Moody Bible Institute was founded by evangelist Dwight Moody in 1886. Home to 83 faculty and 4,000 students, with 36 radio stations and a publishing division, Moody is a vanguard of conservative evangelical Christianity in America. For 127 years, the Institute has required its employees to refrain from consuming alcohol and tobacco.

Now it has changed its position: "Employees of Moody are expected to adhere to all biblical absolutes, but for behaviors that Scripture does not expressly prohibit,Moody leaves these matters to the employee's biblically-informed conscience." The new policy applies only to employees, not to students, and does not permit employees to use alcohol or tobacco on the job or in the presence of students.

Wheaton College and Asbury Seminary have recently made similar moves. Some scholars cite the biblical view that wine and other alcoholic beverages are blessings from God. Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History magazine, notes that abstinence did not become prominent until the 19th century temperance movement and calls the position an "American oddity."

Other evangelicals disagree. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, citesProverbs 20:1: "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise." He adds, "There is no industry in America that causes as much sorrow and heartache." Free Will Baptist Family Ministries in Greenville, Tennessee recently cancelled an event featuring "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson because his family has gone into the wine business.

Janet and I have chosen total abstinence, for three reasons. One: we feel that our witness could be harmed otherwise, remembering Paul's admonition on a similar issue: "if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall" (1 Corinthians 8:13).

Two: we know that a propensity toward alcoholism can be inherited and do not want to risk this possibility. Three: we are concerned about the effects of alcohol on our society. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving,someone dies in a drunk driving crash every 51 minutes. There are almost 300,000 incidents of drinking and driving every day. Some 23 percent of adults ages 21 to 25 have driven drunk.

At the same time, I readily admit that total abstinence is not the consistent teaching of Scripture.  Except for Nazirites (Numbers 6:4), no group was told to refuse alcohol. Jesus turned water into the "best" wine (John 2:10); Paul counseled Timothy to "stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses" (1 Timothy 5:23). Moderate wine consumption has been shown to possess significant medical benefits.

So, should Christians drink alcohol? Please share your thoughts in our comments section. And remember Paul's invitation: "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). How will you glorify him today?

Publication date: November 21, 2013