Should traditional Christians, Roman and Reformed alike, stop drinking alcohol? Many Christians in diverse cultural situations do not drink at all. A good reason for reflection. What does the Bible say? What does alcohol do to our body?
It is not only some Baptist or Wesleyan groups that reject drink in principle. In Africa, where I am connected to a university, alcoholic drink is basically unacceptable to most black Christians. When I was teaching at a black seminary, one of the rules said that alcohol consumption for personnel was forbidden. I had a double feeling there. As a New Testament scholar, I was aware that Jesus had changed water in wine, not the other way around. The fact that it was not purely grape juice is evident from the words by the master of ceremonies about the practice of putting the best wine first. Only when the senses have become affected by the drink, and the people are “well drunk”, says the 17th century Dutch Bible (Jn 2:10), the lesser wine follows.
Jesus Drank and I also
The ban on alcohol impressed me as legalistic and un-Biblical. The head of the seminary was able to follow my reasoning. For my part, I did not want to give black Christians any offense or cause for temptation. So, we agreed that I would not drink on the university campus where I was boarding but could perceive my own responsibility for the Lord elsewhere. That was difficult because at the time I drank a good glass of red wine regularly to aid my digestion as part of my recovery from wrong medications and lack of stomach acid. Following the Apostolic commandment: “No Longer drink water alone, but use a little wine, for thy stomach and weaknesses.”(1 Tim 5:23)
Our Lord drank too. The Pharisees referred to Jesus as a “winebibber” because he apparently had no objection to a glass (Mat. 11:19, Luke 7:34). It has always surprised me some Christians deal quite selectively with the famous Sheldon-question “What would Jesus do?” Unlike John the Baptist, he would just have taken one. At least that is the impression that the Gospels leave. Why should you try to avoid the obvious? If we do so anyway, what makes us any different from liberal theologians who become ventriloquists for the prevailing culture and moral preference of the day? In addition, I found alcohol tasty, or thought I did. What else is a delicious, top-fermented Trappist beer than a good gift from our creator? Moreover, the drink, whether it was wine or beer, constituted a bond with places that were dear to me in the present and past, especially when I found myself abroad, sometimes for years on end.
Weeping on the bus Yet there is also another side of alcoholic beverage. I was confronted with this early on when I was a young journalist travelling by bus in a Christian region in the Netherlands. An elderly lady was sitting next to me with tears in her eyes.