I was having lunch with my boss the other day and she asked me straight up – why is it that Mormons don’t drink. Jesus drank. It says so in the Bible.
The reality is that she is absolutely correct. Jesus’ first miracle in the New Testament was to turn water into wine at a marriage feast. So if Jesus thought it was okay to drink wine is his day, then why do the Mormons, who profess to be the restored church of Jesus Christ on the earth today, teach that it is not okay to drink alcohol?
My answer is that is has nothing whatsoever to do with any teaching that is found in the Bible. This strictly came as guidance for us in this day in age.
I recently heard one of our church leaders – Richard G. Scott – speak at our Stake Conference and he quoted “if these people will show that they love me, then I will bless them by giving them more commandments.” If anyone knows where this quote came from, then please let me know. Nevertheless, the “Word of Wisdom” is an example of this principle. Commandments are given to us as we humble ourselves and submit ourselves to his will. He gives us commandments to bless us and enrich our lives.
Surprisingly, the commandment to not smoke or drink was not originally given as a commandment, it was given as a guideline – as a “Word of Wisdom”. It is found in the Doctrine and Covenants in Section 89 dated February 27, 1833. The first 8 verses of the revelation are given as follows:
1. A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and of the church, and also the saints in Zion –
2. To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days–
3. Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.
4. Behold verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation –
5. That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.
6. And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.
7. And again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
8. And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.
There were actually events that led up to Joseph Smith receiving this revelation. Joseph Smith use to conduct training sessions to the other church leaders in a setting known as the School of the Prophets. This first School of the Prophets took place in a small room situated over Joseph Smiths’ kitchen in a house which belonged to Newel K. Whitney. Brigham Young described the setting as follows:
When they [the brethren] assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions, he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry.
In the early days of the church, any person serving in leadership positions were required to comply with the Word of Wisdom. In 1913, Joseph F. Smith – the existing prophet and nephew of Joseph Smith – wrote: “The reason undoubtedly why the Word of Wisdom was given – as not by commandment or restraint was that at the time, at least if it had been given as a commandment, it would have brought every man addicted to the use of these noxious things under condemnation; so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome, before he brought them under the law.” A few years later in the early 20th century, when Heber J. Grant was the living prophet, this law was made binding on all of the members of the church. Today, if you desire to have the privilege of entering the temple or to participate in Priesthood ordinances, you must be complying with the Word of Wisdom.
Of course there are many members of the church who do drink alcohol and smoke tobacco (or other items as well). Often, those who are caught in this snare of addiction stop attending church because they feel unworthy or inadequate. However, the church does not discourage them from attending. We very much want to see them at the place of worship. They are, however, requested not to partake of the sacrament.
Personally, my heart saddens when I hear of people who cease their activities in the church because they feel unworthy. I believe that our Heavenly Father gives all of us weaknesses. Part of our challenge in life is to overcome our weaknesses and gain self control over the body. I do have my weaknesses which have posed great challenges of worthiness to myself. However, for me, the Word of Wisdom has not been one of them.
I grew up as a member of the church. From the time I was young, I was taught not to smoke, drink alcohol, drink coffee, drink tea, or to take illegal and harmful drugs. I fortunately listened to my parents as they taught this to me. I have never in my life drank an alcoholic beverage, smoked nor chewed on tobacco, nor drank a cup of coffee or tea. And because I have never partaken them, I do not know firsthand the effects that they would have on me. It is quite possible that if I had a beer, I would really like the way it felt. But since I do not know what I am missing, it is not a temptation. That does make it a lot easier for me.
I have a good friend from work who really struggles with an alcohol addiction. He knows that drinking not only has harmful health effects, he also knows that his actions when drinking are not desirable. He is much more easily irritated and tends to fight with his girlfriend – especially when she has been drinking as well.
I have an uncle who was an alcoholic. The alcohol destroyed his life. It led to divorce. It affected his work. His health declined. He eventually died a bitter drunk man.