If you are a student at Cedarville, you know that the university resides in the historically dry town of Cedarville, OH. The university itself is also strongly anti-alcohol, arguing that consumption of alcohol is inconsistent with a Biblical lifestyle, even though Jesus drank wine and the Bible is filled with positive references to alcohol. In this article, our anonymous author discusses the practical, common sense issues with the policy, the detailed policy issues within the student handbook, and a Biblical review of the alcoholic prohibition instated at Cedarville.
The Practical Aspect
Cedarville’s policy on alcohol is simply another notch in the post of treating students like children rather than adults. According to the student handbook, “Nearly 70% of our undergraduates are under the legal drinking age. For these students, drinking is not only unwise, it is also illegal.” While this is undoubtedly true, the policy fails in two major areas.
The first is that prohibition does not equip students for the reality of the world after they leave the campus of Cedarville University. From 1920-1933, the United States unwittingly participated in a massive experiment into the idea of illegalizing alcohol of any kind. As we know from history, prohibition massively failed. Use of alcohol was simply pushed underground out of regulatory bounds and resulted in the creation of a black market.
The second problem is that Cedarville seems oblivious to the fact that the same thing has happened at Cedarville. There is no doubt in my mind that students who wish to drink will find a way to do so, just like students who struggle with sexual temptation will find a way to engage in such activities if that is truly the desire of their hearts.
The reality is this: laws cannot change hearts and minds. Cedarville’s prohibition of alcohol simply diversifies students’ tactics to engage in the habits they will inevitably choose to form. Alcohol certainly should not be allowed in dorms as this can be highly damaging to the academic environment and abuse of alcohol that affects studies or endangers other students should result in disciplinary action. But controlled and responsible use of alcohol—which Christians too often forget was how Jesus approached alcohol—should not be limited because it has the mere potential to be used irresponsibly. The only Biblical justification provided in the handbook is that it is listed as a “disputable matter” by Paul, which we will get into later.
The Policy Aspect
Cedarville justifies their policy by referencing the “Drug-free Schools and Communities Act,” which requires universities to provide, “Standards of conduct that clearly prohibit, at a minimum, the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol on school property or as part of any school activities for employees (Policy) or students (Code of Conduct)” and a statement of disciplinary actions associated with those violations. Cedarville goes far beyond regulations mandated in the DFSC Act by attempting to regulate the daily lives of their students whether on or off campus. “Students are not to attend clubs or bars where alcohol is the primary feature” and “Students are not permitted to attend parties where alcohol is being used in a manner that violates university standards.”
So, to be clear: Students may not eat at a brewery, alehouse, or pub even if they are just going to eat food because they can be dismissed from the University. Furthermore, students may be dismissed if they attend a party where alcohol is present, whether or not the student makes what the University would deem “wise choices” by avoiding drinking.
Any interaction with alcohol, innocent or not, “may result in dismissal.” So next time you see a bud light in a gas station…run for your life.
Then in a moment of disturbing—yet not uncommon—hypocrisy and contradiction, the next sentence reads, “All students are expected to live independently and are responsible for their own personal care.” Unless, apparently, you violate a non-Biblically based rule and are expelled from the University.
The Biblical Aspect
D.A. Carson engages in an enlightening discourse on the “disputable matters” Cedarville references in the student handbook. You can view it here. (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/on-disputable-matters/) While I do not agree with every aspect of Carson’s analysis, he does raise some key truths about “disputable matters.”
However, his ultimate conclusion is that Christians must make decisions based on whether they will be further sanctified. While this is a nice general principle, it is not full proof. For example, can we ever seriously argue that taking jet skis out on a lake or visiting Kings Island are a means of divine sanctification? 1 Corinthians 8:8 argues, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” Just like if we do a 270 double front flip on our jet ski, we are no better or worse off.
Unfortunately, 1 Corinthians 8 is the famous and ever-taken-out-of-context passage used by Christians to justify substituting their convictions for Biblical truths. D.A. Carson, writing for what is arguably Cedarville’s favorite theology blog The Gospel Coalition, writes, “one should not confuse the logic of 1 Corinthians 8 with the stance that finds a strong legalist saying to a believer who thinks that eating meat offered to idols is acceptable, ‘You may think that such action is legitimate, but every time you do it you are offending me—and since you are not permitted to offend me, therefore you must not engage in that activity.’”
In other words, there is a difference between going out to drink with a friend who is an alcoholic and drinking in front of someone who is just offended by it. The difference is, God cares about the first and does not care about the second.
D.A. Carson outlines ten items that can be used to determine what constitutes a theologically disputable matter—which Cedarville claims includes use of alcohol. There are a couple I’d like to flesh out. First, he writes that something that can be disputed does not make it a theologically disputed doctrine. Drinking alcohol is certainly disputed between Christians with different opinions on it, but it is not a disputed doctrine. Rather, Carson rightly points out that dispute only relates to doctrines concretely repeated throughout scripture. Alcohol use is not repeatedly rebuked in scripture. In fact, Amos 9:14 says, “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.”
Amos’ prophecy describes the restoration of God’s people as involving drinking wine. Hey Amos, you’ve got a very urgent meeting with Dr. Wood tomorrow. I’d go ahead and start packing.
1 Corinthians 9:4 says, “Do we not have the right to eat and drink?” Paul goes on to argue that we should not do so if it would cause a stumbling block to other believers.
Christians not overtaken by an archaic dislike of alcohol from the 1920s can read this passage and apply it to Cedarville in this way: Students should not drink with students who are not legally allowed to do so and students should not drink too much alcohol, thereby maintaining self-control over their bodies. Believers should also take 1 Corinthians 8-10 to heart and be sensitive to the struggles of our fellow believers. We should not drink alcohol around underage students or those who struggle with alcoholism. Just as with eating food offered to idols, as Paul discusses, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with alcohol consumption. The problems arise when we disregard our fellow believers who are of weaker conscience. But God does not write off enjoying anything unless it is harmful to our bodies or hurts others, neither of which are true about alcohol. Cedarville ought to take this Biblical message to heart and change their policies to allow responsible use of alcohol. Unfortunately, that will probably never happen for one simple reason: Cedarville is so concerned with their image that they are more willing to treat their students like children than follow actual Biblical principles.
The administration should be an example of leadership by listening to its student body, a large portion of which would support the change to the student handbook. Cedarville’s policy on alcohol is not founded in fact, policy, or Biblical principle. Cedarville would be served well to move on from archaic legalistic principles of the past towards being an example of grace and freedom in Christ.
NOTE: This is not a comprehensive argument for changing the alcohol policy at Cedarville and more articles will likely be posted in relation to this subject to review Biblical principles in depth. Additionally, using any source (such as D.A. Carson) does not equate to belief in everything they believe or agreement with any or all of their actions. Furthermore, the views expressed in this article certainly do not represent those of Cedarville University. Articles are submitted and written anonymously in order to protect the identities of students and non-students alike who could face backlash or punishment for expressing their viewpoints that differ in any way from Cedarville University.