Under the Influence….of Meat (well, sort of)
I’m about to pick a fight with someone. Let’s get started and find out who it might be. Christians and alcohol. Okay, let’s clear the air. Drunkenness is out-of-bounds. No problem or issue. Wine in the Bible is not merely unfermented grape juice. I know the argument but it doesn’t hold water (rimshot, cymbal crash). I know Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1-11) and that Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach (I Tim. 5:23). I also know that many of us have crashed the old-enough-to-legally-drink barrier. Me too. So can or should Christians drink? How much or under what circumstances? As long as no one carries us back to the dorm or apartment, is it okay?
Many people just wink at or blow off college age drinking as part of a rite of passage. While Christian parents, pundits and pastors howl at the moon about how dangerous a place the university can be (You can find all the same evil at a Christian college as well.), maybe we should pay more attention to the reality that the American campus might be the most alcohol saturated sub-culture in America. And that’s saying something. One out of four women on today’s campus will experience an attempted sexual assault and we’ve sold our brain on Craigslist if we think alcohol has nothing to do with that. Schools like Michigan and Penn State launch on campus recovery programs this fall. Texas A&M offers special programs to incoming freshmen with drinking issues and students can earn $3000-a-year scholarships for staying sober. A lot more students blow up in college and leave school, not because secular humanist professors torpedo their faith, but because they party themselves right out the door.
Each Christian must sort this out for themselves. So let’s talk genes. Families don’t talk about the alcoholics in their midst and often actively suppress the information. Any entering freshman stands entitled to an honest talk with Mom or Dad about the likelihood of genetic tendencies for alcoholism. If a bomb is floating in the family gene pool, then it’s better not to light the fuse by leaving alcohol alone.
After we’ve talked genes, lets’ talk about bars, parties and a story about Sue and Mary. Mary follows Christ; Sue does not but Mary prays that Sue will discover Jesus Christ. Sue cruises the bar scene and Mary goes with her to meet Sue on her own turf. After all, didn’t Jesus go to a party at Matthew’s house (Matt. 9: 9-13)? Although she doesn’t match Sue beer for beer, Mary downs a couple of cold ones so as not to look as if she’s better than Sue. Sue makes bad decisions when she drinks. She leaves the bar without Mary in the company of men which leads to other bad decisions. Mary feels she will lose her witness to Sue if she doesn’t go and drink. Is she right or is she modelling behaviour that Sue needs to lose? Let’s go back to the party at Matthew’s house. I’m sure wine was served and that Jesus drank. But wine was not the problem with the people in that room. Greed and corruption had brought them to this moment. Jesus never participated in what was already killing someone in order to reach them.
Speaking of meat (smooth segue, huh?), let’s take a sideways look at another early church problem. Jewish Christians no longer had to watch what they ate so no pig in the Roman Empire was safe. They hit the markets in Corinth caught up in spare rib lust only to get hassled by their Gentile counterparts: “Hold it, Dude, that meat’s tainted. They offer it to false gods before they kill it. You sell out on Jesus if you eat it.” It got a little tense and they asked Paul to settle it. Both in Corinth (I Cor. 8) and in Rome (Romans 14), he comes up with this. Stop judging each other over eating and drinking. False gods are nothing. Eat all the meat you want as long as you give thanks. HOWEVER, if eating meat interferes with the spiritual life of anyone for any reason, I (Paul) will never eat meat again. Read the Scriptures just listed and substitute “alcohol” for “meat”. Connect the dots and we will have arrived at my point for this post.
Jesus met broken humanity on our own ground. Following Him, we must do the same. I tell people preparing for ministry that they will find themselves in bars from time to time. I don’t do this to create a sense of anticipation. It just happens. Sharing Christ’s presence in bars simply requires the unfettered presence of the Holy Spirit in one sensitive listening person – just like sharing Christ anywhere else. Alcohol is not required and often can be a hindrance. Sitting with someone in an alcohol situation? Two words. Diet Pepsi. One word. O’Doul’s. Almost all bars have coffee. You can dissolve large power tools in it. A friend of mine wore a clergy collar and sat in taverns on Saturday night (with the bartender’s permission) with an open Bible and a glass of orange juice. A steady stream of people came all night, every night.
We never, under any circumstances, have to participate in what is already killing someone to influence them toward Jesus. To insist that we do denies and quenches the power of the Holy Spirit. We may also be making excuses for our own indulgence. Christian freedom runs two ways – free to both indulge or to leave alone as necessary. On the alcohol soaked American campus (especially as a leader), I need to show a Christianity that doesn’t need alcohol to relax, to cope, to dull emotional pain or escape, to have a good time, be good company or to have friends. Christianity shows something deeper. Since I don’t always know what’s inside everyone I’m around and since I know what’s floating in my gene pool, I leave it alone. Meanwhile, if we’re at dinner and you have wine and I have iced tea, let’s not judge each other. But let’s be sensitive to whom we’re around and to situations where a “brewski” does more harm than good.
NEXT TIME ON THE GEEZER: Let’s hear it for professors!!