Yesterday's lead article at ChristianityToday.com answers the question "Is occasional social drinking OK for Christians?" As the author, J. Lawrence Burkholder notes, "One's attitudes toward alcohol are seldom objective, even if one tries to be tolerant. One can be sure that a refined, cultured gentleman from Burgundy is not likely to be an abstainer. And a wife of an alcoholic is not likely to be convinced that any policy of moderation is wise."

Still, for thousands of years, Christians writing on the subject have generally attempted to be moderate. A few deny that the Bible has anything positive to say about alcohol. But generally speaking, Christians have, like Burkholder, made the case for abstinence or very little drinking while acknowledging that biblical injunctions are against drunkenness, not necessarily fermented beverages as a whole. But as Burkholder says, the debate is still contentious. And from the lips of early church bishops to today's local pastors and televangelists, the differing viewpoints are available in abundance online.

After Jesus and Paul (who both had several things to say about wine), one of the earliest Christians to write about alcohol was first-century Clement of Rome, whose "On Drinking" (from Book Two of The Instructor or Paedagogus) is available at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Clement was very quick to point out the dangers of alcohol: it kindles "wild impulses and burning lusts and fiery habits" in youth (Clement's descriptions make for, um, fascinating reading), it is easy to become drunk, and there are many other potential side effects, including "constant spitting and wiping off perspiration, and hastening ...

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