The Lutheran tradition is one of the most prominent branches of the Christian faith. People often wonder about what Lutherans can do and what they can’t do in relation to different behaviors that the tradition allows. Drinking alcohol is controversial in some Christian traditions, but what about Lutheranism?
Lutherans have the freedom to drink alcohol, though they are encouraged to be wise in their consumption of it in social settings. Drunkenness is a sin, so moderation is important. Many Lutherans drink light-colored wine at the Lord’s Supper, but churches provide non-alcoholic alternatives, like juice, as well.
Why do Lutherans believe it’s permissible to drink alcohol? Are there times that choose not to drink it? What percentage of Lutherans drink alcohol compared to other Christian traditions? Keep reading to learn more.
Alcohol in the Lutheran tradition
The Lutheran tradition doesn’t universally forbid the consumption of alcohol because the Bible doesn’t. Certain people shouldn’t drink like former alcoholics and pregnant women. Christians should avoid alcohol in certain social settings as well (see below), according to Lutheran teaching.
Drunkenness is wrong: Lutheranism sets up boundaries around drinking according to the Bible’s instructions. According to Lutheran teaching, drunkenness is sinful. It leads to a lack of self-control and other sinful behaviors. It can also potentially endanger people’s lives. The Lutheran conviction about drunkenness comes from the biblical teaching on the topic. For example,
- Ephesians 5:8, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” (ESV)
- Galatians 5:21, “Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (ESV)
Wine is sometimes a picture of blessing: In other Bible passages, wine is a picture of peaceful living, the Lord’s favor, and a land full of natural resources. Some Lutherans argue that the wine in Bible times was less potent. Yet others point out that Jesus seems to have made strong wine at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:10). Example verses include,
- Isaiah 25:6, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” (ESV)
- Amos 9:14, “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.” (ESV)
- John 2:9-10, “the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine… Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (ESV)
Cautions about drinking: Responsible Lutherans understand the potential dangers of drinking alcohol and why the Bible forbids drunkenness. Alcohol can lead to addiction, poor decision-making, and be inappropriately used to self-medicate serious emotional challenges. The Lutheran tradition isn’t naïve to these realities and doesn’t encourage drinking despite them. (Also see Here’s What Baptists Believe About Drinking Alcohol)
Cautions about legalism: Lutheran teaching also doesn’t want to impose on people rules that the Bible doesn’t. Legalism is just as much a threat to the Gospel as other kinds of false teaching. Avoiding legalism isn’t a license for every Christian to drink, according to Lutheran teaching. A person’s freedom in Christ (Gal. 5:1) can be the basis for drinking or abstaining. (Also see Do Lutherans Celebrate Lent?)
Reasons why some Lutherans don’t drink
Even though many Lutherans don’t believe that drinking alcohol is always sinful, there are certain social situations that call for abstaining. The motivation for not drinking in such settings is loving people in a way that considers their weaknesses and sensitivities.
- Social sensitivity: A Lutheran may choose to not drink alcohol when they are around others that don’t drink it. In these situations, it’s more important to love the person they are with than exercise their freedom to drink alcohol.
- Ministry: Many ministers choose not to consume alcohol because they believe it’s the wisest way to shepherd a congregation. In any given congregation, it’s possible that there are multiple views on drinking alcohol, so a minister may choose for the most conservative option. (Also see Do Lutheran Churches Have Priests?)
- Family history: Some Lutherans may not drink alcohol, not because they believe it’s sinful, but because a parent had an addiction to it, making them more susceptible to such a problem. A history of addiction and drunkenness is a wise reason to use one’s freedom in Christ to abstain from alcohol use without it being legalistic.
- Don’t like the taste: Some Lutherans may not care for the taste of alcohol. They may not like the strength of the drink or how it makes them feel. They don’t abstain for theological reasons, but for practical ones.
It’s important to mention that some Lutherans, though a minority of them (see below), think drinking alcohol under any circumstances is wrong. (Also see What’s the Most Conservative Lutheran Synod?)
Do Lutherans drink more alcohol than other Christians?
A recent study found that Lutherans drink more alcohol than other Protestant Christians in America.  The survey reported that,
- 75% of Lutherans drink alcohol
- 62% of Methodists drink alcohol
- 43% of non-denominational Protestants drink alcohol
- 33% of Baptists drink alcohol
- 23% of Assemblies of God drink alcohol
The study also found that 59% of Protestants don’t drink alcohol, while 41% do. Interestingly, the results also showed that the majority of Protestants believe they can drink alcohol moderately and with wisdom, but choose to abstain. In fact, less that a quarter of those surveyed believe drinking is always wrong,
- 23% strongly agreed that “people should never drink alcohol”
- 54% said drinking alcohol is “an act of biblical liberty”; 68% of Lutherans agreed with this statement
- 55% said alcohol “can be consumed without sin”
- 72% somewhat or strongly disagreed with the same statement
Prohibition: Some branches of Protestantism, like the Baptist tradition, significantly participated in the Prohibition movement in the United States (1920-1933), which banned the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Lutheran churches could be found on both sides in the Prohibition era. Scandinavian Lutherans tended to support Prohibition, while German Lutherans were opposed to it. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) maintained their stance of moderation even when most mainline denominations supported the movement against alcohol. 
LCMS on alcohol: The LCMS branch of the Lutheran is tradition is one of the most conservative. The denomination aligns with conservative evangelical Christianity in the U.S. and has a high view of Scripture. (Also see Lutheran Bible vs Catholic Bible: What’s the Difference?)
The LCMS maintains their stance for moderation still today. A question on their website asks, “What is the LCMS’ stance on the consumption of alcohol?” The answer given is,
“The Bible nowhere condemns the proper and responsible use (consumption) of alcoholic beverages, and neither does The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Scripture does warn strongly and repeatedly against the abuse, misuse or excessive use of alcoholic beverages, and the LCMS has also repeatedly warned against such dangers.” 
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