[The following is a response to an editorial in Sunday’s (11/27/2011) Ruston Leader. Since I could not contact the original author to discuss this personally (he is on vacation all week) I decided not to send this in to the paper but to send a copy to the author of the original editorial and to post my response on this, my personal weblog. My reason for writing this response is not primarily over the issue of Sunday alcohol sales, but of what is (in my estimation) the original author’s misuse of Scripture.]
There has been considerable debate lately over the issue of Sunday alcohol sales here in Ruston, and as may be expected here in the “Bible Belt,” the words of Scripture itself have been drawn into the discussion. Recently another area pastor offered his opinion on these pages. He stated, “I am responsible to God for where I stand and only seek God’s approval.” I agree: that is what every minister of the Gospel should do. As Martin Luther said, “My heart is captive to the Word of God.”
The issue at hand is not alcohol sales per se, but alcohol sales on Sundays in particular. It has been mentioned that Sunday is called the Lord’s Day, and I completely agree that we should honor the first day of the week (Sunday) as the Lord’s Day. But I will go one better: instead of fighting against Sunday alcohol sales in isolation, why not oppose sales of any kind on the Lord’s Day? The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) states, “The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.” That means no shopping, no eating in restaurants, no attending sporting events, no going to movies, etc. It means honoring the whole day, not just the hour between 11:00 a.m. and noon. In the South, the “blue laws” that once held sway earned their name from the “true blue” Presbyterians who, out of their conviction about the Fourth Commandment, sought to maintain this kind of esteem for the Lord’s Day. Under the blue laws, only “works of necessity and mercy” (as the Catechism says) were allowed on Sundays. Hospitals and pharmacies were open. Police and firefighters were on the job. “Farm stores” were permitted to be open, selling necessities such as milk and bread, but the grocery stores, and certainly the shopping centers, were shut tight. If Ruston residents want to advocate for such “blue laws,” they will certainly find stronger historical and scriptural warrant. Singling out alcohol sales alone, however, is not a position which enjoys such biblical support.
The previous editorial went further than merely opposing Sunday alcohol sales by strongly implying that alcohol and the alcohol industry, in and of themselves, are inherently evil and immoral. That editorial closed with a quotation from the Old Testament book of First Kings which the author employed to liken the decision on Sunday alcohol sales to a choice between God and Baal. Baal was a Canaanite fertility god whose name was later used by Christians to denote a demon or even the devil himself (Ba’al Z?bûb or Beelzebub.) As one whose heart is captive to the Word of God, I have to ask: is this a fair comparison? Is the consumption of alcohol in and of itself immoral? Is liquor in and of itself destructive? Is the “liquor industry” in and of itself an immoral business in which no God-fearing person should be involved?
The Psalmist says to God, “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man (Ps. 104:14-15, ESV, emphasis added).” Wine was God’s idea, not man’s. As soon as a grape is crushed, the yeast on the grape’s skin begin to feed on the sugars inside the grape, creating wine. Unless this natural process is halted by an unnatural, manmade one (Pasteurization), wine is simply what happens when a grape is crushed. (The notion that the wine Christ drank in the Bible was unfermented grape juice is a fiction and an impossibility.)
Jesus’ first miracle was creating wine at the wedding of Cana in Galilee (John 2:11), and it wasn’t just any wine: it was “the best wine.” That title would hardly apply to Welch’s grape juice or reconstituted fig-paste (another fiction I’ve heard put forward before). Jesus enjoyed good food and good wine so much that his detractors called him “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:19, ESV). To be sure, Jesus was neither of those things, but had he not been known to enjoy the good things of God’s creation, including wine, such an accusation would not have been made.
In Deuteronomy, God instructs his people to take their tithe and do this: “Spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household (Deut. 14:26, ESV).” Since God does not have a problem with his people buying wine or “strong drink” (mead, ale, or beer), there is obviously no prohibition against selling those items either. There is nothing immoral in God’s eyes about selling alcohol. (It also appears, from this passage, that God would not be opposed to Mr. Scott Terry, or anyone else, buying his mom a drink for Mother’s Day.)
Yes, the Bible warns us against drunkenness, but it also warns us against gluttony and other sins of overindulgence. Do we then suggest that the baking industry is immoral, since so many Americans are obese? Should pies and cakes be made illegal, or even sugar itself, since overeating is an epidemic in this country? To quote Martin Luther again, “Do not 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 worshiped. Shall we then pluck them out of the sky?” Prohibition will not cure substance abuse, whether that substance is beer or Twinkies.
If Ruston residents are opposed to Sunday alcohol sales on personal grounds, that is fine, and they have every right to express their opinion; however, to say that this is a choice between “God and Baal” is uncharitable, misleading, and biblically indefensible. No matter the outcome, I trust the Ruston City Council will make this decision based on what is truly in the best interests of our community as a whole, not on the assumption that one side of the debate represents “God’s position” and the other side is “evil.” This is a matter of conscience and personal liberty, not one of divine Law.