If you thought by the title that this post was going to have something to do with George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards or the protestant movement that swept over the American Colonies during the 18th century, then I am sorry to disappoint you. For those who picked up on the parenthetical nuance, I am happy to oblige with a few words on the subject of Christians and alcohol.
The primary intention of this article is not to address the subject of drinking from a scriptural standpoint. Joshua Rollins, a guest contributor to CovenantalDivide.com, recently did a stand-up job addressing that subject here in a response to Pastor Barry Cameron. What I would like to do is follow it up with a more personal experience. The personal and relational issues seem to be where the wall of Christian teetotalism is most difficult to scale.
The truth is, the contemporary evangelical community essentially ignores scripture on this topic altogether. By completely discounting God’s Word, emotion and tradition have triumphed. It is important to note that this could only have happened in an era where the church has simultaneously lost the disciplined study of scripture. Dumbed-down, topical Sunday school lessons, feel-good devotions, and ten-minute “quiet times” replaced bible saturation, consistent study, and catechizing children on scripture and the confessions. When this happens, human tradition is positioned for victory over biblical mandate and Christian freedom every time.
Perhaps like many I grew up in the legacy of teetotalers and Christian prohibition. I was raised in the South as a Southern Baptist, on the edge of the Bible Belt and was thoroughly baptized in the taboo of drinking. Drinking alcohol was exclusively associated with rebellion, irresponsibility, drunkenness and death on the highways. For those who come from a similar background, you understand what I am talking about. There were the famous three universal truths. “Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Protestants do not recognize the pope, and Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store”.
So what happened? Well for one, a theological journey in my twenties led to my faith becoming more “reformed”. Now, perhaps everyone verbally affirms sola scriptura but this concept and conviction became a crack in the door, or the proverbial camel’s nose into the tent, for a number of issues in my life. Suddenly scripture had authority in a way it never had previously in my life. During one particular week years ago I was studying about the Nazarite vow in scripture and it led me to dig for an understanding as to why those who took this vow could not partake of either grapes or wine (Num. 6:2-4). What I found shifted my entire paradigm on the subject of drinking alcohol. A lengthy quote is in order.
Basically, the Nazarite was an Israelite who took a special vow, and became a special temporary priest…
Leviticus 10:9 prohibits the priest from drinking alcohol when in the Tabernacle. The reason given is so that a distinction might be made between the holy and the profane, and between the clean and the unclean. We might think that this means alcohol is profane or unclean, but the reverse is actually the case. It is because men are unclean that they may not relax with alcohol in the presence of God. In the New Covenant, men are commanded to drink wine in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, with God in the holiest of all times, the time of worship…
In the Bible, wine is for joy (Jud. 9:13; Ps. 104:15). It is a picture of future blessings, when the curse on the ground (thorns; brambles) is overcome and the vine flourishes. It thus has a close tie to the Sabbath, to the time when a man’s work is finished, and he can relax in the presence of God…
So, why was the priest forbidden to enjoy a little Sabbath wine in God’s presence? It was to show that the Aaronic priesthood was inadequate, and that the Sabbath had not come…
…the inclusion of alcohol in the Lord’s Supper is a sign that in the New Covenant the Church has come to that Sabbath in Christ for He has completed man’s task. In the Old Covenant, the labor of the priest was never finished, so he never sat down (Heb. 10:11); but Christ has sat down. The priest took upon himself the curse of endless toil, so that God’s people might rest. Because the priest did not sit down, and did not drink wine in the Tabernacle, Israel could sit down at Passover and drink wine (as Jesus did at the Last Supper) and for the same reason they could drink at the Feast of Tabernacles.
For us, the Sabbath has come in Christ.
…when Jesus finished his work, He sat down at the Father’s right hand, and now drinks wine anew with us in the Kingdom (Matt. 26:29). [i]
For me, on the subject of drinking, one might call this The Great Awakening. Alcohol a blessing? Wine symbolizing the Sabbath rest that stands opposite the thorns of the curse? To uphold drinking alcohol as a taboo would mean taking a very picture of the gospel and ripping it from the pages of scripture. Suddenly there was something that felt very wrong about labeling as anathema that which was intended as a gift and a blessing. It quickly became apparent to me that watered-down Welch’s at the Lord’s table was commensurate with watering down scripture itself. Christ’s work of atonement is indeed finished and we are to rest and find joy in this reality.
I immediately began working through the implications of the theological paradigm shift I had undergone. The following are five significant concepts I worked through during the continued process of moving from the arid desert land of a dry lifestyle to the refreshing fountain of a life that embraced God’s gift of alcohol.
First, we must understand a crucial concept. Not partaking in wine at the communion table is a sign of being judicially separated from God. We are a nation of priests and because of the work of our High Priest Jesus we can now rest and drink wine inside the temple. We should commune together with the saints as God intended – with wine and with joy. Grape juice does not cut it. Beyond that, micro-shots of cheap Yellow-tail wine amidst an atmosphere like that of a funeral falls woefully short of celebrating Christ’s atoning work for his people.
Second, it really came home to me over time that wine is a picture of growth. In scripture we see that the wine of the New Covenant breaks the old wineskins of the Old Covenant. God’s kingdom, ushered in through the work of Christ has burst these old wineskins. In our fundamentalism, we are denying the growth and expansion of the Kingdom of God when we refuse one of God’s primary symbols of such.
Third, Merriment is a good thing. Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” There is no scriptural prohibition against drinking alcohol in the context of relaxation and rest. In allowing fundamentalism to silence what scripture has to say on alcohol we have actually pronounced upon ourselves God’s negative sanctions. We rob ourselves of the benefits of wine. God has put in place a rhythm of work and rest, diligence and celebration. This has benefits that actually aid production and fulfillment in life. We might say, “work hard, feast hard.”
Fourth, drunkenness truly is a terrible thing. In general, irresponsible, undisciplined behavior is a terrible thing in any area of life. Guns are dangerous, but to outlaw them for the Christian because of their pitfalls and the number of gun related deaths each year would be absurd. Gluttony is dangerous. Proverbs 23:21 says, “for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.” There is an issue when we put these two states on different moral planes when God puts them on the same one.
Beyond the temporal dangers of alcohol, it is also vitally important that wine is also a picture of judgment in scripture. It is a blessing for those with faith who walk according to his word. It is the ultimate curse for those who do not (1 Cor. 11:29, Ps. 60:3).
Fifth, because of the gifts and deep beauty associated with alcohol in scripture in conjunction with its warnings of misuse, I decided it would be important to openly and intentionally instruct my children on both. In a world where the pagan has a near monopoly in this area it is vitally important that we begin to take back ground and offset the worldly perspective that will inevitably invade the lives of our children. This was lush, bountiful territory surrendered by the church and we need to take it back. In the Gospel Spam post, A Call to End Christian Prohibition, Marcus Pittman drives this point home.
I am convinced that the reason Alcohol has become such a sinful industry is not because of the sinful marketing, not because of the greed of the local bars or rise of some made up disease. Instead, all blame rests solely on those within the church, who washed their hands of the alcohol industry. The Lord has given the Church a gift and we have refused it. Instead of being responsible with the Lord’s gift, we have taken the easy route and just decided to avoid it all together. The church has no reason to complain about the current state of the alcohol industry because the church, in all its apathy is the one who has caused it.
There are many other important facets of this conversation that seems to be escalating again within the evangelical Christian community. In this article I only hoped to give one perspective and one that opens a window to some of my own experience and transition. The interesting thing is, as time has moved on and as I myself have become more completely immersed in a reformed world, the issue is not really discussed much at all (unless it is critiquing or enjoying the selection for any given occasion). Today, for me, wine at the Lord’s Table is a given. Beer and scotch during a weekend Bible study are commonplace.
We are all products of our time. I am thankful that this is a time where at least some of the fundamentalist plaster of the last century which surrounds this issue is cracking and beginning to fall off. The mainstream church is finally, with a biblical sobriety, beginning to take another look at the issue of Christians and drinking.
So, whether it is a glass of good wine, or a local IPA (with at least 7%ABV), I would propose a toast to anyone whose conscience would allow it – a toast to yet another gracious provision from the hand of God. Cheers.
[i] Jordan, James B., Judges: A Practical and Theological Commentary (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1985), 221-224