Last night, I was at a public conversation between two evangelicals (more on that soon). After the the dialogue, there there was a private gathering for the interlocuters and some others, with a table of finger food and a few bottles of wine.
The evangelical leaders didn’t drink any wine. One looked at the wine in my hand and made a comment to the effect of, “Looks good; wish I could have some.” I took that as a challenge and spent the rest of the evening trying to ply him with wine or get him to join us at the Town Hall Brewery afterwards. He didn’t bite, nor did the supporters of his ministry who surrounded him.
At one point I exclaimed, “You know, you can love Jesus and drink wine!” to which he chuckled uncomfortably. He then told me a story about a very famous evangelical leader who sent the organization’s custodian to the store to buy his wine.
I didn’t grow up in cultural evangelicalism, nor in pietism, so I can’t quite say that I understand from an insider’s perspective. However, I’ve been told about it. The pietistic behavior among evangelicals is an attempt to maintain “holiness,” as exhorted in biblical passages like,
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Of course, I don’t repudiate those and similar verses. But I surely don’t think they mean that a Christian should abstain from alcohol, or should never swear.
When I encounter those who live within the evangelical holiness traditions — like, for instance, Nazarenes, who struggle with a doctrine of “entire sanctification” (see Article X) — I think of War Games, one of the treasured movies of my youth. Therein, W.O.P.R. is a computer that learns via tic-tac-toe and simulated nuclear war that both are unwinnable games. “The only winning move,” W.O.P.R. concludes, “Is not to play.”
Indeed, holiness through abstinence is, I think, an unwinnable game. A better move is self-control, moderation, and a life in community — thereby others will be able to speak truth into your life about your actions.
Who’s with me?!?