In the years that followed, the Christian's attitude to alcohol formed a backdrop to many youth Bible studies and group sessions. The ethical sections of Paul's letters were routinely related to whether the Christian should drink or not and, like its sister question on pre-marital sex, many hoops were jumped through before a resounding 'No' was sounded. Alcohol was not to be messed with or indulged in - we were (in theory at least) the latest (and possibly last) generation of tee-total Christian teens.
Surveying the Christian scene now, it is evident that much has changed. Alcohol is not the hot potato (pardon the poteen pun) that it once was, and one doubts that abstention is the staple advice administered to youth groups. Alcohol has become acceptable to many believers, forming part of their tableware and lifestyle, and the relative virtues of varied wines and beers is a point of intelligent conversation among the Christian intelligentsia.
Undoubtedly a biblical case can be made for indulgence or abstinence from advocates of either position. I've heard both sides of the argument and respect people who differ widely on this issue. There is no doubt that tremendous self-control can be shown by those who totally abstain, and also by those who are not hard-wired for addiction and who can drink responsibly. There is no doubt that the current 'liberty' enjoyed and vaunted by many with regard to alcohol is something of a pendulum swing away from a strict legalism and myopic focus on the issue - which was at the expense of what it really means to live by the Holy Spirit and to embody Christian graces in many other areas.
So why this post on 'Believers, Booze and the Bible' then? Is it not possible to allow this issue to wither on the vine, if after all it was only ever small beer? Well yes. And no. As an individual who conscientiously abstains from consuming alcohol on (what I believe to be) solid biblical and social convictions, I can easily allow a 'live and let live' attitude to prevail between myself and those who differ from me. I refuse to buy the lie that spirituality can be measured by the glass or by % volume.
But still there is something that nags at me on this issue...
Alcohol has become so mainstream among evangelicals that at times it can feel as though the old cautions and caveats about its use and abuse have been lost. It appears now to be de rigeur for Christians to post a variety of photos of themselves to Facebook in a range of poses with alcoholic beverages, and to tweet their enjoyment of same on a highly regular basis. Just today on Facebook, The Bible Society announced the event whose poster appears at the top of this blog entry. Mulling over Matthew now appears to require a pint as well as a prayer for clearer understanding.
There appears to be little room for those consciences among us which feel that alcohol is a substance to be either treated with healthy respect or to be avoided altogether. The gates of Christian liberty have opened so wide that the words Bible and brewery appear to be entirely compatible, difference and dissent seem to have been steamrollered, and an attitude of mutual respect on an historically divided ethical issue seems to be far from a reality at times.
This causes me concern. What of those whose backgrounds have been ravaged by alcohol before rescue came from Christ, and for whom the old addictions are an ever present source of concern and conviction? Most believers would view alcoholism as a serious social, medical and moral issue, and would readily endorse the common social view that one is never a 'recovered' alcoholic but merely 'recovering'. What should my good friends who live with this reality day by day do with the information flow which champions participation and enjoyment of alcohol with no exceptions or footnotes to explain the principle of moderation, or the need for loving liberty between believers of strong and weak conscience?
For some Christians to advocate participation in alcohol is one thing, to become poster boys for it is quite another, and smacks of an irresponsible individualism perpetuated by the world of social media.
I hope it's a long time before I ever hear 'the devil's vomit' reference in a sermon again, but a bit of sensitivity and mutual charity on a contentious and potentially hazardous issue would surely be to our credit.