Monday, September 26, 2005

To Drink Or Not To Drink

I've got to admit that I don't understand the appeal of alcohol. I've never liked the taste of it. Beer, wine, hard liquor. None of it. So I guess I have a strike against me right there. Then there is the whole issue of spending money on the stuff. Why would I want to shell out three or four bucks for a rum and Coke when I'm happier with just the $1.95 Coke? Strike two.

But where I truly strike out is drunkenness. It's beyond me. In college, I knew people who would get good and drunk to go to a concert. In the morning, they remembered little of the event they had been waiting months to see. What's the point? Weekends were spent in pursuit of an altered state of consciousness. If there was no buzz, it couldn't have been any fun. The whole point of Friday night was to be drunk. In their way of thinking, the number of beers consumed was the indicator of how good the weekend was. I saw this far too often. And I remain puzzled to this day. Grown adults still live for the opportunity to get plastered. And from my spot, I've come to strike three.

So as I approach this subject I do so with a certain amount of knowledge on the subject, but with absolutely no desire to have even an occasional drink. But then as a kid I never liked spinning around until the room was spinning even when I stood still. Maybe I'm just funny that way.

Michael Spencer posted a commentary which really sounded familiar. His post, One Big Happy Lie: Southern Baptists, Alcohol and Me is focused on the same argument which my denomination has wrestled with for years and years -- can you be a Christian and drink alcohol? Or the way it has been tossed around in my circles -- should using beverage alcohol disqualify someone from church membership?

From the post:

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 ominated 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.
I'm sure there are plenty of people in the church who drink alcohol. I have no doubt that if you would ask if they drank, most would deny it. I've known members of other churches who kept beer in the fridge even though their church took a stand prohibiting it. I assumed it didn't come as a bonus from Amana when they bought the appliance. But I've never let it worry me. To admit to having even a beer once a year would mean risking becoming a social outcast in many congregations, so it's not exactly something you'd broadcast proudly throughout the sanctuary. But like Spencer, I'm not about to question someone's salvation because of a glass of wine.

I wasn't raised as a Southern Baptist. I wasn't even raised in my current denomination, but this was the same worldview I grew up in. The short answer for me was that if you are a Christian, you don't have anything to do with alcohol. You don't buy it. You don't drink it. You don't patronize places where it is sold.

It was all very cut and dried. Very simple. But there was a problem -- it wasn't biblical. Still isn't.

I was led into my denomination by the Holy Spirit. It was confirmed to me in many ways, but the clincher was that my new found denominational home lined up doctrinally with me. The essentials were stressed, but in the non-essentials there was liberty to teach any number of orthodox positions. The only doctrinal hang-up I really had was their rule that members were not to ever use beverage alcohol, period. No sip of champagne at Cousin Julie's wedding. No can of beer after mowing the lawn. Nothing. By church doctrine, a member could be disassociated because of a single swallow. And I had a problem with that. I still do.

But I was encouraged that there were many within the denomination who thought as I -- that the Bible made no such stipulation on believers. Sure, we're told not to be drunk, and not to break the law by underage drinking, and not to be a stumbling block for others, but there is no Dry Commandment.

Over the next few conferences that I attended, I saw this issue hit hot buttons with people all over our church. Some were in my boat, trying to set biblical standards without going beyond in legalism. For others though, allowing members to have a sip was akin to starting a brewery in the church sanctuary. Their emotional pleas to the conference delegates were swollen with tales of drunk drivers and alcoholic parents, but never did they refer to a biblical mandate. It was the elevation of tradition to the canonical level. The Pharisees would have been proud.

This past Summer our denomination finally changed its alcohol stance. We still discourage the use of alcohol, but drinking is not a test for membership. It's the right decision. But I've still heard a few people claim that we've taken a step backward -- that somehow we are advocating the use of alcohol.

How is it that peripheral issues can become so intertwined with Christianity?


John said...

I have a margaritia with my wife every month or so. I'll probably stop cold turkey when I'm assigned to a church.

In fact, I think that in this Conference, it's required.

lu said...

why would you quit something that God has given you to enjoy? How much difference is there between food and alcohol? God has given us both to enjoy in moderation. You souldn't drink to get drunk, or eat to get fat. If your church wont let you drink, then the souldn't let you eat cake either... sounds stupid doesn't it... Because it is, don't be so leagalistic.

A Human Bean said...

I could not agree more. I was also raised in a denomination that condemned it. However, when asked to back it up scripturally the leaders would do mental gymnasitcs and still not end up where they wanted to be.

I could really care less about alcohol and therefore being part of a denomination that condemns it does not matter to me. I am, however, bother by the legalism it engenders.