Christianity and alcohol

Christianity and alcohol

Throughout the first 1,800 years of church history, Christians consumed alcoholic beverages as a common part of everyday life and nearly always used wine (that is, fermented grape juice) in their central rite — the Eucharist or Lord's Supper. [] In dealing with drunkenness at the love feast in Corinth, St. Paul does not require total abstinence from drink but love for one another that would express itself in moderate, selfless behavior. [Compare [, 1Co 11:33f] ] [Raymond, p. 86.] However, moderationists approve of voluntary abstinence in several cases, such as for a person one who finds it too difficult to drink in moderation and for the benefit of the "weaker brother," who would err because of a stronger Christian exercising his or her liberty to drink. [Raymond, pp. 83f.]

While all moderationists approve of using (fermented) wine in the Eucharist in principle (Catholics, the Orthodox, Anglicans and some Lutherans require it), because of prohibitionist heritage and a sensitivity to those who wish to abstain from alcohol, many offer either grape juice or both wine and juice at their celebrations of the Lord's Supper. [cite web|title=Wine or grape juice| url=|publisher=Orthodox Presbyterian Church|accessdate=2007-02-24] Some Christians mix some water with the wine following ancient tradition, and some attach a mystical significance to this practice. [Cross and Livingstone, p. 1767.] [cite encyclopedia |encyclopedia=New Catholic Encyclopedia |edition=2nd ed. |publisher=Thomson Gale |date=2002 |id=ISBN 978-0787640040 |volume=14
pages=772 |editor=M. R. P. McGuire and T. D. Terry


In addition to lexical and historical differences, [See the thorough discussion of lexical differences in Gentry, "God Gave Wine", pp. 33-104.] moderationism holds that prohibitionism errs by confusing the Christian virtues of temperance and moderation with abstinence and prohibition and by locating the evil in the object that is abused rather in the heart and deeds of the abuser. Moreover, moderationists suggest that the prohibitionist and abstentionist positions denigrate God's creation and his good gifts and deny that it is not what goes into a man that makes him evil but what comes out (that is, what he says and does). [Compare [,18;Mk+7:20,23 Mt 15:11,18; Mk 7:20,23] .] And so, moderationists hold that in banishing wine from communion and dinner tables, prohibitionists and abstentionists go against the witness of the Bible and the church throughout the ages and implicitly adopt a Pharisaical moralism that is at odds with the what moderationists consider the right approach to biblical ethics and the doctrines of sin and sanctification. [cite web|title="Revising the Practice of the Lord's Supper at Faith Presbyterian Church No. 4, Wine, No. 3" | url= | author=Robert S. Rayburn |date=2001-02-11 | accessdate=2007-01-22] [Gentry, "God Gave Wine", pp. 105-130.]


The abstentionist position is held by many Baptists,fact|date=April 2008 Pentecostals, [cite web | publisher=Assemblies of God | title=Position paper: Abstinence from Alcohol | url=] Methodists, [cite web|publisher=The United Methodist Publishing House | url= | title="Alcohol and Other Drugs" | work=The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church|date=2004 | accessdate=2007-01-22.] and other evangelical and Protestant groups including the Salvation Army.cite web|url=| title=The Salvation Army's Position on Alcohol and Drugs|origdate=1971|date=1982|accessdate=2007-02-23 |quote=The Salvation Army ... has historically required total abstinence of its soldiers and officers. While not condemning those outside its ranks who choose to indulge, it nevertheless believes total abstinence to be the only certain guarantee against overindulgence and the evils attendant on addiction.] Prominent proponents of abstentionism include Billy Graham, [cite web|author=Billy Graham | title="My Answer" | date=n.d. | url= | publisher=Billy Graham Evangelistic Association | accessdate=2007-01-22] John F. MacArthur, [cite web|author=John F. MacArthur | url= | title=Living in the Spirit: Be Not Drunk with Wine--Part 3 | accessdate=2007-01-22] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., [cite video|people=R. Albert Mohler and Russell Moore | title=Alcohol and Ministry | medium=MP3 audio | publisher = Southern Baptist Theological Seminary |date=2005-09-14 | additional_url=] and John Piper.cite web|author=John Piper | url= | title="Total Abstinence and Church Membership" |date=1981-10-04 | accessdate=2007-01-22]

Abstentionists believe that although alcohol consumption is not inherently sinful or necessarily avoided in all circumstances, it is generally not the wisest or most prudent choice. [For example, cite web| url= |title=Myths and Facts about Alcohol Consumption |author=Stephen Arterburn and Jim Burns |date=2007 |accessdate=2007-11-19 |quote=For the general population, no specific Scriptures forbid wine consumption in small amounts.... In our society, with so much damage being done by drinking, many who think it is okay to drink need to reexamine the practice.... And for us parents who have to be concerned about the behaviors we are modeling, abstinence is the best choice.] While most abstentionists don't require abstinence from alcohol for membership in their churches, they do often require it for leadership positions.cite web|author=Daniel L. Akin | url= | title="FIRST-PERSON: The case for alcohol abstinence" | publisher=Baptist Press |date=2006-06-30 | accessdate=2007-01-22]

Some reasons commonly given for voluntary abstention are:
# The Bible warns that alcohol can hinder moral discretion. As discussed above, Proverbs 31:4-5 warns kings and rulers that they might "forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted." Some abstentionists speak of alcohol as "corrupt [ing] " the body and as a substance that can "impair my judgment and further distract me from God’s will for my life."cite web|author=Richard Land | url= | title="FIRST-PERSON: The great alcohol debate" | publisher=Baptist Press |date=2006-07-24 | accessdate=2007-07-25]
# Christians must be sensitive to the "weaker brother," that is, the Christian who (incorrectly, in the abstentionist's view) believes imbibing to be a sin. On this point MacArthur says, " [T] he primary reason I don't do a lot of things I could do, including drinking wine or any alcoholic beverage, [is] because I know some believers would be offended by it.... [M] any Christians will drink their beer and wine and flaunt their liberty no matter what anyone thinks. Consequently, there is a rift in the fellowship." [cite web | author=John MacArthur| url= | title="Unity in Action: Building Up One Another Without Offending--Part 2" | accessdate=2007-01-22]
# Christians should make a public statement against drunkenness because of the negative consequences it can have on individuals, families, and society as a whole. Some abstentionists believe that their witness as persons of moral character is also enhanced by this choice.

Additionally, abstentionists argue that while drinking may have been more acceptable in ancient times (for instance, using wine to purify polluted drinking water), [cite web|url=| author=David Guzik | title=Commentary on 1 Ti 5:23 | accessdate=2007-01-22] modern circumstances have changed the nature of a Christian's responsibility in this area. First, some abstentionists argue that wine in biblical times was weaker and diluted with water such that drunkenness was less common, [cite book|chapter=Commentary on 1 Ti 5:23| author=Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III |date=1999 | title=Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary |isbn=978-0310578406] cite encyclopedia| url= |encyclopedia=International Standard Bible Encyclopedia |title=Drunkenness | author=D. Miall Edwards| editor=James Orr |date=1915 |accessdate=2007-03-09] [cite journal|author=Norman Geisler| title=A Christian Perspective on Wine-Drinking | journal=Bibliotheca Sacra|volume=139|issue=553|date=January -March 1982|pages=pp. 41–55] though few non-abstentionists accept this claim as accurate. Also, the invention of more efficient distillation techniques has led to more potent and cheaper alcohol, which in turn has lessened the economic barrier to drinking to excess compared to biblical times. [cite encyclopedia|author=W. J. Beecher| title=Total abstinence | encyclopedia=The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge | url= | pages=p. 468] Second, some of the consequences of drunkenness have been amplified by changing circumstances such as the availability of automobiles and the hazards of driving under the influence.


On historical and lexical grounds, many abstentionists reject the argument of prohibitionists that wine in the Bible was not alcoholic and that imbibing is nearly always a sin. Piper summarizes the abstentionist position on this point::The consumption of food and drink is in itself no basis for judging a person's standing with God.... [The Apostle Paul's] approach to these abuses [of food and drink] was never to forbid food or drink. It was always to forbid what destroyed God's temple and injured faith. He taught the principle of love, but did not determine its application with regulations in matters of food and drink. [cite web|author=John Piper | title="Flesh Tank and Peashooter Regulations" | url= |date=1982-01-17 |accessdate=2007-01-22]

Abstentionists also reject the position of moderationists that in many circumstances Christians should feel free to drink for pleasure because abstentionists see alcohol as inherently too dangerous and not "a necessity for life or good living," with some even going so far as to say, "Moderation is the cause of the liquor problem."


The prohibitionist position has experienced a general reduction of support since the days of Prohibitionism as a movement, with many of its advocates becoming abstentionists instead. Groups adopting prohibitionist positions include the Southern Baptist Conventioncite web |title=Resolution On The Liquor Situation |year=1938 |publisher=Southern Baptist Convention|url= |quote=We declare afresh our unalterable opposition to the whole liquor traffic, whisky, beer, and wine, and to the license system by which this most blighting and corrupting traffic fastened upon our body social and body politic.... We stand unalterable for total abstinence on the part of the individual and for prohibition by the government, local, State, and National, and that we declare relentless war upon the liquor traffic, both legal and illegal, until it shall be banished.... [T] his Convention earnestly recommends to our Baptist people, both pastors and churches, that the churches take a firm and consistent stand against all indulgence in the use of intoxicating liquors, including wine and beer, and against all participation in their sale by members of the churches, and that we seek as rapidly as possible to educate our people against the folly and sin of such use and sale, and that as rapidly as possible our churches shall be relieved of the open shame and burden of church members in any way connected with the unholy traffic] [cite web| publisher=Southern Baptist Convention | url= | title="On alcohol use in America" |date=2006 | accessdate=2007-01-22 | quote=RESOLVED ... total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages.] and Seventh-day Adventists. [cite web|url= |title=Historic Stand for Temperance Principles and Acceptance of Donations Statement Impacts Social Change |publisher=General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists |date=1992 |accessdate=2007-02-28] [cite web|url= |title=Chemical Use, Abuse, and Dependency |publisher=General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists |date=1990 |accessdate=2007-02-28] The former group resolved that their "churches be urged to give their full moral support to the prohibition cause, and to give a more liberal financial support to dry organizations which stand for the united action of our people against the liquor traffic." The founder of the Salvation Army William Booth was a prohibitionist, unlike his organization today which is abstentionist, and saw alcohol as evil in itself and not safe for anyone to drink in moderation.cite book |author=William Booth |url= |title=The Training of Children: How to Make the Children into Saints and Soldiers of Jesus Christ |edition=2nd ed. |chapter=27. Strong Drink |year=1888 |quote=Make the children understand that the thing is an evil in itself. Show them that it is manufactured by man - that God never made a drop of alcohol. To say that alcohol is a good creature of God is one of the devil's own lies fathered on foolish and ignorant people. It is a man-manufactured article. The earth nowhere produces a drop of it. The good creatures of God have to be tortured and perverted before any of it can be obtained. There is not a drop in all creation made by God or that owes its existence to purely natural causes.... Make your children understand that it is not safe for them or anybody else to take strong drink in what is called moderation, and that even if it were, their example would be sure to induce others to take it, some of whom would be almost certain to go to excess.... Therefore, the only way of safety for your children as regards themselves and the answer of a good conscience with respect to others, is total abstinence from the evil.]

Prohibitionists such as Stephen Reynolds [Reynolds, "The Biblical Approach to Alcohol".] [cite book|author=Stephen M. Reynolds |title=Alcohol and the Bible |publisher=Challenge Press |date=1983 |isbn=978-0866450942] cite journal|author=Stephen M. Reynolds|title=Issue and Interchange - Scripture Prohibits the Drinking of Alhocolic Beverages|url=| journal=Antithesis |date=May /June 1991 | volume=2 |issue=2 | accessdate=2007-01-22 See also the other installments in the debate between Reynolds and Kenneth Gentry in the [ same issue of the magazine] .] and Jack Van Impe [cite book|title=Alcohol: The Beloved Enemy|author=Jack Van Impe| publisher=Jack Van Impe Ministries |date=1980 |isbn=978-0934803076] hold that the Bible forbids partaking of alcohol altogether, with some arguing that the alleged medicinal use of wine in [ 1 Timothy 5:23] is a reference to unfermented grape juice.cite web |url= | title=A Preview of "Wine in the Bible"| author=Samuele Bacchiocchi| accessdate=2007-01-22] They argue that the words for alcoholic beverages in the Bible can also refer to non-alcoholic versions such as unfermented grape juice, and for this reason the context must determine which meaning is required. In passages where the beverages are viewed negatively, prohibitionists understand them to mean the alcoholic drinks, and where they are viewed positively, they understand them to mean non-alcoholic drinks. [cite web |url= |title="Christians and Alcohol"|author=Hermano Cisco] Prohibitionists also accuse most Bible translators of exhibiting a bias in favor of alcohol that obscures the meaning of the original texts.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest body of the Latter Day Saint movement, also teaches that "God has spoken against the use of ... [a] lcohol." [cite web| url= |title=The Commandments: Obey the Word of Wisdom |publisher=The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints |accessdate=2007-06-29] cite journal |title=A Principle with a Promise |author=Ezra Taft Benson |journal=Ensign |date=May 1983 |pages=pp. 53–55 |url= |accessdate=2007-06-29] They base this teaching on the Word of Wisdom, a section in Doctrine and Covenants which is part of the Mormon canon, that recommends against the ordinary use of alcohol, though it makes an exception for the use of wine in the sacrament, a similar rite to the Eucharist. [: "That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him. And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make [compare ] . And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies."] However, the church now uses water instead of wine in the sacrament, [cite web |url= |title=Guide to the Scriptures: Sacrament |date=2006 |publisher=Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints |accessdate=2007-06-29] and since 1851, the Word of Wisdom's advice for wise living has been considered "a binding commandment on all Church members."



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