Monday, April 06, 2009

Why Jesus Drinking Alcohol Is NOT the Issue But As Long As You Brought It Up...

It occurred to me a few years back that I kept getting upset with people "outside" the Christian faith for how they acted... and how ridiculous that was. They do not subscribe to my beliefs or convictions or faith so why would they act as I would? And in rereading the Gospels it also became painfully obvious that Jesus was constantly upset with the most "religious" people who encumbered people who did not know God with more rules than anyone could keep.

So whenever I run across someone or something that I feel is encumbering to the mission of Jesus by being overly "religious" and not loving I tend to get bent out of shape... as I did recently in reading an article by Denn Guptill entitled "Why Jesus Drank and I Don't". I was upset as a Christian, a pastor, a person, a scholar, and as a Wesleyan (my denomination)... you can read it here for yourself.

In short my response is: why do Pharisees feel so compelled to talk? In a longer way... well, you can read my letter.

"To Whom It May Concern:

For several years I have been an active member, student, and minister in the Wesleyan denomination, I have listened, watched, and read many stances- both past and present… I have never written in to or in regard to the Wesleyan Life but this last issue concerned me greatly. You posted an article entitled “Why Jesus Drank and I Don’t” by Denn Guptill with which I took great exception on numerous points which I will list for the ease of the reader:

Scholarly Work

As an ordained minister Guptill, I assume, has had the privilege of a formal education. However, throughout the article he utilizes the assumption that Jesus drank which is one from silence. We see him make wine, host the last supper, assume he participated in cultural “norms”, and get called a “drunk” but nowhere do any of the Gospels state that Jesus drank.

Even so, moreover the problem lies in Guptill claiming that the distillation process dates back only 500 years while it is a well known fact that the Babylonians in Mesopotamia knew about and used distillation. A simple search of the Internet will prove this and yet the author apparently was too lazy, inept, misinformed, or falsely motivated to claim otherwise.

Last point here: the cultural argument was horrific. Jesus makes “good wine” at the wedding of Canaan- and anyone who drinks or knows anything about alcohol will tell you “good” means higher alcohol content (hence patrons being upset over “watered” down drinks). The claim that the wine at the time was 3-11% alcohol is so unimportant it is stunning it is mentioned. At what point does a “drink” become a “drink” then, I wonder? If beer is “only” 5-7% is that okay, then?

The Weaker Brother

It would also seem to me that a pastor such as Guptill would understand that in Romans 14 the “weaker” brother is the one who has to keep more rules. That said, is Guptill then claiming that he is refraining from drinking so that other people who refrain from drinking won’t drink? So he is a “weaker” brother helping other “weaker” brothers be “weak”? This kind of circular rhetoric is logically unsound and a hermeneutic nightmare that has been promoted and tolerated in educated circles for far too long.

Romans 14 also says that we should leave our personal convictions between us and God. So why are we, as a denomination, not following the advice of Paul and simply being silent about our own opinions about food and drink?

The Slippery Slope

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” It evidently wasn’t enough to misuse Scripture but also the work of a famous author like Fitzgerald who was writing to a 1920’s flapper culture obsessed with overindulgence and greed. Any first year debate student will tell us that the “slippery slope” is a style to be avoided because it cannot be objectively proven and is one bred out of individual’s experiences and stories- not statistics.

Denominational Hypocrisy

It seemed to me that the 2008 General Conference granted local church voting rights to community members and allowed for personal conviction when it came to alcohol and tobacco use. If this is really our stance, that people who drink may be part of our membership then we cannot allow articles like this one to be printed without one on the other side of the page entitled, “Why Jesus Drank and I Do”. We are now talking out of both sides of our mouths.

Allow me to “weigh-in” on a related point that Guptill beats to death, that drinking leads to drunkenness. He is right… in the same way that eating leads to gluttony. It is true you cannot be a drunk without first drinking but by that logic we should all be anorexic. With the obesity and diabetes rate of Americans climbing annually I, for one, think it would be far more culturally impactful if we took a denominational stance against gluttony instead of alcohol… but that may hit a little to close to home. The point is the Bible speaks more to gluttony than drunkenness. We need to be against overindulgence on credit cards, possessions, money, alcohol, and food- not pick and choose to preach on just the stuff we don’t struggle with."


Anonymous said...

"So why are we, as a denomination, not following the advice of Paul and simply being silent about our own opinions about food and drink?"

I think that we, as a denomination, are not necessarily talking about alcohol consumption as a personal conviction. We are talking about it as a social evil. Because of the havoc that alcohol use has wreaked on our nation, we are anxious to see it abandoned. For that reason, we urge our members to abstain from anything that might contribute to its continued existence. It's not so much a spiritual stance as a social stance. (I'm trying to speak here for TWC at large, not to Pastor Guptill's particular points.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this isn't anonymous since it's your brother. I think that you are absolutely right in the stance on alcohol. I personally find denominational bickering regarding "we don't...." and "we do...." statements to be anti-Christian at certain times. I cannot tell you how many people I have talked to that say "Your church does what?" or "Our church does it like this." and both said with disdain or pompous attitudes.

I think that what sumpter says is partially correct (although possibly entirely if he is only speaking for the denomination and not himself). Saying that alcohol is a social evil is like saying guns are a social evil. Blaming the object and not the person if foolish and gets you absolutely nowhere in terms of a solution. Parents who try the whole "I'll just ignore it and hope it goes away" attitude have the children that end up as less than great.

If the church really wants address a social evil, why the heck does it not address gluttony? I, as a soon-to-be doctor can first hand tell you that this evil permeates much deeper and effects many more millions that "alcoholism." Argue all you want about alcohols evils, but blatantly disregarding the Bible's call to treat our body as the Lord's temple is worse than drinking in moderation. Obesity not only effects you, but others around you, your self-esteem, family, and many other factors without even considering health.

Bottom line: a denomination should be concerned about greatest concerns - until it addresses issues like obesity and homosexuality, it is just another pompous voice saying "Well, we don't...."

ScarredWarrior said...

I did have one more notable thought: I find it truly incredible that Guptill "wishes" that John had not included the story of the wedding of Canaan where He turns water into wine so that the Wesleyan's stance on abstinence would be more easily defended.

I say this now emphatically: HERETIC. When we wish, not only, that John had not included a story but more so that Jesus had not done something we are absolutely outside the bounds of Christendom. This story shows us part of Christ's personality which I, for one, would like MORE examples of- certainly not LESS.

Anonymous said...

While I am anonymous, let me be clear, I am not Dr. 58%.
The issue of wishing that John had not told this story is understandable if you think about it. The whole stand that The Wesleyan Church takes on this issue thumbs its nose at the clear teaching of Scripture. Not just the John passage, but specifically I Timothy 3 where elders and deacons are not told to avoid wine, but to not be given to drunkenness. If elders are not asked to abstain, how can we even suggest that members should? Once you feel you have the right to correct God the Holy Spirit in the inspiration of Scripture you will naturally feel free to criticize or question what God the Holy Spirit inspired. Guptil’s comments reveal this truth.

Anonymous said...

I would agree. I think there are too many rules put on too many specific issues instead of exactly what is said in the Bible. I too work in the medical field Mr Anonymous-Chris and I see far more people with obesity problems than I do with alcohol problems. Now don't get me wrong there is definitely problems when an individual has no self control-but alcohol is just one minor addiction that a person can have. I think if someone wants to be a true Christian it won't matter what their church or denomination believes, it should be based completely on their relationship with Jesus Christ Why can't we bring up addictions to coffee or chocolate-ok maybe thats not a problem for most but I do know a few who just won't give it up-Bill.

Andrew Crawford said...


Stumbled across this while searching out opinions on alcohol and the Wesleyan church.

I think you might be wrong to say that distillation of alcohol dates back to the Babylonians; all the sources I can find say that while distillation as a general concept was known in ancient times, the distillation of alcohol wasn't practiced until the middle ages - around 1100 seem to be th eusual date.

For example, see this link to a page of the book "A short history of the art of distillation":

"As far as we know alcoholic distillation was invented by Salernitan apothecaries about 1100. It might have been invented earlier, for example by Muslim chemists, but as we saw their writings contain no proof of it."

Or this page from Potsdam called "History of Alcohol and Drinking around the World":

" Interestingly, considerable disagreement exists concerning who discovered distillation and when the discovery was made. 6 However, it was Albertus Magnus (1193-1280) who first clearly described the process which made possible the manufacture of distilled spirits (Patrick, 1952, p. 29). Knowledge of the process began to spread slowly among monks, physicians and alchemists, who were interested in distilled alcohol as a cure for ailments."

Devin The PoetWarrior said...

Curious about your comment- despite that our sources seem to disagree on when distillation occurred- what is your point? Beer and wine were around, axiomatically, during the Old Testament and New Testament era which is, allegedly, where we are told that we are to derive our theology and practice. On this issue, we have not.

Andrew Crawford said...

I actually mostly agree with the thrust of your comments, but I think it's a bit uncharitable to describe someone as "lazy, inept, misinformed, or falsely motivated" when the statement they made is actually the mainstream scholarly understanding of the subject (give or take a few hundred years).

Devin The PoetWarrior said...

As I said before, I believe that your sources and mine do not match... and by your own admission Guptill is off by at least a few hundred years (given that "distillation is only 500 years old" that is quite a lot)... and that the issue of the original article was wine and beer and not liquor... I think I have made my point.

My stating that Guptill was either lazy, inept, or misinformed was not an attack on character but rather poor scholarship and lack of logical thought (i.e. if you are arguing against the use of wine and then switch to liquor or if an author- who is a pastor- wishes aloud that John simply didn't include the wedding of Cannan).

I would invite you to the point of the discussion while adding one last note. The reason this blog was posted was because the Wesleyan Church failed to respond to a fairly large group of pastors who wrote letters of concern to them directly. Of the ten of us no one received a response. Not a word, not a standard, "Thank you for writing us,", nothing. So I posted a blog and appreciate the notes here where people can dialogue and interact.

Guptill's article was illogical, one-sided, and set-up anecdotal stories as rules. However, I would have let all of that slide had the Wesleyans simply published on the next page "Why Jesus Drank Wine and So Do I" to show some sign of moral integrity for their argument. And before you run with "moral integrity" and pull out the "Articles of Covenant" that they all sign: there are thirty-six articles. They seem to enforce about four-five. We either enforce them all or not.

Lastly, I don't agree that the "main scholarly" argument holds distillation to be only a few hundred years old (regardless that we are talking about wine). Check out:

Besides arguing about Guptill's scholarship... what else have you found in regard to the Wesleyan's and alcohol?

Have a blessed day.