Moody Bible Institute has relaxed a rule for its employees, reports Kevin P. Emmert at Christianity Today. Full-time employees of MBI are no longer required to totally abstain from tobacco and alcohol. A spokesperson from Moody writes that the change in rules,

"came out of a desire in Moody's leadership to reflect a high-trust environment that emphasizes values, not rules,"

and that the Institute wants to,

"require no more and no less than what God's Word requires.

We are giving employees the freedom that God gives them… We trust that they have the wisdom and spiritual maturity to make appropriate choices for their lives and the communities in which they are a part."

Which begs the question (drawn from the article’s title) why are so many Christian insitutions (like Moody and others) relaxing over alcohol drinks?

Or perhaps the question should be, should American Christians have ever made such stringent rules about drinking in the first place?

If you grew up in mainstream evangelical Christianity in this country, especially in the south, there’s a good chance you grew up hearing about the evils of alcohol. And not without good reason. As Paige Patterson of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminar points out,

"There is no industry in America that causes as much sorrow and heartache [as the alcohol industry].”

Most, if not all, people could easily name at least one family member or acquaintance broken irreparably by alcohol abuse.

But according to many pastors and leaders, there’s so much more to this issue. First, it’s important for Christians to recognize that total abstinence from alcohol is not something widely practiced by the global church. There have always been monastic sects, but, in much of Europe for example, the legal drinking age is far lower and many families share wine together without giving it a second thought.

Emmert reports Jennifer Tait’s perspective, that,

"It's not that groups of people throughout history didn't practice complete abstinence. The Nazarites in the Bible didn't drink alcohol. But in the 19th century, a whole segment of the church said it's not just an ascetic practice that some people might choose; they said this is for everybody—all Christians must stop drinking or they're not Christians."

Pastor Eric Raymond on Crosswalk.com also recognizes that total abstinence from alcohol is certainly not something Jesus himself practiced.

“Even if you say [the wine was] diluted, there’s still some alcoholic content and there’s no way to get around that.”

Indeed, any probing into cultural norms of the biblical eras will show that wine and other fermented drinks were the go-to beverages for most cultures, owing largely to the fact that grapes grow in abundance in Mediterranean climates, and the water was often unsanitary and unsafe to consume.

According to Raymond, Proverbs speaks of the dangers of OVER indulging in alcohol, not of simply partaking responsibly.

“Alcoholic beverages…point to the joy that we’ll have in the Kingdom.” 

He says that “Kingdom images” in the Bible often utilize wine-related metaphors to help people understand the joy that will take place in Paradise.

“To say no one should ever do it would be to say something different than what Scripture is saying.”

The She Seeks devotional at Christianity.com tackles this issue in “Bottom’s Up?” – insisting that every young person must be honest with themselves about whether alcohol consumption is a good or bad idea. Jim Liebelt on Crosswalk.com reports that, according to at least one study, many families believe that letting younger children taste alcohol (rather than making it a “forbidden fruit”) decreases the likelihood of adolescent alcohol abuse. Whitney Hopler examines the talking points in the book God Gave Wine: What the Bible Says About Alcohol in her Crosswalk article “Should Christians Drink Alcohol?” - writing,

“Remember that alcohol is part of God's creation, and as such, it can either be used well or abused. Just as people have abused the gifts of food, sex, and money, people have also abused alcohol, causing great destruction in the process. Alcohol itself is not intrinsically bad; the way in which it is often used is bad. Approach alcohol with an attitude of wise stewardship.”

So, what do you think? Did the Puritans have it right? Or is alcohol just one in a long list of things Christians must learn to properly steward?

Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor for Crosswalk.com

Publication date: November 19, 2013