Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Vino, Veritas

The day I idealogically fell off the teetotaling wagon probably sparked the first flames of my eventual complete separation from Fundamentalism.  Because once you wake up from one part of the brainwashing, you start to be able to identify other parts...

It happened while was attending another institution of higher learning getting a degree beyond my Fundy University bachelor's degree.  (Though I suppose it could be argued that if I were a woman getting an advanced degree in a secular university, I wasn't that big of a Fundy, but that's another post.) I was offered an alcoholic beverage by a friend at a study session.  I piously proclaimed, "I'm a Christian, I don't drink" - echoing the words of a Fundamentalist evangelist I heard once who bragged of his testimony to his Marine buddies using those very words while holding a glass of milk. 

However, the resemblance of my story to his ended there.

Rather than respecting my firm stand for the Lord, and being impressed with my devotion...  well...

He laughed.

That was probably the one response I never expected.  He LAUGHED!  And not scornfully either -  he actually thought I was joking.  Then he said, "Christians are the biggest drinkers in the world.  Irish Catholics, anyone?"

And, you might also be surprised to learn, he wasn't the least bit interested in my protestations that Catholics "weren't real Christians." He followed with something about the fact that Jesus drank wine.

Praise God, I was stunned into enough honesty to realize that abstaining from alcohol wasn't the amazing testimony to unbelievers I had been taught it was.  It was actually a stumbling block.  And maybe, just maybe... he was right.

Exit #1 off the Fundy turnpike.  No wonder Fundamentalists hammer this issue so hard.

I occasionally, guiltily, tried some wine after that point at family gatherings, but my conscience wasn't freed on the subject of alcohol until I listened to a lecture about the medical benefits of wine in heart disease and high blood pressure.  A half glass of wine for women/full glass of wine for men daily is strongly recommended by cardiologists.  Huh.  That seemed to fit under the medicinal use of alcohol that even hardcore Fundamentalists had to admit to.

But that was just wine, not any alcoholic beverage. And I still wasn't completely sure that "new wine" wasn't really grape juice, hesitated to say that Christ himself drank wine, and stuttered when asked if drinking wine was intrinsically a sin.

You see, in Fundamentalism, especially in the Baptist kind, alcohol of any sort is strictly prohibited. Even taking NyQuil or cooking with it could be frowned on in the right circles.  I had been indoctrinated that drinking alcohol is not, under any circumstances, something a Good Christian would do.  It is somehow assumed that any alcohol consumption leads immediately to drunkenness, so even drinking in moderation is a Bad Testimony - and being seen purchasing it is the Worst Testimony Possible even if you're just using it for a Jerry Baker gardening recipe.

Since this is one of the prime evils a person can ever engage in, there are a lot of mental gymnastics and twisting of Scripture to fit this relatively recent human tradition. Sermons and even entire books are devoted to attempting to prove that the "wine" in Christ's first public miracle and at the Last Supper was just grape juice.  Anyone who says otherwise is a godless compromising liberal only interested in indulging his taste for demon drink.

But last week, something was pointed out to me that makes the translational arguments irrelevant.  And the reason is so shockingly simple that I feel like an idiot for not realizing it sooner.

The wedding at Cana occurred just before Passover.  Go read the Gospel account - it's there.  It is clearly stated that a few days after the wedding, Christ went up to Jerusalem for Passover.  The Last Supper was also celebrated at Passover.

When is Passover?

Sometime in the spring.  Around April.

When is the grape harvest?

Fall.  The grape harvest is in full swing here, and it's September.

And here's where the absurdity really becomes apparent.  There is no possible way to have fresh, unfermented grape juice in the spring 2000 years ago.  None.  Grapes aren't ripe then.  They ripened 6 or more months prior.  No refrigeration then, no canning, no pasteurization.  No Wal-Mart with cases of Welch's available at all seasons.

It doesn't matter what your preconceived translational bias is.  Wine is wine, not grape juice.  New wine is wine, not grape juice.

I hadn't even been aware that subtle doubts still lingered until this blew them all away.

So this year, I really, really enjoyed the local wine festival.  No, I didn't get drunk.  Yes, I think Christ approved.  I received the wine with thankfulness and I celebrated His first miracle by enjoying it. 


  1. funny to me the things I used to be so dogmatic about and it isn't even scriptural.

  2. This is an issue that never quite made sense to me. Even in jr. high the "reasoning" didn't add up. We were a NO ALCOHOL family but it wasn't until later that I came to understand that it had more to do with the family history of alcoholism than some deep spiritual conviction. My mom's side of the family had many alcoholics. I even learned that my grandfather was an alcoholic who stopped drinking before my mom was born. In my lifetime I watched several family members destroy themselves and their families with alcohol. So, I don't drink. Not ever. Not even once. It's simply not worth the risk. I have many friends and some family who drink occasionally and socially and it's never been a problem for them. I don't think they are sinning and I believe they are free to make that choice. But the part of me that saw the results of alcohol abuse, cringes a little.
    All of that to say that I am thrilled that you have found new freedoms in Christ that you never knew you had. And I pray often for you as you continue to extricate yourself from the harsh restrictions imposed by men, NOT God. You do not strike me as a reckless or careless person but please use caution. This one area causes me more fear than any other. I pray every time I hear a friend mention it and it's not what you think. I pray for me that I will not let my fear cause me to look down on or judge those who have that freedom.
    I guess I just want you to understand that if someone tells you you shouldn't drink wine, it may have nothing to do with biblical misinterpretation, and everything to do with fear.

  3. I would have to say that I can see where Mandy coming from. Although, my husband and I do not see drinking in moderation as a sin we do personally abstain. My husband chooses that b/c of a family history of alcoholism. My reasons are far more shallow- I don't want to take a chance on saying or doing anything crazy. And yes I know that is shallow:). Though i would say society at large recognizes that- most people would not drink alcohol prior to a job where they needed full mental facilities for example. And I really have zero desire. If a fellow Christian chooses to drink without drunkeness-more power to them. I agree that the Bible does not condemn that.

  4. "I guess I just want you to understand that if someone tells you you shouldn't drink wine, it may have nothing to do with biblical misinterpretation, and everything to do with fear."

    That's perfectly reasonable, Mandy. And it's completely different from what I'm talking about, too. What I'm breaking free from is the twisting of Scripture to say something it doesn't. Is it wise to be careful with alcohol? Of course it is. Scripture may not condemn drinking, but it's pretty clear about drunkenness. Alcohol in excess (like many things in excess) is life-destroying. I'm well aware of what alcohol can do to people and families.

    And as you said, this doesn't make it wrong for anyone to drink. It may be unwise for certain people to drink, but it probably still isn't "wrong" for them per se.

    (Many alcoholics are actually self-medicating mental illness. And don't get me started on the dreadful things I was taught about mental illness when I was a Fundamentalist.)

    If it alleviates your fear, I almost never have more than one drink at a sitting. And usually, it's no more than half a drink. Fortunately or unfortunately, I get amazingly dizzy when I start to have more than that, and have learned my limits the hard way. (Margaritas. Love 'em, but gotta be really careful with 'em.) For me, if I make sure I don't have more than one drink and don't drink every day, I'm pretty unlikely to become an alcoholic on that little. Those are my limits; but they aren't biblical and they don't make me any more spiritual for having them. That's what I'm dealing with here. The spirituality of the issue.

    God is more powerful than alcohol. Follow Him, not manmade rules. That's the ultimate point.

  5. Read this last night:

    On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. Isa 25:6

    We're talking more than 6 months. :-)