Alcohol, Abstention and Redemption

Let's keep thinking through alcohol and abstention.

Generally speaking, both sides of the issue of alcohol agree that there is no way to prove biblically that Christians should abstain from alcohol.  I know there are exceptions (some of them in my inbox this week), but let's start with the premise that we can't build an air tight case for abstinence from the Bible.

The case is then often pushed to two areas (surely there are more). First, sometimes the case is made for a less fermented wine in the Bible or Welch's flowing at weddings.  Some people (I've become a magnet for some of them) will go to great lengths to explain how wine in the Bible had much lower alcohol content.  I've read long, rambling posts, discussion board threads, etc on this. 

I'm not convinced, but I don't think it really matters that much.  People in biblical times were getting drunk and so are people today, so who cares how much alcohol content there is in a drink?  There are abusers looking to abuse.  The biblical point doesn't change.  It's abuse that is the problem, not the alcohol content.  You can sip whiskey, mix the Captain with Coke, or whatever.  As long as you don't get drunk and drink for the glory of God, you are cool, biblically speaking.

So the argument for alcohol content, in my opinion, is a bit of a red herring.  It is off topic.  The biblical command remains, and is sufficient.  Isn't that great?!  It's sufficient whether we buy and drink a Smithwick's or a Seagrams 7.

The second thing the lack of biblical evidence for total abstinence does to the alcohol conversation is drive some to say that we live in a culture of abuse and therefore abstinence is a must in THIS culture.  But that's almost never really the point of those who argue this.  If it were, they would allow for alcohol consumption for our missionaries in other cultures where things are different.  But they don't allow that, which shows they really want to make an extra-biblical rule (legalism) for all of us. 

But let's give the benefit of the doubt, at least for the sake of the argument.  Let's say people with this position really believe it's about an abusing culture, and their inconsistency in application is out of their hands (denominational monetary pressures at work).  I get that.  And I understand this position and argued for it until a couple of years ago. In fact, I remember being at a Founder's Conference while in seminary and spending a couple of hours one night arguing my guts out with a Presbyterian guy about how everyone should abstain.  This guy *gasp* made his own beer!

I completely disagree with this argument for abstention now.  I could take the easy route and say I'd rather follow biblical rules than extra-biblical ones.  But even more, my reasoning is found in the Cross that created the Church.  The church is a redemptive community.  We live not only the experience of redemption (I'm redeemed/being redeemed) but also the works of redemption (I'm redeeming).  That's why our mission is both words and works, speaking and doing redemption.

And if we are working out our salvation through being redeemed and redeeming, then our response to cultural abuses is not to abstain but to redeem. That not only pushes us to maturity by teaching us how to eat, drink, and have sex to the glory of God (though it won't come easy), but it is also a witness to the world that God redeems.  The pervert throws away the pornography (abuse) and learns to love sex with his wife (redemption).  The glutton refuses to order a 5 piece fried chicken and fries meal (abuse) and learns to order a salad with light dressing instead (redemption).  The alcohol abuser stops drinking until drunk (abuse) and learns to stop after a beer or two (redemption). 

As long as we make the issue "abstaining," we will miss expressing and embodying redemption.  And I'm afraid the message we will send is that good things can be perverted beyond redemption.