f The Wittenberg Door: Considering God’s Gift of Alcohol

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Considering God’s Gift of Alcohol

The Master of Cana’s marriage feast says, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then that which is inferior; but you have kept the good wine until now.” The Geneva Bible highlights the expression “well drunk.” Notice: the wine is not only drunk, but “well drunk.” This is different from drinking well. We drink well when we drink to the glory of God and when our drinking does not exceed the limits of moderation. However, the wine is to be “well drunk” too. God’s gifts are not to be used tentatively, as if we are sampling remnants or sipping the king’s drink to discover whether it contains poison. The table that the Lord has set before us must be heartily consumed! (Drinking With Calvin and Luther, 64)

A number of years ago I had the privilege of introducing the Charlton-Heston-looking Rev. Jim West at a conference on Pentecostalism shortly after he published his book, The Glorious Foundation of Christ: The Missing Clincher argument in the Tongues’ Debate. (Speaking as an ex-Pentecostal, I highly recommend this book.)

Before his “tongues” book, Rev. West published a fine treatise titled Drinking With Calvin and Luther! In the book, Rev. West, Professor of Pastoral Theology at City Seminary in Sacramento California, provides not only the theological underpinnings of alcohol’s use, but he also traces its use from the Reformation, to the founding of America, through Spurgeon’s time and beyond. (He also provides a nifty, and funny, beer review.) It’s a profitable read even if you’re a teetotaler like me.

Aimee Byrd, housewife and mother who attends Pilgrim Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Martinsburg, WV, provides some thoughts on the book. Here’s an excerpt . . .

One area that has me thinking is simply the reason why we drink. I’ve often looked at the case for alcohol being such a staple in church history more on the level of necessity. With the poor water quality, drinking alcoholic beverages was a matter of health. And, yes, I’ve always looked at it as a gift from God’s creation that should be enjoyed. But it seems like our evangelical culture would have those who would insist on enjoying their Christian liberties do it in a clandestine fashion. I partake because I appreciate a good drink and I know that a glass will help untie all the knots in my brain at night, but also because it makes me merry. And West wants to emphasize this aspect of the gift from God’s creation.

He quotes the venerable John Calvin, “It is permissible to use wine not only for necessity, but to make us merry” (53). In his commentary on Ps. 104:15, Calvin emphasizes that drinking must be moderate. But “his second consideration may surprise the ignorant, and even shock the pietist; he argued that ‘in making merry,’ those who enjoy wine ‘feel a livelier gratitude to God’” (53).

Click here for the entire review. You can also purchase Rev. West’s books here.

--The Catechizer

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