Most conservative, Bible-believing churches induct new members into their fellowship by asking them to agree with a Church Covenant that binds the member to an agreement “to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Savior.” Sunday School teachers, deacons, and other leaders are asked to “abstain from alcohol, tobacco and other illicit drugs.”
America has one of the lowest rates of alcohol use among “first-world” countries—but one of the highest rates of alcohol abuse. About 15 million Americans currently struggle with that addiction. Consuming wine, beer, and other alcoholic drinks has become common to our culture. This has bled into our church communities, so that what would have been pretty much unthinkable in the 1950s—respected church members drinking at least occasionally, or socially as it is called—is not uncommon.
The Bible does contain formidable warnings and admonitions about and against drinking alcoholic beverages. Proverbs 20:1 warns of being mocked and deceived by strong drink. Proverbs 23:29-32 instructs that it will bite like a serpent and sting like an adder. Proverbs 31:4, 5 says that liquor is not for kings nor princes because it will make them forget the law and pervert their judgment. Isaiah 5:11-14 pronounces a woe on those who are drunkards. The writer suggests that drinking alcohol was the reason for the captivity of God’s people, and paints alcoholism as a curse and a blight. So, why would any believer, desiring to have a clear testimony as faithful to God’s Word and will, even contemplate the possibility of taking up drinking in any fashion—moderately or otherwise?
There are, of course, a very few passages that those who advocate a Biblical grounds for social drinking point to: Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine infirmities.” ( I Tim.5:23). Also, the turning of water into wine by Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, His first public miracle, recorded in John 2; and the occasion of the “cup” at the Last Supper, supposed to be the common cup of wine. Here are some points to consider:
- Some words in scripture are used in a generic sense, such as “meat,” which in Gen. 1:29 refers to herbs and trees. Or, the word corn often occurs in scripture in reference to that which is “threshed,” or wheat. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die,” for example. (John 12:24). Wine is one such word. It can mean simply “fruit of the vine,” or juice, and not necessarily that which is alcoholic.
- Alcoholic wine is made by combining the right mixture of sugar, water, and temperature. It is not the product of a natural process.
- It is not thinkable that Jesus, at the wedding feast in Cana, would have made alcoholic wine to serve guests of whom it was said, “men have well drunk.” The men at the feast had drunk so much that the host had run out; for Jesus to have made more, much more, alcohol for them to drink would have without question resulted in drunkenness. And we know that He would never contradict his own Word in doing such.
- For Jesus, our High Priest, to have served alcoholic wine at the last Supper would have violated the Law that forbade high priests to drink when officiating before the Lord. (Heb. 4:14-16; 5:1-10; Lev. 10:8-10)
- A believer who drinks, even socially, is at risk of causing other brethren to stumble: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Romans 14:21)
A friend of mine, Earl Stutsman, an adult Sunday School teacher in a Bible-believing church for many years, did a series of lessons on the subject of alcohol entitled “What the Bible Teaches about Drinking Wine.” I do not know if this series of lessons, which dates back to 1998, is available, but I saved a copy, knowing that Earl was a careful student of God’s Word and a skillful teacher of it. Much of what I have written in this post comes from the material my friend shared. I think Earl’s conclusion, following his research on the subject, says it all:
“The vineyard was prominent in Israel’s culture, a gift from God, to provide a delicious, heathful, natural drink, to be enjoyed by the nation as an example of His goodness to them. Nowhere in Scripture did I find that all God intended was for man to take one five-ounce portion, else he would become intoxicated. The problem of intoxication came when man perverted the gift of God. It is now clear to me that there were two kinds of grape juice in ancient use. One was sweet, pleasant, refreshing, unfermented, the gift of God; the other was intoxicating, for which the Bible has no good word.”
“Wine is a mocker; strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Provs.20:1)
Health Update: Many of you know that a little more than a year ago, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells that attacks the bones. I have been on a treatment plan for a year, consisting of chemotherapy in pill form that I take at home. Regular doctor check-ups each month have charted good progress. There is no known cure, but MM does often go into remission. I am not yet, according to my primary doctor, in full remission, but maybe in partial remission. I know many of you are praying for Ellen and myself through this trial. I have been healthy all of my life and was on no medications until this occurred, so it has totally changed our world. I am still preaching (assisting an elderly pastor friend of mine) a couple of times a month and serving in my local church when possible, as well as writing my “You and God” bi-weekly blog (almost three years now, with about 300 installments). Thanks for praying! Ellen is a great care-giver, and I know she covets your prayers, too. Caring can be very demanding, as some of you well know. “My times are in Thy hand….” (Ps. 31:15)