Jane: I just found out that only 11% of U.S. Americans are lifelong abstainers from drinking. If the Wesleyan Church won't allow its members to drink, aren't we basically telling 89% of the American population that they can't be Wesleyan?
Matt: Yes, but 50% of Americans didn't drink last year, so the 89% figure is a little high.
Mary: Besides, if a person is really committed to Christ, they will be willing to give up drinking to serve the Lord.
Tom: But you're assuming that there is some connection between drinking and spirituality. I have friends both in America and especially abroad who are more godly than anyone in this discussion but who drink moderately. The biblical issue is drunkenness, not drinking.
Matt: The thing is, how do you know when you're drunk. What if one drink makes you drunk?
Sally: I don't think someone from Bible times would read verses on drunkenness that way, Matt. When the Bible condemns drunkenness, it's talking about someone we would call an alcoholic, someone who does bad things to themselves and others because they drink.
Matt: But if you never take the first drink, you can never become an alcoholic.
Jane: Actually, only about 3.5% of Americans last year were classified as alcoholic, another 5% would fall into the category of individuals whose abuse of alcohol became destructive. So about 8.5% of Americans last year had a problem with drinking or 17% of those who drank had problems.
Tom: And Christians should be very clear about those who abuse alcohol. Sometimes I think the fact that we lump all individuals who drink alcohol together causes us to miss the biblical point--this 8.5% need help, some of them need help from themselves, some of them we need to protect others from.
On the other hand, we are just as mistaken to think the other 83% of drinkers automatically have a spiritual problem as we were when we used to judge women who cut their hair.
Mary: I just think we're caving into the pressures of the world. Why should we let the world set our agenda? We need to be telling the world how to change, not changing for the world.
Sally: I don't really care personally one way or another--I tried a beer once in college and hated it. And it would definitely not be worth changing the rules if it caused some sort of a split in our church. But I don't see how the rules can stay the way they are forever. If the Bible does not prohibit drinking, then I don't see how we can continue to prohibit it, especially when we are really engaging the world.
Mary: I just don't agree that the Bible allows drinking. I know a fellow with a PhD who teaches at a Christian college who has written a booklet that shows that what the Bible calls wine was actually unfermented grape juice.
Tom: I don't see how that could be the case. Jesus distinguishes himself from John the Baptist in Matthew 11:18-19 by saying that John came not drinking while he came drinking. John was a Nazirite, so didn't drink alcohol. By the way, since most Israelites were not Nazirites, the implication is that most of them did drink alcohol.
Jesus says that as a result of him drinking, his opponents called him a drunkard. Of course I don't believe Jesus was a drunkard, but the accusation doesn't make any sense unless he drank the kind of alcohol that could make you drunk.
Sally: I agree that Jesus drank, but I am a little concerned about what trajectory our church might go on if it allowed drinking. To so many, it will feel like we're going liberal. Will we accept homosexuality next?
Tom: That's the slippery slope argument.
Sally: Well, I'm not suggesting if we allow drinking we'll all stop believing in the virgin birth. I just think that people need to feel like they stand for something, and if all we ever do is loosen the rules, it doesn't feel like we're any different from anyone else.
Tom: That's why it's important no matter what we continue to take a strong stand against biblical drunkenness. I have a Christian friend from another denomination who's a prosecuting attorney. He is always telling me how evil alcohol is for that 10% Jane was talking about--it needs to be preached against vigorously.
But interestingly enough, my friend drinks. It seems to me that he has the biblical equation right.
Jack: I haven't said anything but I'm a little worried about my children staying with the Wesleyan Church over things like these. We go to a large church with a lot of people who weren't raised Wesleyan. They want to be members but don't understand things that seem quirky to them. They hear people joking about how we didn't used to dance or go to movies.
Drinking is the same way to them. They have a glass of wine with their supper, but we've never seen them drunk. My children have been exposed to so many other Christians that I'm afraid they'll look on our church as backward and go somewhere else.
Mary: They wouldn't if their heart was right with God. They would be willing to surrender their pride and submit to God.
Tom: But Mary, you're again assuming that God has a horse in this race. If God loves the non-denominational church around the corner as much as He loves the Wesleyan Church, then it's not a matter of submission to God where they go. We shouldn't be different just to be different. We should be different on things that God has called us to be different.
Jack: When we were a little denomination that no one had heard of, it didn't matter that we had Wesleyan wads and didn't wear wedding rings. But when our position on drinking begins to be an unecessary hindrance in our bigger churches that are really reaching out to others, then we have to streamline our requirements. I know several large churches that already ignore the Discipline on these sorts of things because they are a hindrance to the gospel.
If the Bible doesn't prohibit drinking, then we shouldn't prohibit drinking.
Matt: The Bible doesn't prohibit polygamy. Show me the verse where it does. The Bible doesn't prohibit slavery. Paul assumes it in Colossians. Membership issues have to do with playing out biblical principles in specific contexts. If drinking is a bad witness to our culture, then we shouldn't drink to be that witness.
Sally: I'm just afraid this will tear the church apart.
Tom: And we don't want that to happen, I agree. That's a bottom line for me.
Jane: You know, as I've looked at the Wesleyan Discipline, I think there are some more fundamental issues to be raised about the process of editing membership requirements. There are some really strange things about what we require and where.
Tom: Sounds like another discussion for another day, I have to go pick up my kids from school.