Recently my church started serving wine during communion. Apparently it was a decision at least a couple years in the making, and it sparked a smidge of controversy within the congregation. My pastor explained the decision from the pulpit, and anyone with questions or concerns was encouraged to share them with the church elders.
After the switch, I jokingly told my pastor that it’s a good thing my mom went to heaven last year, because for her sake she and I would’ve probably had to change churches over this. Never mind that grape juice is still offered for those with personal reasons or convictions around alcohol consumption; it was Mom’s opinion that Christians shouldn’t drink alcohol — ever. My dad believed the same.
I disagree with my parents, believing that a correct interpretation of Scripture prohibits drunkenness, not drinking. Jesus-loving, committed Christians will forever disagree on this issue. I grew up in a teetotaling (alcohol-free) home, and it was just fine. I respected my parents. I didn’t feel I was missing out. I didn’t go off the rails in college, partying at every turn. In fact, I don’t think I tried alcohol until well into adulthood. I’m still kinda “meh” about it for the most part. But Jesus turned water into wine, and I’ve never had grape juice gladden my heart, so there’s that.
A disturbing trend
But here’s what I think is weird. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of Christians get super pumped about alcohol. I’m hearing more people talk about it, and I’m seeing more people drink it more often and in greater amounts. It’s not that alcohol is in their lives, it’s that it’s become more central to their lives; it’s a focus of many of the things they do. Here are a few examples:
One of my friends was part of a play group of Christian moms and their kids. The kids played while the moms drank wine. The gathering never happened without booze.
I’ve seen church events advertised that are centered around drinking: pub crawls, beer and wine tastings, or brew nights coupled with small group Bible studies or hymn sings.
I’ve been to several parties hosted by Christian friends that had alcohol as a main event: coolers of drinks, an open bar, alcohol-involved games and more.
Alcohol is being used more and more as a coping mechanism. It’s becoming more acceptable to “need” to go out for margaritas after a long week at work, or have a glass (or bottle) of wine because I got dumped, have a tough conversation or task coming up (“liquid courage,” right?) or am lonely or bored. A fellow believer told me he always drinks at least a little bit at parties because he “likes himself better that way.”
Or drinking is just a sneaky habit that creeps up on us. A friend recently said she had to cut herself off from drinking at home. She’d gotten into the habit of having a glass of wine after work. That glass became two. Then three. She now only drinks in restaurants or with others. She knows her triggers and has set boundaries.
What the Bible says
Again, drunkenness is a sin, and I’m not saying drinking is. But line-drawing isn’t the issue here. We focus on “not being drunk” and in our minds picture someone passed out in an alley or hanging over the toilet at a frat party. We justify getting “tipsy” because that’s “not really drunk.” We pat ourselves on the back for staying overnight at a friend’s house after drinking — “Better safe than sorry.”
The Bible says a lot about sin. But the Bible also says a lot about other things that come into play when drinking alcohol. Things like self-control, wisdom and idolatry.
The issue for some might be self-control. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit; it’s a good and honorable thing. Titus 2:12 tells us to “live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.” Second Peter 1 reminds us to supplement our faith with virtue, then knowledge and self-control, among other things. Doing this keeps us “from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.8) Proverbs 25:28 says a person without self-control is like “a city broken into and left without walls.”
Wisdom must also be exercised. There are many cautions in Scripture about the reckless use of alcohol or dependence on it. Hosea 4:11 says wine “takes away the understanding.” Proverbs 23:30-35 describes alcohol’s slippery slope, warning that eventually “your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.”
And what about our drinking’s effect on others? Most of us don’t have the person next to us top of mind when we drink. But we should always look to others’ interests and not do anything that may offend a brother or sister in Christ, nor should we engage in something, even if not prohibited in Scripture, that may cause someone else to stumble.
Finally, our comfort and security should be in Christ. Even in spiritual freedom, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 6:12 that we shouldn’t be “dominated” (or “mastered”) by anything other than Christ himself. That is idolatry. Many things in this world are vying for our attention and affection, including the latest and greatest craft brew or mixed drink. They don’t deserve them.
Time for Spirit-led self-evaluation
So what do we do with all of this? Well, we don’t get weird or legalistic about it. Honestly, I suggest we just start praying. And reflecting. And being sensitive to the Spirit. And make changes accordingly, like my friend above who tweaked her wine-drinking habit to reflect what she knew in her conscience was best for her.
Even the Apostle Paul, though in being judged felt he didn’t have anything against himself said, “…but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” What does this mean? It means he kept very short accounts with the Lord. He was constantly letting the Spirit fine-tune his heart and behavior. He was submissive to the proddings of conscience. He kept asking the right questions, then repenting and adjusting when necessary.
So if you drink, have you asked yourself why? Are you using alcohol to wind up, wind down, be funnier or more interesting, or cope with loneliness or stress? Do you know when to stop, and then do you? Are you hindering others in their faith by drinking? Are you setting an unhealthy example for others who may be watching you? Does alcohol consume a lot of your interest, time and investment? It may be time to start probing for answers.
Finally, if you’re smart, you know there are a ton of habits and vices that could’ve been used as the primary example in this post. Maybe you’re not into alcoholic beverages. OK, fill in your own blank. Where could you see more self-control and wisdom, and less sloppiness, dependence or mastery in your own life? In eating? Watching TV? Using your smartphone? Trust me: I’ve taken out my own piece of paper. I know my junk.
Let’s link arms and encourage one another in this area and others. We have immense freedom. But we must be sober-minded and watchful. The devil is prowling around like a lion, seeking to devour us. Let’s keep him out of the camp.
Copyright 2019 Lisa Anderson. All rights reserved.