VerMeer's Geographer

VerMeer's Geographer
The Geographer, by Vermeer, c. 1669


Thomas Cranmer

One reason I'm an Anglican Christian:

Cranmer Burning. Woodcut

Thomas Cranmer's Final Speech, Before Burning

(March 21, 1556)

"Every man desireth, good people, at the time of their deaths, to give some good exhortation that others may remember after their deaths, and be the better thereby. So I beseech God grant me grace, that I may speak something at this my departing, whereby God may be glorified and you edified.

First, it is an heavy case to see that many folks be so much doted upon the love of this false world, and so careful for it, that for the love of God, or the love of the world to come, they seem to care very little or nothing therefore. This shall be my first exhortation: That you set not overmuch by this false glosing world, but upon God and the world to come. And learn to know what this lesson meaneth, which St John teacheth, that the love of this world is hatred against God.

The second exhortation is, that next unto God, you obey your king and queen, willingly and gladly, without murmur and grudging. And not for fear of them only, but much more for the fear of God: Knowing, that they be God's ministers, appointed by God to rule and govern you. And therefore whoso resisteth them, resisteth God's ordinance.

The third exhortation is, that you love all together like brethren and sisters. For alas, pity it is to see, what contention and hatred one Christian man hath to another; not taking each other, as sisters and brothers; but rather as strangers and mortal enemies. But I pray you learn and bear well away this one lesson, To do good to all men as much as in you lieth, and to hurt no man, no more than you would hurt your own natural and loving brother or sister. For this you may be sure of, that whosoever hateth any person, and goeth about maliciously to hinder or hurt him, surely, and without all doubt, God is not with that man, although he think himself never so much in God's favour.

The fourth exhortation shall be to them that have great substance and riches of this world, that they will well consider and weigh those sayings of the Scripture. One is of our Saviour Christ himself, who saith, It is hard for a rich man to enter into heaven; a sore saying, and yet spoke by him, that knew the truth. The second is of St John, whose saying is this, He that hath the substance of this world, and seeth his brother in necessity, and shutteth up his mercy from him, how can he say, he loveth God?  Much more might I speak of every part; but time sufficeth not. I do but put you in remembrance of things. Let all them that be rich, ponder well those sentences; for if ever they had any occasion to shew their charity, they have now at this present, the poor people being so many, and victuals so dear. For though I have been long in prison, yet I have heard of the great penury of the poor. Consider, that that which is given to the poor is given to God; whom we have not otherwise present corporally with us, but in the poor.

And now forsomuch as I am come to the last end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life passed, and my life to come, either to live with my Saviour Christ in heaven, in joy, or else to be in pain ever with wicked devils in hell; and I see before mine eyes presently either heaven ready to receive me, or hell ready to swallow me up; I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith, how I believe, without colour or dissimulation. For now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have written in times past.

First, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, &c. and every article of the Catholic faith, every word and sentence taught by our Saviour Christ, his Apostles and Prophets, in the Old and New Testament.

And now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than any other thing that ever I said or did in my life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth. Which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and writ for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be: and that is, all such bills, which I have written or signed with mine own hand, since my degradation; wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished. For if I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ's enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine."

*  *  *  *

Fire being now put to him, he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there a good space, before the fire came to any other part of his body; where his hand was seen of every man sensibly burning, crying with a loud voice, 'This hand hath offended.'  As soon as the fire got up, he was very soon dead, never stirring or crying all the while.

      Excerpted from:

      Todd, Henry John. The Life of Archbishop Cranmer, Vol II.
      London: Gilber and Rivington, 1831. 499-504.

Conservative Lutheran(s) v. Conservative Calvinists...

Haven't heard this much vitriol since reading Luther...
Oh well.  There's a reason why LCMS is rather small...

Reformation 2 Germany


Bono Interview: Grace Over Karma

            (Excerpt from the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas)
Bono_Rose_Colored_GlassesBono: My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ. Love here describes itself as a child born in straw poverty, the most vulnerable situation of all, without honor. I don't let my religious world get too complicated. I just kind of go: Well, I think I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I respond [sighs] in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that's my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now that's not so easy.
Assayas: What about the God of the Old Testament? He wasn't so "peace and love"?
Bono: There's nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that's why they're so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you're a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.
Assayas: Speaking of bloody action movies, we were talking about South and Central America last time. The Jesuit priests arrived there with the gospel in one hand and a rifle in the other.
Bono: I know, I know. Religion can be the enemy of God. It's often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. [laughs] A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship. Why are you chuckling?
Assayas: I was wondering if you said all of that to the Pope the day you met him.
Bono: Let's not get too hard on the Holy Roman Church here. The Church has its problems, but the older I get, the more comfort I find there. The physical experience of being in a crowd of largely humble people, heads bowed, murmuring prayers, stories told in stained-glass windows
Assayas: So you won't be critical.
Bono: No, I can be critical, especially on the topic of contraception. But when I meet someone like Sister Benedicta and see her work with AIDS orphans in Addis Ababa, or Sister Ann doing the same in Malawi, or Father Jack Fenukan and his group Concern all over Africa, when I meet priests and nuns tending to the sick and the poor and giving up much easier lives to do so, I surrender a little easier.
Assayas: But you met the man himself. Was it a great experience?
Bono: [W]e all knew why we were there. The Pontiff was about to make an important statement about the inhumanity and injustice of poor countries spending so much of their national income paying back old loans to rich countries. Serious business. He was fighting hard against his Parkinson's. It was clearly an act of will for him to be there. I was oddly moved by his humility, and then by the incredible speech he made, even if it was in whispers. During the preamble, he seemed to be staring at me. I wondered. Was it the fact that I was wearing my blue fly-shades? So I took them off in case I was causing some offense. When I was introduced to him, he was still staring at them. He kept looking at them in my hand, so I offered them to him as a gift in return for the rosary he had just given me.
Assayas: Didn't he put them on?
Bono: Not only did he put them on, he smiled the wickedest grin you could ever imagine. He was a comedian. His sense of humor was completely intact. Flashbulbs popped, and I thought: "Wow! The Drop the Debt campaign will have the Pope in my glasses on the front page of every newspaper."
Assayas: I don't remember seeing that photograph anywhere, though.
Bono: Nor did we. It seems his courtiers did not have the same sense of humor. Fair enough. I guess they could see the T-shirts.
Later in the conversation:
Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?
Bono: Yes, I think that's normal. It's a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.
Assayas: I haven't heard you talk about that.
Bono: I really believe we've moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.
Assayas: Well, that doesn't make it clearer for me.
Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.
Assayas: I'd be interested to hear that.
Bono: That's between me and God. But I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.
Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.
Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there's a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let's face it, you're not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That's the point. It should keep us humbled . It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.
Assayas: That's a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it's close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world's great thinkers. But Son of God, isn't that farfetched?
Bono: No, it's not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we've been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had "King of the Jews" on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched
Bono later says it all comes down to how we regard Jesus:
Bono: If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s--- and everybody else's. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that's the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.


A Sober Assessment of Reformational Drinking

by Jim West
Protestant reflection on the consumption of alcohol has undergone a dramatic transformation since the Reformation. Whether this change stems from the rise of pietism or the triumph of middle-class morality, contemporary evangelical ideas about alcohol are at odds with the views of the Protestant reformers. Attending to the reformers' ideas, then, is important not only for those who would claim to be their heirs but also for a good understanding of what the Bible teaches about alcohol.
Calvin Addresses the Old Testament
In a sermon by John Calvin on Deuteronomy 14:26, which is arguably the classic Old Testament text with regard to drinking alcoholic beverages, the command reads:
"And you shall bestow that money for whatsoever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, and your household."
Calvin's exposition of this verse is interesting. He accentuates not only the glory of God but eating and drinking in the presence of the God of glory. When we drink wine or strong drink, we drink in the audience of the heavenly Vintner who expects us to enjoy his gifts.
Calvin also cautions us that Deuteronomy 14:26 was a crucial text of the fifth century Manichean heretics who were dualists in creation. Their theology was that the character of the good God is a sufficient guarantee that he would not have filled the universe with things that men could abuse to his own damnation. They deduced that the material universe is not the work of God, but of the devil.
And they employed as a rampart this same verse. Calvin wrote of them:
A certain sect of Heretics called the Manichees, which scorned God's law and the prophets, alleged this present text and such other like, to show that the God of the Old Testament as they blasphemously term him, was a God of disorder and such a one as kept no good rule. For why, said they, he laid the bridle upon people's neck, and bade them eat whatsoever they like, and so as the meaning was to make them drunkards and gluttons, by encouraging them to eat and drink after that fashion. But the true God (said they) will have folk to be sober, whereby a man may see that the Law is not given from heaven.
Against the Manichees, Calvin argued that meat and strong drink are gifts that should be unwrapped in the presence of God. He wrote that we "never come to the table, without considering that God is present there."
The Manichean approach to wine may be illustrated by some contemporary fulminations. For example, the Koran reads: "O true believers! Surely wine and gambling and stone pillars are an abomination, of the work of Satan." Again: "There is a devil in every berry of the grape." In American Church history, Dr. Thomas Welch introduced Welch's grape juice to replace wine in 1869. Welch was a Methodist minister (and dentist) who learned of Pasteur's experiments about how yeast and grape juice interact to create wine. Thus, Welch experimented with a method of boiling wine and filtering it so that the alcoholic content was removed. The result was "Dr. Welch's Unfermented Wine." Later, his son Charles carried the torch himself, desiring to give the church what he called "the fruit of the vine, instead of the cup of devils." So pervasive is the anti-alcohol bias today, that even the translators of the New King James Bible seemed to abandon their translation integrity by substituting "similar drink" for "strong drink" in Deuteronomy 14:26.
Reformation Churches Allowed Alcohol
The Churches of the Protestant Reformation were universally tolerant of drinking. This was unwittingly attested to by Erasmus of Rotterdam, who although remaining loyal to Rome, yet when rebuked for drinking Pommard on a fast day, said, "My heart is Catholic, but my stomach is Protestant." He was neutral to the Reformation, but he was not neutral about wine.
John Calvin also expressed his heartfelt gratitude for wine. He wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that "It is permissible to use wine not only for necessity, but also to make us merry." Calvin praised the transubstantiation of the water into wine at Cana of Galilee as "most excellent wine." He laid down two conditions for wine drinking: First, it must be moderate, "lest men forget themselves, drown their senses, and destroy their strength." Calvin even argued that "in making merry," those who enjoy wine "feel a livelier gratitude to God."
Interestingly, Calvin's yearly salary in Geneva included several barrels of wine. The Town Council recognized the large number of guests he would be expected to entertain, thus he was given "the substantial annual salary of 500 florins, together with twelve measures of wheat and two bossets (perhaps 250 gallons) of wine."1
Calvin was also persuaded that wine should be served during the administration of the Lord's Supper. He catechized his catechumens accordingly, "But why is the body of our Lord figured by bread, and his blood by wine?" He answered that "by wine the hearts of men are gladdened, their strength recruited, and the whole man strengthened, so by the blood of our Lord the same benefits are received by our souls."
Like Luther, Calvin also compared music with wine. He believed that music was the first gift of God, having the power to "enter the heart like wine poured into a vessel, with good or evil effect." 2
Concerning drunkenness, both Calvin and Luther thundered. Calvin warned, "If a man knows that he has a weak head and that he cannot carry three glasses of wine without being overcome, and then drinks indiscreetly, is he not a hog?" Luther's unscientific definition of drunkenness is classic: "Drunkenness: when the tongue walks on stilts and reason goes forward under a half sail." These pithy phrases are reminiscent of one of their pedigree, Increase Mather, who was to preach to New Englanders: "Wine comes from God, but the drunkard from the Devil."
Calvin's commentary on the vow of the Rechabites to obey the Fifth Commandment by forgoing wine will startle all Rechabite-like clones (Jer. 35). He wrote that the self-abnegation of the Rechabites was not that they denied themselves sinful things, but things supremely good. He projected himself into the Rechabite family when he said that their willingness to forgo wine was "hard."
Luther's Strong Advocacy of Alcohol
Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli all had "Protestant Stomachs." Luther wrote a love letter to his wife when he was away from home complaining that "there is nothing fit to drink here." He then pled the impossible from Catherine who herself was a trained brewster:
It would be a good thin for you to send me the whole wine cellar and a bottle of your own beer as often as you can. If you don't I shall not come back for the new beer. Amen. Your lover, Martin Luther.
Again, he wrote her:
You must wonder how long I am likely to stay or, rather, how long you will be rid of me. I keep thinking what good wine and beer I have at home, as well as a beautiful wife, or shall I say lord?
Luther also had a mug that was encircled by three rings. One ring represented the Lord's Prayer, another the Ten Commandments, and the third the Apostle's Creed. A memorable incident occurred in Luther's life when he was amused on one occasion that he could drain the glass of wine through the Lord's Prayer, but his friend Agricola could not get beyond the second ring, the Ten Commandments.3
Luther was so adamant about using wine in the Lord's Supper that he said in his Table Talk that "if a person can't tolerate wine, omit it (the Sacrament) altogether in order that no innovation may be made or introduced."
The Diet of Worms featured no diet of beer! Luther was brought a tankard of German beer by the footmen of Duke of Brunswick. He was heartily appreciative. "As Duke Erick has this day remembered me," he said, after a good draught, "so may our Lord Jesus Christ remember him in the hour of his last conflict."
When Luther was married, he was presented with several casks of beer, but the university gave him a large silver tankard, "platted with gold on the outside and inside, weighing five pounds and a quarter."
Martin Luther's counseling of depressed students sometimes included recommendations for drinking wine. Writing to a young man in 1530, he counsels him to fight against Satan by joking and laughing and talking nonsense. He urges the man to drink, especially if the devil has tempted him not to drink. Luther may have been the first to recognize that our wily enemy the devil may tempt a saint not to drink. His "nouthetic" counseling featured the following advice:
We are nowhere forbidden to laugh, or to be satisfied with food, or to annex new possessions to those already enjoyed by ourselves or our ancestors, or to be delighted with music. One must always do what the Devil forbids. What other cause do you think I have for drinking so much strong drink, talking so freely and making so often, except that I wish to mock and harass the devil who is wont to mock and harass me?
John Knox, the colossus of the Scottish Reformation, composed a letter before leaving Scotland on how Protestant religious instruction should be practiced in his absence. He urged Protestants to read the Bible regularly, even if God's elect people became board or weary. If they wearied, the antidote was to remember their persecuted brethren who were in no position to read the Bible at all. Knox argued:
If such men as having to read and exercise themselves in God's holy Scriptures, and yet begin to weary, because from time to time they read but one thing, I ask, why weary they not also each to eat bread? Every day to drink wine? Every day to behold the brightness of the sun?
The premise that wine drinking was a daily occurrence seems undeniable.
On November 15, 1572, Knox ate his last dinner. Two friends joined him at noon. Knox sat at the mean with them, and ordered a fresh hogshead of wine to be drawn. A hogshead was no pittance. It measured about fifty-one gallons. Knox even lamented that because of the immanency of his death that he would probably not be present to finish the hogshead.
The great Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli was also partial to wine. Zwingli compared the Word of God to "a good strong wine." He writes:
To the healthy it warms his blood. But if there is someone who is sick of a disease or fever, he cannot even taste it, let alone drink it, and he marvels that the healthy is able to do so. This is not due to any defect in the wine, but to that of the sickness. So too it is with the Word of God. It is right in itself and its proclamation is always for good. If there are those who cannot bear or understand or receive it, it is because they are sick.
We read in the Confessions that originated from the Reformation that wine is commanded in the Lord's Supper. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism, which was written by Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus in 1562, presupposes both bread and wine in the Lord's Supper. What is more, the Heidelberg glorifies wine-drinking in common meals too, when it speaks of "wine that sustains this temporal life." The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q-168) defines the Lord's Supper as "a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ." The regulative principle is in part a culinary principle: It tells us that we must allow the Lord to set our tables and to pour our wine so that our cups run over.
Christian Liberty and Wine
It is clear that the reformers regarded the use of wine in the Lord's Supper as an absolute. The question is: What were their views about the use of wine outside the context of public worship? Would they concur that if wine "offends" another brother that it should not be drunk? Is this not the teaching of Paul who wrote that "If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world stands?" (1 Cor. 8:13).
To answer this question we must assess a common, superficial interpretation of the word “offend.” Many will use the word “offend” in a way altogether foreign to the Apostle Paul. There are some who take offence at virtually anything that contradicts their own traditions. To allow such Christians to regulate our lives would be folly. Practical Theology Professor R.B. Kuiper writes:
Emphatically though he taught that Christians must serve one another in love, he did not promise never to do anything that might possibly displease a brother… What Paul meant was that he would scrupulously refrain from knowingly placing, by his conduct, a stumbling block before his brother over which the brother might fall into sin.4
Biblically, “to offend,” means to make a person sin. If we place someone in a context where he feels pressured to eat or to drink what he cannot do in faith, then we have “offended” him (Rom. 14:20, 23). But to “offend” does not mean to displease or irritate a brother. If this were the meaning, then the Christian who drinks wine or strong drink would have greater justification to be offended since whine is a gift that should elicit our praise (Ps. 104). “To offend,” means to “stumble” or trip a brother into sin. Because of this narrow meaning, and with specific regard to Christian liberty, it might even be permissible to drink wine in the presence of a weak brother, as long as we do not grandstand it, or use the occasion to pressure a weak brother to sin against his conscience. A “weak brother” is not weak because he is easily irritable; a weak brother has a weak conscience.
The ascension of teetotalism, or abstinence, in the American church scene did not come easily. In his Religion and Wine: A Cultural History of Wine Drinking in the United States Robert C. Fuller documents the teetotaler’s arch dilemma. His dilemma was not primarily how to abolish wine altogether, but how to cope with the temperate drinker, that is, the drinker who heartily drank but with no ruinous side effects.
This strategy can be seen in the work of the nineteenth century minister and historian Daniel Dorchester, who distinguished himself by rewriting viticulture history and redefining Christian liberty. His first strategy was to argue that wines available to the nineteenth century consumer bore no resemblance to the wines of biblical ages. He maintained that biblical wines were “mild, nonharmful.” This was due, he said, to the differences between soil and climate. Then, Dorchester reproduced a famous chart composed by Dr. Benjamin Rush (who wrote in 1784) that listed the ill effects of alcohol. However, Dorchester willfully omitted Rush’s category that equated wine with virtue. For example, Rush associated wine with “cheerfulness” and “strength” and “nourishment.” But Dorchester’s greatest challenge (and embarrassment) was the temperate drinker. Fuller has written, “The moderate drinker was a vexing problem that threatened to invalidate their whole line of reasoning.” Thus, Dorchester began by ignoring the moderate drinker altogether. Then he emphasized that wine was not reliably “temperate” as we might first think. Editorialists spread disinformation that wine in the United States was adulterated with more potent spirits. This strategy was crowned with the teetotaler’s viniferous application of 1 Corinthians 5:7—where Paul warns about a “little leaven” leavening the whole lump. In other words, even while granting that a little wine may not souse a man, prohibitionists maintained that its ultimate effect could only lead to societal debilitation. To drink the smallest measure of wine was to predestinate drunkenness for others (if not for oneself). Therefore, the Temperance Recorder of 1835 explained:
Our views with regard to pure wine are, that the Bible sanctions its moderate use—that there can be no immorality in such use, under certain circumstances; but in our present condition with the fact that pure wine is fatal to the recovery of the drunkard, because it intoxicates, often forms the appetite for stronger drinks in the temperate, and its use by the rich hinders the poor from uniting with temperance societies—that all, or nearly all the wine in this country, is a most vile compound; these are the reasons why we urge abstinence from all wine.
The reader will notice such expressions as “vile compound,” “but in our present condition,” etc. All of these arguments have invaded and occupied the Church today. Added to these contentions is a specious argument from Romans 14:21, where Paul’s use of the word “offend” is interpreted as a trumpet for even moderate drinkers to cease and desist. Thus, the teetotaler agenda through the Volstead Act of 1919 was imposed upon all America until its repeal in 1933. Virtually all American denominations consented to it, even though they were not required by law to forego communion wine.
Hundreds of years before the anti-alcohol juggernaut in the United States and the unofficial endorsement of the Volstead Act in American churches, John Calvin foresaw the danger of a new cult of abstinence. In his commentary on Psalm 104:15, he writes that God has given “wine to make the heart of man glad,” he warned against making the peril of drunkenness “a pretext for a new cult based upon abstinence.”
The rhetoric behind this “new cult based upon abstinence” is often sharper than a double-edged sword. Our Lord himself was accused of drunkenness when he was called a “winebibber.” This is the old strategy of the Devil, whose name means “slanderer.” It is well for us to remember that the Devil slanders moderate drinkers, calling them drunkards; and that he slanders drinks, calling them evil.
Martin Luther’s response to the iconoclasts, who sought to demolish abused objects, has a fitting application to the interplay between alcohol and Christian liberty. He wrote:
Do you suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused? Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women? The sun, the moon, and the stars have been worshipped. Shall we then pluck them out of the sky? … See how much He has been able to accomplish through me, though I did no more than pray and preach. The Word did it all. Had I wished I might have started a conflagration at Worms. But while I sat still and drank beer with Philip and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow.
Deuteronomy 14:26 teaches that God’s people are to drink “wine” and “strong drink” in God’s presence. The New Testament corollary is 1 Corinthians 10, which teaches all drinking for Christians is religious. “Therefore whatsoever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Rev. Jim West (M.Div., Westminster Theological Seminary in California) is pastor of Covenant Reformed Church, Sacramento, California. This article appeared originally in Modern Reformation, March/April 2000, but for a bigger taste of beer Luther style, pick up West’s Drinking With Calvin and Luther from Oakdown Books.
1. John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 160.
2. Ibid., p. 149.
3. editor, Jamey Bennett, proudly has a 1 liter mug patterned after Luther’s three-ringed stein.
4. R.B. Kuiper, To Be or Not to Be Reformed, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), p. 139.