‘Sadly disappointed’

This is for Doctor Carl W. I am sadly disappointed in your personal comments in today's feature article [see Thinking Biblically about life issues, 14 March 2003]. To indicate that any alcohol is OK is discouraging. Even one drink alters one's thinking so how much are we to let something else have even some control of our minds? How much alcohol constitutes an amount that is sin? If alcohol is addictive, then why play with fire? Just because the world says it is legal is no reason for Christians to go along with it.

It is getting harder and harder to distinguish saved ones from unsaved ones when 'we' go along with what the world does, watering down little by little until we are no different at all.

Sorry that this has upset me so much. I am afraid that AiG has been seriously undermined in my thinking.
Yours truly,

Dear M.,

I am sorry to have disappointed you. I hesitated about permitting my personal response to appear on our site, but was eventually persuaded to because it might just make a teaching point about the authority of the Bible above our own human opinion, even where this comes from a strong Christian background or culture. As the article indicated, it was a personal opinion, not a ministry policy, and this is an expansion of that opinion.

It was also just an en passant comment in a response advising against marijuana. I presume you have no problem with the overwhelmingly main thrust of my response.

I was raised a teetotaler by a non-Christian family and that is my basic inclination. Were it not for my understanding of Scripture, I would still hold that position. That may surprise you.

The Biblical passages which have to be ignored, massively distorted and/or intense special pleading applied in order to hold the ‘wine in Scripture = grape juice’ position are not only the wedding at Cana, but in particular this passage, Luke 7:33-34:

NIV: For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."'
KJV: For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!

Notice how John’s not drinking is contrasted with Jesus’ drinking. If one were to suggest that this refers to drinking grape juice, the whole passage becomes meaningless, even farcical—try it and see. So the question in my mind has to do with the authority of the Word of God, not with what I might think.

And it then makes sense by matching with other parts of the Scripture, i.e. the emphasis on the spirit, the heart, and not the ‘thing’. I would hate to encourage the belief that avoiding a, b or c is what makes our actions as believers (already redeemed by grace) pure, rather than the purity of the heart (Titus 1:15).

Should we therefore allow wine to control us? Obviously not—not because of our opinion, but because the Bible makes it clear that we should not be controlled by wine, but by the Spirit (would the Bible say ‘don’t be controlled by grape juice’, as the common view would insist it must read?).

Also note the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6:3: ‘He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.’ Note that the prohibition was on both wine and grape juice. This shows that the Bible has a perfectly good word for grape juice in contrast to wine. For the New Testament, there was also a perfectly good Greek word for fruit juice, chumos. Therefore if all these passages praising wine were really intending to praise grape juice, there was a perfectly good way of doing so. This would seem to be the last nail in the coffin for the ‘wine = grape juice’ theory.

We should always allow the Bible to govern our thinking, not impose our thinking on the Bible, no matter how well-meaning. It is certainly inconsistent to argue that whenever ‘wine’ in the Bible is praised, it must be grape juice, but when it (or rather, its abuse) is condemned, it is wine. This is prevalent throughout the conservative church, and the thought process can be summarized in this logical schema:

The Bible would never advocate anything sinful.

Drinking alcohol is sinful. Therefore: the Bible would never advocate drinking alcohol.
Corollary: Therefore, whenever the Bible talks about ‘wine’ in a good way, it cannot be alcoholic.

But this argument presupposes that Premise 2 is correct, and is using this to govern our hermeneutics. But the correct evangelical approach is to see what the Bible really does say about drinking wine, and use this to decide whether Premise 2 is correct.

To be consistent with the notion that anything that alters our mood should be prohibited, one would have to crack down on tea, coffee, cola drinks, etc. containing caffeine, which has definite anti-depressant effects. And chocolate has also been shown to be mood-altering, even affecting the same receptors in the brain as THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). But you may say that it doesn’t do so in socially harmful ways—true. But then the same is true of the ‘little wine’ that the apostle Paul encourages Timothy to use for his health’s sake, in line with the small quantities that doctors today have found indeed have a beneficial health effect.

Further, it makes little sense to say that alcohol as such is the problem, period, regardless of quantity, because none of us can avoid alcohol totally—a fact which may surprise you. Not only is it in many cough syrups and similar medications because of its abilities to dissolve organic compounds as well as its miscibility with water, but most ripe fruit will contain minute quantities of the substance. In Biblical times, the alcohol in wine helped to sterilize water with which it was mixed.

You may correctly counter ‘but the small amounts that come with ripe fruit and so on—that is not enough of a dose to do any harm …’ and that is precisely my point. The amount is the issue. A small amount is harmless, a large amount is harmful.

This then brings me to your point asking ‘why play with fire?’ This is a very valid question in response to the whole question of the amount (i.e. if a large amount is harmful, why use a small amount), but note that considering this question is not a moral or sin issue, it is a wisdom issue. That is, it raises the question of whether it is a wise or sensible thing to do, not a question of sin or Christian morality. And I would probably be unable to fault your answer to the question of 'why have any at all?'. (If airplanes crashed frequently, it would be wise to avoid taking even a small journey in them, but even so it would never be sinful, merely foolish.) I am merely making the point that I think it is very important to distinguish between the two categories—things which are sin vs non-sin, and on the other hand, things which are wise vs foolish. Because otherwise we end up having the Bible conscripted into saying and prohibiting all sorts of things which it does not do. And we end up even contradicting the Bible in some areas.

Some Christians bring up the ‘stumbling block’ objection, but this must be addressed on a case-by-case basis. In many cases, this is not a stumbling block for non-Christians at all, except that many segments of the church have given the impression that drinking is something Christians never do. This is a totally different thing from what Paul talks about. It would not arise were it not for the original unbiblical approach to the subject. If one were to use the stumbling block argument, one could show that for many believers the notion that Christians may not even enjoy a glass of red wine with a meal can be a massive stumbling block, so the argument cuts both ways.

I trust you can see that the thrust of my comments was not to give ‘open slather’ but rather to encourage a Biblical approach to all thinking in all areas. And when this is put into practice, it does the opposite to what some fear, and you raise, namely that it will be harder to distinguish Christians. Imagine if Christians were to apply the principles of Scripture consistently in all areas of their life, e.g. total honesty and fairness—including in their approach to income taxes, giving a full day’s work to their employer, going the extra mile, mercy, charity, gentleness, self-control (including a refusal to take part in riotous behaviour, whether alcohol is involved or not), putting the other person’s needs first, considering the other more important than one-self, etc. Imagine how this would stand out in the workplace or home, whether or not the person had a tiny glass of wine on occasion or not.

Then there is ‘speaking the truth in love’ … ‘let your yes be yes and your no, no’ … avoiding gluttony …. I have sat in circles which would be shocked at the notion of one drink, but gorge their already obese bodies in public, not realising what a poor witness this is. And so on one could go. Imagine what a much more powerful impact and distinguishing witness this would be than just an image of Christians as ‘don’t do this or that’ people.

I do respect your position, and don’t mean to disparage it. Just as Paul said that one should not look down on those who say one should not do this or that because of not having reached the full understanding of what Christian freedom (not licence) involves, I don’t want to be in any way ‘bulldozing’ what is in the end my personal position, and not that of AiG. And because of the fear that any personal failings in my own understanding of the Scripture may be vaunted home to the ministry for whom I work, I want to withdraw from all future exchanges on the subject, while thanking you for writing and affording me this opportunity to clarify my own thinking further.

Kind regards,

Yours sincerely in Christ,
Carl Wieland



This is for Dr. Wieland: I want to thank you, Dr. Wieland, for your very gracious reply to my 'complaint'. I am sorry that, because of my personal opinion, you had to write such a lengthy letter. Thank you again. M.


This article is used by permission from Dr. Carl Wieland, AIG, September, 2002