Cultural shift in Christianity

Late last week, I was invited to an informal social time at a friend’s home. The gathering will include the smoking of pipes and drinking of beer — most likely, knowing the friends who called the lounge-time, homemade micro-brews.

I’m personally not very fond of beer, and the few times I’ve smoked a celebratory cigar, the reason for or interest of the things was lost on me. Nonetheless, I hope to attend this gathering of Christian friends (including missionaries and missionary kids).

As a kid in a fundamentalist church in the 1980s, drinking and smoking were strictly taboo, viewed as sin. From what I can tell, attending churches with more or less the same theology since childhood, these activities carry less of a stigma than they used to.

In part, I wonder if this shift can’t be tied to the organic emerging church movement. I’m not going to try and elaborate on this movement here; enough other websites do this already. But from what I can tell of the movement, it’s grounded in seeking a more Biblical Christianity (this is my own observation, which flies in the face of many of the emergent’s critics), and is also a swinging of the pendulum away from a (real or perceived?) graceless legalism in Bible-based churches of the last century. Let’s hope we strike a balance before letting the pendulum swing to the other end of the spectrum, as it is usually wont to do.

I recently read an article in the about a church in St. Louis called The Journey. This church, affiliated with the Southern Baptists, has been called an emerging church. It hosts monthly gatherings at a local pub, where people drink beer and talk about life in general. Needless to say, this gathering chafes the hide of many Southern Baptists, probably the most prominent ultra-conservative denomination in the U.S. The church and its gatherings, however, seem to be very successful, and in fact had earlier been held up by the SBC as a model for other congregations.

In college I heard a traveling pastor-type say something to the effect that whenever wine was mentioned in the Bible, what it meant was “grape juice.” I was quite skeptical of this, even though I didn’t drink, so started researching what I could about alcoholic references in the Bible. From what I, not being a theologian, could tell, when the Bible says wine it means wine.

I’m still surrounded by a myriad of opinions and perceptions on the issue. My father-in-law grew up with alcoholic parents, and was an alcoholic himself at a very young age (He’s been dry for decades now.). My wife was told not to drink when going to Africa on a mission trip, per the sending organization’s policy. The long-term people in the field, however, knew this was an absurd cultural requirement and pretty much ignored it. I personally know two people who are or were missionaries and brewed their own beer — and know still another missionary who avoids drinking having seen the damage it can do to people and their families. The cell group I’m in at my church occasionally offers wine or sangria at our meals.

And there is the valid concern of not causing your brother to stumble. I’ve stuck to this line in a number of instances, not having a glass of wine when the company might have objected. Alcoholism is real, and the Bible is pretty clear when it says to keep from drunkenness.

Again, I hope we can strike a balance.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

6 Responses to Cultural shift in Christianity

  1. Sheila West says:

    Hey, chasab, I started to write a comment here in your blog. But it just got so long I made it a post in my own instead. Here’s the link. I hope you enjoy it.


  2. wordlily says:

    I’d have to say that another part of this shift (is that where you grew up was the North, and now you live in the South, where smoking has always been more socially acceptable.

  3. Brian says:

    I think this is a fascinating subject that is worthy of much discussion. I think I too would imagine the emergent movement has something to do with the attitudes changing a bit, but I’m not entirely sure of that the more I think about it.

    I mean you look at Europe and this isn’t much of an issue. It’s a non-issue in my church (Christian Orthodox). They’ve been around just a few shy of 2000 years, and it’s been pretty much a non-issue the whole time…

    I’d say the emergent church movement has something to do with maybe the evangelical protestant culture loosening up a bit and breaking down some of the puritan heritage. That’s one theory, I suppose.

    FYI, I got a pipe the same week I graduated college and have enjoyed it (in moderation) and alcohol (in moderation too) ever since.

  4. balm says:

    ha, i grew up with the whole “grape juice” is really what “wine” is in the Bible concept! I really enjoyed this post. I just had a meeting with a person this week from the SB church who spoke about this church you mentioned. He is starting an “emerging” church for lack of a better name. I am on board with the concept of the being the church rather than going to church, but I agree we have to ballance things. Thanks for your perspective.

  5. Tim J. says:

    I’m a fixin’ to start a G.K. Chesterton Society locally (N.W. Arkansas) and, of course, beer and the occasional pipe on the porch will be more-or-less required. I’m hoping to have a homebrew available for the first meeting, and have been considering something like “Father Brown’s Nut Brown Ale” or “The Man Who Was Thirsty”.

  6. TAE says:

    Ahhh, chesterton.

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