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Friday, March 24, 2006

Sunday alcohol sales, Christians, and sin

The Indianapolis Star reported earlier this week that in a recent poll, 50% of those questioned said Indiana should keep the "blue law" that bans liquor sales on Sunday while 43% supported lifting the restrictions.

A letter to the editor in the Star today suggested that the law is unconstitutional. That letter-writer misunderstands the Constitution, which forbids government from "respecting an establishment of religion". The Constitution does not prohibit religious values from being reflected in law. Here is a related article I wrote a couple years ago.

That said, I think such "blue laws" are a relic of a bygone era and should be repealed. The ban on Sunday liquor sales is also bad policy. As another letter points out, it is beyond silly that Hoosiers can consume alcohol at bar on Sunday but cannot purchase beer in the grocery store.

The support for banning some alcohol sales on Sunday is attributed to Christians. I urge Christians who believe drinking is sinful to study the Bible. Jesus Christ drank alcohol. Since Jesus was without sin, it cannot be a sin to drink alcohol. While the Bible prohibits drunkenness, it does not prohibit drinking. The Bible is the Word of God, and it is unwise for fallible humans to add things to Scripture.

Alcohol had other benefits too:

Jesus changed water into wine. It even seems that Jesus likely drank wine on occasion (John 2:1-11; Matthew 26:29). In New Testament times, the water was not very clean. Without modern sanitation efforts, the water was filled with bacteria, viruses, and all kinds of contaminates. The same is true in most third-world countries today. As a result, people often drank wine (or grape juice) because it was far less likely to be contaminated.

Jesus showed he knew the benefits of wine as an antiseptic when he gave the parable of the good Samaritan. In this case a man had been injured and had a severe wound. The good Samaritan “bound up his wounds, pouring in [olive] oil and wine [oinos]” (Luke 10:34). The oil mollified or softened the flesh; the wine helped kill bacteria.

Wine has proven qualities that are recognized both in Scripture and in the modern world. It was used daily as an additive to purify water. It was poured into wounds as an antiseptic. "Strong drink" was administered to people "ready to perish" (Proverbs 31:6)... Medically it has been shown that moderate daily use does indeed protect, literally, our heart and cardiovascular system. Paul recommended "a little wine" [oinos] for Timothy's "stomach's sake, and [his] often infirmities" (I Tim 5:23).

Alcohol was a common drink in Biblical times because of bacteria in water supplies. Alcohol was used to kill the bacteria, just as alcohol is used to sanitize your arm when you get a shot at the doctor's office. Furthermore, medical studies have shown the health benefits of drinking wine in moderation.

There is no doubt that the abuse of alcohol has had devastating effects on society, which is why the Bible warns against it. However, anything can be unhealthy if abused or used incorrectly. Tea has many beneficial health effects including anti-cancer properties, but consuming tea in certain situations can make people sick to their stomachs. Christians must always be aware of the danger of abusing alcohol when choosing to partake.

It is also important, considering that there are both Christians and unbelievers who wrongly believe drinking to be sinful, that Christians use wisdom in deciding when to drink. We have liberty in Christ, but we are to temper that liberty for the good of others. We are not to knowingly cause someone to stumble just because we have the freedom to drink. Above all else, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Leviticus 19:18) If loving our neighbor means abstaining from alcohol in certain situations, that is what we must do.