Wine makes glad the heart of man

Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but I didn’t realize there were still major Christian denominations that officially proscribed the drinking of alcoholic beverages by their members. And yet the Southern Baptist Convention has reaffirmed this stance at their recent annual meeting. The resolution could even be read to support reinstating prohibition.

It’s easy to make fun of something like this, but the Southern Baptists are surely right that alcohol abuse is a serious problem. But their resolution insists that it’s the use, not the abuse which is forbidden. How do they square this with the fact that Jesus, by all accounts, drank wine? He was even called a drunkard by some of his critics!

Psalm 104 invites us to praise God for, among other things, providing wine that “maketh glad the heart of man” as the KJV puts it. Surely wine (and beer, and whiskey, and…) should be received as God’s good gifts to be enjoyed, though, of course, not abused. But not scorned either!

One possible argument is that Christians shouldn’t drink, even in moderation, because it might cause their “weaker” brethren who have problems with alcohol to stumble or might be occasion for scandal. This might be a good argument for not having strong drink at church functions, and certainly for abstaining while in the presence of a recovering alcoholic, but I don’t think it’s sufficient to show that we must abstain altogether. Many otherwise innocent activities can be occasions for sin under the right circumstances, but that doesn’t mean we have to refrain from them altogether. Surely there’s a limit to our responsibility for the ways in which other people might respond to our actions if those actions are innocent in themselves.


14 thoughts on “Wine makes glad the heart of man

  1. Joshie

    FYI, the UMC still has such a proscription on the books as well, although it is widely ignored. At a FIF function a few weeks back one of my friends asked me what the reson behind the Methodist stance on alcohol. I could only say something vague about J.W.’s emphasis on self-control. I had no good snswer.

    For my final point, I would like to make a link to the sexuality discussion earlier. The use of plants like grapes is sort of like sexuality in that both are surely are good gifts from God, but can be abused and misused. But that doesn’t make them bad things overall. Just my two cents.

  2. Lee

    At the church we’ve been attending here almost every social activity takes place at a bar: theology on tap, darts at the pub, etc. I have yet to see a keg at Sunday morning coffee hour, though.

    I think the analogy with sexuality is a good one. We could also say that just as some people might have special reasons to be celibate someone might have special reasons for abstaining from alcohol without making it normative for everyone.

  3. Sister Mary Hasta

    Old joke from my UMC days:

    What’s the difference between a Methodist and a Baptist?

    Methodists will wave at each other in the liquor store.

  4. Brandon

    How interesting. Strictly speaking, ‘proscription’ is not the right word — the Southern Baptist Convention does not have the authority to proscribe. Baptist ecclesiology is bottom-up rather than top-down; matters are decided by individuals and local churches, and that’s the whole of official authority. The Conventions are primarily just assemblies in which the local churches decide how they are going to pool their money for various kinds of missions work (what gives the SBC its clout with other Baptist denominations is that it has a lot of money to use and a well-developed organization for using it to precise effect). You’ll notice that the resolution just ‘urges’ Southern Baptists to do things; that’s about all that it can do.

    It’s also noteworthy that one of the reasons listed is “There are some religious leaders who are now advocating the consumption of alcoholic beverages based on a misinterpretation of the doctrine of ‘our freedom in Christ’.” Freedom in Christ is a Baptist distinctive, so what that tells us is that a lot of local churches in the Convention are worried about a lot of other local churches ‘advocating the consumption of alcoholic beverages’. I very much doubt that anyone is actually advocating consumption of alcohol, but no doubt it looks that way to some of the mainliners.

    A sort of standard justification is that people didn’t drink straight wine in Jesus’ day; they drank it mixed with water, and the only point of the wine at all was that it kept better than plain juice. So (the argument went) what the Bible calls wine is closer to ordinary grape juice than to what we call wine. The argument has always seemed a bit disingenuous; the real basis seems to be the old-fashioned social-progressive principles Temperance movements have been appealing to since the Methodists led the charge in the nineteenth century. (No one I’ve seen defends the resolution without in a few breaths comparing drinking to gambling, pornography, and drug use as a way in which our society is crumbling.)

    The resolution, as usually happens at Baptist conventions, hides a lot of minority opposition (although in this case the vote was something like 90% in favor). See here, for example.

  5. Alex

    Personally, for me, abstaining from alcohol is the only option. I’m 20 and have never had any alcohol, but my immediate family tree (only taking the next two generations before me into account) contains several alcoholics. Both of my parents (who are divorced) are dating or married to alcoholics. Alcoholism is rampant in my life. As a result, I don’t drink and I have no plan to ever start, even in moderation. My fear of alcohol goes so far that I won’t even take communion when I visit an Episcopal church. (If I officially joined the church, I’d make a sole exception for that; the same goes with the Catholics and Orthodox. However, that would be the only exception, and it’s seriously a MAJOR stumbling block for me with those churches. That and everybody drinking from the same cup; I’m kinda germ-phobic.)

    Maybe I’m just really stupid or came from the wrong culture, but I didn’t know there was any point to drinking whiskey other than getting drunk. I know a lot of people drink beer and wine because they like the taste, but I didn’t know anyone did that with whiskey. I’m sorry if I’m just ignorant or something.

  6. Lee

    Alex, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with abstaining from alcohol because of concerns about family history. Or just because you want to!

    Regarding the churches that use wine at communion (Episcopal, RC, Orthodox, etc.) many of them will provide juice at communion as an alternative. But, more importantly, they all hold that you partake of the entire sacrament even if you only receive it in one kind (i.e. only the bread).

  7. Camassia

    Maybe I’m just really stupid or came from the wrong culture, but I didn’t know there was any point to drinking whiskey other than getting drunk. I know a lot of people drink beer and wine because they like the taste, but I didn’t know anyone did that with whiskey. I’m sorry if I’m just ignorant or something.

    I don’t think it’s quite so either/or as that. I drink manhattans because I like the taste and like a little buzz, but I don’t actually drink it to get drunk. I don’t think getting a buzz is necessarily a sin — I doubt the psalmist just meant that the taste of wine makes glad the heart of man!

  8. Gaius

    Partial to cold vodka, myself, lately.

    Yes, the idea is to get drunk. Up to a point, anyway. Nobody says he likes the taste of vodka. The reason for choosing vodka over other adult beverages (as RL would say) is its odorlessness and flavorlessness. It’s as close to pure firewater as you can get. Great idea. And colder is better.

    Oh, last Sunday we were on vacation out of town and went to church with the Lutherans. Tiny church, tiny congregation. Much enthusiasm. They used real wine for communion, and my wife was both surprised and shocked.

    Raised a Baptist, you know.

  9. Lynn Gazis-Sax

    One possible argument is that Christians shouldn’t drink, even in moderation, because it might cause their “weaker” brethren who have problems with alcohol to stumble or might be occasion for scandal.

    That’s pretty much the anti-alcohol argument most made among Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends (I’m not going to generalize to other yearly meetings, since I’m not sure where they all come down on alcohol). And our position, as of the most recent Faith and Practice, is no alcohol at meeting functions.

  10. Lee

    Whiskey can definitely be drunk for taste, but yeah, it’s a multisensory experience where the smell, the feel, and yes, the buzz are all key ingredients. Of course, bad whiskey can be really horrible and presumably getting drunk is the only reason to drink that kind of rotgut. (The same would apply to gin, rum, etc.)

    For what it’s worth, I’ve found that Jim Beam actually makes for a pretty tasty Manhattan if one is looking for a relatively inexpensive option.

  11. Coming late to this party, but I agree with the post 🙂

    And as to the whiskey being drunk for taste, I enjoy single malt scotches in exactly this way (along with bourbons).

  12. As a scientist, wine and other alcoholic beverages are the result of rotting (mixtures of grain or grapes) under controlled conditions. We call it “fermentation.” The fermentation of eggs doesn’t improve the omelet. Wine may gladden the heart but it’s also a mocker and whiskey raging and it’s an unwise person who “looks upon wine when it is red.” These verses, taken together with all of the social ills the consumption of alcohol causes: spousal abuse, broken homes, “wineos,” DUI fatalities, health issues – it’s a stomach irritant, it destroys brain cells and the leading cause of cirrhosis (my best friend died an accelerated death from liver cancer due to an alcohol problem) isn’t it wise to avoid its consumption entirely? It’s like smoking. What health benefits are derived from grape juice pimped up with alcohol when a bunch of grapes or a delicious glass of cold, refreshing Welch’s grape juice can provide all the anti-oxidants (resveratol) necessary? While the Bible doesn’t doesn’t explicitly prohibit the consumption of alcohol in moderation (clearly drunkenness is a sin) one is hard pressed to make the case that its consumption is recommended, wise or even healthy.

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