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When the Church Endorses Drinking

by Bob Russell

     A recent invitation to a church’s small group was titled “Bible and Beer.” Another church group invited members to join them for a tour of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. These invitations for church-sponsored activities illustrate the dramatic shift that has occurred toward the use of alcohol since I started in ministry 60 years ago.

     Sixty years ago, it was customary to see a sign over a liquor store that read, “Closed Election Day.” Most state governments maintained a prohibition-era ban requiring liquor stores to be closed during polling hours on election day because elected officials did not want citizens going to the polls under the influence of alcohol. They knew drinking numbed the mind, and people needed to vote with a clear head.

     Sixty years ago, it was illegal to sell alcohol anywhere on Sunday. In most states today, the sacredness of The Lord’s Day is completely ignored, and alcohol flows freely the entire weekend.

     Sixty years ago, most secular colleges and almost all church-related schools had rules against drinking. Now, authorities ignore the problem, and the label of “Party School” is considered an asset to recruiting. Fraternities and sororities sponsor drunken bashes where beer-drinking contests are advertised as part of the draw.

     For the past 60 years, the University of Kentucky has prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages at football games. Mitch Barnhardt, UK’s Athletics Director, has been under considerable pressure recently to lift the ban as being too restrictive.

     Sixty years ago, it was considered improper for a woman to be seen drinking in public. But at sporting events today, it is not unusual to see a young woman climbing up the arena steps with a beer in each hand.

     Sixty years ago, it was inappropriate for public school teachers to drink. In fact, the public consumption of alcohol was considered grounds for termination. Yet today, there is often an “Open Bar” at educators’ conventions.

     Sixty years ago, most pastors preached against alcohol consumption and pleaded for church members to abstain totally. Unfortunately, in their zeal, some erroneously insisted the Bible forbids alcohol, often quoting Proverbs 23:31“Do not gaze at wine when it is red” while ignoring passages like Psalm 104:15“wine…gladdens human hearts.”

     Today, in contrast, the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that many pastors and church officials themselves are comfortable with being “social drinkers.”

     Alcohol is served at wedding receptions inside church facilities, and church groups serve alcohol during Bible studies. Church policies against staff consumption of alcohol are winked at or repealed. If someone expresses disagreement with the church’s weakened stance, they are flippantly dismissed as “too legalistic.”

     Why has the attitude toward drinking changed so drastically? Is alcohol no longer a significant contributor to moral indiscretions? Is it no longer a substantial contributor to addictions and homelessness? Is it no longer a significant contributor to many crimes, such as abuse, violence, and drunk driving?

     Some pastors justify the change in attitude to being more spiritually mature today than church leaders of 60 years ago, suggesting they do not make the Bible say what it doesn’t say. Others suggest it helps them relate better to the culture.

     Because I follow the principle of “speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent,” I do not make alcohol consumption a test of fellowship. However, I am not convinced that today’s church leaders’ more liberal approach toward drinking is a positive change.

     For instance, one well-known pastor recently excused his moral “indiscretion” on the grounds he had a little too much to drink at a church party.  At another church, one member complained that an elder regularly served communion while under the influence. These examples are similar to the problems at the church at Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 11), where some were getting drunk at the church’s fellowship meals. Citing the similarities, someone quipped, “For years, we’ve wanted to become a New Testament Church. Well, congratulations! We’ve made it!”

     I think many of today’s church leaders are allowing the culture to conform them to their image and lowering their standards to be more acceptable. Paul’s admonition in Romans 14:21 still applies: “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”

     Perhaps the same thing that happened to the Hebrew nation in the days of the prophet Micah is happening to us. The Israelites denied the obvious decaying of their culture and scoffed at the predictions of God’s eminent judgment. Micah sarcastically warned. “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ he would be just the prophet for this people!”(Micah 2:11).

     More than 60 years ago, I decided to abstain from alcohol totally. I realize those convictions may seem old-fashioned, but since I struggle with various temptations, it seemed ill-advised to consume a substance that would weaken my will. You know what? I haven’t missed out on anything. I doubt anyone alive has had a more fulfilling life than I have had. And while I have no way to prove it, I am convinced my children and grandchildren are less likely to develop an addiction to alcohol if it has never been available in my home.

     This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).


   Bob Russell is Retired Senior Minister at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.


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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8