The Christian and Alcohol, Part 2

wine

Living in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st century, it would be easy to think that the majority of Christians have always opposed the use of alcohol, especially in this country. Actually, history tells a different story.

When the Puritans set sail on the Mayflower, they brought with them more beer than water. Alcohol was consumed on a regular basis, being safer to drink than oft-polluted water. It was seen as a gift from God, serving as an analgesic, an “energy drink,” an enhancer of food, and a tool of socialization. The Puritans, however, were strongly opposed to the abuse of alcohol. As famed Puritan preacher Increase Mather worded it, “Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan, the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil.” Those who abstained from drinking alcohol were considered to be less healthy and less spiritual, since they rejected part of what God had created for man.

The community provided strong social controls, both informal and formal. Though their rate of consumption of alcohol was much higher than what is typically found today (they averaged about three and a half gallons of alcohol per year per person), their overall sobriety was legendary.

All of this began to break down as people became more mobile and the culture moved from a rural society to an urban one. Social controls began to disappear as people moved away from their communities and stepped into the relative anonymity of city life. Drinking, which had been done in a family situation crossing gender and age barriers, began to be primarily an activity of men away from their homes. In addition, while it was difficult to produce wine on the frontier, whiskey and other distilled drinks were easily made and were relatively inexpensive.

The temperance movement grew up to combat the abuses. At first, the movement sought to bring back moderation, but eventually moved to a push for prohibition. Many religious leaders, seeing the effects of alcohol abuse, joined the fight. Eventually, the theme of the church’s message on alcohol changed, from extolling its virtues and condemning its abuse, to condemning even the production of alcohol. Giving up on re-establishing the social controls that had once controlled the abuse of alcohol, Christians sought to eradicate this evil from the land. Their motto was taken straight from Scripture: “Touch not; taste not; handle not.”

[I'm largely refraining from commenting on comments, trying to present my thoughts bit by bit. Toward the end of the series, I'll try and be more interactive.]

Previous posts in this series:
The Christian and Alcohol (Alcohol Abuse)

Some Additional Readings:
National Prohibition of Alcohol in the U.S.
The Rejection of Wine
Christianity and Alcohol” — This Wikipedia article contains MANY additional resources for investigation
Protestants and Catholics: Drunken Barbarians and Mellow Romans?

23 thoughts on “The Christian and Alcohol, Part 2

  1. Tim,
    It’s my first time to comment here, I want to say I enjoy your work. Abilene was my old stompin’ grounds – now I’m just a hop-skip-and an hour 1/2 south of you in San Angelo.

    Alcohol abuse and ism has played a big role in my mother’s side of the family history. Both her parents died from it. It played a big part in her life before her conversion, and then she became a teetotaler. I feel the arguments given over the years in our churches have been a pendulum swing as far away from alcohol so that our kids would not fall into the temptation, even be scared to taste alcohol. Al Maxey had it right, most (if not all) the arguments (i.e. it wasn’t the same kind of wine we have today, it was just grape juice, they didn’t have clean drinking water so it was ok for them, etc.) could be picked apart by a child. Growing up in the church I could see right through the argument of elder Christians. But at home, my father always framed it in the context of abuse leading to the conclusion that abstinence was the best option, especially for some one who had a family history of alcoholism. Addressing it from an abuse standpoint is the only way I see that fits with scripture and will make the argument relevant to society. Jesus’ main question was who or what are you going to let control your heart.

    One aspect I think we need to really look into is peer pressure. I know this was the key factor that led to my first drink. You more than likely will discuss this in posts to come, but I think the church AND parents need to face this head on.

    Looking forward to reading more,
    Steve Valentine

  2. Tim said:
    Giving up on re-establishing the social controls that had once controlled the abuse of alcohol, Christians sought to eradicate this evil from the land. Their motto was taken straight from Scripture: “Touch not; taste not; handle not.”

    Clay’s response:
    Yes that is what the text says, if we take it out of context.

    The text teaches just the opposite of what the Puritans taught:

    20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

    I’m thinking that Christians are not under human/flesh regulations any longer.
    It does us no good to control one’s flesh as if our flesh was still under a Law that condemns us.

    We are to focus on our hearts, spirits and minds and avoid drunkenness.

    That’s the teaching, avoid drunkenness.

    I can’t stand a singing drunk! Unless he is drunk on the Spirit!

    17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

    Grace and peace Clay

  3. I have a son who is a recovering alchoholic. To him even one taste is too much temptation so he completely abstains. Sometimes when pressures of life become great, he is tempted, but so far has managed to maintain his promise to God and himself – he will not consume any alcohol in any amount. He never drank around his parents or siblings, so we had no idea of his struggles.

    When he was in a lost condition as a nonpracticing Christian (my terminology), he convinced a Lutheran preacher to have a tray with grape juice for people like himself, even though others drank the wine. I believe that took great courage and commitment to that promise mentioned above.

    Because of his struggles, and those of other alcoholics, I maintain it is better not to drink at all, and thus not tempt others who might not be able to control it as we believe we can. Jim McGuiggan has an excellent book on this subject.

  4. What does it matter what Puritans did? I don’t get the point of that.

    The Bible condemns drunkeness.
    The Bible condemns strong drink.
    Most of what we drink is the later and we need to stay away from support, and promotion of evil.

    Joe Palmer

  5. Joe,

    Where do you draw the line on what it means to support and promote evil? There are some church fellowships who would say owning a television, radio, or going to the movies is supporting and promoting evil.

    The Bible does condemn drunknesness and strong drink. But it is another step to imply that casual drinking is to support and promote evil. Here in Colorado, we are actually opening up some communication with a family about the Lord because my mission partner and I were actually willing to have a beer with the guy (having that beer helped remove a barrier he had erected between himself and Christianity).

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

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  7. So do we all need to crawl into a small hole somewhere with our Bibles and hide……or go out into the messy lives of others to reach them where they are?…Or does the Bible tell us to RUN from them??…….just curious….peace….

    Trent

  8. K. Rex Butt –

    So how do you define strong drink? The Bible defines it is seems to certain types of wine. According to ISBE Beer is what the Bible calls strong drink.

  9. I want to know about Jesus getting the party started in Cana in John 2?….of course at the same time He was showing His glory as seen throughout John….
    Trent

  10. Joe,

    I think it would take some specific exegetical work to see exactly what the Bible means by “stong drink” in specific passage. As for ISBE, that *may* be a starting place but I would be very caustious about making an exegetical conclusion soley based on that.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  11. I love Romans 14

    I believe it is the key to many of our divisive spirits and needless judgements of one another

    20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

  12. Pingback: The Christian and Alcohol, Part 3 | TimothyArcher.com/Kitchen

  13. Rex,

    We may never know exactly what the Bible meant by strong drink. However the word wine and strong drink are used together thirteen times in the Old Testament. Perhaps that will shed some light on it. As for the ISBE it is a pretty good source. However, since wine and strong drink are used in the same text maybe that is another indicator. Also, it is know that the ancients didn’t distill liquor so it isn’t that. Pretty much leaves alcoholic wine and beer type drinks. Now a diluted alcoholic drink wouldn’t be a strong drink. If you want to read more of my thoughts go to http://www.joepalmer.wordpress.com

    Joe

  14. God commands followers to consume (((((( STRONG DRINK ))))) what ever it was.

    Deuteronomy 14
    22 “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. 23And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. 24And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, 25then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses 26and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or (((((((((( strong drink, ))))))))))))whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. 27And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.

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