The Case of the Winebibbing Church Leader
It’s Friday evening and your [sic] out to dinner with a few friends from church. Dinner is in an open area where several restaurants have outside eating areas that allow the patrons to see one another. The area was set-up to encourage community interaction where many people and families walk around and socialize both before and after dinner.
While getting ready to eat laughter coming from a table on the patio in the restaurant next door distracts your table. Looking across the patio a well known church leader can be clearly seen drinking a glass of wine. It is definitely wine as confirmed by the bottle on the table. Confirming their suspicions your friends ask and you affirm that you know this church leader. The people next to you also notice the wine and they begin grumbling about the church leader drinking in public with “those kind of people.”
Think about what you may do in this situation. Think about what you might say to the church leader and/or the folks at the table next to you. Are you angry, upset, disappointed, embarrassed, etc.?
Now pause. Move the scenario back in time for a moment.
Let’s say you are in public during Jesus’ ministry and what you are witnessing is the following:
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!’… (Matthew 11:19 ESV)
The church leader in question is Jesus and you are a witness to the charges quoted in the above verse.
- What would you do?
- Did your reaction change with the scenario? Why or why not?
- Would you do the same in both scenarios? Why or why not?
- Or…. ?
As a preliminary remark, I thought it was rather telling that none of the commenters in the combox interacted with the questions raised. All of them pretty much bickered with each other over the alcoholic intensity of the wine Jesus created at the Wedding in Cana.
This makes me wonder how seriously any of these young men have thought through the issue of Christians drinking alcohol in our American culture. Do they even care about the ramifications of their choices? I digress.
Moving back to the questions.
Given the situation as outlined above, witnessing a church leader from my church drinking a glass of wine at a restaurant, my reaction would depend upon what I knew of his reputation. Is this man known to be godly and one who is spiritually sensitive to the needs of the people he helps to shepherd? If I knew him to be a sober-minded, Christ-honoring man, I wouldn't become alarmed if I saw him drinking wine with a group of people.
The situation is contrasted with Christ being accused by the Pharisees of being a winebibber because he ate and drank with sinners. By extension, some would imply that if you saw this church leader in the same situation as Jesus, and if you were scandalized by what you saw, then you are akin to being a judgmental Pharisee.
I think there is something of a disconnect with this comparison. The Pharisees were motivated by political and socio-religious convictions that were ignored by Jesus. His "breaking" of their self-imposed, legalistic values stirred in them a manufactured indignation. Their accusation of him being a winebibber is in essence, phony. Additionally, the Pharisees were growing with their petty jealousy toward Jesus. They were looking for something to pin on him so as to discredit him as a teacher. This is much different than a church member just “by chance” seeing an elder or pastor drinking wine in a restaurant with a group of people.
A more apt comparison would be an individual you happen to know is a self-righteous, finger wagging nosy-body who has it in for the leader in question because that leader passed up the finger-wagger when he was assigning Sunday school teachers, and the finger-wagger pulls you aside before church to tell you he saw that leader drinking wine on Friday night at Black Angus with a bunch of unbelievers. Obviously there is more to the accusation than a concern for the leader's witness in the broader, secular community.
That stated, however, the biblical story of Jesus being falsely accused of winebibbing doesn't give a church leader an automatic pass in such situations. Even though I would not be alarmed at the sight of him drinking wine at a restaurant, I would probably make a point of talking with him, maybe even let him know I saw him by strolling over to the table at that moment to say "hi".
The fact of the matter is that in our American culture, alcoholic drink has a stigma attached to it. Even worldly people recognize this. As much as the YRR pine for the cultural convictions found in Spain or Germany regarding liquor, they live in America where we have severe hang-ups in regards to alcohol. This reality needs to be considered when exercising their liberty. Not that they are forbidden to drink, but that they do so wisely.
That said, let me present two alternative scenarios related to the winebibbing church leader seen in public drinking alcohol.
Let's say you are a church leader, and some unbelieving friends of yours invite you and your wife to dinner at one of those restaurants where several of the eating establishments have outside dining areas that allow the patrons to see each other.
As you pour your glass of wine, you happen to glance across to a table where you recognize a couple who recently joined your church. They are watching you with curious amazement.
You happen to know both of them have been Christians for about a year or so, both of them coming from a hard background, because you were the one who interviewed them for membership. You also happen to know the wife had a serious problem with alcoholism.
Now that you see them looking at you, and knowing the principles outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:9-11, do you,
- Raise your glass to them and mouth “How’ya doin’”?
- Make a mental note that you need to prepare a Bible lesson for them on why you have the liberty to drink openly in public and they need to grow out of being weaker brethren?
- Set the drink aside?
For my YRR friends who equate drunkenness with over-eating and believe that obesity is at epidemic proportions and on the same level as alcoholism, let's say you and a bunch of your hipster pals are all dressed up in your skinny jeans and A&F ribbed tee shirts, and you all are enjoying your pint of beer at a favorite dining spot where several restaurants have outside seating areas that allow the patrons to see each other.
Right as the waiter brings you your grilled, skinless chicken breast and sautéed vegetables, a loud chortle distracts your table and a well-known church leader can be seen slathering a big glob of honey butter on a Lambert’s Café sized roll. It is clear from the plates of food, as well as the glossy shine on his lips that can be seen glimmering under the lights from where you are sitting, that he and his party are consuming a large, high caloric meal with lots of breaded fried things.
As one of your friends takes a sip from his pint, he confirms his suspicions and asks if that “portly” fellow is one of your church leaders. Your other friends also notice the plates of high caloric food and they all begin to grumble as they watch the leader slather butter on a second roll. One of the girls with you sneeringly remarks something like, "Is he going to eat ALL of that?” and the rest of your friends begin snickering and talking about those heavy people on "The Biggest Loser."
Are you angry? Upset? Disappointed? Embarrassed? Do you make excuses for him? How do you react to your hipster friends in their skinny jeans?