Effects of Alcoholism on Christian Churches



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1.1 Background to the Problem

Scripture teaches that beverages containing alcohol can be a blessing or a source of evil. Those who drink alcohol must consider its effects on themselves and on others. Abstinence from alcohol may be an appropriate moral response in particular situations, but it is not demanded by Scripture and therefore should not be demanded by the church.

According to Scripture, all Christians must avoid drunkenness. Though abstinence from alcohol is a morally creditable choice, those who, in their freedom in Christ, choose to use alcohol moderately are not to be condemned. The church should provide pastoral care and guidance for alcoholic church members and their families, including intervention and discipline when necessary.

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In light of what has been learned about the risks involved in the use of beverages containing alcohol, congregations were asked to examine the traditional practice of using wine in the sacrament of Holy Communion (Lord’s Supper).  Proverbs 23:20: “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”  Isaiah 5:11: “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands.”  Galatians 5:19–21: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: … drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  Ephesians 5:18: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Effects of Alcoholism on Christian Churches

Many churches choose to use grape juice out of deference to worshipers who may struggle with alcohol. The many biblical references to alcoholic beverages are both positive and negative, real and symbolic, descriptive and didactic.Both archaeological evidence and written records indicate the significant cultivation of grapes in ancient Israel and the popularity of wine-drinking. (Macdonald and Nathan, 2008). The production capacity apparent from archaeological remains and the frequent biblical references to wine suggest that it was the principal alcoholic beverage of the ancient Israelites.

Alcohol is any liquid or drink containing ethanol especially when considered as the intoxicating agent in fermented and distilled liquors (Tracy, 2005).  There are different types of alcohol. Isopropanol or isopropyl alcohol is used in industrial processes as well as in home cleaning products and skin lotions; it is also commonly known as “rubbing alcohol”.  Methanol, or methyl alcohol or wood alcohol is used as an industrial solvent and is also commonly available as methylated spirit. It is found in cleaning solvents, paint removers, photocopier developer and anti-freeze solutions. As such, it is often available in large quantities inexpensively. It is similar to ethanol but the end product after it is digested by the body is formaldehyde, which is poisonous. This is responsible for “alcohol poisoning”. Methanol poisoning leading to blindness has been known to occur on consuming even small amounts which is prevalent in Kenya (Room, et al., 2002).

Another type of alcohol is ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol which is consumed by human beings for its intoxicating and mind-altering effects. The term ‘alcohol’, unless specified otherwise, refers to ethanol or ethyl alcohol. It is a thin, clear liquid with harsh burning taste and high volatility. It is usually consumed in diluted concentrations of absolute (i.e. 100 per cent) ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is also used as a reagent in some industrial applications. For such use, ethyl alcohol is combined with small quantities of methanol, with the mixture being called “denatured ethanol” to prevent theft for human consumption (Arnold, 2005).

Effects of Alcoholism on Christian Churches

Alcoholic beverages (ethyl alcohol) are divided into three general classes: beers, wines, and spirits which are legally consumed in most countries most of which have laws regulating their production, sale, and consumption (Shaw, 2002). Of the three, beer is one of the world’s oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverages, and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea (Nelson, 2005). It is produced by the brewing and fermentation of starches which are mainly derived from cereal grains — most commonly malted barley although wheat, maize (corn), and rice are also used. The alcoholic strength of beer is usually 4% to 6% alcohol by volume (ABV). Wine is produced from grapes, and fruit wine is produced from fruits such as plums, cherries, or apples. Wine involves a longer fermentation process than beer and also a long aging process (months or years), resulting in an alcohol content of 9%–16% ABV. Spirits are unsweetened, distilled, alcoholic beverages that have an alcohol content of at least 20% ABV. They are produced by the distillation of a fermented base product which concentrates the alcohol (Lichine, 1987).

Throughout all history, alcohol is a product that has provided a variety of functions for people. From the earliest times to the present, alcohol has played an important role in religion and worship. Historically, alcoholic beverages have served as sources of needed nutrients and have been widely used for their medicinal, antiseptic, and analgesic properties (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). While no one knows when beverage alcohol was first used, it was presumably the result of a fortuitous accident that occurred at least tens of thousands of years ago. However, the discovery of late Stone Age beer jugs has established the fact that intentionally fermented beverages existed at least as early as the Neolithic period (10,000 B.C.) (Patrick, 1952), and it has been suggested that beer may have preceeded bread as a staple (Katz and Voigt, 1987); wine clearly appeared as a finished product in Egyptian pictographs around 4,000 B.C. (Lucia, 1963).

The earliest alcoholic beverages may have been made from berries or honey (French, 1890) and winemaking may have originated in the wild grape regions of the Middle East. Oral tradition recorded in the Old Testament (Genesis 9:20) asserts that Noah planted a vineyard on Mt. Ararat in what is now eastern Turkey. In Sumer, beer and wine were used for medicinal purposes as early as 2,000 B.C. (Babor, 1986). Brewing dates from the beginning of civilization in ancient Egypt (Cherrington, 1925) and alcoholic beverages were very important in that country. Symbolic of this is the fact that while many gods were local or familial, Osiris, the god of wine, was worshiped throughout the entire country (Lucia, 1963a). The Egyptians believed that this important god also invented beer, a beverage that was considered a necessity of life; it was brewed in the home “on an everyday basis” (Marciniak, 1992).

In recent times however; alcohol consumption has been identified as a risk factor for many health, social and economic problems of communities. World Health Organization (WHO) report identified alcohol as being responsible for nearly 60 types of disorders and injuries (WHO, 2000). Alcohol consumption has been recognized as the fifth leading risk factor, next only to underweight, unsafe sex, blood pressure and tobacco usage (WHO, 2002). Traditionally the adverse effects of alcohol use have been linked only to the acute immediate effects (states of drunkenness) and long-term effects of alcohol dependence (resulting from habitual, compulsive and long-term heavy drinking). Numerous other common and frequent public health effects as well as the social and economic aspects have not been recognized by health professionals and policymakers. Alcohol consumption, in a dose-response manner, but especially heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders, increases the risk of contracting TB and pneumonia, as well as the progression of TB and HIV (Rehm, Anderson, Kanteres, Parry, Samokhvalov and Patra, 2009). This study investigated the effects of alcoholism on Christian churches in Nigeria.

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