:7).”

None of those attributes are very endearing to any human. Drinking too much is obviously a big NO-NO on the “Do Not Do” list.

The “issue of conscience” in scripture promotes keeping harmony and helping “weaker” brothers and sisters in an area of temptation. Romans 14:21 says, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” So if you have an extreme coffee addiction, but are recovering, and I come to visit and bring over a pot of coffee that would be rather inconsiderate of me. The reason alcohol is often stated here is because of the sinful side effects associated with it. So whether it’s bacon, coffee, chocolate, or alcohol, remember to keep the “weaker” believer in mind.

Getting away from the dark side of alcohol we can speak of the joys that alcohol as a properly received gift of God can bring. The Song of Solomon is a N-17 rated book of the bible. It is an absolute romance novel between a husband and wife during their wedding. Wine was involved. Needless to say it the whole book is provocative. Look at Solomon 7:9, “May your kisses be as exciting as the best wine, flowing gently over lips and teeth.” A little wine and a lot-o marital bliss? Yes. A match made in heaven!

Have you ever been to a wedding without alcohol? Have you been to a wedding with alcohol? Which did you enjoy better. Be honest. I’ve had a lot of fun at dry weddings. I’ll confess, the best weddings I’ve been to (and not been the groom in) had a nice glass of wine served with whatever type of scrumptious stuffed chicken was on my plate. And was followed by a beer and some dancing. The drinks complimented the occasion, not the other way around. Alcohol should be enjoyed but not the source of the joy of the believer.

Jewish weddings were celebrated for a while. A long while. Like a whole week. Can you imagine celebrating a wedding for a week! During that time they would celebrate with wine. As stated above Jesus even made wine out of water for a wedding. Not grape juice, or pomagranate juice, or jamba juice. It was alcoholic wine. Not only that, but it was better than the wine served at the beginning of the wedding!

2. What the Bible does not say…

There are two unbiblical stances on alcohol. The first is the prohibitionist view. You can disagree with me, but this is not a biblical doctrine. No where does it say that alcohol in itself is evil, or that having alcohol makes one a sinner. Those who teach that drinking alcohol is sinful are misguided in their mission. While they hope to help others avoid the pains of alcohol abuse, they also misuse scripture and blatantly disregard the fact that the first believers drank wine. By simply stating that alcohol is evil blankets Jesus as a sinner since he not only did a miracle by creating wine out of water, but also because he drank wine often. (Ever heard of the Lord’s Supper!?!?!)

The second stance is abstinence. While personal abstinence is fine, to preach it as the only stance is wrong. It’s not biblical to say that everyone should abstain. 1 Corinthians 1:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” To use a previous example,  pretend you are addicted to coffee to the point you lose sleep, get ulcers and headaches, and as a result you must abstain from coffee. You and I are close friends and enjoy hanging out. For me to drink or brew coffee in front of you, or ask you to meet me at the local brew shop, or send you coffee gift cards would be incredibly insensitive and sinful. But just because you have a problem with coffee and have suffered because of your lack of self discipline should not penalize from enjoying the mighty bean. I need to be considerate and helpful to you in your pursuit of health and holiness but I am not bound to your limitations and therefore am free to partake in a setting that does not detract from our relationship.

3. How we might apply the bible to our current cultural setting in order to reform dated denominational stances…

We are now stuck with only one option. We cannot teach that drunkenness is acceptable, nor can we teach that wine, which God created, is evil. To teach everyone to abstain is missing the mark of clear biblical teaching as well. There is only one wholly acceptable way to treat alcohol. Moderation.

There will be some that must abstain, and this is acceptable. But promoting abstinence as the final letter of the law as any denomination is free to do will have many negative consequences, including the likelihood that the leaders of the churches within the denomination become hypocrites who sign doctrine statements but walk a different lifestyle. It is possible that young pastors would prefer to join nondenominational churches who are “free” from these man-made laws. Seldom would young people desire to become members of a local church that condemn consumption of a drop of alcohol.

Here are several instances listed in scripture that alcohol should be consumed in moderation.

Needless to say the bible shows how we might enjoy alcohol and still maintain our character and integrity. We are not called to be fools, but a shining light to the world. I believe a fool can be a drunk or a prohibitionist. I also believe that being a shining light can happen while enjoying a beer with a hotdog at a baseball game and in abstinence. Each of us must make a personal choice, but as the church, who should constantly be reforming for the good of Christ and his body, the issue of alcohol needs to be readdressed.

An Addendum…

I am currently pursuing a degree with the Assemblies of God. To acquire license and ordination will require that I agree to their position on various subjects which includes alcohol. Here is where I currently stand in regards to their position. If I sign it, I will uphold it. To agree to a set of rules and then break them makes me a liar, a hypocrite, and a fool. None of which I desire listed on my resume. My hope is that this article stirs some debate, and even a reform within the Assemblies of God. Not simply on alcohol alone but every position to make the church more culturally relevant and biblically centered. Our goal here is not to make people into clones with a false sense of holiness because they DO or DO NOT do certain things, but to drive on toward Christ and his perfection.

This posting is not exhaustive, and is not intended to be divisive, but rather a catalyst towards healthy discussion of how we might, as the body of Christ, advance His kingdom.

*I greatly profited from Mark Driscoll's article on alcohol and Brett McCracken's new book Gray Matters (Review Here)*

POSTSCRIPT NOTE:

*I wrote this blog entry as a Student Learning Requirement for completion of my B.A. in Theology for Global University class “The Church: Reformation Through 20th Century” HIS2302

I need responses to this blog according the following questions:

  1. What did you like best about the student’s presentation?
  2. How could the student improve in the way he or she participated?
  3. What other words of encouragement do you have for the student?
  4. Name of person commenting and his or her relation to the student:

One Comment Add yours

  1. Elizabeth Brown says:

    1.
    I like how you laid out the various facets of the debate in a way that
    was easy to follow, incredibly clear, and seemed very reasonable. It
    didn’t feel one-sided or like it only addressed half the issues
    involved, like so many opinion pieces do.
    2. The
    options of prohibition and abstinence seemed pretty similar. Some
    elaboration to differentiate them a bit more in “What the Bible does not
    say” section might have made that part of the piece make a little more
    sense.

    3. I really like this piece. I actually breathed a sigh of relief
    to hear a reasonable, well-laid-out argument for moderate consumption
    of alcohol that didn’t feel like just an excuse or a flimsy
    justification. Often the arguments I hear for alcohol consumption seem a
    bit fishy… I can honestly say reading this piece has freed me from a
    feeling of condemnation about the whole thing, and just for that, it is
    worth it.

    4. My name is Elizabeth Brown. I used to go to Justin’s church. His father was my pastor for several years.

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