we moved to St. Louis from Houston, we had a difficult time finding a church. Houston
had no dearth of good churches. St. Louis had a lot of churches, too, but they
tended to be mainline Protestant or Catholic, and we tended to the more
evangelical. (The four houses of worship closest to where we lived were
Catholic, United Church of Christ, and two synagogues.)
visited a lot of churches. We found one that seemed to have solid preaching and
teaching, with friendly, welcoming people (more of a problem than you might
imagine). A small group from the church came to visit us at our apartment, and in
the course of the conversation the subject of drinking alcohol came up. To join
the church, we were told, we would have to sign a no-alcohol pledge.
would be a problem. We drank alcohol. Not much, and most days none. But we did
didn’t join the church. I later learned that the elders at the church occasionally
had champagne breakfasts, that many people at the church signed the pledge but
drank anyway. After all, this was west suburban St. Louis, one of the
wealthiest parts of the metropolitan area.
of that sat well with me. If you have a no-alcohol pledge, fine. But don’t have
a pledge and then blatantly ignore it with champagne breakfasts, by the elders,
we encountered could be a story out of Gray Matters:
Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty.
Author Brett McCracken, in the final three
chapters of the book, focuses on drinking, and the attitudes of Christians
about drinking alcohol. Over the years, I’ve heard all the arguments, pro and
con, and I agree with McCracken – the Bible doesn’t teach against consuming
alcohol, but it does teach consistently against drunkenness.
provides a good overview of the history of Christians and our attitudes about alcohol
(the Puritan Pilgrims in the New World were “largely friendly to alcohol,” he
notes, with the Mayflower well provisioned with beer and wine). And he finds
five themes in the Bible concerning alcohol and its consumption:
It is part of the joy and blessing given by God.
It is an eschatological (last things) symbol of the bounty of
the new creation.
Abstinence is a good option, but it’s not mandated
Moderation is the operative principle.
does point out is that we need to understand Christians’ historical opposition
to alcohol within an American cultural context. Drunkenness was common in the 18th
and 19th centuries, and associated with family breakdown and crime
in general. People could easily see the effects of drunkenness in their
communities. We Americans still carry our historical baggage with us. “Ours is
a culture,” McCracken points out, “of college binge drinking, keggers, underage
drinking as rebellion, and Bud Light commercials.” And how many stories of
drunken drivers killing people do we have to read before we say “Enough!”?
to ridicule Christians’ historical antagonism to alcohol. But drunkenness wasn’t
then and isn’t now simply a personal choice. It’s a personal choice with public
previous posts on the book: