Church brews are 'making a statement' Matthew Miller Lansing State Journal Once a month, Brett Maxwell gets together with a group of guys, or mostly guys, from his church to talk about God and beer. And, where the beer is concerned, it's not all talk. The church in question is Riverview Community Church in Holt. The group, one of the church's many ministries, is RiverBrew, a place where believers can come "to worship God through appreciation of his creation" and "to resume the Church's historical role as making the finest beer in town," as the group's Web site puts it. "The goal of it is really to be an entry point to the church," said Maxwell, a 23-year-old ministry leader at the church, a homebrewer and a fan, lately, of stouts and India pale ales. "It's intimidating for someone to walk into a church having never been there," he said. "But if a friend invites them to go hang out, have a brew or two, and hang out with some of the guys from church, that's a much less intimidating environment." The group, started in May, also serves "a secondary function of making a statement about what we believe the Bible says about alcohol consumption," he said. And what they believe, in a nutshell, is that drinking alcohol is OK, even something to be celebrated, but getting drunk is not. 'Culturally fluid' Riverview, a 2,100-member, non-denominational evangelical church, is generally theologically conservative. "We take strong stands where we see the Bible teaching on something," said Dan Price, one of the church's five pastors. But the church is also what Price called "culturally fluid." Service times have an "ish" after them. The music at services includes bluegrass and rock. Jeans and T-shirts are considered appropriate attire. "Where the Bible really isn't telling us what to do, we let freedom reign," he said. Culturally fluid or not, Price said, church leaders knew "some people's hackles would likely be raised" by a group so intimately associated with alcohol. But the church has ministry groups for archers, for runners, and for people who play strategy games, among many others. In the end, Price said, "we just saw this as another group where, instead of a bunch of guys sitting around wondering if people are going to ask about their feelings, they get to do something they'd enjoy doing anyway and also talk about Jesus." Which is more or less how it worked for Gary Rudnicki. "I'm not a big drinker," said the Holt man, who attends RiverBrew with his wife, Kim, "but the idea of making beer and doing it in a Christian atmosphere piqued my curiosity." He's enjoyed the conversations and, in moderation, the brews. "God put a lot of cool things on this earth," Rudnicki said. Rooted in history Early Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin didn't just tolerate alcohol, said the Rev. Jim West, author of "Drinking with Calvin and Luther!" "They reveled in it as a gift of God," he said. Luther "would talk about drinking wine and beer as imparting joy to the human heart," he said. Calvin said it was permissible to drink wine "to make us merry." And for centuries, he said, drinking was basically a non-issue in Protestant churches. In the United States, opposition to alcohol in Protestant churches didn't begin in earnest until the 1800s, growing up around the temperance and, later, prohibition movements. Still, many Protestants believe that drinking alcohol is a sin. David Garver, the pastor of Walker Bible Church in Lansing, is among them. "When it comes to alcohol, according to the word of God, a believer ought not touch it at all," said Garver, who refers to himself as "an independent fundamental King James Bible-believing Baptist." "That's just a fact." As for, say, Jesus turning water into wine during the wedding feast at Cana, Garver said the answer is simple: "The wine he made was not an alcoholic beverage." And, after checking through some notes, he rattled off a list of 10 reasons why that had to be the case, ranging from "The Lord Jesus did not come to cast a stumbling block before anyone," to "The Lord Jesus Christ would not have gotten glory from making drunk people drunker." Maxwell has a different reading of scripture. "Psalm 104, in particular, talks about it being a blessing. Isaiah 25 says essentially in heaven there will be a banquet and Jesus will be serving wine," he said, adding, though, that "the Bible is very clear that drunkenness is not the way God would have us live." Talking moderation Among other things, he said, RiverBrew is a place to talk about and model moderation. "One analogy we make often is, using the Bible as our authority, we see that there are a lot of people in our culture who don't use sex appropriately," he said. "And yet you don't find churches saying Christians should have no sex ever." There is a half-irreverent question hanging over an enterprise such as RiverBrew: What would Jesus drink? Maxwell, as it happened, had a less-than-irreverent answer. "I believe he would sit down with the people in the bar, and he would drink what they were drinking," he said, "and he would be happy to do that."