Position on Alcohol, the Church, and the Christian
The purpose of this paper is to establish the position of Ephesus Church (Charlotte, NC) on alcohol, the church, and the Christian. For well over 100 years, the Protestant Christian Church in the United States has held a mostly negative view of alcohol consumption of any kind. This has led to the view that abstaining completely from the consumption of alcohol is holy, godly, and “Christian-like” for all believers. The leadership of Ephesus Church believes this to be an incorrect and unbiblical viewpoint on alcohol. This has led to shame, guilt, and secrecy among many Christians who do consume alcohol. Additionally, it has further separated the U.S. church from the culture it has been called to reach out to by placing undue and unnecessary restraints on living missionally. This paper will clarify a biblical view on alcohol consumption as held by the leadership of Ephesus Church.
Historically, the Church has not held a prohibition on the consumption of alcohol. This is a new phenomenon stemming from social changes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A new piety swept the nation and influenced how Christians viewed alcohol. This led to a widely held value that Christians must be abstentionists or prohibitionists. This culminated in the passing of the 18th Amendment in 1919. Concurrently, imbibing alcohol by Christians took on the label of “sin” and became a new standard by which holiness could be measured. This attitude towards alcohol has continued to the present day in many Protestant Christian churches and organizations. There are instances that this is explicitly stated as requirement for membership in churches and/or denominations. However, more often, it is just “understood” that a righteous Christian will not drink alcohol. These perspectives on the consumption of alcohol have led to a disconnect with the culture the Church has been called to reach, limiting opportunities to gather and share the Gospel with those that do not yet know Jesus. Additionally, a false legalism has led to expectations placed on Christians and non-Christians alike that further separate the Church from its community, a mentality which leads to self-righteous superiority and failure to love people as Jesus does.
Position of Ephesus Church
The leadership of Ephesus Church holds the position that consumption of alcohol, in moderation, does not violate Scripture and, in fact, is shown to be a part of the lives of many Leaders of the Faith and biblical persons, including Jesus, the Apostles, and early church pastors. Below, we will present the biblical and historical support for the consumption of alcohol, in moderation, in the Christian’s life.
- Psalms 104:15-“wine makes glad the heart of man.” The Psalmist praising God for His Creation that provides for mankind. This includes wine, oil, and bread, the staples of Hebrew life.
- Ecclesiastes 9:7-“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works.” This is a celebration of a life lived following God.
- Song of Solomon 1:2-The wife of Solomon makes it clear that wine is good, although married love is better!
- Luke 5:27-39 (Matthew 9:9-17, Mark 2:13-22)-Jesus celebrates the salvation of Matthew the tax collector at a party thrown by Matthew that includes eating and drinking. He then equates the Kingdom of God to new wine in new wineskins.
- Luke 7:33-34 (Matthew 11:18-19)-Jesus makes it clear that John did not drink wine, but Jesus had been accused of being a drunkard through His partaking of wine. From this, we know Jesus was not a drunk, but did drink wine.
- John 2:1-10-The first recorded miracle of Jesus’ ministry is turning water into wine at a wedding feast. It is not feasible that Jesus would miraculously create wine knowing that its imbibing would lead those around Him into sin.
- 1 Timothy 5:23-Paul encourages Timothy, the young pastor of the church in Ephesus, to “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” Modern medicine has shown the positive value of moderate alcohol intake for any number of health issues.
- Titus 2:3-Church leaders are to “not be given to much wine” along with other valued traits. This is not a call to abstention in leadership, but wise consumption.
From these passages we see that God created wine for mankind to enjoy, that Jesus made and drank wine, and that early church leaders were encouraged to include alcohol in their diets in moderation. There is no restriction on consuming alcohol in moderation in Scripture (over-consumption will be addressed below), therefore Christians today cannot have any such restrictions either.
Alcohol in the History of the Church
This does not seek to be a complete view of alcohol in the history of the Church but selected instances of respected church leaders and Christians throughout history that consumed alcohol.
- Martin Luther, in letters to his wife, lamented missing her beer while he was away traveling. On the one hand, we see that Luther was deeply in love with his wife; on the other, she was a beer brewer who apparently made a good brew that Luther enjoyed. (Radical Reformission, Mark Driscoll)
- The Puritans brought beer over on the Mayflower, and the first building they erected in New England was a brewery. (Drinking with Calvin and Luther, Jim West)
- Arthur Guiness, who began brewing Guiness beer in Ireland in 1759, was a devout Christian who used the proceeds of Guiness beer to finance Sunday Schools throughout Ireland teaching literacy and the bible. His motivation for brewing beer was in response to the large-scale alcoholism throughout Ireland from the consumption of high-alcohol content, yet poorly made, gin. Guiness Beer was a lower-alcohol option, with the added benefit of also cleaning out dangerous bacteria from the water as it was brewed. (Guinness, Relevant Magazine April 2011)
Prohibitions of Alcohol
The position of Ephesus Church is not complete without also addressing the issue of drunkenness. While the bible makes it clear that consuming alcohol is not sinful and, in some cases, encouraged; it also makes very clear, the sinful consequences of drunkenness or the inappropriate use of alcohol in certain circumstances.
- Leviticus 10:9-10-The priests were not to consume alcohol while performing their priestly duties in the tabernacle.
- Isaiah 5:11-Isaiah declares “woe” on those that drink all day and become drunk.
- Proverbs 31:4-5-Leaders are not to drink excessively while presiding as judge.
Multiple times in the New Testament Christians are called to not be drunk.
- Romans 13:13
- Ephesians 5:18
- 1 Thessalonians 5:7
- Galatians 5:21
- 1 Peter 4:2-3
Additionally, Christians are called to obey the law of the land in regards to drinking.
- Romans 13:1-Christians must be “subject to the governing authorities.” In the United States, the legal drinking age is 21. Therefore, Christians who have celebrated their 21st birthday are allowed to drink alcohol. Christians who have not celebrated their 21st birthday are violating Scripture if they drink alcohol in any quantity.
An argument against drinking uses 1 Corinthians 8:9 as a prohibition to drinking alcohol. This verse addresses Christian liberty wrongly causing another brother or sister to stumble in their faith. The argument in this context is that Christians drinking alcohol may cause those prone to alcoholism to stumble. This is a noble challenge. There are those that are prone to alcoholism, and the Church must recognize and appreciate that struggle. At no point can we see our consumption of alcohol from a sense of “selfish entitlement.” 1 Corinthians 8 should not, however, be seen as a wholesale prohibition on alcohol consumption by Christians. Others are prone to obesity, yet Christians celebrate over meals regularly. Also, some are prone to sexual addiction, but Christians do not prohibit interaction with the opposite sex! We must be aware and considerate of those prone to addictions in our actions and words, but we cannot wholesale prohibit many healthy areas of our lives in the process.
The biblical and historical evidence points to the reality that a holy, righteous, and godly life can include the moderate consumption of alcohol. There is clear direction from the bible to avoid drunkenness and, as with all things, be mindful of those around us. But the Church cannot rightly claim that imbibing is sinful. As we joyously live in the freedom of Christ in this area, we are less prone to legalism and religiosity while making Christ and Christian-living more accessible to those that do not yet know Him within our cultural context. And enjoying a drink with friends is a great way to build community!