I smell a Pharisee
Welcome to an essential brewvana series. Discussing The Role of Beer in a Christian Life OR The Role of Christianity in a Beery Life, “The Gospel According to St. Arnold” will be a Wednesday feature here at brewvana for the next few weeks.
From my experience, the problem with Christianity is all the Christians. Oh-so-many of them are closed minded. Discouraging. Campfire-pee-on-ers. Self-righteous. Sometimes they make something out of nothing, and alcohol’s place in a regular guy’s life is oft-times one of those issues. Fortunately, there are a fat lot of good ones out there, too, like any group one might consider.
One of my favorites would be Ralph Waldo Emerson, who must have been talking about me when he said, “Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on the planet.” Mulling over my experiences, as well as topics in the newspaper or evening news, it seemed appropriate to dismantle this Christians v. booze issue and see if there wasn’t any sense to be made.
Taking a lot of my consideration from an article titled, “Alcohol and the Bible,” by Daniel Whitfield, I can’t give this guy enough credit for all his hard work. I’d encourage you to carve out some time and read the piece in its entirety.
Here’s Whitfield’s question: Is a prohibitionist stance a scriptural position or a cultural preference?
The Bible directs followers to reject cultural standards for scriptural standards of behavior. It sets a higher standard. But Jesus himself criticized the Pharisees for their judgment, their ongoing list of requirements and their hypocritical behavior. Here I go again, quoting Oscar Wilde: “The truth is seldom pure and never simple.” So what’s a beer drinker to do?
A fine-toothed combing of the Bible will reveal 247 references to wine and strong drink, with positive references numbering 145 (59%), negative references numbering 40 (16%), and “neutral” references numbering 62 (25%). For those folks in favor of imbibing alcohol, this superficial tally looks rather promising.
Of the positive references mentioned in Whitfield’s research, 58 are casual mentions to wine as an accepted, normal aspect of everyday life. These mentions aren’t judged “any more than people in our culture would attach a value judgment to a choice of iced tea or Diet Coke with a meal.” There’s no stigma attached, and certainly no suggestion that this behavior is a sin. A full 27 references indicate that the abundance of wine is an example of God’s blessing while 20 references to the loss of wine and strong drink as an example of God’s curse.
On the negative side, if we must get negative, 39 of the 40 instances relate to the abuse of alcohol (17 warnings against abuse, 19 examples of abuse and three assertions that it is unwise to select a leader inclined toward abuse. I agree with these warnings, and would keep the latter in mind whether we’re discussing heads of state, school principals or bishops (I’m not saying they aren’t allowed to drink.).
These 39 negative references all seem quite reasonable to me. Abuse isn’t a part of my brewvana. These negative references might be considered somewhat positive.
The final negative reference, according to Whitfield, is the one that requires rumination:
“It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”
Ouch! If we were beginning to feel comfortable, this passage effectively pulls the rug out from underneath our Bible-approved, beery world.
There are two parts to this verse. One is the list of no-nos: eating meat, drinking wine and anything else. Since that covers everything, it’s confusing to me that alcohol is the bad guy and meat, as well as many aspects of anything seem acceptable. Can’t too much red meat contribute to health problems?
The second issue is what (and to whom?) “that will cause your brother to fall.” That narrows it down a bit and makes this pill a little easier to swallow. Like many of the other verses, this one seems to imply a measure of responsibility is attached to the pleasures of meat, wine and, well, everything.
According to Whitfield, there may be a deeper meaning than simply causing our brother to drink wine. When speaking of our brother, this may suggest our weaker brother, or our brother with a weak conscience (or weak faith).
Try Romans 14:1-4 on for size:
“As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand”
Seems like we should all just play like Philadelphia and get a little brotherly love happening–in both directions.
If our “weaker” brother believes that drinking is a sin, then we need to let that sleeping dog lie, no matter how right or wrong, or what his reasons for believing it. If he believes it, and drinks, he believes he’s sinning. According to this verse, we’ve caused him to stumble. This is the no-no.
Many prohibitionists take the issue to the extreme: You simply don’t buy beer at the grocery store. One who is concerned that it is a sin might be encouraged by your example and decide to try it, thereby sinning against his own conscience, if not God.
But if we are also to abstain from “anything else” that might cause a weaker brother to stumble, where is the line drawn? First, no more meat. But add to that laying off movies, plays, wearing make-up, making Sunday purchases? These are all acts considered sins by one Christian denomination or another. It would be impossible to apply this verse consistently and comprehensively.
It might be more reasonable to apply it in this way: If you know someone is tempted by something in particular, or believes, say, drinking, to be a sin, don’t do it in their presence. Further, if I know someone to be a recovering alcoholic–whether or not they give the least thought to observing the commands of the Bible, it just makes sense for me to not further their struggle by encouraging them to try a beer, smell a beer or go out to the pub for a pint. I’ve encountered this twice with co-workers, and while I regretted all the flavors and aromas they were missing, I had to be mindful and respectful of their struggles and determination.
Following a close look at this verse, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Bible’s stance on alcohol is that it should be consumed in moderation, and we should be both wary of drunkenness and aware of those around us, if only to be respectful.
Tainted teaching by the ill-informed and insecure has turned a cultural preference into a scriptural position. It’s taken responsibility away from individuals to make mature decisions and replaced it with attitudes of self-righteousness and condemnation–ideas that I never understood to be part of Christianity–at least not the example that Christ himself lived. Woe to the sheep upon which these leaders prey.
I can’t help but be reminded of the Pharisees’ bastardization of God’s law. Is it any wonder that Jesus came down so hard on them? Is it any wonder that they plotted His demise? Is it any epiphany that we’re struggling through yet another generation of Pharisees today?
If you missed last week’s Preface, you can find it here.
Coming Wednesday, December 12: Part 2 –Arnold, beer and church connections