And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household, Deuteronomy 14:26.
I have noticed a trend lately among certain King James Bible believing fundamentalists to reintroduce wine or other alcohol into their lives. I think that I can make a pretty good case that such is a grief to God. First we must get rid of certain teachings against alcohol that were never true. As some wised up to these untruths, they unwisely began to drink.
When I first committed my life to following the Lord through the words of a King James Bible, I was given a few verses that were intended to be all I would ever need to have the right attitude towards drinking. This of course is one of the great weaknesses of Fundamentalism. Everything is relegated to a few little pat verses whose effectiveness will as often as not fall apart when examined in the light of context.
Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise, Proverbs 20:1. What does it mean to be deceived by wine or strong drink? In the opening verse, Deuteronomy 14:26, we saw that God actually condoned Israel to buy wine and strong drink and to rejoice in it. Even today, among Jews who sincerely practice their religion, there is almost no alcoholism. To be deceived by wine or strong drink is to become drunk or impaired and make bad decisions because of that impairment. Hannah defended herself against that very thing when she let Eli know that her vows were from her heart, not from drunkenness. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD, 1st Samuel 1:15.
I remember being taught that when we read Proverbs 23:31, Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright; we were to differentiate the difference between grape juice and wine as to whether or not it added its color to the cup. In that surreal world of fundamentalism every facet of life was relegated to two or three verses. To look beyond those verses was heresy. I did my best to forget that I had been snockered more than once in my life by wines that absolutely left no color to the cup. I had also seen cups discolored by grape juice.
The truth about alcohol and why good christians have stayed away from it is in our history. To drink water in in most places in early America or England was dangerous. Water borne diseases proliferated in most villages and cities where sewage and wells were too close together and germs were not understood. My wife and I once contracted Typhoid Fever while in the Philippines. The well from which we drew our water had been tested and found clean, but when a nearby volcano erupted it cracked the ground and rerouted the subterranean water flows.
I cannot imagine how terrible it would be to die like that. Because of the chaos from the volcano it took a few days to get us antibiotics. The Filipinos slipped into our house and took our children out because we were too weak to move. It was debilitating and I cannot imagine having recovered without antibiotics which were unavailable to our forefathers. Our forefathers drank wine and they drank hootch. They would not dream of drinking water unless they were far from any human habitation and they could see the purity of the stream from which it came.
When a fruit is squeezed to make juice, it is prone to ferment quickly. When I was a boy every farmer had a stash of cider hidden away where it could harden. Likewise, grapes turn into wine. The process whereby grape juice could be kept from fermenting was not known until the Welches of Westfield, New York invented the process in the 1880s. Until then, the only time that anyone could ever drink unfermented grape juice was for a few days a year when the grapes were harvested. Even in Palestine where traditionally grapes could be harvested for 8 months out of the year, for 4 months a year, wine was the only option.
In his book What Hath God Wrought, Daniel Walker Howe of Oxford University American Studies discusses the effects of alcohol on early 19th century America. He paints a picture in which corn liquor was in surplus because it was the most economical way to transport a corn harvest. It became a form of tender and was used in lieu of cash. It was drunk at every level of society and by every family. Preachers drank it when gathered together. Ladies in knitting circles drank it.
The average amount of corn liquor drunk by the average American was measured in gallons per year. This lead to much drunkenness. The women's rights movement sprang forth from it. Up until then, most women were content with the legal structure that made their husbands to have utter control over them, the children, and any property she may have owned prior to marriage. With the advent of a drunken society, new legal thinking was needed to protect women and children from drunken husbands. When English Author Charles Dickens visited America in 1842, he was enjoined over and over again to see how wonderful life was here. He went back to England and wrote about the squalor of drunkenness. Hence the phrase, "Giving them the Dickens".
God stirred in the hearts of such preachers as Lyman Beecher who began to preach the novel idea of "Temperance". Beecher and his ilk began encouraging christians to make a vow that they would not touch liquor. The idea was that drunkenness and poverty and the wretchedness associated with it were so prevalent that a good christian should foreswear drinking to encourage those around them to do so. After each meeting, those who agreed signed a pledge to stop drinking liquor. If they also agreed to stop drinking wine they would put a letter T next to their name. From this we get the term t-totaler.
An elderly woman who I have known most of my life recently asked me what I had against drinking. I acknowledged that in her immediate family, alcohol seemed to be used in moderation and the squalor of drunken living was unknown. I reminded her of the many people that we both knew who had ruined their children's early lives with alcohol. I asked her if she thought that if even one of those children could have lived a life without drunken parents if she herself were to have sworn off of alcohol, would she have been willing to do so? She replied that it was too late in her life now, but that she would have been glad to have spared those that had suffered.
When I was young my father took me into many a bar. I would be so proud to sit next to him and drink a glass of milk or soda pop while he drank a beer. My father never missed paying a bill because of drinking. He never ruined a holiday with drunken anger. He was popular with men at the bar who would come up and greet him. I know that many of those men didn't always pay their bills. I know that many of them ruined holiday after holiday as they came home drunk and angry. I know enough about how drunks rationalize their drinking to know that many of them would look at my fine father and rationalize that if a man like him could drink, there must not be anything wrong with it. No man will ever drive drunk, miss a house payment, beat his wife or make his children's lives a living hell while comforting himself that John Asquith drinks, therefore it must be OK.
We now know that statistically 1 out of every 6 people is genetically predisposed to become an alcoholic. That doesn't mean that all of them will. Neither does it mean that the other 5 out of 6 won't. It just means that when 6 college ages boys go out drinking a couple nights a week, that one of them will have a much harder time controlling his drinking. For him it would have been far better if he had never taken his first drink. I ask the people in my church how they would feel if one of their children killed himself playing Russian Roulette? I then ask them how they would feel if the person who taught them to play was sitting here in the church? If you go out drinking with someone, there is a 1 in 6 chance that that same person will destroy his or her life with alcohol. That's the same odds as Russian Roulette.
The Prophet Jeremiah spoke with the sons of the House of the Rechabites; And I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites pots full of wine, and cups, and I said unto them, Drink ye wine. But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever, Jeremiah 35:5,6. Why wouldn't these men drink? It wasn't because of any bible injunction. It was because their father had ordered them not to. Did Jeremiah rebuke them for following a stricture from man. Far from it, he blessed them. Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever, Jeremiah 35:19.
I am grieved at this generation of fools who believe that they can sip wine and please God. American Christianity and the Christianity of many English speaking nations foreswore alcohol so that their brethren would not stumble. Our forefathers like Jonadab the son of Rechab ordered us to stay away. Shame on those of you who have broken that command. One day in the judgment, the children of drunkards will point their fingers at you and curse you to your face.