Whether it’s beer with the boys or ‘wine o’clock’ with the girls, Australia boasts a strong drinking culture.
Every day I’m the target of evocative wine advertisements, transporting me into a land of hope and happiness with their pastel hues and rich landscapes.
Alcoholic beverage producers profit from a steady market of adults seeking escape. In advertising, these drinks promise adventure. Marketers target consumers wanting to break free from the confines of their job, family or marriage.
Alcohol seems to offer us a way of being human, helping us discover our ‘true identity’ as we relax with that wine glass or ice-cold bottle. It’s your friend cheering you on – your well-deserved ‘congratulations’ after battling with clients, kids or computers. The drink requires nothing of you but a sigh of relief.
And Christians have certainly tapped into the benefits of beer. Sure, there’s still a remnant who believe we should avoid alcohol, such as theologian John Piper (who famously took a pledge of total abstinence and encouraged the church to do the same). But some congregations have ventured out to include alcohol in their Sunday line-up. More than 15 years ago, The Journey church in St Louis, Missouri, became known for hosting church meetings in The Bottleworks.
With the concept of “saving souls one beer at a time”, ‘unchurched people’ are invited into a bar to partake of their favourite beverage and talk faith. The goal was to offer comfort and familiarity to non-churchgoers.
A “brewery church” began in 2019 in Orlando, Florida, partly in homage to Reformation leader Martin Luther who was partial to a decent beer. While there is “no beer during the service” on Sunday, Castle Church Brewing Community wants to serve up “Christianity for the rest of us” by exploring “not so much a list of doctrinal positions as a path to spiritual grounding, hope, and love”.
Many Aussies will say they don’t trust a person who doesn’t drink because it means they have something to hide, so winning over the outsider in this way could help us build rapport.
The Bible doesn’t condemn alcohol as evil, but warns against the excessive use of it.
Serving wine in a church is a risky move no doubt, especially with young people and those with a history of an addiction. But there is certainly scope for attracting seekers, assuming Christians maintain their ‘difference’ and keep on sharing the gospel.
It’s a fine line. Are churches which include alcohol in the line-up at risk of assimilating? Are they transforming culture, or letting culture dictate their every move?
This is the tension many feel, and for good reason.
Jesus proposes life to the full … It’s an offer no beer bottle or wine glass can provide.
Alcohol represents a love of freedom. Each cultural artefact expresses faith in something, and as Christians we need to try and understand these artefacts as we represent Christ in the world. Will they serve a kingdom-building purpose? Is our usage of the artefact in line with what the Bible teaches?
Alcohol taps into so many of our desires in that it seemingly promotes liberation and laughter, creativity and autonomy. But, just as Adam and Eve fell upon the offer of God-like status and supreme authority, many drinkers fall prey to the attractive ideals alcohol symbolises. However, Jesus offers true freedom. Adventure. Relief from mundane, routine living.
Jesus proposes life to the full and a relationship which saves you from sin and extends into eternity. It’s an offer no beer bottle or wine glass can provide.
COVID-19 aside, today’s Christian seems more willing to branch into the more diverse sub-cultures around us, whether at the local pub or in the back-streets of Sydney’s Kings Cross. As author and sociologist Parker Palmer says, “Community is the essential form of reality. The matrix of all being”, and community takes many forms.
The question is – how will we live out community in a world where Christians are treated with suspicion? How will we embody our faith authentically and respectfully in our local neighbourhood?
It’s easy to criticise culture when we haven’t actually engaged with people. But when we start relating to ‘the other’ in contexts they are familiar with, we may well see people flourish as they put their trust in us.
We may be the Christ-followers who one day lead seekers to the ultimate source of freedom, redemption, and eternal life. Perhaps after buying them a beer at the bar.
Alison Leader combines ministry work at Beverly Hills Baptist Church, Sydney, with a corporate communications role at South Eastern Community Connect. She’s a reflective thinker who advocates for stronger communities in her work.