A Priestly Approach to Alcohol
The law given to the Levites - the family of priests for the people of Israel - included the proper form and function of worshiping God. The third book of the Bible deals primarily with these laws. Among these is included a law concerning alcohol consumption and entering into the tabernacle . It was pretty simple. Don't drink when going into the tent of meeting because it is your job to distinguish between the holy and the common and alcohol hinders your ability to do so.
"But, this is for priests, not us common folk" you say. Maybe so. Maybe not.
Listen to our conversation drinking alcohol
The Priesthood of all believers
If you are a Christian you are part of the priesthood. Peter alludes to it in his first letter and Martin Luther fought for the doctrine during the Protestant reformation. Classically speaking the idea of this universal priesthood among believers speaks to Christians having direct access to God (like the priest of Israel) through Jesus Christ - the supreme high priest (Hebrews 7:23-28).
Before the Protestant reformation the only way a person could approach God was through a mediator - a priest. It was the way that God had set it up for the people of Israel. But something significant happened. The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus happened and it turned religious order upside down. When Jesus had breathed his last pre-arisen breath the veil of the Temple was torn in two. This symbolized the new access that people had with God. What once had limited and exclusive access was now available to all through the sacrifice of Jesus. The role of the vocational priests has not been the same since.
But it is not the direct access to God that is central to our discussion on the Christian and their consumption of alcohol. What is central is the responsibility of the priest. And if you and I and all Christians are really a part of the royal priesthood then we need to examine the role of the priest.
The Responsibilities of the Priest
If we hearken back to the passage in Leviticus we see a compact directives that the priests were to carry out:
- Distinguish between the holy and the common
- Distinguish between the clean and the unclean
- Teach the people the statutes that the Lord has given
Obviously there was much more involved including the presiding over the sacrifices and feasts, being an advocate of the people before God, and setting the entire sacred tone for the nation. But every action was supposed to be derived from the three mentioned directives.
But, I'm not a priest
If you are a Christian than you are a priest.
No, you may not stand in front of a congregation of people and speak Latin phrases or administer sacraments and ordinances, but part of being saved is being a priest to those in your life. A Christian life is one that is set apart, living differently under a holy set of orders. It doesn't make you any more special or privileged than anyone else, but it should make you pause and consider all your actions and choices.
The journey of a Christian while on this earth is this:
- Discern the difference between what is holy and what is not holy
- Empty yourself of the unclean junk in your life and be filled with the Spirit
- Point the way to Jesus and teach others about following him
That sounds pretty priestly to me.
So why can't I drink alcohol?
Apparently because you will die. (Hey, that is what the Bible says!)
Though I'm pragmatically convinced that this does not mean a physical death in this age of grace I am equally convinced that a spiritual death is a likely conclusion. And who wants that?
The presence of alcohol somehow limits your priestly capacity. From God's perspective, it always has and always will. God was even gracious enough to provide a better-than-adequate substitute in the person of the Holy Spirit who is often compared to wine throughout the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit is the wine that makes it possible to discern between what is holy and what is not. He is also the wine that empowers us to point people to Jesus and fulfill the Messiah's commission.
The liquid alternative apparently works in the exact opposite way. It deadens our abilities to distinguish the holy and unholy and it kills our ability to point people to Jesus.
The Flaw in the Argument
As I was discussing this with Sean, he brought up a point that perhaps many are thinking, "Well, if this is true then how come we don't have to wear robes and grow beards all the time." In other words, it seems like I am cherry-picking an argument from a list of rules and orders that are not widely held any more.
I admit that this could be so and I would not blame anyone for this line of thinking. As we often admit at Empty Church we are in constant discussion because these topics are deep and tangled. One line of thinking does not make a consistent world-view. One line of thinking must line up with a myriad of others in order to live a consistent lifestyle.
This is just one way of looking at the issue. I would never attempt to declare an edict of abstinence on this one line of thinking. But, when I look at this argument, and this account, and this position it becomes clearer to me that we really need to look at the issue of alcohol in the church and start re-recommending an abstinence view.
And perhaps we need to come up with better arguments than "Well, Jesus drunk alcohol, so it's ok."
A place for exploring the Church in the American context. Issues may get political, cultural, and philosophical — but it’s always personal.