Monday, November 18, 2013

Water, Wine, and Whiskey

In light of CT's recent article on alcoholic drinks, and the recent boom in craft beer (also noted in the former article), I thought it might be helpful to bring an historical perspective into the fray. (The following text was an historical-ethical-devotional written for a small audience in early 2013.)

            I know we’re touching on a touchy subject when we mention alcohol. It’s touchy because some like to have a beer or whisky, some enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and some have been left without a father either mentally or physically because of alcohol. The spectrum is wide and the consequences varying. What’s more, most have already made up their mind concerning alcohol, and will not be convinced one way or another. [While I was pastoring a Conservative Baptist Church, I preached upon John 2. I was expecting quite a bit of dialogue post-sermon concerning the wine--I even encouraged the congregation to speak with me about any questions they had. I was quite surprised to note the expressions of the congregation as I preached about the wine, and how it was a sign of blessing and enjoyment--not a face looked smug or disgruntled; and nobody approached me afterwards to confront me or ask me questions. It was at that point that I realized, this congregation lives in a military city with 85% of the men having been involved in some military role. The occupational culture had overridden (or tempered) any Conservative Baptist culture concerning alcohol consumption.]

            What many are not aware of, however, are the historical engagements and abstinences of alcohol. It would surprise some to know that monks and friars were the primary distillers, brewers, and sellers of alcohol in the Middle Ages. They needed wine for the Eucharist, and made much of it. They brewed beer to drink, which was particularly helpful for their otherwise scant diet. And they sold the excess to help fund affairs of the church. Alcohol had a large role in the church for quite some time.

            The United States prohibition movement in the 1800s and 1900s sought to put an end to alcohol abuse and its consequences. Some have tied the zeal of the prohibitionists to the recently successful push for gender equality [that the recent ethical success RE: gender left the people wanting another challenge to surmount]. This is likely true, but this doesn’t mean that prohibition is invalid. What does the Bible say about alcohol use? The certain truth is that drunkenness is sinful—believers are to be controlled by the spirit, not by the effects of alcohol. There are many regulations concerning wine and “strong drink.” Most of these are warnings about overuse; there are some occurrences where full abstinence is required, as in the making of a vow, or the entering into the Holy Place. But there are also places in Scripture where alcohol is encouraged: Paul encourages Timothy to drink some wine, Jesus commands his disciples to remember him every time they partake of his supper (which includes wine), Jesus turned water into the best wine.

            Some have claimed that the wine in the Bible was heavily diluted with water and that ‘strong drink’ was always outlawed; they go on to say that any alcoholic beverage today would be considered ‘strong’ by biblical standards. Is this true? Difficult to say. We do know that alcoholism is a problem in our society today, and that it can lead to abuse, divorce, death, dependency, and other things. But computers lead to pornography, adultery, divorce, gambling, dependency, covetousness, laziness, and other things as well. We could do this with most things: guns, food, cars, medicine, cinema, etc. But we can also point to the good in all these things: computers enable more efficient work, connections to the church at large, and many other things. Alcohol allows people to enjoy the creativity of God in creating drinks of varying flavors and complexities while allowing the drinker to relax.


            So what about you? The reality is that we live in such a world that those around you have been harmed by alcohol abuse; maybe you yourself have. If you enjoy an occasional drink, do so to the glory of God—admire him and his providential hand, but do so in an environment that won’t harm those around you; and don’t look down on those who don’t. If you have an aversion to alcohol, for whatever reason, then stick to water, but don’t look down on those who take some wine. Love God and love others, and do it with wisdom and humility, considering others better than yourself.

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Additional articles, not written by me:
"How Monks Revolutionized Beer and Evangelization" shown me by Riayn Guinan
"The Story of God and Guinness"

"The Philanthropists: Arthur Guinness"
"Dealing with Alcoholism" by Ed Stetzer