October 18, 2017

One Big, Happy, Lie: Southern Baptists, Alcohol and Me

chickbeer.jpgI brought something I want to share with you. Do you have a few minutes? I think you’ll find it interesting. It’s my “Southern Baptists and Alcohol” scrapbook. It tells the story of what I grew up hearing and believing about alcohol, Christians and the Bible. It’s the story of getting my eyes opened and all my certainties wrecked. In other words, it’s the story of one, big, happy lie. Maybe more than one, actually.

I just like to flip through these memories from time to time. Like any scrapbook, things are a bit out of order, so let’s open to a page and see what we find.

Ahh. “The Deacon In The Dugout.” A very good place to start.

I was at my first youth ministry job in a suburban church in my hometown. I’d been visiting a Christian bookstore that happened to be across the road from, among other things, a liquor store called “The Dugout.” So there I was, getting into my car, when I noticed a familiar car parked at “The Dugout.” Sure enough, out of the store, and into the car came one of the deacons from my church, carrying the famous brown paper sack. That sound you hear is my entire worldview cracking up.

Now, you have to realize that it had never entered my mind that any Southern Baptist drank alcohol. That just wasn’t the way that I was taught. It wasn’t a thought that was discussable. It was nonsense. Alcohol was simply, totally, always wrong, and no Christian, or good person of any kind, used it. Not even at the Lord’s Supper.

Yet, here was a deacon at my church, A man I saw every Sunday, a man who was one of those to whom I was responsible, apparently buying alcohol “as a beverage” as we used to say. I didn’t spend much time talking myself through the unlikely possibility that he was a twin, or was getting cooking wine or was purchasing some for the thugs holding his wife and kids at gunpoint. It was what it appeared to be: a Southern Baptist deacon, who was a drinker.

My eyes had been forced open, and would be opened even more in the future. I was to discover that, contrary to what I experienced in my family and heard in my church growing up, there were a lot of drinkers in Southern Baptist churches, particularly among certain groups, and usually well out of sight. Drinkers, liars and deceivers; all right under my nose.

Turn over a few pages. Yes….there they are. The staff at the church I served early in my preparation years. A great group of servants and some wonderful Christians. And they all drank. Every last one of them.

The pastor. His wife. The associates. Their wives. The secretaries. Their spouses. The musicians. Especially the musicians. All of them. When we had staff get togethers, the alcohol would flow, and I would watch in stunned amazement as people would get…uh….happier. I never saw anyone drunk, but I saw a number of people….happy. Seeing Southern Baptist church staff members happy is odd enough, but happy on booze? Wow.

The pastor was from the south. His family was big in the denomination. The associates were from the south, too. Big FBC type churches with major givers and well-known pulpits. These folks drank and they didn’t just start last week. They had apparently been drinking for a long time. It actually seemed they had been drinking all through their years of preparation and ministry. It wasn’t even a big deal. They knew lots of other drinkers, too. It was like a secret society.

Yes, they were aware that most Baptists didn’t drink, but they were aware that lots of Baptists did drink, even if they said they didn’t. Especially in the circles of the upper classes, church staff and educators. Again, my eyes were opened, and have been more opened since. There are lots of drinkers in Southern Baptist churches, pulpits and schools. My childhood church might not have known, but the truth was stunning. Beer and wine everywhere!

Which raises the question: Why do so many Baptists act like that’s not the case? What’s the stake in this level of dishonesty? Where is the impetus to be so duplicious about this?

Go over another page. There’s my first church after seminary. County seat, FBC, very historic and thoroughly Southern Baptist. The pastor previous to the man who was there when I served was quite the anti-alcohol crusader. In fact, the church played a leading role in local “wet-dry” elections. (That’s a Kentucky law that allows a county to allow liquor sales or not, or to regulate the sale to particular times. In much of the commonwealth, you have to drive more than an hour to find a “wet” county, so these elections are a big deal.)

I never saw as much excitement in any church as I did in that church when the “drys” won another election. You never saw anything like it revival services. People were up and cheering. It was like they had won a war.

Which was strange, because I knew lots of drinkers in that church. Drinking was pretty common among the youth, of course, and they were getting it, frequently, from their own homes. The parents had a fridge full of beer. Big brother or Uncle Bob was making a weekly run to a wet city to fill up the truck. Beer on the houseboats. Wine for the dinner party. Our church had its share of non-locals and other denominational types, and many of them were drinkers and saw no reason not to be. It turned out that among the doctors, lawyers and business leaders in that church, there were many completely guiltless drinkers.

Meanwhile, the church acted like alcohol hadn’t touched the lips of a member in a century. We weren’t like those Lutherans, Catholics and Episcopalians. Nosiree Bob. Good grief. What is going on here?

By this time, my eyes were more than open. I was stunned into shocked awareness. I had concluded that I had been lied to, and that while there was more open drinking among members of other churches, our Southern Baptist folks were far from being left out in the cold without some booze to warm them up. Alcohol was everywhere, if- if- you were prepared to be honest about it. If you wanted to continue the rap about teetotalism, the bottles would go out to the garage for a while. Then, when you leave, the party will start again.

So what in the world was going on? Why did our churches and seminaries have covenants and rules that said drinking was wrong, and that drinkers were under the threat of church/institutional discipline? Why did we bind the conscience on the issue of teetotalism, without a verse of scripture that required it? Why was alcohol use of any kind,- not just abuse, but moderate, responsible use- held up as a sign of bad character? Why was it such a big deal among leaders? When so many of them drank?

Why were we all involved in this lie?

I came to understand a bit more of the dynamics of the churches I had been a part of as they choose leaders. Divorce and drinking were always the two big issues with leadership. No one cared about anything else. The big questions were, “Has he ever been divorced?” and “Does he drink?” Now I realize that the second could not be taken for granted at all, even among those who answered correctly. There was enough duplicity on the issue of drinking to make fools of everyone. So it became the policy that we acted like everyone was dry as the Dust Bowl, nodding at the official position of the church, amening the crusaders, while the truth simply sat there, on ice.

It was like a bunch of GM execs who had Toyotas at home in the garage. It was like owners of Kentucky Fried Chicken eating their meals at Chick-fil-A. It was like nodding when the evangelist preached on the evils of drink while you had a bottle of wine and a six-pack in the basement fridge. It was exactly like that.

If you go back to the very beginning, you’ll see some pages from my very early years. I can remember my parents talking about how they couldn’t find a church in Wisconsin that was against drinking, so they wound up joining a tiny little house church started by Baptists from the south. Eventually, they moved back to Kentucky, and dad often said that if he hadn’t moved, I would never have turned out as a Baptist preacher. That’s probably true. I’d have been doomed to a life of Lutheran picnics or something.

I also wouldn’t have been told that all those other denominations, no matter what other errors they believed, were chock full of drinkers on their way to hell. Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Epicopalians, Presbyterians….drinkers all. My pastor preached against drinking in other churches with ferocity. There was no other name for his approach. It mattered deeply to him, so much that alcohol dominated many messages. What separated Southern Baptists from other Christians was teetotalism. We said the church covenant’s promise “to abstain from the sale and use of alcohol as a beverage” with emphasis. God was serious about this booze issue, and he was watching.

How many times were the evils of drinking portrayed before me as a young person in church? Thousands I am sure. Moderate, social drinkers were the worst sort of compromisers, selling out their “witness” for acceptance from the drinking crowd. And, of course, there was the Bible. Over and over, I heard the Bible’s passages against drunkenness emphasized and repeated. When I discovered that not only did the Bible have much positive material about wine as a gift, and that most of the Bible’s content of alcohol was in a positive or neutral voice, I was totally torn up. How could this be? It had been so clear! So obvious…and so wrong.

Once I was discovered eating a pizza in a restaurant that served beer. I knew, from many sermons, that real Christians never entered a place that served alcohol. We could eat racist pizza, mafia pizza and pizza prepared by drug addicted wife abusers. But if the Methodists were selling beer in there, it was the door to hell. And there I was, exposed by a deacon’s wife. I got off easy, since she had no business in there either.

I was taught that the Bible’s word for wine was not the word for fermented alcohol. I was taught that Jesus made Welch’s. I was taught that no one in the Bible drank unless it was a sin. I was taught that the essence of my witness was to be a teetotaler and to promote it at every opportunity. Nothing was as important in my witness in my western Kentucky community as abstaining from alcohol. This kind of thinking is still running around in my head, and I doubt it will ever come out. I hate it, by the way. It’s a mind virus. It has nothing to do with Jesus and it makes me mad. The lie really sucks.

Such was the effect on me that I was flat out terrified at my first encounters with alcohol. When I was offered it in the eighth grade there was no danger of me participating. I skipped every school party, function and prom because of alcohol. I had nothing to do with friends who drank. If I found out a friend was a drinker, our relationship changed. I had my priorities straight: Evangelism, teetotalism and no sex. This was before Christian bookstores were around to help you live the Christian life by buying cds and t-shirts.

My best buddy for years was a Catholic. There was beer in the house, and I knew it. It scared me. These good folks must have known what was going on with me, because I never saw it. But another friend had an alcoholic father, and I stayed far away from their house. I tried, I really tried, to live out what I was told about this. Being a good Christian with boozy friends was a tightrope.

Then I began to make friends in other churches. My friend Tom was an Episcopalian. They had alcohol in the house. Wine, which they pretended was classy. The deceivers. My friend Mack was a Methodist. His dad drank a beer after mowing. They had booze at his wedding reception. Mack knew I was alcohol phobic, and at my bachelor party he tricked me into drinking tea that he said was booze. Everyone laughed. He’ll be punished in the afterlife for his sins. Other friends were Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans and other denominations. They drank. My charismatic Catholic friends sang praise choruses, spoke in tongues and drank beer. There were Christians who drank. Everywhere. I couldn’t deny it. By the time I was starting college, I had begun to realize something wasn’t right about what I had been told.

From the deacon in the dugout to complete disillsuionment. The rest, as they say, is the history of ruined reality. I’m damaged goods. I was lied to, and I am tired of being lied to.

I guess we can close the book. There really isn’t much more that’s interesting. I was snuckered. The Bible didn’t say what I was told it said. There are millions of Christians who drink. Jesus made real wine. It’s what you are supposed to drink at communion. I was misled and there isn’t any other word for it. It is just one, big lie.

And now, we’re hearing it all again. I’ve heard lots of articulate people try to build a new case for teetotalism, and while I respect what they are saying, the Bible is too clear. They can make a very good practical argument, but they can’t get past Colossians 2:16-23. You can’t bind the conscience in these matters. It’s a fools errand, and life is too short to listen to it.

The Southern Baptist Convention cannot ethically, Biblically require its members or employees or seminary students to vote Republican, be pro-life, withdraw from public schools, believe young earth creationism or abstain from the use of alcohol as a beverage. They can urge these things as reasonable conclusions to the question of “How should a Christian live?” They can speculate on what Jesus would do. They can preach, teach and argue the point from scripture.

But they cannot ethically require the members of their churches to covenant to be teetotalers. They cannot ethically ask students to pledge to never have a glass of wine with dinner. They simply cannot require their employees or members to say that God wills total abstinence. They can’t say it. If they do, they are saying more than God says, and the conscience can only be bound by the Word of God. I don’t care who drinks and who doesn’t. I don’t want anyone to abuse alcohol. I want to be against all kinds of abuse of the body or anything God has made. But I cannot, and will not, and simply do not support this business of forcing people to adopt an explicit statement on teetotalism as a tenet of Christian ministry or community.

A pig dressed in a suit is still a pig. A lie called “a good witness” is still a lie. The Bible says what it says, and what anyone else says is on a different level entirely. Bind our conscience on loving one another. Bind our conscience on avoiding evil and addiction. Bind our conscience to be against every sin in scripture. But you cannot bind the conscience of Southern Baptists to teetotalism and say it’s God’s will and God’s word.

(Commenters: I’d love to hear your stories regarding Southern Baptists (and other sworn teetotalers) and the reality of alcohol use.)

Comments

  1. As I read your stories of being lied to, I remember well my similar experiences, except my family, relatives, and even church members did not live a lie. They lived as they believed. The lies began to dawn on me once I arrived at college, perhaps in my sophomore or junior years.

    The institution where I teach prohibits any use of adult beverages 365 days per year. In other words, the institution binds the consciences of its employees. Well, of course, that’s were the lie enters. I know employees who sign the covenant of prohibition but imbibe anyway. I have never known anyone who has been terminated for drinking, despite the fact that termination is a stated disciplinary action for anyone who violates the covenant.

    I have always submitted an extended statement that qualifies my signing of the covenant. I will not violate my free conscience by yielding it to human prohibition of matters that the Lord Jesus Christ does not prohibit. The issue for me is not a desire to use adult beverages; it is a matter of conscience. Ironically, two years ago when I submitted my five-page statement that explains biblically why I must maintain loyalty to Jesus Christ and not yield my conscience to the lordship of humans who want to rule my conscience, I found myself needing to defend myself under hostile attack. This happened while others who signed the statement without submitting any qualifications and were known by the administrators to drink alcoholic beverages, remained completely untouched and unchallenged. In matters such as adult beverages, at Christian institutions, it often matters who one is rather than what one does even after signing a covenant. This is the big lie that really irks me.

  2. Those who have commented on C. S. Lewis concerning his observations in Screwtape Letters about use of alcohol when alone as a painkiller being more likely to make an alcoholic than when used with friends as an enjoyment is noteworthy since his brother became an alchoholic.

  3. This is one issue that sent me running and screaming away from the SBC in my late teens. I got sick of self-righteous prigs bad-mouthing even the moderate use of alcohol on Sunday mornings. My parents were (are) devout believers and yet didn’t have a problem with occasional and moderate use of alcohol. I knew it was one big lie.

    I’m Anglican now. My family still is SBC. Their pastor stops short of saying alcohol is sinful, but my parents don’t drink in public, and my sister and bro-in-law have forbidden drinking in front of my niece. I’ll go along with it, but I think it’s loopy to assume that drinking responsibly and appropriately in front of my niece will lead her into wild drunkenness and abandon.

    :: eyes rolling ::

  4. Hey iMonk,

    I hate to do this, I really do, but I really can’t stop myself – y’know, “the good that I will I do not”, and all that – so please forgive me in advance, but…

    …should there REALLY be a comma after “one”? It’s not an adjective.

    I’msorryI’msorryI’msorry sticklering is an addiction blame Romans 7. *ducks*

  5. Steve McFarland says:

    Ah! The infamous bachelor party with tea in a Lord Calvert bottle. “This tastes like lukewarm
    tea” Can you forgive me? We should never have poured the real stuff out.

  6. I grew up in a large baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas (Buckle of the bible belt). Now granted this was in the late 70’s early 80’s. Back then not only was drinking a sin, but so was dancing. I only went to 2 dances in high school (including senior prom), and one of them my grandad had to take me to because my parents wouldn’t let me go.

    Drinking was a sin, or so I was always told, and being the good headstrong rebel, I was determined to drink as much as possible. In fact my “friends” and I used to go to a local bar between youth choir, and the evening worship service. Once when the youth choir was singing in the service I had to have one of the other guys stand next to me so I wouldn’t fall down. My parents never caught on, even if I was out late at night.

    So what effect did this have on me? Well… when I got to college (away from everyone). I drank like a fish. I tried marajuana but fortunately I’m alergic to smoke. I also figured that since everybody was totally against sex that I should try that out too. No wonder I flunked out of college twice.

    Now I can’t say that I blame all the bad decisions I’ve made in my life on any of this, but I can see how it contributed to it. If we don’t talk honestly with teens about things then how can we expect them to believe a word we say about anything. I’ve got a 16 year old son, and believe me when I say that he’s getting the straight talk on stuff, all KINDS of stuff.

    Michael, I appreciate the Colosians 2:16-23 passage. It sure puts a new spin on things.

  7. she_pondered says:

    Doesn’t it seem like the abuse of alcohol is more than just a matter of rebellion or acting irrationally? I think it goes a bit deeper than that, and that it’s more of a symptom of other problems than anything else.

    And maybe that’s why the teetotalism doesn’t work – because it can’t fix the deeper issues. Maybe it’s more than finding out that your kid is drinking too much, maybe it’s finding out *why* he’s drinking too much.

  8. I grew up seventh day adventist. My experience was similar, except with “keeping the sabbath” in place of alchohol. Interestingly enough, your Colossians quote covers that as well. If only I’d ever happened upon it then.

  9. I grew up in a Plymouth Brethren church. I never heard any preaching against alcohol from the pulpit. However, after I was baptized, and I participated in the Lord’s Supper for the first time, I quickly decided that I wouldn’t be consuming alcohol. Why? Simple: the wine from the Lord’s Supper tasted *sour*! In retrospect, sometimes I wonder whether that was their strategy all along… 🙂

  10. “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” — Ben Franklin

    Take care & God bless
    Anne

  11. There is so much confusion on this issue, especially in my own life. When I grew up, my Christian parents were teetotallers; my mom’s parents were alcoholics. My folks weren’t militant or down on anybody who drank, they just didn’t have any booze around ever. So the first time I drank in high school, I really had no frame of reference for it and swilled four or five beers in 20 minutes. Good time.
    Five or six years later, when alcohol abuse had really started messing up my life, I stumbled into AA and got sober.
    By this time my folks were there 40s and drinking in moderation. My dad always acted like I was limiting the Lord’s redemptive power by labeling myself alcoholic and swearing off the sauce for good. As if someday I could drink responsibly. This was confusing for a newly dry (and still thirsty) young man. Only recently did he stop routinely offering me drinks at my insistence. I don’t think he believed that I was unable to drink responsibly.
    Almost a decade later, I still identify myself as a recovering alcoholic and abstain. I can say with conviction that I could walk out of my house right now and buy a beer, drink it and come home. But oh, would I want another one…

  12. Chris Stiles says:

    Isn’t the basic problem a particular style of Biblical interpretation that abuses the original Greek text somewhat?

    Doctrine by detailed word by word textual analysis of something written in most authors second language – and incidentally why it’s different enough from most of the classical literature written in Greek at the same point.

  13. You star! You actually changed it! Interactive sticklering – boosh!! Gotta love the internet.

    Also: as ever – top quality, Biblical essay. I love the stuff that comes out of here, I really do.

  14. Dear iMonk,

    While we are being perfectly honest here, I think it would be good to point out that the original intent of Colossians 2:16-23 had nothing at all to do with the subject of teetotaling. Paul was addressing the issue of false teachers who sought to impose dietary regulations, probably based on OT law. Paul was also pointing out the futility of asceticism, which is the attempt to achieve holiness by rigorous self-neglect. While I can see how you could loosely apply these versus to make your point, I do not believe that you can make any kind of case that Paul was referring to the issue of teetotaling. To me thatÂ’s a bit of a stretch.

    Good people can disagree on this subject. But I would hope that even you could agree that there is an even greater issue at stake. Paul writes in Romans 14:19-21, “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.”

    I personally hold to the teetotalling view. Passages like Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise,” and Proverbs 23:31, “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly;” seem pretty plain spoken to me. But I recognize that not everyone agrees. And I’m okay with that. I won’t judge your liberality, and please don’t judge my convictions. But ultimately that should all take a backseat to the greater issue, which is that alcohol in the church IS a major stumbling block. Even you have all but admitted to it in your own testimony. I’m all for honesty. But I think we would all do well to spend a little less time fighting for our right to drink responsibly and spend a little more time thinking about how it affects the lives of those around us.

    “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” – Philippians 2:3-4

  15. Don: Your Proverbs verses are, of course, countered 2-1 by verses that mention wine as a blessing, etc. See the Whitfield link at the beginning of this post.

    Comparing verses wouldn’t be the point.

    My respecting your teetotalism is part of the point, but its also clear that Paul was telling his greek converts that they were to hold to the Gospel in Christ, and not to the rules and legalisms of Judaism. We can always say a first century document isn’t a twenty-first century document, but the admonition that we are free from the constraints on eating, drinking and sabbaths is as applicable to 21st century fundamentalism as it was to 1st century Judaism.

    In both cases, the truth is in Christ. Moderate use of alcohol is not condemned. It is allowed with stern warnings. Wine can be recieved as a gift and blessing of God. Our children and fellow christians need to know that, no matter what their personal choice about drinking.

  16. Don:

    If there were freedom in the SBC context for each person to *freely and publically* make the decision to abstain or not, as is the case in many other denominations, this brew-ha-ha (pun intended) would not be occurring. The point is that there is A) a blanket expectation of abstinence, without exception; B) engendered hypocrisy, as those whose consciences are not bound are forced to lie and hide their drinking, thus replacing a “false” sin with *real* ones; C) a cycle of rebellion engendered by binding peoples’ consciences on a secondary matter, and stifling the freedom to demonstrate responsible handling of alcohol (which is *statistically proven* to be a better way of preventing addiction than total abstinance).

    Alcohol is just the pretext. *Legalism* is the issue.

  17. I do not deny the issue of legalism. I condemn that as well. But by the same token you cannot deny that alcohol in the church DOES cause your brother to stumble and therefore must be governed by Romans 14:19-21. No matter what your position this truth is undeniable.

  18. Don, I respect you and your position and love you as a brother in Christ, but I’m kind of concerned about your last statement.

    Does it? I mean, I will willingly admit I may not be as versed or studied up on this as many, but it seems a bit presumptuous to me to say that if I have a drink it will absolutely, undeniably, without a doubt cause someone to stumble. I’ve always kind of held that this is where an individual’s conscience comes in.

    Yes, my first and foremost goal should be to love my brother in Christ, and I would agree that if I even think that having a drink might upset, offend, or cause him/her to drink themselves when they really thought it was wrong, then my heart’s desire should be not to drink because that’s what’s best for them regardless of my own beliefs and/or preferences.

    However, when people make statements that authoritatively command that you behave a certain way when it’s not 100% biblically clear that you should, it not only leads to many of the issues touched on in the original essay (feeling of being lied to, hypocrisy, and the annoying feeling of being constricted) but defeats the main premise that Paul is proporting. If I don’t drink because I’ve been told that I will absolutely be a stumbling block, then I may or may not give a rip about my brother in Christ, but instead will begrudingly be tied to a moral standard that doesn’t exist in scripture (and based on the first couple of verses of 1 Cor 13, I might be making a lot of noise that signifies nothing). If, however, I thoughtfully consider my brother’s position and then decide to act that way then I am doing it with a right heart.

    I guess what I’m saying is that if Paul really meant to say that everything that is “debatable” should be absolutely avoided all the time, then why didn’t he just say that rather that spend the 19 previous verses laying out his position?

  19. Chris,
    I did not say “if you have a drink it will absolutely, undeniably, without a doubt cause someone to stumble.” What I said was that drinking is a stumbling block issue. Love dictates that I consider others before exercising my liberality. Scripture dictates that I not eat or drink if it will cause my brother to stumble.

  20. The logic of “if your brother stumbles, don’t do it” is a profoundly misunderstood part of the NT. I mean, goodness…what sorts of things would Jesus and Paul NOT have done if they followed that dictum to the core?

    That logic places the entire church in the hands of objectors, over sensitive consciences, poorly taught believers and attention-seekers.

    There are plenty of times we do the right thing by telling the weaker brother the way of maturity. If anyone thinks that Paul wasn’t for teaching and proclaiming the TRUTH about meat offered to idols, but instead endorsed silence so no one was offended, then you don’t get the pastoral dynamics.

    My daughter attended a wine and cheese bit with her new pastor. That wasn’t sin, or unloving, or unwise. What is said and done in that context is another story.

  21. Matthew 15:10-14 – “And He called the people to Him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.’ Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.’”

    Not drinking in the presence of a brother recovering from alcoholism – *that* is “not causing a weaker brother to stumble”. Not drinking to satisfy the desires of those who blindly insist on manmade rules, and thus reinforcing their legalism – that is NOT “not causing a weaker brother to stumble”.

    I remember the WHI guys talking about A. A. Hodge, brother of Charles Hodge, who said that he hated the taste of beer, but when the proto-temperance crusaders rolled into town he felt obligated to drink *blatantly, in their presence*, to prove to them their blanket calls for abstinance were groundless. I wish I could find the exact quote…

  22. Michael,
    That is a great article. I apparently had the same “kind” of up-bringing as you. I am a pastor of a small southern baptist church, and I have have been preaching through Galatians. I have realized in recent months that our convention seems to have its own Judaizers within–those seeking to spy out our freedom in Christ causing many “Peters” to refrain from Gentile drink and food.
    I know that the Judaizers in Paul’s day really pushed circumcision of the flesh, failing to realize it was a symbol of the heart.
    I do not know which one is more painful–causing a brother to be circumcised (literally/physically) or preventing one from enjoying drink or foods.

  23. Good article, I was a teenage drinker and abused it severely as a lost person. I was saved by Christ at 20, indoctrinated with legalism on this issue, and then started studying the issue for myself in seminary which was another brood of vipers on the issue. Today I enjoy a cold beverage and good pipe in proper respect by which it is enjoyed. I am with Luther and the Bible on the issue, whether we eat or drink we do it for the glory of God. I started a secret society to protect other brothers who like to enjoy beverage without the fear of being fired or persecuted. If anyone lives in North Georgia and would like to join, email me at societyofinquiry@mac.com.

  24. The argument I have heard from the uninformed is: We don’t use alcohol in either social occasions or in communion because it may be a stumbling-block to ex-alcoholics and those disposed to that kind of temptation.
    My answer is in 1 Corinthians Chapter 11 and Chapter 6.
    In chapter 6 Paul tells the church that no ‘drunkard’ (alcoholic) will inherit the Kingdom of God and then goes on to say “…and such were some of you…”
    So we know that there were ex-alcohol-abusers in the Corinthian Church.
    And in chapter 11 he speaks, without rebuke, of the alcoholic communion-wine they were using.
    Some people were missing out and had none, and some greedy ones were getting drunk. You can’t get drunk on mere grape juice. It was alcoholic.
    So here we have ex-alcoholics taking alcolic wine in Communion with St. Paul’s blessing. Perhaps that’s the difference between being truly delivered, and just having good intentions.
    ps. Paul says in Ch11, “have you not homes to drink/eat in…?” (Social drinking…just like Jesus, who ‘fulfilled the Law/Old Testament’ by never getting drunk, never sinning in any way at all)
    Have you ever thought that , if the Old Testament [or the New] says that alcohol is sin, then WE ARE ALL LOST IN OUR SINS!!!!!

    Because:

    If Jesus had ever sinned then Calvary means nothing. He had to be the sinless lamb of God. Only an innocent can die for the guilty, and IF drinking is sin[which it aint], then Jesus sinned [Jesus drank alcohol], and Calavary is meaningless, and I am lost, and so is the poor deluded soul who stands behind the pulpit and proclaims that drinking is sin.
    Sad.

  25. Oft touted verse to stop good christians from imbibing.
    “Not GIVEN to wine…” 1 Timothy 3:3
    But the thought behind the word ‘given’ is to be ‘given-over’ to something. That is, that the person is totally controlled by the thing. ‘Handed-over’ would be another way of saying it. He is talking about hopeless alcoholics, or at least ‘drunken sots’, not social drinkers who enjoy a glass of wine with their meal.
    Consider what a contradictory letter 1st Timothy would be with Paul advising the putting away of Timothy’s ‘tee-totaling’ in chapter 5… “drink no longer water [ONLY water] BUT drink a LITTLE wine for thy stomach’s sake…”
    [[ie. wine in moderation isn’t sin, but drunkenness IS ]],
    if
    Paul was saying that drinking wine was sin in chapter 3. (which he wasn’t)

    Drinking ‘wine’ [Gk: oikonos] is sin in Chapter 3, and he advises water-totaling-Timothy to START drinking wine in chapter 5 ????
    Oh come on!
    The ‘alcohol-is-evil’ argument is bankrupt.

    ‘Little wine’…good.
    ‘Lotta-wine’….bad.

    Simple.
    I do not drink any alcohol at all and haven’t for some 25 years. I just don’t like the taste, and I don’t like what it does to me. It is relatively expensive, and it just doesn’t occur to me to EVER buy alcohol. I say this to counter the idea that I am trying to make a loop-hole for my self. I don’t drink. A friend of mine calls me a ‘Tea-o-logian’ I drink so much of the stuff…
    ‘Tea’ that is.
    But I will defend the liberty of those of you who choose to folow the example of Jesus, Paul, Timothy, all of the apostles [last supper] and drink A LITTLE wine/alcohol-of-choice, and not get drunk.
    Its not called ‘sin’, its called ‘liberty’.
    Cheers… 😉

  26. Oft touted verse to stop good christians from imbibing.
    “Not GIVEN to wine…” 1 Timothy 3:3
    But the thought behind the word ‘given’ is to be ‘given-over’ to something. That is, that the person is totally controlled by the thing. ‘Handed-over’ would be another way of saying it. He is talking about hopeless alcoholics, or at least ‘drunken sots’, not social drinkers who enjoy a glass of wine with their meal.
    Consider what a contradictory letter 1st Timothy would be with Paul advising the putting away of Timothy’s ‘tee-totaling’ in chapter 5… “drink no longer water [ONLY water] BUT drink a LITTLE wine for thy stomach’s sake…”
    [[ie. wine in moderation isn’t sin, but drunkenness IS ]],
    if
    Paul was saying that drinking wine was sin in chapter 3. (which he wasn’t)

    Drinking ‘wine’ [Gk: oikonos] is sin in Chapter 3, and he advises water-totaling-Timothy to START drinking wine in chapter 5 ????
    Oh come on!
    The ‘alcohol-is-evil’ argument is bankrupt.

    ‘Little wine’…good.
    ‘Lotta-wine’….bad.

    Simple.
    I do not drink any alcohol at all and haven’t for some 25 years. I just don’t like the taste, and I don’t like what it does to me [two Wine-gums and I’m anyones! 🙂 ]. It is relatively expensive, and it just doesn’t occur to me to EVER buy alcohol. I say this to counter the idea that I am trying to make a loop-hole for my self. I don’t drink. A friend of mine calls me a ‘Tea-o-logian’ I drink so much of the stuff…
    ‘Tea’ that is.
    But I will defend the liberty of those of you who choose to follow the example of Jesus, Paul, Timothy, all of the apostles [last supper] and drink A LITTLE wine/alcohol-of-choice, and not get drunk.
    Its not called ‘sin’, its called ‘liberty’.
    Cheers… 😉

  27. Great article.
    I was visiting a SBC church in Alabama for a while that had just gotten a new pastor who had an PhD from Southwestern Seminary I think. He said in a sermon that Jesus never drank, but yet he drives a Jaguar. From my perspective the SBC needs to worry more about materialism than alcoholism. But preaching against materialism (and actually drawing concrete lines for it) would alienate all the big givers in the church, and what seeker sensitive church strategy is it to tell the message that condemns someone, even if it is the gospel.

  28. I wonder which lie in the Baptist Church came first? The one about alcohol or the one where we come to church on Sunday and act like nothing is wrong when we’re completely broken? Growing up the same way you did always made me wonder how the “bad” guys always got away with drinking and us “good” guys couldn’t ever take a sip. Being a “teatotaler” all my life has been weird at best. I’m treated differently because I don’t drink. I’ve been left out of parties or get togethers because I don’t drink. Some of my daughter’s friends parents avoid me because they know I don’t drink. I don’t wear a sign, somehow they just know. Isn’t this a “personal” decision? I’ve never judged anyone because they drank or didn’t drink. It’s not a matter of right or wrong. It’s a matter of, is it a wise thing to do? All my life my best friends have been drinkers. I’ve met maybe one other person in my life who hasn’t had a drop of alcohol. I’ve taught my children not to drink but not for any biblical based reasons. Both of my grandfathers were alcoholics and my brother is a recovering alcoholic. I grew up two doors down from a man who drank himself to death. I watched this over many years and saw how it devistated his children and wife. I made a decision then that I’d drink coke or milk. I’m glad I did. Over the years I’ve had the displeasure of attending a few funeral home visitations where the dearly departed was a victim of the abuse of alcohol or was killed by a drunk driver. There are plenty of good reasons not to drink. In fact I have to say that I’ve never seen anything positive associated with drinking, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”. Maybe it’s just this way where I grew up. We just don’t know how to handle booze. Don’t know how to be responsible with it, don’t know how to control it. A good friend of mine had a son who, in a drunken state, fell off a 2nd floor balcony and died. His younger son a year later had to perform community service because of drunk driving. Where did they get it? Their parents liquor cabinet, of course. Let me ask this question. If your child started drinking because you had it in the home and then the child died from being under the influence, would you EVER have alcohol in your home again? Seriously! The poor father in this example doesn’t drink anymore (who could blame him) and he is ridiculed for it by his coworkers. After he and his friends play golf they go to the clubhouse and he gets water or a Sprite and his friends make fun of him! Why can’t they just get a beer and let him get his Sprite? He’s 48 years old and he’s ridiculed by his coworkers because his son died and he decided not to drink anymore. This is insane! But, I believe it’s a reflection of our society’s attitude on alcohol. Another friend of mine and I were talking about this subject the other day and he said that he could never remember hearing anyone ever saying, “boy I’m sure glad I was drunk last night!” I think it’s as simple as when Paul said, “just because everything is permissible for me doesn’t mean that everything is beneficial”. I think good common sense and some self dicipline would save more lives than all the sermons against drinking.

  29. Mark of Kingwood says:

    Michael – Unknowingly, or maybe knowingly, you’ve revealed your personal disdain for Southern Baptists. The Southern Baptist that you describe are not the Southern Baptist that I know. The New Testament does not forbid any food or drink, but does warn us of drunkedness and encourages a sober mind. Your generalisations about an entire Christian denomination are what generalisations tend to be – wrong.

  30. You’ll be glad to know I never claimed to know anything about the Southern Baptists you know. I wrote about the ones I know. And your conclusion that I have “disdain” is not only unwarranted…it’s the kind of Frank Turk style evaluation I keep getting from people who apparently believe the proper attitude to one’s denomination is kind of an uncritical team loyalty. (Can anyone say “John Macarthur never got anything wrong?”) You can avoid any further concern because there is no chance I will ever have an uncritical attitude toward anything I am part of. You read and criticized my writing, so I assume you don’t feel it’s sinful to have criticisms. Good.

  31. I was raised in a fellowship very similar to the SBC (though neither likes to admit the similarities). I’ll be honest…I never knew by those SBC people I knew that Baptists didn’t drink. I suppose not being Baptist, they didn’t feel a need to hide it from me…and I’m a minister myself. I, too, was taught that the Bible was very clear that all alcohol was sinful, except in cases of a doctor’s advice (think Paul’s advice to Timothy…though Paul was no Dr.). As a member of Kiwanis for a while, my impressions that Baptists must not be against drinking was only reinforced as they talked of going to a Presbyterian’s winery, talked about parties over the weekend, and remeniced about the margarita blender one of their elderly fathers had rigged to run off the battery of his 70s Ford truck so they could party down at the river.

    I’m not picking on the Baptists, I’ve many a good Baptist friend, and in our fellowship we’ve got the same hypocrisy and oddball teachings.

    The final eye-opener for me was Scripture itself. This verse, above all, simply blew all the old arguments out of the water and shattered their weight in my thinking:

    Deut 14:22-26
    22 “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year.
    23 “And you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the first-born of your herd and your flock, in order that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
    24 “And if the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you,
    25 then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses.
    26 “AND YOUI 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 IT IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD YOUR GOD AND REJOICE, you and your household.”
    (NAS)

    There it is, right smack-dab in the middle of the Law of Moses–God granting permission for wine and strong drink (some translations even say beer) at a religiously required meal in the presence of God Himself.

  32. I don’t know if this is the Charles Hodge quote that was requested earlier, but it is in his commentary on Romans (if you want to track it down) and it goes like this:

    It is often necessary to assert our Christian liberty at the expense of incurring censure, and offending even good men, in order that right principles of duty may be preserved. Our Savior consented to be regarded as a Sabbath breaker and, and even a “wine bibber and a friend of publicans and sinners”; but wisdom was justified by her children.

    I too recommend everyone read “Drinking with Calvin and Luther,” by Jim West. Google and you shall find it.

    Michael: I love your blog. My SBC mother (who proudly puts tracts in six packs at the Winn Dixie) can’t believe that she gave birth to a son who grew up to be a Presbyterian pastor who moderately consumes wine and beer. You should have heard her go off on me the first time she saw me wearing a Guinness shirt…just to show you how muddled her thinking is, she tried to tell me that pastors have higher ethical standards than other Christians. When she couldn’t prove that nonsense from Scripture, she sulked.
    My first pastorate was in a church that didn’t use wine in communion because the janitor was a former alcoholic. Based on the principle of not binding my conscience, the session (that’s “elders” to you non-Presbyies) agreed that I could have wine in my goblet. After two years of patient waiting, the session agreed that we could offer wine and grape juice in communion. I still hate that idea because it sounds like the sacraments are a matter of choice, but again, I wouldn’t presume to bind the consciences of those who were against wine. Still, it makes it hard for me to justify my criticism of the “Jesus People” who used pizza and Coke for their observance of the Lord’s Supper.
    Anyway, being raised a missionary kid in an interdenominational mission organization, I grew up with Nazarenes, Holiness, Wesleyans, SBs–you name it. And of course, drinking was verboten. When I finally convinced my session to allow the use of wine in communion, I wrote an article for the church newsletter explaining the change, and giving plenty of exegetical arguments for the moderate consumption of beverage alcohol.
    In response, my mother sent me a videotape of a Charles Stanley sermon (part 3 of a 5 part message, I believe) in which Stanley categorically denounces alcohol. The funny (ironic and amusing funny) thing was that he gave how many Scriptures in support of his prohibition? None. Granted, this was a multi-part message, and maybe he quoted some Scripture on another tape, but as a pastor myself, if I am giving a multi-part message, I never assume that my hearers were there for the whole thing. If I am making a point that requires a review, I do it. Stanley didn’t. That is poor preaching.
    I am preaching on the subject of the weaker brother in two weeks, and I expect that some will be offended when I say that moderate consumption of beverage alcohol is clearly taught in Scripture….

  33. My husband and I became sinners saved by His loving grace as adults. And then, my husband became a Southern Baptist pastor. I was raised very relisously in an Episcapalian home, infant baptized and confirmed as a teen….when I got saved, and then followed with a baptism I understood ….our pastors wife discipled me. Under her well intended teaching I learned not to wear makeup, dance, drink booze, play cards, never teach men…even male teens, be submissive and don’t play the lottery. If I went to a function where alcohol was served drink it from a can because in a class people might think it’s hard liquor. and I obeyed. After many years of service and legalizim and attacks from the enemy and BURNOUT and attacks from brothers and sisters in HIM….we quit. and we stayed away from God’s kids for 10 years. Now, we are back. But, we are back as new creatures in Him. I told my husband, that I am who He made me to be…and if people don’t like that then that is thier problem not mine. Also, after a careful study…I don’t see where I can’t drink alcohol, or dance like David, and worship can be fun, and doesn’t have to be somber and leagalisitc, and I my husband and I can be partners that submissive doesn’t mean I’m nothing and he is everything…getting burned out and screwed over by other christians may have been the best thing that happened to us! is that what they meant by consider it all joy when you encounter various trials???? VBG????

    CHEERS>>>

  34. Re: John 2

    I think a lot of us are misreading it. The verb in 2:8 “Now draw some out…” usually has reference to drawing water out of a well. It shows up next in John 4 to describe what the Samaritan woman was doing. It looks to me like Jesus sets aside 120-180 gallons of water, and then turned the well water into wine for the duration of the party. What an outstanding way to fix a wine shortage!

  35. Thank you for this enlightening and clearly written post, even though I know you wrote it a long time ago. Your experience was exactly like mine, except it was my Catholic boyfriend (now fiance) who made me rethink. Even though I now believe the truth about drinking and what the Bible says, I still can’t shake the initial gut reaction of terror, sin, and shame when I see him drink. What things we do to our children in the name of holy living.

  36. Oh yes, and also, once at the church my parents attend and I used to, the pastor said, direct quote, “and on that same night the Lord took the grape juice, saying…”

  37. (I just had to be the 100th comment.)

    Some good & interesting thoughts.

    My 2c – moderation is a good principle in many areas of life.

  38. It’s really kind of funny. One of those contradictory stereotypes of Southerners. Good Southern Baptists don’t drink. But almost all of America’s hard alcohol is made in the South, and most famous Southerners were famous drinkers.