In the battle between the pro-drinking and the very low- or no-drinking forces within the Churches of Christ, John 2 is a battleground. Instead of being a battle between only two extreme positions, four nuanced views contend over John 2. This article will present and consider the four views of Jesus turning water into wine.
Presenting the Four Views
|Jesus turned water into wine - so Christians can drink (and drink and drink).||Jesus turned water into wine - so Christians can drink "in moderation."||
Jesus turned water into wine - but Christians should approach alcohol very cautiously and drink less,
|Jesus turned water into wine - but Christians should totally abstain from alcohol.|
Considering the Four Views
#1 - Christians can drink, and drink, and drink:
While few openly advocate down-in-the-gutter drunkenness, a dirty little secret of this debate is that some want to see hard drinking in John 2 because they want to continue to be hard drinkers themselves, to justify the problem drinking and drug abuse of others, or to "soften our stand" against alcohol and drugs.
#2 - Christians can drink "in moderation":
The modern mind debates in a curious way. First, the two extremes are identified (in this case, either excessive drinking or total abstinence). Then, the first person to any middle wins (in this case, "moderate" drinking - whatever that means). This either/or/middle style of debate ignores important distinctions.
Moderation, the presumed middle-ground conclusion, has a very sophisticated ring to it, until one acknowledges that the definition of moderation changes over time and changes all the time. In this debate, moderate is too often a code word for too much.
What is considered moderate by today's standards was considered excessive by the standards of history, even by the standards of fairly recent history. Today's "moderate drinking" sloshes a lot more alcohol than the "moderate drinking" of previous notions of "moderation in all things" (be honest, is everything excused as "moderate" today really moderate?).
#3 - Christians should approach alcohol cautiously and drink less:
Unable to classify the occasional glass of this or that as sin, others still acknowledge that the preponderance of evidence in scripture weighs heavily against drinking, just as the preponderance of social evidence also weighs heavily against drinking. This suggests a very different kind of moderation. Instead of the "green-light" moderation of #2, this cautious, less-drinking approach can be understood as "yellow light" moderation, the moderation (restraint, control, temperance) of habits .
For many years I have smiled as I have presented this challenge: "I'll take all of the passages written against drinking and you take all of the passage written in favor of drinking - who will win?" In non-religious settings I have restated the same challenge as, "I'll take all of the explanations of how drinking harms society and you take all of the explanations of how drinking helps society - who will win?" I smile because this is truly a friendly challenge. I also smile because no one has ever taken me up on it.
#4 - Christians should totally abstain from alcohol:
Ridiculed by today's green-light moderates, total abstainers were once highly respected. History is filled with the voices of those who preached "Touch no dram" like John Wesley (1703-1791; founder of the Methodists). "Since 1886 the Southern Baptists have issued almost 60 resolutions that in a united voice have addressed the risk of alcohol and the wisdom of abstinence." A standard slogan of Alcoholics Anonymous (established in 1935) warns of being "One drink drunk." John MacArthur of Grace Community Church recently said, "It is puerile and irresponsible for any pastor to encourage the recreational use of an intoxicant."
Conclusion: Four Views, Not Just Two
By considering only two options, we prevent ourselves from appreciating nuances between extremes and from finding the firmest conclusion. The pro-drinking and no-drinking factions only set the extremes in the discussion about alcohol. There is a cautious, reasonable and biblically supportable alternative.