My last post on wine in church reminded me that the source of all this frustration is the stupid Prohibition movement which still leaves its mark on American churches in the form of grape juice. Many of these movements stemmed from the crusading fervor of heretics such as Charles Finney. I call him scary both for his beliefs and his personal appearance [see below].
Finney’s heresies are ably outlined by Michael Horton here. Essentially, he taught a form of Christian perfectionism that meant not only that you *can* be free from sin prior to death [not possible] , but that you *must* be like this in order to be saved! Horton quotes him:
… full present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed … But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.
You cannot be justified while any degree of sin remains in you! Christ cleaned the slate and now it’s up to you to get it done! I grew up in a church that held this man up as a hero and it plagued many years of my life with thinking that I didn’t measure up because I kept sinning. It is a theology that warps and destroys souls. If you want to see the extreme, cultish version of where it leads [including free love], read The Kingdom of Matthias. Finney -> Matthias -> Sojurner Truth, the 1800’s creep me out.
But out of all this perfectionist fervor came Prohibition, amongst other weird things like Quaker Oats and Graham Crackers. Graham was another perfectionist with bizarre dietary theories that are probably right at home with our modern practitioners of magnets and needles. Susan Cayleff writes in Wash and Be Healed, “Graham admonished his listeners against culinary gluttony, believe that the stomach was the center of the system, and advocated the use of only whole grain bread, unbolted. This belief eventually produced the “graham cracker,” which was a dietary mainstay in hygenic households.”
The Wikipedia entry on Graham says, “Graham was also inspired by the temperance movement and preached that a vegetarian diet was a cure for alcoholism, and, more importantly,sexual urges. The main thrust of his teachings was to curb lust. While alcohol had useful medicinal qualities, it should never be abused by social drinking. For Graham, an unhealthy diet stimulated excessive sexual desire which irritated the body and caused disease. While Graham developed a significant following known as Grahamites, he was also ridiculed by the media and the public for his unwavering zealotry. According to newspaper records, many women fainted at his lectures when he aired opinions both on sexual relations and the wearing of corsets…In 1850 he helped found the American Vegetarian Society modeled on a similar organization established in Great Britain.”
Vegetarianism, socialism, sinless perfectionism, prohibition, it’s all there. These folks figured that your diet produced sinful lust in you, so it must be regulated. Alcohol was evil, so it must be eliminated. They placed the source of sin in the object outside of you, rather than your own failure of self-control. Due to these fine folks, most churches today disobey Jesus and use grape juice in Communion.