Part 4 of the Alcohol Series – Drinking with the Apostolic Fathers and the Reformers

Continued from Part 3 Here

Matthew 15:11  Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

In my previous part of this study, we examined the verses in both the Old and New Testament concerning the consumption of wine and alcohol. Throughout our study, we saw that responsible drinking of wine and strong drink was enjoyed by people in the Old Testament, as well as Jesus, the Apostles Paul and the early Church. Nowhere is drinking of alcohol condemned, and in point of fact, while drunkenness definitely has destructive consequences, it is nowhere pointed out to be sinful.

Many instances in the Old Testament, wine is spoken of prophetically as a blessing from the Lord (Genesis 27:28, Deuteronomy 7:13, Joel 2:19), Simultaneously, we see the lack of wine to be a common theme about national judgment (Jeremiah 48:33, Joel 1:10, Hosea 2:9). While the language used in these passage is prophetic and symbolic, it does put across the imagery that wine is paralleled prophetically as a good thing. It would be inconsistent to turn around and say that actual wine is a bad thing to be avoided.

Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and the other Apostolic Fathers make very little reference to wine, but the earliest references from the Church Fathers make it clear that the early church used wine in their celebration of Communion, often mixing it with water according to the prevailing custom. The Didache, Chapter 13, an early Christian treatise which is generally accepted to be from the late 1st century, instructs Christians to give a portion of their wine in support of a true prophet or, if they have no prophet resident with them, to the poor.

While the early Church is by no means in consensus on the subject of alcohol, there have always been those who advocated abstinence. For instance, Clement of Alexndria admired those who lived an austere life, and encouraged people to “flee as far as possible from wine,” yet he also wrote about the joys of drinking wine, in Chapter 2 of his book “The Instructor.” There were others who fought against the dualistic heresy of those who rejected wine, such as, Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, who refuted immature Christians whom suggested an all out ban on wine.

During the Middle ages, the Church was heavily involved in the production of both wine and beer, for their personal enjoyment, Communion as well as a source of revenue. The medieval monks were well known for the exceptional quality of wine and beer in 6th century and beyond. Some who were allotted as much as 5 liters of beer a day as part of their wages. Both wine and beers were acceptable standards of exchange from the early church right into the reformation period and beyond.

During the Protestant Reformation the reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox were all strong supporters of enjoying wine responsibly. As a point of interest, the salary of John Calvin included seven barrels of wine a year. Even the Puritans, who fled England for religious persecution and are generally regarded as an abstinence only group, saw the responsible drinking of wine and beer as “God’s good gift.”

In the mid 1700s, there was a time of both the abuses and triumphs of alcohol in society.  During this time, the water throughout Europe, was famously undrinkable, and the people resorted to gin and whiskey as the safer alternative.  Of course this took its toll on much of Europe and devastated societies.  It was in this disease-ridden, starvation-plagued, alcoholic age, that Christians like Arthur Guinness, catholic monks and even evangelical churches, were brewing beer as a healthier alternative to the poisonous waters and liquors of the times.  Arthur Guinness went on to create the drink that shares his name, Guinness, and went on to become the national drink of Ireland.

It was only in the last 200 years, with the rise of the North American Temperance Movement with an emphasis on personal holiness, that the idea that all alcohol was evil became popularized. It was in 1869, during this movement, Thomas Bramwell Welch invented the pasteurization process to prevent the fermentation of grapes, so that grape juice can be used instead of wine, in the Methodist Communion service.

The temperance movement peaked in North America in the 20th Century with the advent of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, establishing Prohibition. Coupled with the Preaching of John Wesley in England and some parts of Europe, the demonization of Alcohol had very little influence beyond these territories, as the Roman and Eastern Churches never adopted these ideas. In contrast we have seen the ideas of all out abstinence and demonization of alcohol on the decline in Western Churches, and now held by fewer denominations in favour of moderation.

While the modern day Pharisee holds to this modern Northern American moralism to demonize alcohol, the counsel of Scripture, coupled with Church History, stand in stark opposition to this heresy, in favour of the responsible consumption of alcohol. While some may choose abstinence, and other may choice moderation, neither of these positions add anything or detract anything from our union with Jesus Christ and his ability to build and grow us up into the Image of Christ.

Steve McVey – Eating and Drinking to the Glory of God!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.