A few decades ago the Herald of Truth was a weekly television program, and occasionally those who produced the program would send out contact information to churches located near an individual who had sent in a request for material. Members of the congregation meeting nearby that individual would then call on the person to see if the information had been received and to determine if they had any questions or needed additional material.
Another brother and I went to call on a lady who had requested a sermon. She invited us in, and we visited for a few minutes. She had received what she had requested and was not interested in anything else. In the course of our brief visit, she let us know that she enjoyed watching religious TV shows on Sunday morning while sipping wine but that she was not really interested in getting out and visiting any churches in the area. We talked afterward about whether to try to follow up further with her; the other brother commented, “No. She doesn’t want to get out or be involved with others. She’s content to sit at home and watch religious programming while getting soused.”
Now, there is an alternative for those who enjoy imbibing but want a more social and religious context. A church is being formed to accommodate just such individuals. On the front page of last Sunday’s Orlando Sentinel (Nov. 20, 2016) is the headline of an article (“Lutheran Church Founders Brew Faith” (A1). It tells the story of a couple of men who decided to brew their own beer in a garage, but in the process a church bubbled up. The beer lovers who met each week began conversations about God; then people started asking for prayers and sharing meals. Before they knew it, they had the makings of a “church” group.
In light of a recent survey, we should scarcely be surprised. When asked what people could not live without, heading the list at about 45% of those responding was WIFI; alcohol came in third. Imagine! Air conditioning and hot showers did not even make the top three. What is amazing is that so much of the population thinks that they could not do without alcohol. Why? Many of us have done without it our entire lifetimes. We don’t miss it, crave it, or need it to have a good time—or to help us worship God.
But the two founders, according to the newspaper article, are receiving approval for a “church” from a religious denomination.
Now, thanks to backing from the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the two Lutherans are refining plans to open a brewery/church in downtown Orlando. They say it’ll be a place where a taproom and beer vats can coexist with an altar and sanctuary (A1).
Can we anticipate seeing a future Headline: “Fight Breaks Out In Church”? It’s possible. But the quoted paragraph is bizarre on more than one level. Look at what it says about denominationalism—something never authorized in the Scriptures. Is there really a Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America? Does that statment imply a Synod for the other 49 states? And this is just one branch of the Lutheran Church. Do all the others have Synods, also? Does every religious denomination have “official” organizations like these? If so, just imagine how many of them exist all over the United States.
Lest someone fail to take the story seriously, there are beer kegs in one of the founders’ garage labeled, Castle Beer, produced by the Castle Church Brewing Community (A11). We have also noted in time past that some “church” groups have been meeting in taverns, but this goes way beyond that idea. Some say they are trying “to shed a holier-than-thou image” (A1). This effort should accomplish that goal; however, it will do nothing to cause people not to associate “Christians” with hypocrisy. Their motto—“brewing community, fermenting love” apparently is working. The support of beer-bibbers has reached 375. Currently they are meeting in homes “to study the Bible over craft beer” (A11).
Most people instinctively know this mixture of the profane and the sacred is a bad idea. “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Cor. 15:33). Alcohol is not like caffeine that people get in coffee or soft drinks; it exercises a more dangerous influence on people. The first thing it does is affect the brain, loosening inhibitions and sound judgment. Solomon clearly wrote that people should not even look upon wine—let alone consume it (Pr. 23:31). The wine of which he spoke was not far different in alcoholic content than beer. Many beers (especially the Lite versions) are in the 4% range; others fluctuate between 6% and 8%. A few reach as high as 10% to 12%. Wines without today’s fortifications average, through natural fermentation about 10% and could reach 12%. To take something intoxicating and mix it with the Word of God is a profane move.
Although God does not approve of holier-than-thou attitudes (consider the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18:9-14), He does expect genuine holiness. In fact, one of the Scriptures that will probably never be mentioned favorably at the Castle Church is Titus 2:12. God’s grace that brings salvation has appeared to all men, “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age.” How many associate drinking beer with this description? And if people consume alcohol during worship, what about the rest of the day?
Just when a person might think that this situation could not get any weirder, it does. The co-founders say that alcohol is not their focus. Really? Was it not already stated that the whole thing began while brewing beer in a garage? According to the news story, however, their “goal is to knock down the barriers separating many churches from their neighbors.” Wow! Who would have thought that beer could accomplish something that the Word of God could not? But, wait for it, guess what the missing ingredient is in this “evangelistic” approach?
If anyone answered, “Doctrine,” that is correct. One of the co-founders (who once “pastored” a Lutheran church) is quoted as saying, “We’re not gathered around a belief system. We’re gathered around a dinner invite.” They believe that “breweries and beer create natural contexts for friendships to form and attract people who might never set foot in a traditional church,” the other co-founder said (A11). Well, this idea has been expressed before with respect to the Cowboy churches. With thinking such as this, why should we not expect Golf Course Clubhouse Services, Bowling Alley Worship assemblies, and Bikini at the Beach churches? People drink beer at all of those places, and they get entertainment as well. Why not combine all the things that people like to do?
The whole concept of “a traditional church” is wrong to begin with. Yes, we need to have a place to gather, but worship is about God—not us. Some groups have the idea that only professionals can be in control of worship. Therefore, the average member is not involved except to read a text together or to repeat something already written out. In worship, as God desires it, all are involved with the singing, and everyone is supposed to be attentive to each prayer and gospel message, as well as the Lord’s Supper. Some lead; all participate. Each one gives as he has been prospered. Worship is offered to God, but it has a benefit to each member, as well. It is not some formal ritual that members go through; it is communion with our God, and we ought to be sober when offering it. We do not know if alcohol played a part in the sin of Nadab and Abihu, but in Leviticus 10:9, God told Aaron: “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die.” God does not approve of combining the sacred with the profane.
As for the style of evangelism advocated, it is certainly appropriate to get together with others over dinner (minus the beer). Sometimes, Christians only think in terms of inviting someone to worship, which is all right, but it may not be the best way to reach him. A study of the Word, perhaps before or after a meal, in the friendly confines of a home, may yield better results. It is often the case that some have an aversion to entering a church building, but once they have studied the Bible and learned what God‘s will is for them, it does not remain a problem.
No religious article would be complete without a testimonial. A former Catholic who stopped attending “Mass” as a child has taken a shine (not the moon variety) to this new group’s casual system of Bible study. At first he was skeptical but was encouraged to just try it out. His bartender girlfriend told him, “We’re not going to outcast you because you don’t think the way we do” (A11). Hmm. How different from what Paul told the Corinthians about being united in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Cor. 1:10). Is it really that loose—that it does not matter what someone believes? Then this “church” is more of an exercise in friendship than in trying to please God because the Lord has always had teachings that His adherents are commanded to follow.
Under the beer umbrella of fellowship, one person could believe that people are saved by “faith only” while others might think that repentance and baptism are necessary. One could advocate that we are born totally depraved while others believe that children arrive in the world innocent. Some may say that once a person is saved, he cannot lose his salvation while others disagree. So all of these views are permissible? Why not just call it the Church of Whatever?
The boyfriend not only liked the way the group did things, he was “impressed” that the leader “didn’t pretend he had all the answers, and the atmosphere was inquiring and nonjudgmental” (A11). Are people so easily satisfied to be with a religious outfit that doesn’t have all the answers and doesn’t care what its adherents think? Are people willing to glory in ignorance—and fermented ignorance at that?
According to the article, Lutheranism and beer go hand in hand because Martin Luther himself “had a documented fondness for ale. His beer mug was even inscribed with the Lord’s prayer so he could commune with God while tossing one back, according to religious historian Jon Pahl” (A11). This professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary reasons that “everything on earth is a gift to humanity and, when used responsibly, enhances our happiness” (A11). Really? Does that include whiskey and vodka? How about marijuana, heroin, and cocaine? How does one use responsibly that which—first and foremost—dulls one’s self-control?
Well-known religious figure, John MacArthur (a diedin-the-wool Calvinist) had the good sense to point out: “The ravages of alcoholism and drug abuse are too wellknown, and no symbol of sin’s bondage is more seductive or more oppressive than booze” (A11). He is one who is definitely against the mixing of alcohol and evangelism. Jesus did not need alcohol to make His message more palatable, and the multitudes never thought to ask for any. It is easy to see which most people are more fond of—God or alcohol. How many would attend “worship” if it was going to be a “dry” service? That answer says a lot about people’s priorities.