After Sunday: Alcoholic Christians

The title’s meant to be incendiary, as it’s not really what I’m talking about today. What I am talking about is the idea, over time, that has developed regarding Christianity and alcholic beverages. This might be understood as a pretty minor component of the whole tapestry, but some have made the anti-alchohol campaign part and parcel of Christianity.

I’m trying to figure out how this became a common interpretation, because as far as I can read in the Bible, wine was generally accepted as the drink of choice, barring the obvious provisions against drunkeness. Take Paul in Romans 13:

12  The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

That’s pretty straightforward – don’t get drunk and don’t carouse. Simple, right? There’s plenty of prescriptions against drunkeness, sure! Noah got drunk and he had a mess on his hands with his sons; Lot gets drunk and has sex with his daughters (wow, that’s messed up). There are wrong ways to use wine, and those generally involve becoming blackout drunk, I’d imagine; losing control of your faculties, mental and physical, isn’t something anyone would prescribe. Deuteronomy 14, the second telling of the law, actually implores people to spend the money remaining after tithing to whatever you want.

22 “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. 23 You shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the Lordyour God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the Lord your God blesses you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 26 You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.27 Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you.

And you should know that it’s not just wine (called yayin), but also strong drink (shekar). In those days, it would probably be fermented liquors made from fruits like dates (which grow off palm trees – hey, they were in a desert and they made do with what they had), and probably not single malt scotch or assorted dark liquids, but it’s still strong enough to knock you out. What’s the purpose of this? Why would God allow people to buy and drink alcoholic beverages? Isn’t this against His Word?

Well, if you’ve been told that, you’ve been had. It’s the abuse of such substances that has prescriptions, not the use of it at all. After all, as Psalm 104 says,

14 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: 15 wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.

Ecclesiastes gives us a host of verses detailing how mankind should eat, drink and be merry for their existence is but a moment in the grand span of the universe. For God’s sake, even Jesus drank wine and even turned gallons upon gallons of water into the stuff! Can we not just say that we can drink alcohol and have at it?

The problem, then, is that some people just can’t take things in moderation. As I’ve discussed before, the problem in Christianity lies within the new freedom granted to the individual to be truly human, to be as God made them to be. Because of this, some ultimately live in fear of wrongdoing and sin, specifcying the boundaries to which they must adhere to be a good Christian themselves. Rather than living in the freedom God has granted them in His grace, they profane it by attempting to revive the same Law that crucifies Christ yet again. Then, they use their same self-created law as a bludgeon against everyone else, telling them that a good Christian “doesn’t drink” or some nonsense like that, even equating it with sin. If this host of references hasn’t made that clear that it isn’t true, there’s plenty more I can give you, and plenty more you can look up.

Some pastors, I think, simply proclaim against alcohol because it can cause problems so easily, and that most Christians may not have the self-control to deal with it. Charles Stanley, notably, had an alcoholic father, so it may explain his reticence to allow any Christians in his church to drink. I understand this; there are some of us who will be prone to abuse, and some who cannot take things in moderation, and they should obviously avoid the drink that sparkles in the silver cup. Judaism has always believed we should put a hedge around these things so that we have two or three layers of habits before we get to the evil act itself. Not everyone is like this, though. It’s Christian typecasting, and I’m tired of it.

I’m not saying we should just party hearty all the time, or that those who, by choice, want to abstain shouldn’t. I’m just making the point that Scripture, far from condemning alcoholic consumption, allows for its use in moderation. I’ve heard so many times the exact opposite, though, and I hope this clears the issue up (for anyone who wants to listen).

Short, but sweet.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.