Will the Church of the Nazarene Split over Social Drinking?

Please read the following disclaimer/facts before reading the article below:

Fact 1: My dad was an alcoholic before becoming a Christian. Had he come to Christ in a church that allowed social drinking, I believe my dad would have died an alcoholic.

Fact 2: Medical professionals are now admitting that even small amounts of alcohol can have a negative effect on a person’s well-being. See the August 23, 2018 study here.

Fact 3: The Church of the Nazarene has historically taken the stance of prohibition in part to side with those who struggle with issues of alcohol and chemical dependency.

Fact 4: Many Nazarenes are already drinking (I have had plenty of attenders, members, and leaders admit to social drinking and voice disagreement with our current policy).

Fact 5: Other historically “dry” denominations have allowed social drinking in recent years.

Fact 6: The Bible argues against drunkenness. It does not mandate abstinence or prohibit the consumption of alcohol. (Note: a case could be made that clean drinking water was not readily available for the Biblical writers and the medicinal purposes of wine in ancient times outweighed the dangers of moderate alcohol consumption.),

Fact 7: The Social Action Committee at the 2017 General Assembly passed a resolution that would have permitted social drinking. There was not a vote on the General Assembly floor because the proposal was sent to committee for further study (I do not know if a committee has been formed nor do I know what is/was the outcome or recommendations from that committee).


Given these facts, will the Church of the Nazarene split over the issue of Social Drinking?

I have heard from people that if the church changes its stance regarding social drinking they will leave. I liken this to their parents who made similar statements regarding the cinema 30+ years ago. They didn’t leave then, and most won’t leave now. Members won’t leave in droves should the alcohol position change. There won’t be a split. Where would the teetotaler members go?  As already stated, most once dry denominations have already allowed for (or turned a blind eye to) social drinking among its membership. Moreover, for many of the younger members in the Church of the Nazarene, drinking is a nonissue. They already socially drink.

The great likelihood is that the General Assembly delegates will pass legislation that opens the door for moderate social drinking (if not in 2021 then surely in 2025), Given my family history (see Fact 1), I will not be happy with the change. Given modern research (see Fact 2) we may regret the decision. Given our historic stance of siding with those who struggle with alcohol (See Fact 3) we may lose some of our voice with the victims of alcoholism and its effect upon individuals and families.

Ultimately, the reasoning to move away from our historical stance regarding alcohol is less about righteousness or coming alongside a struggling believer and more about pragmatism:

1) The ship has sailed. Many are already drinking (see Fact 4);

2) “Peer pressure.” Other once dry denominations now allow social drinking (see fact 5); and

3) Making a Biblical argument is difficult as the Bible doesn’t expressly forbid it (see Fact 6).

For these reasons, the prohibition against alcohol consumption seems likely to be lifted once the debate reaches the General Assembly floor. I will not leave the Church of the Nazarene over this issue, nor do I think that many others will. But I will be saddened for the children of alcoholics like myself whose family was salvaged because of the grace of God and the historic stance of a church that stood with those who struggle with alcohol.





27 thoughts on “Will the Church of the Nazarene Split over Social Drinking?

  1. Dennis Wegner

    Thanks Rob. God Bless you.
    I appreciate your leading with
    Love. compassion and concern.
    Please continue to lead and
    Encourage with your message
    Of Holiness. Pastor Denny

  2. Ian Kirk

    I have experienced, however, within the Church of the Nazarene a different problem. Churches won’t start, sponsor, or support recovery programs because drinking and other issues are viewed as such an anathema to the church that these groups would contaminate them. Do I think they are wrong? Yes.

    We also have to remember that many of the first churches in a community were held in one of two places that were built before a church, the saloon or the brothel.

    Then there is an integrity problem. The Code of Christian Conduct in invoked backhandedly through the ceremonial words in the appendix, while the front of the manual just says our Articles of Faith are what is required by membership.

    Many young people are not becoming members because they want to live a life of integrity and not commit to not drinking when they do so (unlike the blind eye issue).

    As a child of an alcoholic, I hear what you are saying. However, I do believe we are better able to address a problem lovingly and as a community when we don’t man it outright. There is a slippery slope, though, of which I’m quite aware.

    As for fact 6, to add on to it, if Jesus (who drank) could not be a member, we need to really think about it.

    When I joined the Nazarene fold I did stop drinking (not that I was a big one). Did I slide? A few times, but it was never a lifestyle for me.

    I hope people for whom the total abstinence stance is an essential don’t leave. We need their voice.

  3. Sylvia Johnson Williams

    Pastor Rob, thank you for your message. I have always been a Nazarene, but listening to those who “rode the fence” on the drinking issue during the last General Assembly was a devastating blow to my soul. I am thankful that the church had some guardrails and guidelines for me as I was growing up. No alcoholic set out to become dependent, but the first drink may send them down a path that will result in tragedy. If I refuse to take that first drink, I WILL NOT become an alcoholic. No one knows their potential. Someone I know, who worked in a state hospital, saw the devastating results of those who chose to participate in the consumption of alcohol.

  4. Richard Stricklen

    rob, can you name me one positive thing that can result from Alcohol consumption? If we change our position then we will be encouraging it. The fact is encouraging it can lead to sin. Let’s say I am on a business dinner with 2 women and consume a few adult beverages. I let my guard down and end up in a hotel engaging with in a threesome. Explain that one to the mans wife. Never lower the standard.

  5. Denise Stites

    God bless you Rob for leading our church with love! Certainly this needs to be addressed. It is a.problem to many people who have addictions and this complacency will not help those individuals. It is epidemic and claims lives. Lord help us all! Praying the right decision will be made. God is good to those who follow him and are xalled to his purpose.

  6. Robert Parker

    The CDC attributes 88,000 deaths per year to alcoholism and 300,000 to obesity.

    Moderation in diet to lessen such things as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and obesity will provide better results than censoring moderate social drinking. But we in the CON seldom want to make an issue of over eating or obesity.

    1. Steve Grove

      The second tragedy of Alcohol is the carnage on the roads – it is more than just a health issue in this sense. But yes, we do need to be encouraging healthy lifestyles (which includes both alcohol and diet/exercise).

    1. Douglas Myhre

      Who really knows the answer to that question? I don’t think it can be proven one way or the other whether the “wine,” Jesus drank was fermented. One thing that should be remembered is the area of sanitation in those days. The alcohol in the “fruit of the vine,” may have contained alcohol simply for sanitation and preservation purposes.

  7. Ronald E. Wilson

    It might be well to note that P. F. Bresee was as strongly against alcohol as he was dynamically promoting of Scriptural Holiness. In my travels I saw a mural on the wall of the Godfather’s Pizza in Stephens Point Wisconsin that depicted a “March” with banners against alcohol… and banners proclaiming “Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene”. Let’s hold steady to our teaching…Ronald E. Wilson….

  8. Bruce Nuffer

    I do not necessarily think we need to change our position on alcohol consumption, but we do need to address the hypocritical nature of the unbiblical things our denomination chooses to ignore (see Robert Parker’s comment above) and the non-biblical things our local churches endorse (nationalism), thus giving the impression they are equal to salvation. If we continue to ignore things like those while being opposed to alcohol, we have no credibility in the eyes of the world. If we choose not to address those things, then we should also not address the alcohol issue.

  9. Steve Grove

    Even if they allow social drinking, there has got to be a way to hold the standard to aim for as abstinence. Perhaps what is needed is a reworking of that part of the manual – aimed at the best practices of physical health (nonsmoking, non drinking, non sugaring, non etceteras balanced with do exercising, do whole foods, etc) and spiritual health, and emotional health. Then we would still have a voice about things like obesity, addictions, drinking, etc. To have the “thou shall not…” without the “Thou shall…” does an injustice to passages like Romans 5:11-14; Romans 12, etc. Almost every time you see a list of negative stuff, it has a list of positive actions/attitudes around it. And it is always predicated with a challenge of focusing on Christ. Just my nickel’s worth.

    1. Douglas Myhre

      Yes, I think that the issue of obesity in church members is a much more serious issue (that affects more people) than having an occasional glass of wine. However, I have never heard the issue of being over-weight addressed in the church. Everyone just “winks,” at the issue of obesity and offers grandma another piece of lemon meringue pie at the church potluck.

  10. Lane Loman

    We rarely hear sermons on “Worldliness!” For me, social drinking falls into that category. We are mandated to be separate from the world, and for me, personally, it is more a question of how can I live in this world and not be “of this world?” Thanks for addressing this timely issue.

  11. William Nielson

    “Where would the teetotaler members go?” With all the congregational options in this generation, as well as house churches, internet, television, small groups, Bible studies, etc, teetotalers would not have to attend a Church of the Nazarene. They may not leave the membership, but worship separately in small groups and serve God enthusiastically as opportunities to minister arise.

  12. Larry Strouse

    So the question arises. Do we follow the church and all their man dated rules or do we follow the God of the Church?

    1. Richard M

      Larry: EXACTLY!

      I’ve grown up in the Church of the Nazarene, attended a Nazarene University, and I’m still a member of the Church of the Nazarene, and the rules were all that were talked about growing up (no dancing, no drinking, no movies, etc., etc.) rather than teaching a holiness lifestyle. Where are the messages on today’s social ills that are literally destroying the family and the individual? There are none – believe me, none. Drinking?? I can’t even remember a message from the pulpit over the last 30+ years on substance abuse. Drinking??? Folks WAKE UP!

      Pay attention to what’s happening at the Nazarene Universities. Are you paying attention to what is being taught by professors at our universities. Have you seen the Twitter accounts of the senior ministers in the Nazarene churches across the U.S.? Have you seen the messages they are tweeting and sending out to the masses? They may not be promoting drinking but they are certainly promoting every other social ills AND perfectly o.k. with promoting and retweeting hate filled messages. I can’t even take any of the above messages serious in light of everything else going on in the church. Drinking… that’s going to get the old masses up off the pews?

      Save your angst. This “rule” will be voted out or watered down to appease the next generation of Nazarene members at the next General Assembly. The Church of the Nazarene lost its moral courage long ago.

    2. Dennis Passons

      Well said, Larry. My take is that we underestimate the work done and answers available in the “office” where the Holy Spirit resides. I know it is a simplistic approach to the issue being discussed but it’s sure worth a try. Just ask sincerely and often for His guidance. For this and any other issue of which you are faced. I don’t mean to be flippant about this but I can’t imagine God ignoring that kind of a request. I can imagine Him saying please step back and let me handle this for this new believer. I’m not a counselor, leader, nor trying to write rules for any denomination or organization nor do I wish to. I deal with a lot of issues but feel blessed that two of them are not alcohol nor obesity. But my answers needed also come from the same place…the office I spoke of not a manual, a couch, a prof, nor a pulpit. They only have an opinion.

  13. Mike Matthews

    Nearly 40 years ago I met a man called Jesus. This man made it clear that I was on the road to hell if I didn’t straighten up. By that I mean get sober and straight. Since night of December 15,1979 I have never even wanted any substance that would altar my mind. After 17 years just like that I was saved from my issues. Not only that I was healed.
    Immediately I made a decision to take myself away from all temptations. It was several years before I even tried to connect with particular friends. They were chosen 1. due to longevity of our friendship 2. I believed they would not judge either my sobriety or my salvation. 3. My desire to find out if any of the “buddies” I knew cared anything about sobriety and salvation. In fact 2 friends had received Christ into their lives though they weren’t connected to a body of believers.
    I share that because the alcohol issue and stand of the COTN. Throughout the years I have pastored I always had during the membership class specific teaching.
    But you say that because the Word does not prohibit the use of alcohol that should be an area explored because of the lack of prohibition. You also make the argument that many are drinking “socially” than we should consider allowing for that.
    I hear that what is suggested is to allow for personal choice.

    I have never seen a social drinker that hasn’t gotten drunk at least once. And not only my personal experience but observing family and friends at some time they”let their hair down”. I have also watched as someone who claimed to be a social drinker get drunk by choice or by chance.
    Abstinence of Alcohol should remain in our lives. The attitude of knowing of members that consume alcohol and not addressing it is paramount to saying go ahead you decide what sanctification looks like.
    As it has been said “if you don’t stand for something then you’ll not stand for anything”.
    Over the years I reconnected with my family but when the alcohol came out I came home.
    All the studies that give credence to moderate use of alcohol overlook destruction it has created within families and society as whole.
    All of that being said I would rather have the church’s arms wide open to affirm the addict that healing will come from the Lord. (Not the church) while continuing to stand for the current issue of abstinence.
    I recognize the original points are already happening. And that continued examining of all our beliefs is best.
    When my oldest brother invited me, a homeless,angry young man to the Christmas party of his home mission church he assured me that there would be drinking; there would be lots of food, a pool table and single women. Yes there was lots of food but it was placed on the pool table. I didn’t see many single women.
    Part of the evening was to be Communion. There was a loaf of unleavened bread and some cups with what looked like wine to me. I chose not to share in Communion simply because I already knew I was going to hell and if I participated than that sealed the deal. (I was raised Catholic). After that I discovered it wasn’t wine but grape juice. It was after that encounter the pastor and I talked until I knelt down and received the Lord. It was quite the Christmas party. I even met my wife there.
    I realize I’ve been rambling a little but my point we as a sanctified people should not cause anyone to stumble. Therefore allowing social drinking is not what I would expect. Nuff said.

  14. Nora

    I’m with you Rob. Alcoholism is genetic. Having an alcoholic Dad who was violent in speech and physically. No way I would want to go that route and I think it wrong thinking to ever start.

  15. Daniel Taylor

    First I do not see super, moderate drinking as necessarily as a sin. I am however saddened by this article. It seems difficult to argue for behavioral differences in the Church and world systems. People can’t handle being different. I think they are asking for a king.


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