Alcohol & the Church

According to the Temperance movement, one of the most reprehensible substances on the face of the earth is alcohol.  To anyone involved in the Temperance movement, the greatest accomplishment a person could possible achieve would be that of utter abolishment of any and all alcoholic beverages.  Using techniques reminiscent of fiery evangelists conducting heated crusades, people involved in this coalition have used many methods to try and rid humankind of the malignant malady of modern day drunken madness.  These methods have included pamphlet distribution, public campaigns, legislation aimed at outlawing liquor and ostracizing people who indulge in the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

The Temperance movement began in 1803[1] (Encyclopedia Britannica) and enjoyed a fluctuating career of success; including the period of American Prohibition.  The thoughts, ideals, and practices of this movement have had a profound impact on America, and upon American Christianity, as many people have associated abstinence as a virtue, even to the point of becoming a standard for Christian conduct.  The intent of this paper however, is to give evidence supporting the consumption of alcoholic substances, namely wine, by Christians in moderation; and that the exclusion of alcohol is not a Biblical virtue or mandate, but rather is a product of sociological pressures induces by self-righteous inclinations and fear; not by Biblical data.  According to an article in Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible on Wine:

 

“Wine receives special commendation in the Bible.  There is reference to the “wine which cheers gods and men.”  (Judges 9:13; cf Ps 104:15; Ecc. 10:19).  Used metaphorically, wine represents the essence of goodness.  The drinking of wine was sometimes accompanied by singing (Is. 24:9).  The desirable wife is compared to ‘a fruitful vine within your house (Ps 128:3).’  The blessing of wine is illustrated by the figure in which Israel is compared to a vine which God brought from Egypt and planted in the Promised Land where ‘it took deep root and filled the land’ with prosperity (Ps. 80:8-11).  Prosperity was sometimes symbolized by an abundance of wine as when Jacob blessed Judah, saying that “he washes his garment in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes (Gen 48:11).  A time of peace and affluence is described as a situation in which every man dwells “under his vine and under his fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25).  Isaiah uses wine as a symbol of spiritual blessing (Isa. 55:1, 2) and it is extolled in such passages as Ecclesiastes 10:19.  It appears that a temperate use of wine is not reprehensible (Esth. 1:10, Ps 104:15; Eccl 10:19, Zech 10:7).  References to wine in the Bible make it clear that its use was a common everyday affair and a part of the regular diet (Gen 14:18; Judg. 19:19; 1 Sam 16:20; 2 Chron. 11:11).[2]

 

It becomes evident that the scriptural data does not condemn the use of alcohol, in either the Old Testament record, or in the New Testament as well.

This needs to be balanced through, with the Biblical concept of moderation, which teaches that people who use alcohol as well as in many areas of life) need to use it in such a way to keep it from controlling the individual; and not to be a drunkard.  In this aspect of Biblical thought one may indulge in things that are pleasant, as long as control is employed.  In this train of thought over-indulgence becomes the point of conflict, not casual participation; and this becomes the prime area of concern to the church; should the church condone limited use of alcohol as the scripture teaches; or should it follow social and political pressure and condemn alcoholic consumption entirely, alienating those who do use it?  Does the church need to be Biblical in its perspective; or should it follow the mandates of society?  The author of this paper asserts the necessity for Biblical practices within the church; not being swayed by sociological pressure.

The last point one needs to consider in the use of alcohol within the body of Christ is this: if the church excludes those who imbibe alcohol, who would be excluded from the annals of Christendom?  Should Martin Luther; St. Augustine; the Apostle Peter, or Paul be excluded from the assembly of the saints; and their contributions are discredited for their participation in the consumption of alcohol?  Should Jesus himself be discredited for his drinking practices; and should we ignore the use of wine as an offering to the Father?  Let it never be!

In conclusion let it be said that the church of Jesus Christ needs to continuously weigh it practices against scripture and society; and in doing so decide which one will dictate the conduct of its people, remembering that whoever you serve is that which you follow.



[1] Encyclodaedia Britannica, Article: Temperance Movement (University of Chicago, 1977) p. 877

[2] Tenny, Merrill, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Article: Wine and Strong Drink (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1982) pp.935-938

 

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