Fine Wine & Theology

by Max Andrews

When you read the Bible you’ll find scores of texts that refer to alcohol.  These references include commands, narrative, and wisdom.  What you’ll find is that there are no commands to abstain from alcohol completely.  There are commands to specific people (i.e. Samson) to abstain from alcohol but a proper hermeneutic will tell you that it doesn’t apply to you in the same sense.  What you will find are commands to abstain from drunkeness (i.e. 1 Cor.6.10).  When reading historical narratives the author will not always explicitly condemn the sin, you’re supposed to already understand what is good and bad.  When you read through narratives and prophecies you’ll find consequences and condemnation for drunkeness, but not alcohol.

As for those who condemn alcohol all together, I think they’ve either got a bad hermeneutic or are fallaciously post hoc (after the fact, therefore because of the fact).  After the drinking, you are drunk, therefore, drinking is bad.  Now, this may be true, but when you factor in the hermeneutics and will, it may just be bad reasoning.  I find drunkeness to be condemned but not alcohol, why?  I think this brings up the post hoc issue.  It isn’t alcohol that’s the problem, it’s your motivation to get drunk and lack of self-control.  Why is it that you’re desiring to get drunk?  You’ll find many proverbs dealing with why you shouldn’t get drunk (remember, proverbs aren’t commands).  To complement the point, Ephesians 5.18 commands us to be filled with the Spirit and not be drunk with wine (notice the important contrast, it’s more than just a command to abstain from drunkeness).

What about my Christian liberty and freedom?  We mustn’t be stumbling block to others, but we can’t extrapolate this to the extreme.  I find some people to say, “You can drink, but don’t be a stumbling block and don’t drink in public.”  That’s a bit extreme, soon enough you’ll be in your closet hiding from the world sipping on your chardonnay, but please don’t do that, you’re getting signs of being an alcoholic then…  The point is to do what you can, within reason, to not lead anyone to temptation.  If you’re having a recovering alcoholic over for dinner, don’t offer him a glass of wine.  If you make an agreement to abstain from, well anything, that’s another issue and you should follow it.

If you can’t tell, I don’t have an objection to alcohol.  I don’t agree with getting drunk, I think that prohibition is clear in the Bible.  Christians have the freedom to drink in moderation.  If you’re convicted and you’re conscience doesn’t permit you to drink for whatever reason, great.  Follow through on your convictions, but don’t apply your convictions to other people, that is legalism.


3 Comments to “Fine Wine & Theology”

  1. Thank you for an elucidating discussion of a topic fraught with confusion… and for giving me a smile at the thought of a coat closet packed with friends and flutes. Happy New Year.

  2. I must agree to your principles for alcohol. However, I believe it is the Evangelical Christian American culture and the secular culture’s understanding of that culture that limits the Christian liberty for the sake of weaker brothers although such partaking should not be considered “sinful.” Rather, for the last 150 years, American history attests that the majority of Christians abhorred alcohol usage, which is (as you note) probably due to a failed hermeneutic. Particularly in the early 20th century, Billy Sunday and other evangelists led crusades against alcohol in the prohibition era, which impacted how a Christian’s relationship to alcohol is perceived today. My point is that most Americans, albeit ignorantly, presume that if a devout believer drinks, they are not a devout believer. I believe that the culture provides the context for the debate on alcohol in America more so than scripture because scripture, as you have pointed out, provides no dictation of such an abstinent practice. In addition, it is worth noting that devout Christians in Germany do not find such restrictions because alcohol is not a socially reprehensible offense in its Christian history, as it is in America. I believe, therefore, that Christian liberty, which is always regulated by love for one’s neighbor and their weak conscious, as it pertains to the issue of alcohol in the America culture, will and should be restrained for the sake of the culture of believers with a weaker conscious, if only to abstain from doing such in their presence. Yet,as 1 Corinthians 10 teaches, the weaker brother’s conscious does not have authority to regulate Christian liberty, but a love for that weaker brother does. I think this is why Paul said he would refuse to eat meat at all if it were to offend his brother, not because he couldn’t but because he cared so much. Therefore, because the Bible does not prohibit the use of alcohol, its use – for whatever reason – should not be considered sinful. However, the Bible does forbid exercising Christian liberty at the expense of others, whether the offense be the result of their ignorance or not (as was the case in 1 Cor. 8-10). For this reason, the Christian’s liberty on the issue of alcohol in the American context has more biblical basis for restraint in the presence of weaker brothers than use in the masses. Will there be places you can drink and not offend others? Assuredly, there is.

    Great post illustrating the hermeneutic. I hope the cultural relationship to the issue will provide a better context for the progression of the debate.


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