If everything you know
about Christian living came from blogs and websites in the
young-and-restless district of the Reformed community, you might
have the impression that beer is the principal symbol of Christian
For some who self-identify
as "Young, Restless, and Reformed," it seems
is a more popular topic for study and discussion than the doctrine
of predestination. They
devote whole websites to the celebration of brewed beverages.
They earnestly assure one another "that most good theological
discussion has historically been done in pubs and drinking places."
love to meet for "open dialog on faith and culture" wherever beer is
served—or better yet,
right at the brewery. The connoisseurs among them
their own brands and even
offer lessons in how to make home brew.
It's clear that beer-loving
a prominent badge of identity for many in the YRR movement.
beer is also an essential element in the missional strategy.
Mixing booze with ministry is often touted as a necessary
means of penetrating western youth culture, and conversely,
abstinence is deemed a "sin" to be repented of.
After all, in a culture
where cool is everything, what could be a better lubricant
for one's testimony than a frosty pint?
Of course, beer is by no
means the only token of cultural savvy frequently associated with
young-and-restless religion. All kinds of activities deemed vices by
mothers everywhere have been adopted as badges of Calvinist identity
and thus "redeemed": tobacco, tattoos, gambling, mixed martial arts,
profane language, and lots of explicit talk about sex.
Cast a disapproving eye at
any of those activities, and you are likely to be swarmed by
restless reformers denouncing legalism and wanting to debate whether
it’s a “sin” to drink wine or smoke a cigar. But without even
raising the question of whether this or that specific activity is
acceptable, indifferent, or out-and-out evil, we surely ought to be
able to say that controlled substances and other symbols of secular
society's seamy side are not what the
church of Jesus Christ ought to wish to be known for. In fact, until
fairly recently, no credible believer in the entire church age would
ever have suggested that so many features evoking the ambiance of a
pool hall or a casino could also be suitable insignia for the people
It is puerile and
irresponsible for any pastor to encourage the recreational use of
intoxicants—especially in church-sponsored activities. The ravages
of alcoholism and drug abuse in our culture are too well known, and
no symbol of sin’s bondage is more seductive or more oppressive than
booze. I have ministered to hundreds of people over the years who
have been delivered from alcohol addiction. Many of them wage a
daily battle with fleshly desires made a thousand times more potent
because of that addiction. The last thing I would ever want to do is
be the cause of stumbling for one of them.
cultivating an appetite for beer or a reputation for loving liquor
is not merely bad missional strategy and a bad testimony; it is
fraught with deadly spiritual dangers. The damage is clearly evident
in places where the strategy has been touted. Darrin Patrick, who
“Theology at the Bottleworks,” acknowledges the gravity of the
As I coach and mentor
church planters and pastors, I am shocked at the number of them
who are either addicted or headed toward addiction to alcohol.
Increasingly, the same is true with prescription drugs. One
pastor I know could not relax without several beers after work
and could not sleep without the aid of a sleeping pill.
[Church Planter (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 51]
In biblical times, wine was
necessary for health reasons. The risk of amoebae and parasites in
drinking water could be significantly reduced or eliminated by
mixing the water with a little wine (1 Timothy 5:23). The result was
a greatly diluted wine that had virtually no potential for making
anyone drunk. Purified tap water and refrigeration make even that
use of wine unnecessary today.
Contrary to the current
mythology, abstinence is no sin—least of all for someone devoted to
ministry (Leviticus 10:9; Proverbs 31:4; Luke 1:15). It is,
of course, a sin to give one’s mind over to the influence of alcohol
or to bedeck one’s reputation with deliberate symbols of debauchery.
As a matter of fact, drunkenness and debauchery are the very
antithesis of Spirit-filled sanctification (Ephesians 5:18)—and men
who indulge in them are not qualified to be spiritual leaders.
Yes, I realize Jesus
Himself was referred to by His enemies as "a glutton and a
drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11:19).
But He was none of the things that expression implied—nor did He
seek such a reputation.
He was indeed "a friend of
tax collectors and sinners" in the sense that He specialized in
lifting them up out of the miry clay and setting their feet on a
rock. But He did not adopt or encourage their lifestyle. He did not
embrace their values or employ expletives borrowed from their
vocabulary in order to win their admiration or gain membership in
their fraternity. He confronted their wickedness and rebuked their
sins as boldly as He preached against the errors of the Pharisees
Note, too, that He ate and
drank with Pharisees (Luke 7:36) as readily as He ate and
drank with publicans. The only significant difference was
that the typical tax collector was more inclined to confess his own
desperate need for divine forgiveness than the average
self-righteous Pharisee (Mark 2:16-17; Luke 18:1-14).
But there is no suggestion
in Scripture that Jesus purposely assumed the look and lifestyle of
a publican in order to gain acceptance in a godless subculture. He
This tendency to emblazon
oneself with symbols of carnal indulgence as if they were valid
badges of spiritual identity is one of the more troubling aspects of
the YRR movement's trademark restlessness. It is wrong-headed,
carnal, and immature to imagine that bad-boy behavior makes good
missional strategy. The image of beer-drinking Bohemianism does
nothing to advance the cause of Christ's kingdom.
Slapping the label
“incarnational” on strategies such as this doesn’t alter their true
nature. They have more in common with Lot, who pitched his tent
toward Sodom, than with Jesus, who is “holy, innocent, undefiled,
separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews
Real Christian liberty is
not about flouting taboos and offending conventional notions of
propriety. The liberty in which we stand begins with full indemnity
from the law's threats and condemnation—meaning we are at peace with
God (Romans 5:1; 8:1). Christian liberty also removes the
restrictions of the law's ceremonial commandments (Colossians
2:16-17)—freeing us from asceticism, superstition, sensuality, and
"human precepts and teachings" (vv. 18-23).
self-control and maturity are virtues commanded and commended by
Scripture; these are not manmade rules or legalistic standards.
As a matter of fact, one of the main qualifications for both deacons
and elders in the church is that they cannot be given to much wine.
In other words, they are to be known for their sobriety,
not for their consumption of beer.
It should not take a doctor
of divinity to notice that Scripture consistently celebrates virtues
such as self-control, sober-mindedness, purity of heart, the
restraint of our fleshly lusts, and similar fruits of the Holy
Spirit's sanctifying work in our lives. Surely these are what we
ought hold in highest esteem, model in our daily lives, and honor on
our websites, rather than trying so hard to impress the world with
unfettered indulgence in the very things that hold so many
unbelievers in bondage.