I was recently reading Richard Beck’s post, Drinking Christians, and that made me think about the different stances towards alcohol that I have encountered among Christians over the course of my life.
I grew up in an Armstrongite offshoot, and it was pro-drinking. Some liked to call the Feast of Tabernacles (which the church observed every year) “The Feast of Booze.” You may recall Deuteronomy 14:26, which states: “And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household” (KJV).
Was I aware of any tee-totaling Christians? Well, on some level, yes. There were some Baptists and Pentecostals on my Dad’s side of the family, and we were aware that they frowned on drinking. In response to their sentiments, my Dad one time explained to me how their biblical exegesis was rather inconsistent: that they applauded the biblical passages that criticized drinking alcohol in excess, while interpreting the wine in the pro-drinking passages as grape juice. My Dad said that the biblical position is moderation. I also knew some tee-totaling Christians in a high school Christian group that I was in, as someone talked about the challenges of being pressured to drink at parties. And a Christian teacher of mine presented the “grape juice” interpretation to his biology class. (How we got onto that topic, I have no idea!)
As an undergraduate in college, it seemed as if tee-totaling was practically considered a doctrine of Christianity. The Christians I knew did not drink. When a person became a Christian, one practice that went out the door for that person was drinking alcohol. This tee-totaling stance was not questioned that often, as far as I could see, but, on the rare occasions that it was, the wine that Jesus drank was said to be grape juice. Meanwhile, I was attending a Seventh-Day Adventist church, which was tee-totaling, and one of the elders there testified about how God delivered him from alcoholism.
At two of the graduate schools that I attended, I sometimes came across the tee-totaling position. I was attending an independent Seventh-Day Adventist church, and it was anti-drinking. At the Intervarsity that I attended, however, the topic of drinking rarely came up. There was one time when a lady in the group criticized the hypocrisy of Christians she knew who went to the school’s drinking parties. Also, one of the members called me up and asked me if I wanted to have a beer with him (which was nice of him). But, otherwise, I didn’t hear about drinking in the group.
At another graduate school that I attended, there were a lot of evangelical Christians. Some of them did not drink, but they were tolerant of those who did. And some of them liked to brag about their drinking exploits. I’ve seen the same sort of attitude on some Christian blogs that I read. “Oh, I love to discuss theology over a nice brew!” What usually goes through my mind is, “Okay, you drink, I get it.”
At the church that I attend now, the topic of drinking rarely comes up. Well, it did once, when one guy in the church’s Bible study group remarked that he drank before he became a Christian, but now he doesn’t. And there was another time when an elderly gentleman who sits in front of me said that he used to be on the beer-wagon, but now he’s on the water-wagon. And someone else said to me that he sympathizes with people in Alaska who drink because they’re so depressed on those cold, dark days. But, other than that, the topic of drinking does not come up!
In terms of Richard Beck’s post, I think that it gave me a fresh perspective on passages in the New Testament about not offending the weaker brother (not that I like that term, but I’ll use it now because I can’t think of another term to use at the moment). I used to hate those passages. They seemed to imply to me that I should let some judgmental Christian get on his or her high horse and dictate to me how I live my life. I thought that tee-totaling Christians should realize that there are different perspectives about issues, such as drinking and going to the movies, and that it is the height of arrogance for them to presume that all Christians must live according to their demands, just so they’re not offended.
But Beck told a story about a young couple who came out of a lifestyle of heavy drinking, and, now that they were Christians, they were looking forward to a party without alcohol. But alcohol was served at the party. Beck exhorts people to remember those who are in that sort of situation: “Church in a bar isn’t always a good idea when there are people struggling with alcoholism. I spend some time mentoring men struggling with addictions. I can’t imagine inviting them to church in a bar or for theological talk over microbrews.”
I think what’s important is for people on all sides of the issue to be understanding about where people are.
I was raised as a tee-totaling fundamentalist. When a popular tent evangelist died drunk, my relatives were horrified that he was now in hell. It was a certainty because he was drunk when he died.
Fortunately I escaped that legalism early. However, in my entire adult life I am sure I have not averaged one drink per year.
Maybe that evangelist drank under the pressure of legalism! That would certainly be understandable.