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The book Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five Perspectives, for example, contains probably a dozen references to the joys of drinking. The contributors are Karen Ward, Mark Driscoll, John Burke, Dan Kimball, and Doug Pagitt. They meet in bars and taverns for theological discussions. They exchange beer-making techniques.
Some members of Spirit Garage meet in an Irish bar in downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday for a weekly Theology Pub, a mix of biblical discussion and beer (“Hip New Churches Pray to a Different Drummer,” New York Times, Feb. 18, 2004).
Mars Hill Church in Seattle sets up a “champagne bar” at their New Year’s Eve parties and attendees are reminded to bring their IDs so they can enjoy the bubbly. Mars Hill also has “beer-brewing lessons” for men.
Riverview Community Church in Holt, Michigan, has a RiverBrew night featuring homebrewed beer and religious discussion. Ministry leader Brett Maxwell says: “It’s intimidating for someone to walk into a church having never been there. But if a friend invites them to go hang out, have a brew or two, and hang out with some of the guys from church, that’s a much less intimidating environment” (“Holt Ministry Celebrates Its Love of God and Beer,” Lansing State Journal, Feb. 29, 2008). When asked what Jesus would drink, Maxwell replies, “I believe he would sit down with people in the bar, and he would drink what they were drinking, and he would be happy to do that.”
The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri, hosts a “Theology at the Bottleworks” where participants “grab a beer and discuss political or spiritual topics, such as the role of women in society, the legal system, or animal rights” (“Brewing Battle Missouri Baptists frown on beer as evangelistic hook,” Christianity Today, June 29, 2007).
Jim West has written “Drinking with Calvin and Luther” to promote the idea that alcoholic beverages are a gift from God, something not only to be allowed but celebrated. He says, “They reveled in it as a gift of God.”
Phyllis Tickle leads a regular Beer and Bible gathering at Kudzu’s in Memphis, Tennessee. Tickle says this type of thing is “exactly where religion is going right now” (“Seeking Spirituality Outside of Churches,” Memphis Online, Sept. 8, 2008). Participant Doug Hardin said that he was raised Baptist but left it 30 years ago and that he “wouldn’t be comfortable joining a church Bible study.” Another participant says that he likes the pub approach, because “we don't have to do religion the way we’ve always done it.”
Worship at the Water meets on Sundays at the Flora-Bama Lounge, Package and Oyster Bar in Perdido Key, Florida, a bar infamous for its bikini contests and bar brawls. The people come in their swimsuits and enjoy the Bible study with a Bloody Mary or whiskey. Jack de Jarnette, a pastor of Perdido Bay United Methodist Church, says that if Jesus returned to earth, he’d probably kick back at the Flora-Bama (“Florida Church Mixes Bibles and Booze,” The Blaze, Aug. 15, 2012).
Christ Church in Oxford, Connecticut, hosts a weekly “Beer, Bible and Brotherhood” gathering in a local bar. The pastor, John Donnelly, drinks a Samuel Adams Boston Lager while leading the study (“Pastor Drinks Beer in the Name of Jesus,” Charisma News, Oct. 11, 2013).
In the summer of 2013 Moody Bible Institute dropped its 127-year ban against alcohol and tobacco use by faculty and staff. The new emphasis is toward the creation of a “high trust environment that emphasizes values, not rules” (“Moody Bible Institute Drops,” Christianity Today, Sept. 20, 2013).
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
It is true that some of the Protestant Reformers drank alcoholic beverages, but they are not our authority. They also “baptized” babies and drowned Baptists!
It is true that there are instances in the Old Testament in which God allowed His people Israel to drink alcoholic wine, but there are many things in the O.T. that we do not practice today.
I believe that Christians today should not drink alcoholic beverages for the following three reasons, among others, and I am convinced that these are universally applicable:
1. THE BIBLE WARNS THAT WINE AND STRONG DRINK IS A MOCKER AND DECEIVES MEN. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).
To say that alcoholic beverages can be consumed in moderation sounds reasonable, but very few drunks have ever set out to become a drunk. It is an irrefutable fact that a man that does not drink at all will never get drunk and will never become a drunkard.
All of the emerging church drinkers admit that the Bible forbids drunkenness, but all of their talk about the delights of drinking and beer making, of “a Guinness” and “a round of imperial pints,” makes me wonder if they don’t sometimes get a bit tipsy at their drinking confabs, not to say drunk! How inebriated does one have to be to be drunk? Do emerging churches ever need to appoint “designated drivers”?
I doubt Noah planned to get drunk and to cause so much trouble for his grandson, trouble that has abiding consequences to this day -- but wine is a mocker. My maternal grandfather drank before he got saved and when my godly grandmother married him she made him promise that he would never touch a drop of liquor, and that is a promise which he made. But one day he and another carpenter were working on a house and the other carpenter talked my grandfather into having just a sip “to cool the tongue.” They both got roaring drunk and ended up in jail, and my granddad was a deacon in a Baptist church! He was deeply repentant and was restored and never drank another drop as far as anyone knows, but it was a powerful reminder to him that wine is a mocker.
Alcohol has the ability to deceive and corrupt. One can never know if he will control it or it will control him. The instruction in the book of Proverbs 20:1 tells me that the wise man leaves it entirely alone.
The following is a wise statement from John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides, 1891:
“From observation, at an early age I became convinced that mere Temperance Societies were a failure, and that Total Abstinence, by the grace of God, was the only sure preventive as well as remedy. What was temperance in one man was drunkenness in another; and all the drunkards came, not from those who practised total abstinence, but from those who practised or tried to practise temperance. I had seen temperance men drinking wine in the presence of others who drank to excess, and never could see how they felt themselves clear of blame; and I had known Ministers and others, once strong temperance advocates, fall through this so-called moderation, and become drunkards. Therefore it has all my life appeared to me beyond dispute, in reference to intoxicants of every kind, that the only rational temperance is Total Abstinence from them as beverages, and the use of them exclusively as drugs, and then only with extreme caution, as they are deceptive and deleterious poisons of the most debasing and demoralizing kind.”
Consider, too, the following testimony that a reader sent to me on this subject:
“Brothers and sisters in Christ, I have firsthand knowledge of what drinking just one drink can do to a family. My dad at age 15 was put on a horse behind a neighbor man, rode into the nearby town and took his first drink. From that day forth he was hooked and became an almost lifelong alcoholic. The suffering that our family went/is going through is unspeakable. Dad accepted Christ at age 62, and became a teetotaler. He could not stand for his alcoholic friends to stop by and offer him a drink as they always had in the past. Because of his alcoholism and verbal abuse of my little sister, she will never recover. It has affected our family in a terribly adverse way all of the years. My sincere recommendation is NEVER TOUCH IT, for you know not what the first drink of it will do. It is sort of like the first temptation to take the first bite out of the apple in the garden. Millions of homes are broken and destroyed, souls in hell, and in torment here on earth, as a result of alcohol.”
Even emerging church people admit that the Bible forbids drunkenness, but can they guarantee that they and their drinking buddies will never get drunk? Can they guarantee that they will not become addicted to drink? Can they guarantee that they will not tempt someone to become an “alcoholic,” or tempt a former “alcoholic” to get “off the wagon” and destroy himself? No, they cannot, because “wine is a mocker.”
Some prominent emerging church leaders have fallen into drunkenness and disgrace, which would never have happened had they not supported drinking in “moderation.” An example is Perry Noble, who in 2016 was fired after 16 years at NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina, because of “alcohol abuse.”
2. THE BIBLE INSTRUCTS THE BELIEVER NOT TO GIVE OFFENSE IN ANYTHING. “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be save” (1 Cor. 10:32-33).
I personally quit smoking a few months after I was saved and it was not because I thought it was wrong at that time or because I was concerned about my health; it was because I knew that it could offend others. I wanted my testimony to be pure of offence so that God would use me and I would have eternal fruit for my service for the Lord. I didn’t want to be witnessing to someone and have them possibly ignore me or be distracted because they saw a pack of cigarettes in my pocket.
If that is true for smoking, and it is, then it is even truer for drinking alcoholic beverages. It is a fact that many unbelievers think that a believer should not drink. They have higher standards for Christians than some Christians have for themselves. Consider Utah, where even unregenerate Mormons believe it is wrong to drink alcoholic beverages! How would Mormons look upon non-Mormon Christians who drink?
Even the possibility that someone would be offended because of my drinking should be sufficient for the believer to put it out of his life, and that possibility is very great in modern society. Paul was willing to stop eating meat entirely in this present world if he thought someone would be offended and his testimony hurt (1 Cor. 8:13), and eating meat is a perfectly legitimate activity. How much more should a believer be willing to give up alcoholic beverages, which are highly questionable at best and have the potential in themselves to cause harm (which meat does not)!
3. THE BIBLE COMMANDS THE BELIEVER TO ABSTAIN FROM ALL APPEARANCE OF EVIL (1 Thess. 5:22).
That is a far reaching exhortation. Alcoholic beverages are a great evil and curse in modern society. Consider the automobile wrecks, the disease, the adulteries, the lewdness, the divorces, the neglected children, the abused wives, the waste of money, the gambling, the blasphemy, the pure foolishness. Look at the beer and liquor ads, how they always flaunt sensuality and irresponsibility. In January 2005 the Royal College of Physicians in England warned that Britain is suffering from an epidemic of alcohol-related problems that is fuelling violence and illness throughout the country (The Telegraph, Jan. 3, 2005). The same epidemic is raging throughout the world.
If anything has the appearance of evil today, it is alcoholic beverages, and the Bible does not merely suggest that we abstain from all appearance of evil; it commands us to do so!
It is also important to understand that there is a dramatic difference between the alcoholic content of wine today and that of Bible times. The following quotes by Norman Geisler and Robert Stein are from Focus in Missions, September 1986:
“Many wine-drinking Christians today mistakenly assume that what the New Testament meant by wine is identical to wine used today. This, however, is false. In fact, today’s wine is by biblical definition strong drink, and hence is forbidden in the Bible. ... Even ancient pagans did not drink what some Christians drink today” (Geisler).
“To consume the amount of alcohol that is in two martinis today, by drinking wine containing three parts water to one part wine (the biblical ratio) a person would have to drink over twenty-two glasses” (Stein).
4. WE DO NOT BELIEVE THAT JESUS MADE ALCOHOLIC WINE AT THE WEDDING IN JOHN 2. Following are the reasons:
a. It was unlawful for kings and priests to drink alcoholic wine, and Jesus was both (Pr. 31:4; Lev. 10:8-11).
b. It is forbidden to give wine to others to make them drunk (Hab. 2:15).
c. It is unwise for men to drink alcoholic wine (Pr. 20:1), and we know that Jesus, Wisdom incarnate, would not do anything unwise.
d. Alcoholic wine is a deceiver (Pr. 20:1), and we know that Christ did not come to deceive people.
e. Had Jesus given the people alcoholic wine at that juncture in the wedding, He and they would have been breaking God’s commandment not to tarry long at the wine (Pr. 23:29-30).
f. Christ did not come to cause people to stumble (Rom. 14:21). The late Bruce Lackey observes, “Everyone who has studied the problem of alcoholism has learned that some people cannot handle any amount of alcohol, while others may drink one or two ‘social’ drinks and stop. Experts do not know why this is true; various theories have been propounded. Some say it is chemical; others insist that it must be psychological. The fact is, we do not know for certain. In any given group of people, there would be several potential alcoholics. What a shame it would be for a person, who is a potential slave to it, to get his first taste at the Lord’s table in church, then proceed down the road of misery to an alcoholic’s grave! I certainly would not want my children to get their first taste of alcohol at the family meal, nor would I want them to get it at church. One or more of them could well be potential alcoholics. As evidence that this is possible, we should consider that some denominations which serve alcoholic wine in their religious services also operate homes for alcoholic priests! But we can be absolutely sure that Christ did not come to cause others to stumble!”
g. The fact that the people at the wedding recognized Jesus’ wine as superior to the earlier wine shows that they were not drunken (Jn. 2:10). Had they been drunken, they would not have noticed that the wine that Jesus made was better.
h. This miracle glorified Jesus as the Messiah (Joh. 2:11). Had He made and distributed alcoholic wine to make the people further drunk, this would not have glorified Him as the holy, righteous Messiah. “Had Christ made alcoholic wine and had the people been drinking alcoholic wine prior to that, He would have made drunk people drunker, or almost-drunk people completely drunk! Such a deed would certainly not have manifested any glory to Him” (Bruce Lackey).
i. We know that the Spirit of God would not have put anything in the Bible to encourage drunks, to cause men to offend in sin (Ro. 14:21; 1 Co. 10:31-33), but the idea that Jesus made alcoholic wine for distribution at a wedding has done exactly that. Any lush who knows anything whatsoever about the Bible, believes that Jesus made alcoholic wine and uses that to justify his sin.
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