Alcohol is a controversial topic in many religious groups. It is no different in the Baptist church. While the Bible does not entirely discourage partaking in alcohol, it does mention that using mind-altering substances is wrong. In the book of Proverbs 23:32, the bible talks about the weaknesses brought on by alcohol. A sharp contrast to this opinion is seen in the Gospel of John chapter 2 where Jesus performs his first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding. As the debate on the morality of alcohol lingers in religious circles, one can’t help but wonder, “what do Baptists believe about Alcohol?”
If history is anything to go by, Baptists have always been divided on the issue of alcohol. One group believes that total abstinence is the way to go. On the other hand, Libertarian Baptists believe that restrained consumption of this intoxicating beverage is okay. The latter believes that as long as no drunkenness is involved, church members can indulge in a little alcohol. Still, the Baptist church strongly emphasizes the shortcomings of drinking alcohol. It continues to teach its parishioners the numerous problems caused by alcohol.
So, what are the arguments for and/or against alcohol indulgence among Baptist church members? Were traditional Baptist leaders supportive of alcohol? What about the modern leaders in today’s Baptist church? Read until the end to find out how the opinion of Baptists leaders has evolved over the years.
What are the arguments against Alcohol in the Baptist church?
Thanks to the temperate movement, a section of Baptists believe that alcohol is a source of moral decay and that it should not be tolerated under any circumstances. The Southern Baptist Convention is determined to maintain the integrity of scripture by strictly interpreting and implementing the guidelines provided in the bible. However, the Bible is not consistent on this issue. Different bible verses offer varied opinions on alcohol.
To support their point of view on alcohol, conservative Baptists refer to bible verses that completely prohibit alcohol absorption into the body. One of the main arguments against drinking alcohol is found in God’s commands as highlighted in several chapters in the Bible. For example, the book of Proverbs 31:4- 8 clearly explains the consequences of a drunk leader. It states that kings who drink are likely to overlook the rights of poor people and forget the rule of law. This scripture also points out that alcohol is meant for miserable people who are on the brink of death.
The Bible is filled with similar warnings against alcohol. In Proverbs 23:29-35 there is a detailed yet somewhat comical account of injuries and bad attitudes caused by drinking alcohol. It describes lovers of alcohol as trouble-making complainers. Verses 31 and 32 say; Don’t let wine tempt you, even though it is red, and it sparkles in the cup, and it goes down smoothly. The next morning you will feel as if you had been bitten by a poisonous snake. The Bible here seems to describe a severe hungover triggered by a night of drinking and carousing. Moreover, Proverbs 20:1 plainly states that getting intoxicated with alcohol is stupid since it makes one loud and unreasonable.
According to biblical doctrine in the Old Testament, alcohol makes the body unclean, hence the reference to poison. This is illustrated in Leviticus 10:8-9 which states that; The lord said to Aaron, you and your sibs are not to enter the tent of my presence after drinking wine or beer, if you do, you will die. This is a law to be kept by all your descendants
A portion of contemporary Baptists continues to advocate for total abstinence due to the societal issues triggered by alcohol abuse. Statistics show that alcohol brings unrest in the home with increased instances of domestic violence and poverty. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Alcohol is responsible for 7.7% of global male deaths. It also increases chaos in drinking establishments such as bars and clubs. These and many other factors have solidified Baptists’ stance against alcohol. Today, these belief systems are upheld by the Southern Baptist Convention.
What Baptist argument supports alcohol consumption?
Although Baptist doctrines are strong, there is still a heated discussion about the appropriate amount of alcohol acceptable to Baptist church members. A group of Baptists with contradicting ideas maintain that a regulated amount of alcohol is allowed. According to Wade Burleson, a conservative Pastor from Oklahoma, the total elimination of alcohol is irrational. The controversial minister compares the sin of drunkenness to that of sexual promiscuity. Burleson argues that eliminating the use of alcohol because others are abusing it is unreasonable. He compares the dilemma to couples refusing to have sex in marriage because other couples are practicing sexual depravity.
Benjamin Cole; a Baptist pastor shares Wade’s views on teetotalism. He posits that a pastor’s job is to impart the right principles to the congregation, and not to force them into deciding to adopt teetotalism. They also advocate for the use of real wine when celebrating the Lord’s supper.
More liberal Baptists also get their backing from biblical scriptures that imply alcohol is not all bad. In 1st Timothy 5:23, apostle Paul urges Timothy to include some wine in his diet, which will give him some relief from a persistent stomach illness. In the gospel of John 2:1-11, Jesus performs his very first miracle at a wedding. When the wine runs out, the people bring the matter to Jesus and he turns the water into wine. In this instance, alcohol is used as a recreational beverage to keep the guests entertained at the wedding party. Liberal Baptists see nothing wrong with this use of Alcohol.
The table below provides a summary of arguments for abstinence and moderation
Arguments in favor of abstinence
An argument in favour of moderation
Too much alcohol makes the body weak.
It is irrational to completely prohibit alcohol.
Drinking leads to poor decision making such as neglecting one’s responsibilities.
Drinking alcohol can have medicinal benefits such as better digestion.
Alcohol brings on trouble that could have been easily avoided
It is important to practice the free will given by Jesus Christ when He turned water into wine.
Irresponsible drinking leads to misery and pain.
Responsible drinking can be enjoyable.
Most people are not disciplined enough to pick the right occasion for a drink. i.e., going to church drunk.
Alcoholic beverages are excellent for certain occasions such as birthdays and weddings.
The majority of people do not know when to stop.
Alcohol can teach self-control to those willing to learn from previous mistakes.
Alcoholic beverages are stronger now than in the time of Jesus.
Individuals can understand their limits and avoid tragedies such as road accidents.
Alcohol tends to lower a person’s moral standard
Moderate drinking is a sign of self-awareness and self-discipline.
Did the traditional Baptist leaders support alcohol consumption?
Traditional Baptists leaders did not shy away from partaking in alcohol and endorsing it. A great example is Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister from the 1700s, who was responsible for creating the recipe for bourbon whiskey back in the 1700s. This permissive attitude towards alcohol continued well into the early 1800s until it was interrupted by the Temperance movement.
Historical sources reveal that a significant number of Southern Baptist ministers were actively involved in the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages. What’s more, a fancy single-barrel bourbon is currently named after Craig. Traditional Baptist leaders were very lax on the subject of alcohol. This was a time when a preacher’s wage would include a bottle of whiskey. Not to mention the fact that Baptist owners of distilleries were allowed to offer alcohol as a tithe.
Do modern Baptist leaders support alcohol consumption?
The temperate movement was founded in the 1830s to fight the social evils that came up due to alcohol abuse. This movement was formed to discourage the abuse of alcohol, particularly in frontier America where alcohol was becoming a social vice. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest group of protestants in the US. As of 1896, the SBC took a firm stand against alcohol within the Baptist church. The SBC proposed the ex-communication of any individual partaking in the sale or consumption of alcoholic drinks. This had a major impact on how modern leaders approach the topic of alcohol when addressing congregations.
Influential leaders such as Billy Graham were quoted saying that the bible strongly prohibited mind-altering substances as mentioned earlier in this piece. Albert Mohler echoes Graham’s words by stating that “the best position to hold is total-abstinence position”. Mohler insists that this is the only way to be accountable for fellow Christians and the entire church body.
In a more recent development, the SBC stated that it was opposed to the idea of manufacturing and distributing alcohol in all its forms. It also expressed its distaste for the advertising of alcohol in mainstream media. This decision was made in 2006 during the yearly Southern Baptist Convention meeting.
It is worth mentioning that not all contemporary Baptist leaders are on the teetotalism bandwagon. A retired pastor known as John Piper suggests that the bible does not outwardly state that zero alcohol is the only way to go. Piper believes that moderate drinking should be a matter of principle, not coercion.
Has the opinion of Baptist leaders on alcohol changed over time?
Since the inception of the Baptist church, views on alcohol have been torn between teetotalism and sensible indulgence in Alcohol. This has not particularly changed over the years. The debate is still on and the opinions are still varying. The only difference now is the digital renaissance, which has made these opinions more public and open to criticism.
- What does the bible say about Alcohol?
- Alcohol: God’s Dangerous Gift
- Baptists and Alcohol
- Baptists and Alcohol: Is the consensus shifting?
- Legalism in the Southern Baptist Convention (Alcohol)
- Billy Graham and Albert Mohler
- The connection between the Baptist movement and Bourbon whiskey
- The history of Baptists and Alcohol
- For many Baptists, strict views on alcohol may be changing
- Poll: Southern Baptists say ‘don’t drink’
- Alcohol use reignites issues among Baptists
- Conversion to Christ over a glass of wine
- A parable of moral change
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.