Yup. I went there. A topic that seems easily swallow-able to some, and completely taboo to others. Black and white to many, and quite gray to their friends. I’ve got friends both Nazarene and Free Methodist (and other too, for that matter..but most of my connections run in the Free/Wesley/Metho/Naza/Luther-type doctrines.
There are some both in occupational ministry, and outside it who believe Christians should advocate abstaining from alcohol. There are others who are in ministry or members in denominations that hold the stance of advocating abstinence, who have a drink once in a while. I think most of my readers can agree on the point that alcohol can be a very damaging substance, and the openness to it in someone’s life can lead them and those they love down paths of brokenness and pain. The question then becomes, as a church (small “c”) that desires to help members both old and new toward following Christ in a way that life doesn’t naturally want to on it’s own….what do we say, and what do we not say?
I’ve heard the arguments against “legalism”, and I agree – we do not want to make a list of “do’s” and a list of “don’ts” and reduce all of faith down to that. But I also believe that following Christ includes quite a bit of sacrificial obedience in ways we do not “naturally” feel like doing. Many these days do not want to “seem fake” and make seemingly “Holy” decisions when they don’t actually feel like it. In His book “Small Faith, Great God“, NT Wright calls this “hypocrisy” that Christians should be glad to be labeled with. He points out that many times we raise “authenticity” above obedience to God. That when we follow Jesus, and experience His Spirit, we are transformed but we are still human. We need the constant work of His Spirit to continue in us because left on our own, we have selfish and unhealthy desires. If there was no need for the Spirit beyond an initial work, we’d merely be satiated animals, not humans choosing to follow Christ toward completion and Kingdom. We are called to be different, and made free to celebrate life unlike the world’s patterns of celebration/enjoyment.
But Jesus drank alcohol, even in a day where drunkenness was popular. The ill effects of alcohol existed even then, and are spoken of/against throughout scripture. As many are quick to point out, the Bible does not say the words “don’t drink alcohol”. What if my family or close friends own a winery/brewery? What if having a beer with someone might make them feel you’re easier to relate to? What if I actually enjoy unwinding to a smelly glass of fermented liquid? I don’t want to seem “fake” and pretend to be Holy when I’m not.
While still many people, having read this far into the post will be thinking either, “sheesh…just throw it out already”, or “man, just swallow it down and get on with it.” After all, there are much more important matters than worrying about what words we write on paper about what choices a member of our part of the body of Christ should make. Feel free to close this window now.
Current Free Methodist wording states: “As concerned Christians, we advocate abstinence for the sake of health, family and neighbors. Moreover, we see the adverse social consequences as so pervasive that we seek by advocating abstinence to make a united social witness to the freedom Christ gives.” Here is a proposed change that offers new wording (not abstinence, but “consider the effects”) to this year’s General Conference.
And current Nazarene wording: “In light of the Holy Scriptures and human experience concerning the ruinous consequences of the use of alcohol as a beverage, and in light of the findings of medical science regarding the detrimental effect of both alcohol and tobacco to the body and mind, as a community of faith committed to the pursuit of a holy life, our position and practice is abstinence rather than moderation.”
So what do you think? What does your glass say?
I do believe that what we confess, and what we pour, should probably move toward alignment.