Mar 6, 2014
Our Church and Alcohol
by John Vlainic WHAT KIND OF CHURCH DO I WANT TO END UP WITH? Let me begin with the kind of church I long for. Everyone who comes soon learns that this people is about: 1) worshipping Jesus, 2) loving Him and everyone else (even enemies), 3) committing to a life-time of becoming more like Him, 4) building quality relationships with some fellow-Christians (in a more intimate context), 5) sharing His love with people “outside” the church, 6) supporting His church in time, energy, attitude, money (everything), and 7) being a counter-culture to the sick society around us. When it comes to the matter of use of alcohol, I dream of such a church where there are people (like me) who abstain from alcohol for good reasons, and where many (like many friends and acquaintances) use alcohol in limited, careful ways. All of us are against drunkenness. I also dream of a church where we have agreed that alcohol will not be used in church properties or at whole-church gatherings (because of the range of convictions and needs among us about its use). BUILDING BLOCKS OF THAT VISION -The Bible on wine. “In the Bible, wine appears far more frequently as a vehicle of God's blessing than an occasion of human folly.” David Neff, citing author in book review at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/september-web-only/bible-wine-tour.html . -The Bible on convictions and membership “rules”. Think, for example, about whether there should be a rule about using meat that has been part of an idolatrous worship experience. Some Christians thought so, but Paul did not. -John Wesley on alcohol, and his insistence that the identity of Methodists: “Let this be your many, noble, generous religions, equally remote from the meanness of superstition, which places religion in doing what God hath not enjoined, or abstaining from what he hath not forbidden.” (Advice to a People Called Methodist) -An honest look at the whole history of the church re: alcohol. For 95% of our history, the church has been against drunkenness, and for care regarding alcohol. At one time, Yale historian David Underdown tells us, the Puritans of Dorchester adopted an unusual tactic to assist the town's poor: they opened a brewery. “Revivalist and founder of Methodism John Wesley expressed strong opinions on the best methods for brewing beer in the 18th century, as did Reformer Martin Luther in the 16th. And in the 19th century prominent Baptist pastor and evangelist Charles Spurgeon disallowed temperance meetings in his Metropolitan Tabernacle lest people think that abstinence somehow contributes to a person’s salvation. (in Article on Moody Bible Institute now allowing staff to use alcohol. Abstinence has been the rule at only one time – in recent history. See note about the Temperance movement below.) -Taking into account the fact that today, large number of evangelicals (and Free Methodists) who do carefully use alcohol. A few years ago a National Association of Evangelicals survey found that 40% of evantelical leaders were sometimes using some alcohol. I.e, what is the body of Christ as a whole saying about this? That is, even today, after the temperance movement of the past century, the larger body of Christ is saying what the church did for almost 2000 years: we are against drunkenness, and very careful about alcohol. We have to conclude that all these people are living in sin, or that they are using their freedom in Christ in ways that are acceptable. -Ongoing appreciation for the good in the Temperance movement. “The temperance movement reacted to a real social and medical problem. We should not dismiss it as a product of Victorian prudishness. But then a focus on reducing alcohol abuse morphed into the conviction that it was a sin for any person to take a drink, period. This was a simpler approach, but it is not biblical.” (Thomas S. Kidd, “How Evangelicals Lost Their Way on Alcohol” -Not wanting a “bait and switch” where people who start coming to church among us sense the 7 points above from day one, and do not suddenly learn, late in the membership process that there is another requirement: not using alcohol. -A church of integrity where we all, especially leaders, practice what we say we are “for.” This means that today, EITHER the Bishop needs to start disciplining the pastors among us who sometimes use alcohol (and likewise, pastors need to discipline their members who use alcohol) OR we change the stance of the church. -We reject “slippery slope” fear-based arguments against changing our stance. We remember that people who teach logic say that slippery slope arguments are logical fallacies! The problem with slippery slope reasoning is that it avoids engaging with the issue at hand, and instead puts attention on extreme hypotheticals. No evidence is given that such extreme hypotheticals will actually occur. (See, for example,
-We remember that in an earlier day, even while the FMC was against wedding rings, some younger ministerial candidates and lay people started using them even before the rules were changed – and it has NOT resulted in Free Methodists becoming a jewelry-obsessed people. Just look around at the next multi-denominational gathering!
-Concern for how to best help those who are mis-using alcohol. If there is a “rule” against any use (even a now-vague one), any move to help someone mis-using alcohol begins with shaming them (explicitly or tacitly) as a rebel and rule-breaker. Then we try to help them deal with the excess.
By contrast, if abstinence is not a rule, we begin with helping them re: their excess in something that we are not categorically condemning. Yes, they may end up abstainers (since they have problems with alcohol), but we don’t start with shame and condemnation.