Was Jesus ever tipsy? And if he was, does that mean being tipsy is not a sin? This is a question I have been wondering lately. I’ve been wondering about drinking for Christians. Where is the line? What is appropriate? I’ve been wondering about it because most of the Christians I associate with drink alcohol, some of them love it, and many churches and pastors I’ve visited this year have promoted alcohol consumption in various ways. But this is soooo different from what I grew up in. The conservative Baptist outlook on alcohol (in which I was reared) was strictly prohibitionist—probably a vestige of cultural influences (American temperance movements, fundamentalism, etc) moreso than careful Biblical exegesis.
But what about alcohol is so inherently bad? The obvious answer is that it leads people to lose their faculties and do dumb things. It causes car accidents and drunk texting. It gives you liver cancer. But all of these negative things happen only when alcohol is consumed in excess. Similar negative outcomes are associated with anything consumed in excess. Eating McDonald’s in excess, for example: makes you obese. Drinking soda in excess: gives you diabetes. Playing Halo in excess: numbs your brain and inhibits you socially. Obsessing about Twilight: crowds out more enriching life pursuits.
But all of these things are good in moderation, even (MAYBE) Twilight. These are good things—the fruits of this beautiful planet that God created and let us live in. Why should we abstain just because these things might lead to sin?
The Bible does not tell us to abstain. Jesus clearly drank wine. He turned six huge jars of water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11). Even the evangelical Pope himself will admit it.
“Jesus drank wine,” Billy Graham told the Miami Herald in 1976. “Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding feast. That wasn't grape juice, as some of them try to claim,” he added.
Drinking wine, and drinking other types of alcohol, can be a wonderful thing in moderation. I’ve come to really appreciate good quality fermented beverages myself. I like listening to classical music on a tired summer night while sipping a cool Pinot Grigio. I like picking up aromas of melon & orange blossom and maybe a hint of coconut. I like a good spicy Shiraz from Australian vineyards or a dark, earthy Sangiovese from under the Tuscan sun. The same goes for a good Chimay trappist ale or a sip of Jefferson Reserve 15 year bourbon. These things are just good things. Like rainbows or organ music or aspen trees in autumn. They are good.
Still, there is the question of how Christians should approach alcohol. Should we just abstain from it, in hopes of keeping ourselves safe from sin and the appearance of any evil? Some would argue that this is the true biblical stance. But theologian Scot McKnight says that this is going beyond what the Bible says—and that if one tries to be “more biblical than the Bible,” they are in danger of zealotry.
If God is God, and if God speaks to us in the Bible, then God spoke words that show that wine drinking is fine. One may choose not to drink, but that view is more extreme than what the Bible says. Drinking too much is contrary to the Bible, but not drinking at all is not what the Bible teaches (except for ascetic strands at time).
So we can drink. But is there a line we shouldn’t cross? When we get a little buzzed or tipsy? Is that unbiblical? The Bible is clear that drunkenness is a sin, but what about the “happy” feeling that you get after a few glasses of wine? What about the social-lubricant function of alcohol that makes us more chatty and affable and friendly? Is this always a bad thing? I’m not sure.
On one hand, I would say this: Some of my best, most “heavenly” moments have come in situations where I’m with friends and there is alcohol present. Whether it is in Oxford with friends at a pub, or in Tokyo with friends at the top of the Park Hyatt, drinking Suntory and looking out over the city, drinking frequently shows up in good and wonderful social memories.
On the other hand, I could say this: Christians are to be set apart from the world. Abstaining from a “worldly” thing like alcohol or infrequently consuming it is one way we can be different. Also, it is true that alcohol can easily lead us to situations of sin. It doesn’t take much to go from alcohol consumption being a neutral activity to it becoming a vice. The vast number of alcoholics in the world can attest to this.
But everything in life is fraught with potential disaster. Our nature infuses everything neutral with the potential to become complicit in evil. The world is beautiful and good, but it can quickly become a playground for licentiousness and depravity. Does that mean we should hide away in a cave somewhere, free of all temptation or potential vice? Should the fact that a juicy hamburger is full of cholesterol and other heart-killing ingredients scare me away from Red Robin forever? Does the potential for lusting after a member of the opposite sex mean that we should never go to the beach? Does the risk of death associated with rock climbing mean we should never attempt to scale a rock face? I don’t think so.
There is a thing called self-control. It’s one of the fruits of the Spirit. Christians have it. It’s a virtue that God gives us so that we can enjoy good things without enjoying them too much. It’s the ability to know when things have gone too far, and the ability to stop at that point. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit.
And so is a pint of Guinness.