Campolo’s Beer Church: A Reasoned Response

I believe Christians must exercise great care in condemning the actions of others seeking to do good in the name of Jesus. That doesn’t mean there is never a time or a place for this as misguided souls, regardless of motive, will sometimes engage in things apt to do more harm than good.

That being said, here is a bit of food for thought regarding Campolo’s “Beer Church” friend:

1. Drunkenness is a sin, but legal alcohol consumption in moderation is not with a few exceptions.

From beginning to end, the Bible indicates drunkenness (i.e. binge drinking/alcohol abuse) is sinful. However, it is also clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with legal consumption in moderation unless 1) someone has a problem with alcohol addiction and by drinking are simply “asking for it”, 2) if consumption will violate one’s own conscience (i.e. they believe they are sinning whether they actually are or not), or 3) one exercising their liberty to drink will cause others to stumble (like a friend or neighbor who struggles with alcoholism). With these exceptions, it is okay to have a drink, and there’s no need to demonize alcohol simply because it can be abused.

2. Campolo’s description of what actually takes place at these events is vague.

Remember, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge” (Proverbs 19:2). I’m not sure one can, in reality, wisely affirm or defend what Campolo described based upon the limited information provided. All we know is a church in the UK has people showing up to their services on Sunday because they throw a party every other weekend that involves alcohol and dancing.

There are too many unanswered questions here. Are guests showing up and getting wasted thereby having sin affirmed by those reaching out to them, or is there an understanding this isn’t that kind of party? Is the church truly making disciples, or are they simply drawing a crowd of people who think they’re cool because “they know how to party”? Are lives being changed for the better, or is more harm being done than good?

We simply don’t have the answers to these questions, and one should refrain from judgment – especially the harsh kind – when so much information is lacking.

3. One must take culture into account.

I mentioned in the initial post a conference I attended in which a minister was drawing several hundred college students to his on-campus Bible studies by providing alcohol (in addition to live music) for those who showed up. I left that conference appalled at this minister’s method of outreach because I understand a thing or two about campus culture in the United States.

The temptation to binge drink has been labelled the worst problem facing American college students to date. For a minister to provide free or cheap alcohol weekly to a group of hundreds of them in the name of “outreach” isn’t just stupid – it’s sinful. It’s like throwing a hand grenade in the middle of a day care center playground and saying, “Here kids, play around with this for a while!”

Romans 14:21 says, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” That’s speaking specifically about Christians’ interaction with other Christians, but I believe applies to interactions with outsiders as well, and the likelihood of causing someone to stumble in the situation outlined above is near 100%.

And to make a statement to the effect of, “Yeah, some of them will get drunk, but at least they’re getting drunk at a Bible study” is on my top ten list of the most ludicrous things I’ve heard come out of a church leader’s mouth. What if kids who came to his Bible study and got drunk left college believing God thought that was okay since the Christian group affirmed it, and never learned otherwise? Scriptures like Galatians 5:21 and others indicate that those who live a life characterized by drunkenness “will not inherit the kingdom of heaven” – does that sound like something we should take lightly?! Good grief – affirming that sin by enablement and an “at least they’re at Bible study” attitude is irresponsible and ridiculous – how could one consider that loving?

I can say this only because I understand college students, their culture, and the general weakness that exists as it pertains to 1) that sin, 2) at that life stage, 3) in that social setting.

Certainly in that situation it is, but is serving alcohol at a church event always wrong?

There’s a church a few minutes away from me here in California’s wine country that throws a wine tasting a cheese party every once in a while, and they do it specifically to invite outsiders to it.

You see, nearly everyone in wine country enjoys wine, and, from what I understand, those in attendance are mostly married couples in their thirties or forties, are quite a bit more mature than your average college student, and they don’t come to these parties to binge drink. In fact, it would be considered in bad taste for someone to get drunk at a party like that, and would likely be embarrassing for them.

The social climate is completely different in this situation because the culture is different as are social expectations, and I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that church meeting people in this way – it’s done responsibly and lovingly. That’s quite the contrast to the other situation.

And I really do appreciate what Campolo said at the end of his article: “people are being met where they are at and told about the life changing relationship they can have with Jesus Christ.”

Folks, whether you like Tony or not, he could be making a great point here. We need to be intentional about lovingly meeting people where they are at. This doesn’t mean we affirm sin, but it does mean our approach to people may need to be a bit different than it traditionally has been.

That leads me to my last point …

4. The church is called to make disciples, not to simply draw a crowd.

Going back to the guy on campus throwing the keggers – I had the opportunity to ask him how many people came to Christ as a result of their campus worship service in the previous year. He informed me that one person, out of hundreds who attended, came to Christ (he actually threw out a larger number in front of a group of people, but when I met with him alone later that evening he told me he had misspoken and it had only been one – whether he had been intentionally dishonest or not in front of the group I don’t know).

So one person came to Christ – praise God! And I’m sure many more than that learned a thing or two, and were deepened in their faith as a result of the Bible study that took place (the word has a way of doing that to people) … but think about this: how many kids did their activity possibly harm compared to how many learned to be radically obedient disciples of Jesus Christ?

One was led to Jesus – wonderful. But was one also led away from Him … just one? If so, then get this: that’s too many. And I have a feeling it was many more than that.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out free alcohol and good live music will draw a crowd. Heck, expensive alcohol and poor live music will draw a crowd and regularly does … just go visit your local bar this weekend.

But is our job to draw a crowd, or is our job to make disciples?

While the two are not exclusive of one another and sometimes go hand in hand, they are definitely not the same thing, and we must be intentional about the one while worrying with the other only when it makes sense.

Campolo seems to think this church in the UK is carrying out Christ’s command to do this, and, honestly, he’s made a great point: people need to know Jesus, and we should never let fundamentalism get in the way of  rejoicing when a group is carrying out the Great Commission.

I, for one, simply hope that commission is being carried out, and if people are being led to Jesus and not away from Him, then I say, “Praise God!”

I hope you do too.

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9 thoughts on “Campolo’s Beer Church: A Reasoned Response

  1. soonercary says:

    This is indeed a reasoned response. We certainly cannot make assessments of particular situations without actually knowing what is truly happening. But it does raise some important issues that need to be addressed as we move forward with the complex Kingdom/culture dance.

    I will agree strongly about the ludicrous statement. My knee-jerk reaction to that was to say that I’m holding a drug-laced orgy with a Bible study. Hey at least it will include a Bible study.

  2. Daniel W says:

    If I completely agree, is there any point in commenting?

    Well anyway, I completely agree with your statement on the issue. You hit the points that needed to be hit, and I think you value what needs to be valued.

  3. Tulsaoilman says:

    Good response Wes.

  4. Great response, Wes.

    I think the major issue that makes us all double take with this story is that for (?) generations abstinence from alcohol (at least publicly) has been a de facto marker for some forms of christianity. While that certainly can have some positive sides (seriously, being sober isn’t a totally bad thing), it also has some negative sides, and certainly goes farther than the Bible itself does on the issue.

    A couple of negatives that I would see: 1. The potential for a gnostic sort of mentality that is fully ascetic, denying any value to physicality. 2. A complete inability to be part of the conversation about what moderation really means (this is an important conversation for the world!) 3. A potential distortion of message—the complete story we’re telling may get traded for this simple distinction point. 4. The argument for abstinence from scripture might have a negative value in the apologetic conversation—it isn’t the simplest way of reading the text. This doesn’t (on its own) mean it isn’t a valid way of reading the text or perhaps even the best reading, but I know it is one place where it seems we play gymnastics with the text, and this leaves a bad taste with new readers of the text.

    I think all of this is just an effect of where we are in the pendulum swing of the church’s relationship with alcohol. It’s definitely swinging away from complete abstinence. I suppose in a couple of generations there will need to be new arguments.

  5. K. Rex Butts says:

    I love this response not just because of how you deal with the particular issue of alcohol consumption and Christian mission but because of the way you demonstrate some missional thinking in regards to ethics. You take the issue at hand and present two entirely different contextual gatherings (college campus keg romp and an elegant wine and cheese tasting party) and show how even though there is nothing inherently wrong with alcohol consumption, it can be sinful in one context but not the other…and hence, a barrier to the gospel in one context but an incarnational window in the other.

  6. omans 14:21 says, “It is better not to eat meat or drink welches grape juice or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”–just wanted to correct your scripture Wes :).

    I’m just joking. Seriously, I would agree with your article. It was very well written and provocative (as was the previous one). Whether we agree or not, the leaders of the church must think through these types of issues if we are going to effectively reach those around us. We need to know where and how to draw the line based upon the Biblical Principles without hindering ones freedom in Christ.


  7. KansasChristian says:

    Under the first point, you mentioned that drunkenness (i.e. binge drinking/alcohol abuse) is sinful, but that “there is absolutely nothing wrong with legal consumption in moderation. You went on to say that it is “okay to have a drink,” and that there is “no need to demonize alcohol simply because it can be abused.”

    I have a couple of follow-up questions that I hope you (or someone else on your blog) might be able to answer for me, to better help me understand this issue:

    1) If a church (or an individual Christian) seeks to host something like a “wine tasting” outreach, should they count on each individual to determine for themselves what “moderation” means (especially since some people “get drunk” more quickly than others)?

    2) For those who might “accidentally” experience some form of drunkenness (getting a little buzzed, for instance, when they have had a sip more than they thought was “moderate”), would their consumption still bring glory to God, just so long as their heart was never set on getting drunk (buzzed, light-headed, or whatever)?

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