The Sword and Spirits

In the Bible wine is the fermented juice of grapes. The claim by some, that the wine God gave Israel to drink was non-alcoholic, is spurious and not attested to by biblical scholarship. While the Bible does condemn drunkenness, it does not condemn the use of wine. In fact,

God himself provides "wine which makes man's heart glad" just as He gives "food which sustains man's heart" (Ps. 104:14.15). He promises His people that, if they will obey Him, He will bless them with an abundance of wine (Deut 7:13, 11:14, Prov. 3:10. etc.). He threatens to withdraw this blessing from them if they disobey His law (Deut. 28:39, 51; Isa. 62:8). The Scriptures clearly teach that God permits His people to enjoy wine and strong drink as a gift from Him. "You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household" (Deut. 14:26). Under certain circumstances it is even commanded of God that wine and strong drink be given (Pr. 31:6,7). And since wine was used in the worship of God (Ex. 29:40, Lev. 23:13; Nu. 15:5,7,10; 28:14), the Bible says wine is something that cheers God as well as man (Jud. 9:13). G.I. Williamson, Wine in the Bible and the Church

Dr. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, recently wrote an article calling for Christians to completely abstain from alcohol as the only godly course of action in a culture severely damaged by drunkenness. He said, "In my estimation, there is only one cure for this problem we have and it is not moderation. The only answer is total abstinence."

I believe the cure for drunkenness is not abstinence or moderation, but the gospel itself.I believe the cure for drunkenness is not abstinence or moderation, but the gospel itself. But I understand his concern. We should all be concerned about our culture's view and abuse of alcohol. But is abstinence really the best response? The best way of showing people the kingdom of God? As long as there has been wine there has been drunkenness. Yet God never commanded abstinence of his people. In fact, while the nation of Israel was made to look unique/holy in many ways, distinguishing them from the rest of the world through civil laws, God never called them to be teetotalers. Drunkenness was condemned as sin, but wine and strong drink were portrayed as gifts from God meant to be enjoyed.

Does God want us to commit ourselves to "total abstinence?" The answer must be "no" if we believe that Scripture is sufficient concerning all faith and practice, since abstinence is nowhere commanded. Rather, I believe the power of the Gospel is not seen in fleeing what God gives us to enjoy, but in using such gifts rightly, and not abusing them. In a culture of gluttony and drunkenness, the more powerful testimony is not extra-biblical law, but the fruit of the Spirit, of which "self-control" is a part. Self-control is precisely what our culture has lost, and the temperate use of alcohol by God's people demonstrates the counter-cultural Kingdom ethics and the power of God more profoundly than "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch."

The truth is I respect those who abstain from drinking alcohol. At our church there is a sizable percentage of people who do not drink for one reason or another, but do not argue this is the path God expects all people to follow. At the same time there are those who do drink moderately at our church, and no drama erupts even when gathered together at a wedding reception where both habits can been seen. We even have former addicts in our church, and though some of them may abstain, they do not expect anyone else to do the same.

What troubles me is not that Dr. Graham believes abstinence is a good option, but that he believes it is the only option and that Baptist Press gives this sort of thing attention. I doubt that we will see an alternate view in the BP headlines any time soon.

Some great material on this topic is listed below, some of which is available online for free.

Hearts Made Glad: A Tribute to Wine, St. Anne's Public House [audio journal] Wine in the Bible and the Church, G.I. Williamson [available as pdf] God Gave Wine, Ken Gentry Drinking with Calvin and Luther, Jim West