Our congregation, affectionately speaking, is somewhat of a hodgepodge of backgrounds. Because of that, I am asked a lot of questions that others in the congregation would never think to ask. For example, some would never think of Christians drinking alcohol as a controversial issue, while others deal with it every time they see their Baptist friends at work or every time family comes to town. This short article intends to scratch the surface of this issue.
While I’m not sure about exact figures, it seems that most Christians in the South are troubled by the idea of believers drinking alcohol in any quantity and of any kind. There are even some who will argue that, while they do not object to it “out of hand,” they still think it’s a good idea for believers to abstain from drinking “for the sake of testimony.” Still further, there are unbelievers in the South that are certain that no real Christians drink alcohol.
This subject, historically speaking, is quite new. Before Prohibition (effected by the 18th Amendment on January 16, 1920 and repealed by the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933), the debate over Christians consuming alcohol was non-existent, except in small, doctrinally-suspect corners of the Christian world.
A survey of Baptist confessions of faith and catechisms (like the Baptist Confession of 1689 and, more interestingly, the Baptist Faith and Message of 1925), shows that even Baptists had no problem with consuming alcohol at the Lord’s Table. Strangely, in 1963, the language of the Baptist Faith & Message was changed to “fruit of the vine.” The use of wine was now considered a “no-no,” and grape juice became the standard drink at communion.
Why the change? Why would Baptists who, despite our disagreements, have traditionally been faithful to the words of Scripture, institute the use of grape juice at communion when Jesus clearly used “wine?” The “fruit of the vine” is nowhere mentioned and the word used in the New Testament is plainly and unequivocally “wine.”
I would argue that Prohibition started it. Prohibition began because of increased problems connected with drunkenness (abuse of alcohol) – particularly spousal abuse – and was supported by strange bedfellows like feminists and Christian fundamentalists – the feminists out of a desire to stamp out spousal abuse and the fundamentalists out of concern over drunkenness. Over the period of Prohibition, drinking became a matter principle to fundamentalists and, eventually, a matter of sin. Because of that increasingly severe view, fundamentalists have continued their own “prohibition” to this day, even though Prohibition ended long ago.