Alcohol has been getting some serious airtime among Christian communities and blogs. This is an odd piece of trendy Christian news that can create a lot of friction. I think it’s odd because it is really such a minor topic when it comes to the gospel message, isn’t it? It seems trite compared to other common discussion topics like the doctrine of salvation, or what the Bible says about the sacraments. (“Wait!” you say. Isn’t alcohol part of the sacraments? Ok, maybe a conversation worth having).
One particular article has popped up 4 or 5 times in my news feed recently entitled Can a Christian Drink Alcohol? I read it the first time I saw it (it had a great picture that drew me in), and I had some thoughts on it. Then I kept seeing it circulate, so I thought I would share some of those thoughts.
The message in articles like this generally tends to be “sure, a Christian CAN drink…but SHOULD they? I won’t judge you…but it’s not a good idea!”
Here are a few points from the article:
“Let me be clear by saying there isn’t a single verse in the Bible that says a Christian cannot have a drink…”
“…the Bible clearly warns about the destructive and addictive nature of alcohol…and that leaders ought to avoid drinking alcohol…
There seems to be some (unauthorized) interpretive license taken here. A few absolutes are stated that are not in the passages. For example, stating that ‘alcohol is destructive’ is broader than Scripture puts it. We can certainly confirm that the passages the author cites warn against drunkenness, but not alcohol in general. Stating that ‘leaders should avoid alcohol’ is also taking liberties (An irony in this line of argument is that unsanctioned interpretive freedom is applied to Scripture to oppose that which is permitted as a Christian freedom). The passage the author references in Proverbs 31 speaks specifically against civil leaders being under the influence, and expressly when they are on the job. The next verse gives the reasoning: They have kingly duties that should not be influenced by intoxicants.
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. (Prov. 31:5)
The author then points to a few specific cultural “leaders” as examples of the damaged testimonies caused by drinking: Shaun White and Richard Roberts. First, there is a line that is commonly crossed to make a biblical case against drinking. We saw it already with some of the fuzzy postulations above. It is blurring the distinction between drinking and drunkenness. It is akin to opposing the enjoyment of marital sex to protect against lust and promiscuity. Or warning against taking an ounce of pleasure in a good meal, which will clearly lead to gluttony, obesity, heart disease, and death. All are gifts from God. All serve a purpose. All of them come with biblical warnings against their abuse.
Secondly…Shaun White and Richard Roberts? Is Shaun White a Christian? Google could not help me with an answer on that (although it did repeatedly state he is not a Mormon). If he is not a Christian, then why is he used as support against Christians drinking? If he is a professing believer, then I suppose we can throw him in with the rest of the celebrities that thank God in their Grammy speeches. And regarding Richard Roberts – anyone still following the “Christian leadership” of a divorced man, removed from his post at ORU amidst various allegations of abuse of power and resources, is an unwise person. These are men whose fruit has not demonstrated godliness for quite some time.
Next, the author turns to a few respected pastor friends. One of these sources tries a different angle.
“For a minute, forget about making a definitive case for or against ‘drinking’ from the Bible. Here’s the truth from logic and real life.”
He then appeals to “real life” reasoning, inferring alcohol is the same as drunkenness and should probably be illegal. But reread that quote. There is an important concept here.
The pastor would like to step away from the Bible – the only true rule of morality – to make a moral case. We are to separate ourselves from the Truth for a moment to look at a parallel “truth” existing in logic and real life, as if Scripture is an illogical fantasyland when it comes to drinking. If this is necessary to attempt a definitive case against drinking (I am not talking about drunkenness), then the argument is lacking.
So let’s get back to Scripture. The author makes a standard case against drunkenness. Unfortunately, any verses about drinking are missing. Here we are not talking about an interpretation issue, but an omission issue. This tiptoes dangerously into the realm of false witness. But if we assume the best of intentions about these omissions, they are missing due to a priority placement of cultural bias over covenant belief.
What is missing from the common debate on alcohol? (Hint: I mentioned it in the opening). The Lord’s Supper. You know…the wafer and thimble of Welch’s that gets passed out 2-4 times per year? This seems like a lot of fuss for a ¼ ounce of wine, you might say. Portion size is one part of the issue, but we will get there.
When Scripture implements alcohol not only for pleasure, but also for worship, then by Jesus himself as a covenant symbol, teetotalers need to make a better case than “it has possible negative social outcomes when abused”. My intention is not to take drunkenness lightly. My intention is to call on the carpet the light handling and ignoring of very relevant passages.
Here is what Deuteronomy says of alcohol during the Feast of Tabernacles (of which Jesus himself participated):
And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. (Deut. 14:23)
But if the journey is too long to carry the tithe “when the Lord your God blesses you” (Deut. 14:24), God’s command is to turn the tithe into money for easy transport to the place He has commanded. Once there,
…spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. (Deut. 14:26)
So here we have God’s command to tithe of the wine from which He has blessed, or buy wine (or strong drink) with the tithe money. Then drink it. And be sure to share with the Levite, sojourner, fatherless, and widow – that God may bless your work (producing more wine).
And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. (Deut. 14:29)
I can see a question forming in some minds. “What about the argument (completely unfounded in Scripture) that wine was extremely diluted back in the day?” Well, that argument is completely unfounded in Scripture. And also, after all the warnings against drunkenness, you want to argue it required drinking out of a swimming pool to get drunk? There is one place that the Bible talks about diluted wine. It talks about it as a criminal act and symbol of societal corruption.
How the faithful city
has become a whore,
she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
but now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
your best wine mixed with water.
Your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
and the widow’s cause does not come to them.
Therefore the Lord declares,
the LORD of hosts,
the Mighty One of Israel:
“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
and avenge myself on my foes. (Isa. 1:21-24)
Speaking of wine as a symbol, wine was implemented by Jesus himself into the Passover meal establishing one of the most important symbols in all of Scripture [i]. And it comes with a command.
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. (I Cor. 11:25-27)
If you are questioning if the cup was fermented wine or grape juice, look at Paul’s warning a few verses earlier. What did he mean by drinking in an unworthy manner?
For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. (I Cor. 11:21)
The church was abusing the Lord’s Supper by neglecting their brothers – eating in selfishness and drinking to drunkenness. And what is the Lord’s Supper? Reread the verse without focusing on the ABV. What does it say about the wine? This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
That is a wildly profound statement. Wine, distinguished here from all other symbols, is the symbol of the new covenant – of Christ’s blood poured out for the forgiveness of the sins of many. This is the weekly (at least in the church I attend) memorial of Christ’s death and our covenant renewal with God.
This is the point of Scripture believers should dwell on. In fact, this is the reason Christians – much more so than unbelievers – should drink. Yes this requires caution, maturity, and self-control. But as a whole, why are so many Christians willing to surrender the most prominent symbol of God’s grace over to the world?
Will depraved man misuse and abuse the gifts of God? Of course! They do this with food. They do this with sex. They try to do this with God’s Holy Word, for their own selfish gain. But Christians are discouraging (or even banning) the use of God’s gifts by God’s people. This is where things get pretty serious. This is textbook legalism. What for? A potential negative social outcome caused by its abuse (again…not use).
At the same time, Christians are accepting the side effect of watering down this sacrament instituted by God. Along with baptism, these are the unique and holy institutions ordained by God, signifying and sealing His covenant, representing Christ and His benefits.
This is not something we should reinterpret through social (prohibitionist) lenses. This is not something we should barely get around to adding to the quarterly church schedule. And we might even do well to rethink the meager breadcrumb and micro-cup portions of such a festal, communal meal.
We need to stop trying to banish the gifts of God, setting them aside for the world and “lesser Christians”. And instead, start recognizing the danger of allowing social prejudices to reshape our Christian duties.