Monday, December 10, 2007

Alcohol in Recent Church History

The abuse of alcohol was a problem in the early frontier years of America. Of course, drunkenness has always been and will always be a problem until the Lord returns.

The Temperance Movement
Preaching against drunkenness is nothing new, but in the late eighteenth century, preachers began to focus their preaching against alcohol itself. Alcohol was a great evil that need to be abolished. This kind of preaching spawned the Temperance Movement.

Ironically, temperance means “moderation” or “self-restraint.” Yet the goal of the Temperance Movement was not temperance or moderation, but the total prohibition from all alcoholic beverages.

Several states banned alcohol by the mid-nineteenth century. After the Civil War, the national Prohibition Party was formed, whose sole goal was the prohibition of alcohol.

Soon after, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was started. This organization was well known for such stunts as marching into saloons singing songs like, “Lips that Touch Liquor Shall Never Touch Mine.”

In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution of the United States of America. This prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.

Of course, making alcohol illegal did not eliminate its abuse. The roaring twenties were one of the most debauched decades in American History. Although alcohol was prohibited, it did not stop people from getting drunk. It did not stop people from sinning.

In fact, people now had license to be creative about their sin. Bathtub gin, moonshine, and other illegal distilleries were prominent. Not only this, but organized crime got its major start in America by making, selling, and transporting liquor.

In 1933 the twenty-first Amendment was ratified, which repealed the eighteenth Amendment of Prohibition.

Of course, today, the abuse of alcohol is still a rampant problem. Most would agree that Prohibition and the Temperance Movement had the opposite effect of its intention. Sin actually increased when alcohol was prohibited.

Prohibition and the Church
More than that, the Temperance Movement has had a profoundly debilitating impact upon the church in America.

The Temperance Movement united both theological liberals and theological conservatives. Theological liberals denied doctrines such as inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, etc. Theological conservatives affirmed all of these doctrines.

Theological liberals and theological conservatives were opposed on nearly every issue. However, when it came to the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, these two factions put aside their theological differences and joined in opposing all alcoholic beverages. In other words, they considered alcohol to be a greater evil than false doctrine.

The results of this unholy alliance are notorious. During the years of Prohibition, the theological liberals were busy taking over every mainline denomination.

In 1924, the Auburn Affirmation was signed, which allowed Presbyterian ministers to deny the fundamentals of the faith, yet still retain their ordination.

Of course, theological liberals did not just appear in 1919, but they gradually infiltrated the church during the nineteenth century. While the church was consumed with warring against alcohol, the theological liberals were allowed to come in and take over the denominations.

This is the legacy of the Temperance Movement. Not only did it fail to slow or even curb alcohol abuse, but the Temperance Movement was one of the distractions that allowed false doctrines and false teachers to creep into the church.

The church was right to preach against drunkenness, but wrong to preach against alcohol. Ignorance of the Biblical teaching on alcohol contributed to downgrade of the American church.

Yet, this ignorance continues today. Prohibition and abstention are still trumpeted as the answer to the problem of drunkenness. Alcohol is blamed, rather than sinful hearts.

American Exile
For the first 1800 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, the church has unanimously used wine in communion. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists all used wine in celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

All of the creeds that name the elements of the Lord’s Supper specify wine, not grape juice (Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Confession and Larger Catechism, Baptist Confession of 1689).

All of this changed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries because of the Temperance Movement. American churches discarded wine in favor of non-alcoholic grape juice.

In a sense, the American church has exiled herself. She has thrown out the wine, and thus, thrown out something that God has deemed good and a symbol of blessing.

It is fitting that most American churches serve grape juice. As a society, we have rejected God, and now we suffer the curses of breaking covenant – the blessing of wine has been taken away. Our gospel is inert, just like our grape juice offered in communion.

The gospel is the power of God for salvation. God has declared that wine is a picture of this powerful gospel. Let us not reject the blessing of God.

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1).


Garrett said...


Its interesting that Presbyterians typically follow a baptistic tendency in keeping young children from the sacraments (in particular, the Eucharist) often until adulthood. But when they reach adulthood they get to have a snack worthy of a kindergarten...grape juice and crackers.

Eric Adams said...

And this kindergarten-snack only contributes to their kindergarten-like behavior.

PMike. said...

just curious...have you, has someone you love, ever had a drinking problem?

PMike. said...

i read your next item. sorry.

Eric Adams said...



Preacher Steve Lloyd said...

I recently had a conversation with a group of young men who had been taught the principle of moderation. These young men vehemently defended drinking alcohol, stating that casual drinking was permitted Biblically.

They stated that moderation was the key, and that only when alcohol was consumed in excess did it become a sin.

My next question for them: "So, have any of you ever passed that point? Have you ever had too much to drink?" They considered this for a moment and each one agreed that he had on multiple instances, although not regular instances, consumed more alcohol than Biblically acceptable.

At this point I posed a question: "So, for you, would it not be wisest that you adopt and promote my position, of total abstinence, since you've already proven that you are not always strong enough to resist?"

They agreed. I think honest Christian social drinkers would all say there have been times when they've drunk too much. Since it is a mind-altering substance, why play with fire? Teach the value of abstinence. Will it really hurt anyone? It will certainly help many.

Eric Adams said...

Preacher Steve, what you are advocating is called "legalism." It is setting up another standard other than the word of God. Teaching abstinence from alcohol is dangerous because it goes against Psalm 104 and other texts that I go over in my series of blogs on Alcohol and the Church.

Nick Tarter said...

I agree with you Eric. The Bible teaches that it is wrong to be drunk. That does not mean we must completely abstain from alcohol. The Bible also teaches we must not be gluttons yet I know many overweight Christians. Since many of us are gluttons, does that mean we are to abstain from food. Of course that would be ridiculous. Gluttony and drunkenness are equally sinful and equally bad for our health. There is a double standard. The issue is sinfulness, not alcohol. The thing is, if we single out one sin as worse than the others, it makes us feel like our sins aren't as bad. If drinking is the big bad sin, than my third trip to the all you can eat buffet line (or my divorce, or my addiction to porn, or my unclean lips, or my legalism, whatever my sin is) doesn't feel as bad. We need to get back to an absolute commitment to follow Jesus. We need to stop focusing on our legalistic rules and focus on surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He requires mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 12:7).

Angie said...

Thank you, Eric Adams. Thank you also, Nick Tarter. I participated in behavior I knew to be sinful, behavior the Bible specifically and unequivocally denounces because drinking alcohol had been elevated to such a sin unto itself that I felt perfectly safe and righteous provided I didn't drink. I also felt perfectly righteous in judging those who drank so much as a sip of champagne at a wedding as incapable of entering Heaven. I am so ashamed and so grateful for a more nuanced perspective. I had to quit advancing the body/temple argument after I became overweight and realized what an overt hypocrisy that was, but the rest took more study and prayer.

Chad Miller said...


Excellent blogs. I am compiling a complete list and thorough systematic study of alcohol in the Bible, and we have reached most of the same conclusions (I have a couple of extra's, you've provided some valuable insights into others I already had). Unfortunately I ran across your blog today when I was basically finished and looking for finishing insights. I could have saved myself a lot of time! ;-)

Still, it was valuable to dig like I did and I'm thankful for it as I'm fully convinced by the Scriptures as to what my stance on this important issue is (and it is important). Once my blog is up I will share it with you.

The last issue I'm digging into is the Biblical definition of drunkenness. Many people I know would say that a "buzz" is considered being "drunk". They would also defer to what the laws of the land would consider drunk based on BAC (which can sometimes be as low as one beverage, a far cry from what any normal person would consider "drunk" and typically not even close to being "buzzed").

So now the questions arise: is being buzzed "drunk" according to the Bible? I would say no, and my reason for this is any time we see drunkenness spelled out, it always refers to numbness, complete loss of control (staggering, reeling, unable to speak), passing out, running around naked, and vomiting. However, what we would call a "buzz" seems to imply "making the heart merry" as in Psalm 104... However "making the heart merry" also refers to drunkenness in the case of Nabal in 1 Sam 25, so that's something to consider.

I would also suggest that the wedding feast of Cana had an entire group of people that were eating and making merry, having a good time, and when the wine ran out, Jesus made more, this time some really good stuff. Now obviously Jesus did not give more alcoholic wine to people who were already drunk (Biblical definition, and thus in sin), therefore we have to come up with what the text is truly saying.
- Could it have been unfermented? Maybe, but the text clearly implies it was not.
- Could it have been watered down? ummmm.... probably not. No need to elaborate there.
- Could they have been buzzed with merry hearts, and Jesus made more wine for them, thus not contributing to sinful behavior? That seems to be the case as far as I can tell...

Regardless of the Biblical definition of drunkenness, the laws of our land must be obeyed so now we must make sure whenever we do have a drink, that we do not drive, even if we have not crossed over into actually being drunk. This does create some interesting situations for the Christian to consider.

You mention the clear sin of drunkenness through these entries, but haven't gone into truly defining and differentiating between drunkenness and a buzz (if indeed there is one), so let me know your thoughts. Thanks and God bless!

Eric Adams said...

Chad, I agree that "buzzed" would be equivalent to "warming the heart." The line between "buzzed" and "drunk" is blurry, and legal definitions vary. It is impossible to define drunk precisely. I know it when I see it.

Gene Donaldson said...

Wow, this is a great article....for all my 50 years I have been so deceived in being taught and blindly accepting absitence from all forms of beverage alcohol. Your article has made me feel so very liberated now after all these years. I believe now with this new understanding I will now begin drinking alcohol, encourage my wife to do so, and also my 21 year old daughter. Thanks for this new liberation!

Gene Donaldson said...

You are so right! This is an excellent article. I have been so deceived by my church preaching to me for my 50 years in regard to abstinence from beverage alcohol. I believe you have persuaded me to begin drinking. In fact, I believe I'll try to persuade my wife and my 21 year old daughter to do the same. Wow, how very liberating!

Eric Adams said...

Gene Donaldson, I'm sensing some sarcasm. Did you actually read what I wrote?

Chad Miller said...

I thought he was being so genuine he posted it twice, just with some different phrasing. ;-)

Eric Adams said...

Yeah, instead of posting twice, he could have just said, "Verily, Verily." LOL

Unknown said...


I see you disapprove of churches that use grape juice for communion. May I point out that, in my home church, the offical reason for using grape juice is not that Christians shouldn't drink, but so that recovering alcoholics (and an alcholic is never cured) may join without being singled out. How do you feel about that?

Eric Adams said...


That sounds noble, but it is a classic example of the church trying to "improve" upon the Bible by being holier than Jesus and smarter than God. Alcoholism has always been a problem, yet neither Jesus nor Paul ever suggested that we substitute grape juice for wine. Check out my post on Common Objections to Alcohol for more detail.