Will the church’s response to marijuana follow the same path as its response to wine and alcohol?

One area where the church has always struggled is in distinguishing between what the Bible clearly forbids or affirms, and what it leaves to the discernment of the believer’s conscience. Too often the discussion from both sides is overly simplistic: “I can’t believe a Christian would do THAT!” vs. “Show me where in the Bible it says not to do it!” With the recently passed marijuana legislation in Canada, Christians need to give more thought to these issues.

A recent survey on alcohol consumption showed that among evangelical Christians almost half drink alcohol while a slim majority abstain. The Southern Baptist Convention is probably the largest and most prominent denomination to have expressed total opposition to the sale and consumption of alcohol and required all trustees and committee members to completely abstain. The first statement in their resolution, and the only one referencing Scripture, is telling. It says that “Years of research confirm biblical warnings that alcohol use leads to physical, mental, and emotional damage (e.g., Proverbs 23:29-35).” While there may be lots of studies that show that alcohol “abuse” leads to physical, mental, and emotional damage, I’m not sure there are years of research that indicate that responsible alcohol consumption, as was certainly practiced by Jesus and the disciples, leads to such dire consequences.

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It would seem that Scripture makes the distinction between the use and abuse of alcohol. Cautious use of alcohol would seem to be allowed by the example of Jesus and the disciples (e.g. Luke 7:33-34, Mark 14:23) and the many positive references to wine (e.g. Psalm 104:14-15, Deuteronomy 14:26, Isaiah 25:6). But warnings against drunkenness abound! In the Bible, drunkenness is clearly forbidden (e.g. Ephesians 5:18, 1 Peter 4:3, Romans 13:13, Galatians 5:19-21) and there are certain people for whom abstaining was commanded (e.g. Nazarites: Numbers 6:2-3 and kings: Proverbs 31:4).

Just because alcohol consumption is allowed in Scripture, it doesn’t mean it commends it. As Paul said, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 10:23). A Christian who chooses to drink today needs to consider the impact of their example on others. Almost 1 in 5 Canadians aged 12 and older are considered by Stats Canada as “heavy drinkers” and alcohol addiction is a global phenomenon. It’s also worth remembering that modern fermentation has resulted in much stronger wines today (11.5 to 15% ABV) than was possible in biblical times (4 to 10% ABV). Caution, context and influence on those around us should all be taken into account.

Where does all of this leave us in considering marijuana? First of all, the simplistic arguments used for and against alcohol use are not helpful. The Bible doesn’t address marijuana per se, because it wasn’t an option in the ancient near eastern world. But that doesn’t solve anything. The fact is that the goal of “recreational cannabis use” is to get high. Nobody smokes marijuana, because they just like the taste of it. In this sense, it’s important to see how different marijuana is from wine and how its use inevitably and necessarily leads to the symptoms of drunkenness that the Bible expressly forbids, including dizziness, memory loss, impaired judgment, and mood swings. Recreational marijuana use is not a grey area.

The medical use of marijuana under the direction of a physician needs to be treated in a separate category. Even Canadian churches who have adopted clear guidelines against recreational use have made this distinction. While more time may be needed to assess the benefits and dangers, and many will likely refrain for conscience sake, the medicinal use of marijuana is, in some sense, similar to the use of most medications that relieve pain. As Randy Alcorn concluded, most of these medications “reduce awareness and are potentially addictive, but can still be used wisely and moderately.” Others will no doubt disagree, but Christians should be free to discuss these issues without judgment or misunderstanding.

Have you thought through your attitude toward wine, weed and Christian freedom? If you haven’t, take some time to read through the Scriptures and links I’ve shared above. It’s only a matter of time before marijuana use impacts us or someone we love. Let’s be prepared before that happens.

In awe of Him,