How to be Holier than Jesus

This next group of blog articles are likely to generate some heat. My prayer is that they generate much more light than heat. I’ll be working through some “sacred cows” of the faith that are more cultural and traditional than scriptural.

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We ALL have traditions, but our default is to see what WE do as “following the bible” and what anyone else is doing as “their tradition.” This is one of the reasons I believe church history is *crucial*! It allows us to see where we are in the body of Christ outside of our own culture. In other words, to see what we have taken from culture and inserted into the context of what it means to be “christian”.

To that end, I’ll start off with the first article.. How to Be Holier than Jesus!

Of course, you can’t. If you’re looking for a “how to” on achieving a holiness which surpasses that of Christ, you must be new to this blog. 😉

This article will be focused on how we often exceed biblical guidance by creating rules (often in light of our current cultural mores.)

This week? The Sacred Cow of…. alcohol.

There is a term which I’d like to introduce you to this week; Adiaphora.

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Adiaphora is a greek term meaning “indifferent things”. In church history, this term has been understood as things which scripture neither commands nor forbids.

With that in mind, let’s address alcohol. Is it commanded that we imbibe, or is it commanded that we abstain?

First of all, let’s define “alcohol”. There are some that make the argument that “wine” in scripture is, well, grape juice. This is an untenable position for two primary reasons:

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1. The process of creating unfermented “grape juice” as we know it didn’t exist until the 1800’s when invented by Thomas Welch. Why did Welch invent the process? The temperance (anti-alcohol) movement was all the rage in America during his day and he took that cultural view back into the church and created the process to ensure the actual, alcoholic wine (which had been used in the church for some 1,800 years) was replaced with a non-alcoholic alternative.

2. The occurrences of wine in scripture are clearly referring to a fermented, alcoholic wine (as we will discuss in detail below.)

Those two “logic-based” arguments aside, let’s go straight to scripture where Jesus is directly, inarguably, involved:

1. The Wedding at Cana:

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Jesus performs His very first public miracle creating…. wine. Yes, there is some absolutely glorious symbolism here of His use of “ritualistic cleansing water” and turning it into the very symbol He would later use for His blood, but there’s no getting around the clear scripture in that this was actual, alcoholic wine:

“6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.[a] 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

So how, if this were mere grape juice, would you explain the statement about most people bringing out the “good stuff” first, and then the lesser? You bring out the lesser wine “after the people have drunk freely” and their tastebuds are numbed to the difference. Keep in mind that this was at a 3-day feast.

2. Jesus words in Luke 7 and Matthew 11:

“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
(Luke 7:31-34 ESV)

“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

(Matthew 11:16-19 ESV)

So Jesus was drinking something that had people accusing Him of being a drunkard. Would you charge your children with being drunkards for having grape juice in their “sippy cups”?

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So, we have scripture directly speaking to Christ not only creating and imbibing in wine, we have other scripture which speaks of wine as a good thing:

From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
(Psalm 104:13-15 ESV)

See it? God sends wine to gladden the heart of man. God sends it as something good!

In all fairness, I do understand that alcohol, like all good gifts from God is misused to our peril. Like wine, and food, sex is good and ordained by God. But,  effects of their abuse is rampant in our culture. (Alcoholism, Heart Disease, Obesity, etc.) However, the problem (and prohibition) are not of the gifts themselves, but on the abuse and inappropriate use of these gifts! What is forbidden? Drunkenness. Fornication. Adultery.

So, while you may choose any number of reasons to abstain; family history and bad experiences with alcoholism, etc. keep in mind that these arguments come from your social more and not from the pages of scripture. The outcomes you may list as reasons you don’t imbibe in wine are the effects of abuse of God’s good gift and not the good gift itself. And it is absolutely your freedom, in Christ, to NOT drink alcohol, or remain abstinent, or be a vegetarian. It is also the the freedom, in Christ, for others to appropriately enjoy the good gifts of wine, food, and sex!

So, in clear conscience, enjoy a glass of wine. Enjoy a beer. Follow scriptural command to do so without drunkenness. Or abstain from alcohol. But to put others under law where God has provided this good gift is to create your own law, and impose it on others, including Christ Himself.  You have, in your own estimation, set  yourself up as “holier” than Jesus.

How do we make ourselves “holier” than Jesus? By taking our cultural preferences and mores and teaching them as law where scripture has not.  Look at the cultural “hot button” issues of the time of the American “second great awakening” out of which most modern American evangelical denominations grew and you’ll find the most prevalent: Drinking, smoking, dancing, etc.  We’ll be looking at several of these over the next few weeks!

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Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you are free to partake of the good gifts given to you by God; Wine in moderation to make the heart glad, and sex as ordained in marriage. You are also free to abstain from both! You are neither commanded to DO these things, nor commanded to ABSTAIN from them.  Adiaphora!