One of the most common topics that non-fundamentalists take issue with fundamentalists is that of alcohol. I remember as a child growing up in Texas that there were certain places in the state where one would have to drive over a hundred miles in order to purchase alcohol. Going on the "beer run" is a fond memory of my teenage years. So why would someone in Texas have to drive over a hundred miles just to buy some liquor? In part because Texas is the belt buckle of the Bible-Belt. The majority of fundamentalists have some sort of strong doctrine against alcohol. "Demon gin, Devilís harvest" were some of the terms that I remember as descriptions of this "evil" substance.
So can one be a Christian and drink alcohol? Did Jesus drink alcohol? Was fermented wine used at the last supper? Well one thing I remember when these topics came up over the years was that fundamentalist would assert that many of the references to wine are actually speaking of unfermented grape juice. This may be true but I think it is a faulty foundation to cling on to when considering the sinfulness of alcohol consumption. Lets look at some verses that get brought up from time to time.
But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom. Matt 26:29
Fundamentalists are quick to point out that Jesus says "fruit of the vine" and not wine when he performed the Supper celebration. Many are bold enough to say that this proves that it was unfermented grape juice that he used and not fermented. Well consider this. The grape harvest in Palestine was in September. There was no refrigeration, bottling or canning at that time. They only plausible way of preserving grape juice was to ferment it. I have read claims that they would cook the juice in large pots in order to preserve it but this could of only bought nominal time. It would not of kept the six or seven months to Passover when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper.
The next occasion would be at the Wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Many will insist that the text does not specify that Jesus specifically turned water into alcohol containing wine. Please consider this passage
When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. John 2:9-10
Grape juice has a fairly consistent nature and no one I know makes a big deal about the vintage of grape juice. Wine on the other hand, is not easy to make. It is easy to turn perfectly good grape juice into perfectly bad wine. (I know, I have done this myself) A good wine is well appreciated among those who like wine and even the occasional wine drinker can tell the difference between bad, mediocre, and good wine. Notice on verse 10 that the steward of the wedding party is puzzled and amazed that the best wine is kept until last. Why would he make such a comment? You wait and serve the lesser quality wine because after the good wine has dulled your senses, it is harder to tell the difference. This has been a common practice throughout the centuries and was centuries old in Jesusís day. What the steward tasted was wine. He knew good wine and could tell the difference between it and grape juice.
Many fundamentalists will point out that there are a multitude of scriptures that condemn drunkenness. I have no problem with the condemnation of drunkenness and I am by no means making any kind of attempt to justify it. I think what is hard to determine is just what is drunkenness.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Eph 5:18
There is a Christian concept of "temperance". Some mistakenly associate temperance with abstinence but true temperance means moderation. Partake in the finer and nice things in life but donít go overboard. A glass of wine for some people can be a healthy thing. One health book that I own says that a glass of red wine each day is very healthy for my blood type. Even St. Paul advised Timothy.
Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities. 1 Tim 5:23
Each person must determine for himself where the line is between enjoying a glass of wine or a beer to being drunk. I once heard a preacher endorse alcohol abstinence through this reasoning. He reasoned that say it took 5 beers to get you drunk, then one beer made you 1/5th drunk, so you were still drunk thus sinning. This logic is tempting but lets look at it this way. If I eat 10 pieces of pizza then one could say I was guilty of gluttony. If I were to eat only three, does that make me 3/10 gluttonous? Well the truth is that in our sinful state we are continuously in sin and cannot escape it. If we try to cut sin out our lives we will be put on a never-ending pursuit. And yes there are times in our lives that we must cut certain sins out but we cannot cut out all the sin in our lives given our own power. We must identify the stumbling blocks in our lives and cut those out. Christ taught.
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. Matt 5:30
I donít think anybody thinks that Christ was teaching that we actually sever our limbs but that we cut out the things in our lives that keep us from God. For many, alcohol is a stumbling block. They should not drink even one drink. You may be just one of those people. Different people have different stumbling blocks so there is no easy answer here. What may be an occasional treat for you may be poison for your neighbor. St Paul taught.
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. 1 Cor 8:13
It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Rom 14:21
Consider this. If my wife were to have a heart problem and is advised by her doctor not to eat certain foods that she loves dearly, should I go ahead and enjoy those things in front of her just because they do not affect me in the same way? Of course not. Out of love for my wife or my neighbor I should abstain also from the things that will make them fall when I am around them. Determine for yourself. Be honest with yourself. If you enjoy an occasional glass of wine and you donít go overboard, there is probably something else in your life you need to worry about. If you are weak, I pray God gives you the strength to get through it.