Christianity and Beer – Why Not?

I read a piece today on CNN.com about Christians rethinking their views on sex, figured if they could write about that I should be able to write a bit on drinking. For those who don’t know my background, I have a degree in Biblical Studies and worked as a pastor for a spell in my younger days. I’m pretty familiar with the text, the people and the politics that make up the majority of American Christian-affiliated churches, for better or worse. Like the CNN piece, this author thinks American Christians (or Christian American’s, as they’d no doubt prefer) need to rethink their stance on alcohol. Totally.

To begin it’d be almost too easy to remind folks that the first miracle Joshua (er, Jesus, as we Westerners are comfortable with) performed was creating wine from water (yes, I know some scholars suggest it was beer – but really, that’s not the point). Now, just from a casual glance at this event let’s assume two facts: a) people had been drinking b) this miracle allowed them to continue drinking. I would personally theorize that there were members of this wedding party that would be, by our rigid understanding and definition, drunk – before the extra alcohol was produced. That’s correct, I believe it’s safe to say that Jesus contributed to the intoxication of those attending this event. Why would I think this? Simple math, really. The text says that Jesus changed six ‘jars’ in to wine – each jar holding 20 to 30 gallons of water. By my estimation, the low-end volume of wine produced would have been 120 gallons, or 180 gallons on the high end of the scale! And this was done only AFTER the wine for the party was gone! This is where you’ll find some pastors drone on about the ‘low alcohol’ wine of the day, whatever that means. Bottom line is Jesus’ first documented public event had him producing upwards of TWELVE half-barrel kegs of alcohol. Even if it was a 5% ABV wine, that’s a lot of drinking.

This leads in to my second complaint: there is a difference between getting drunk and being a drunk. Throughout the Bible people are warned against “drunkenness”. Here we get all sorts of confused because we have a strange understanding of what the word “drunk” even means. By US understanding, a person is said to be “legally” drunk if their body alcohol content / concentration is 0.08% or greater. Now, please understand this definition was supposed to exist as a scale for safe vs. reckless driving. However, today kids the nation over will look to their parents as they sip a glass of wine, open a bottle of beer and assume the parents are ‘getting drunk’. I can’t even begin to tell you how horribly misunderstood this notion is. We have allowed the legal standard for safe driving to infiltrate the home to the point where, well, I can’t even accurately describe. It’s insanity though.

Throughout the Bible the men we know as “saints” imbibed regularly, and liberally. The Last Supper involved many glasses of wine. Celebrations of all types, too. Drink was just a part of life and the only admonishment given by the scholars and leaders was to not be ‘a drunk’, or a perpetually stoopered being that couldn’t keep his wits about him.

What’s interesting is taking the notion of addiction out of a biblical context. Today many ‘behaviorists’ summarize that addiction is defined by consequence. That is to say, you can drink on a regular basis, but if you drink and there begins to be a real-life consequence, then you’ve got something to worry about. Perpetually missing work, family events, getting popped for DUI, fighting, losing your clothes – all these are consequences that “might” be excusable once, but rarely (if ever) twice. Without preaching too much, if you find yourself falling into this category, you may want to consider more than the next pint. Folks, that is what the bible refers to as “drunkenness”. Simply getting buzzed or drunk, that ain’t no big thing – it’s happened throughout civilization.

Look, I’m not here to advocate keggers at your Sunday service, but if you’ve got a hang-up about someone having a drink or six – the hang-up is yours, not God’s. Drinking is a wonderful part of life, just like sex and music and many other things enjoyed by humanity throughout history. Does everything has its proper place and time? Sure, I’m OK with admitting that.

“Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. – 1 Corinthians 10:23

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