On Beer and Burgundy

Reed JolleyCommunity News

Growing up, I was raised to believe there was a clear divide between the church and the world.  It was us and themThe difference between us Christians and those who were worldly was clearly demarcated, impacting everything from what we did on Sundays (shopping and movie-going were strongly discouraged on the Sabbath) to what we ate.  Our separation from the world determined the games we played (Rook instead of poker), the length of our hair if we were boys, and the hem of our skirt if we were girls.  It was simply a given in my Christian subculture that Christians didn’tcuss, smoke, dance, or drinkPhrases such as Lips that touch wine will never touch mine and I don’t dance, smoke, or chew—or go out with girls who do were spoken playfully but somewhat seriously.

My Christian world was so insular that I thought every believer, throughout the history of the church, thought exactly as I thought.  If I had heard that someone like C. S. Lewis drank beer, I might have wondered if such a soul were really saved!  To give you an example of my naïveté, when I was a junior in college, I was surprised to learn that beer is carbonated!  I’m not making this up.  Beer had bubbles, and I was taken aback.                                   (continued on page 2)

The distinction between us and them was fairly clear, but just as I was coming of age, I began to hear rumors of born-again believers who had a glass of wine with dinner.  Say what???  But it wasn’t just me.  Evangelicals were going through a period of change.  I was both shocked and intrigued, repulsed yet drawn in…  In 1974 Richard Quebedeaux wrote a book called The Young EvangelicalsThe author said this new evangelical was pretty much just like the older evangelicals but with a stein of social concern in his left hand and a glass of wine in his right hand.  In short order, wine was in and teetotalism was out!

That was then, and this is now.  Then, it was thought to be a legitimate expression of Christian freedom to have an occasional glass of wine with a meal.  But now consuming alcoholic beverages—wine, beer, and mixed drinks—is virtually taken for granted among most evangelicals and expected at most social gatherings.  Then, the wine drinker was an anomaly; now, the norm.  Should we be concerned?  I think so.

After all, saying that alcohol is the world’s most dangerous drug is probably not an overstatement.  More dangerous than heroin, more dangerous than meth, more dangerous than marijuana.  Really?  Yes, really.  Why do I say this?  Because the overuse of alcohol destroys lives.  Many lives. According to Anderson Spickard, a medical doctor who spent his career treating alcohol abuse, alcoholism leads to over 100,000 deaths a year.  Furthermore, Spickard claims that nearly 1 in 3 of Americans is either a problem drinker or an alcoholic.   More than half of all Americans have a close family member who is abusing alcohol.

On a more personal note, Tony Davis, one of our elders and an assistant district attorney for Santa Barbara County, says that in the vast majority of the cases he handles, alcohol was involved in the crime.  On a more personal note still, we have alcoholics in our congregation, some who are getting help and others who are addicted in secret.  We have had kids grow up in our church and then find themselves in the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission yearlong alcohol and drug treatment program.  Our church includes others who have lost their marriage due to alcohol abuse.  And, undoubtedly, we have dear brothers and sisters in our church who depend on alcohol without telling a soul.

So is that it?  Is that why alcohol is the world’s most dangerous drug?  No.  The danger lies in the availability, in the easy access, in the abundance.  No one—and I mean no one—at SBCC will ever offer you a hit of meth before dinner.  But a glass of wine?  Red or white?  (See Todd Fearer’s essay in this Community News.)  Alcohol has the potential to destroy lives every bit as much as meth or mescaline, but even we in the church offer it to one another without hesitation.

So, alcoholic beverages are dangerous. Therefore abstinence?  Is abstinence to be commended and even commanded?  Shall we amend our church constitution to forbid drinking among our members?  Not so fast.  Perhaps a phrase in Latin will help: abusus usum non tollit, “Abuse does not take away proper use.” Or, as Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century architect of the Protestant Reformation and no stranger to a good beer, put it, Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit wine and abolish women?

I have several suggestions for those of us whose hearts are sometimes made glad with the fruit of the vine:

1. Use your Christian liberty with care.  Realize that alcohol is, indeed, a powerful drug and often a destructive drug.  Be careful where and with whom you enjoy the proverbial glass of wine.  Make it your ambition not to cause anyone in the family of God to stumble.  There are those in our church family who cannot or should not be around alcohol.  Exercise caution for their sake.

2. G. K. Chesterton once wrote, I thank God for beer and for burgundy by not drinking too much of them.  Do you choose to imbibe?  Then do so with fastidious moderation.  I have seen the excessive use of alcohol among our own in social settings.  If you choose to drink, set strict limits for yourself.

3. Test alcohol’s mastery over you.  Do you ever wonder how much alcohol means to you?  Go without it for a season.  For a week, a month, for the forty days of Lent, for a year.  If an alcohol fast sounds too difficult, you are probably under its power.

4. Read Dying for a Drink: What You Should Know About Alcoholism by Anderson Spickard and Barbara Thompson.  This short and lively volume serves as something of an Alcoholism 101 course for the reader.  Spickard is a Christian medical doctor who is very concerned about the power of alcohol in the life of those who drink.  You will learn much in this book about how alcohol affects the brain and how it wreaks havoc in our lives.  Read it for yourself; read it for your friends.

5. Strongly consider total abstinence if you have alcoholism in your family.  Dr. Spickard was asked about teetotalism in an interview with Christianity Today. Spickard himself practices total abstinence, but he doesn’t insist on this for everyone.  However, this expert on the ravages of alcoholism strongly recommends that individuals with any family member who has had an addiction to alcohol (including distant cousins) completely abstain from consuming such beverages.

When all is said and done, make a commitment to honor God in all you do, say, eat, or drink.  As the Apostle Paul puts it, Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). One day we will drink from the river of the water of life (Revelation 22:1).  But right now, as believers, we are invited to drink living water (John 4:10)! So let us gulp without restraint, let us drink and have our fill!  Let us knock back so much of thisliving water, that there is little room left for more.