Tag Archives: drinking

On Alcohol: Honor your Maker.

If you’re just joining us…

The last few weeks we’ve been talking about alcohol. First, we looked at the three most popular Christian beliefs about alcohol in America today. I explained why I think all those views ultimately fail to be biblically faithful. Then, we looked at the 4 types of Bible verses that any biblical theology of alcohol has to satisfy (aka “the gauntlet”). Finally, we made the distinction between “getting drunk” and “being drunken.” It’s been really fun for me to finally express these thoughts and I hope they’ve challenged you to rethink your beliefs about alcoholic consumption.

My 4th View

Without further ado, and in light of all that, I’d like to propose a 4th view: “wisely exercise your liberty in faith for God’s glory.”

I’ll break that down into chunks. First, wisdom determines when, where, and how much you drink. When I said that drinking is acceptable under certain conditions I meant exactly that. I think, especially in our American culture, Christians need to be extremely careful how we treat alcohol because we have created a self-imposed standard of sobriety. Like it or not, we need to play by the rules of our culture in the same way a missionary would respect the rules of his culture. Therefore, if having too many drinks negatively affects our witness to the world around us, then we need to abstain for God’s glory. Wisdom is tricky, because sometimes we’re faced with decisions where there isn’t a clear-cut right or wrong. For example, is it sinful to eat at McDonald’s every day? Maybe, but maybe not. However, is it wise to eat at McDonald’s everyday? Similarly, is it wise to have a drink in your specific situation?

Second, faith is essential to how you engage alcohol. In Romans 14:23, Paul is addressing the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols and he says “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” I think it’s pretty easy to carry this same standard over to alcohol. Whoever has doubts is condemned if he drinks, because the drinking is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul is addressing the same issue of food and he’s warning Timothy that some people will “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). Marriage is good; the problem is in the heart of the recipient. Food is good; the problem is in the heart of the recipient. Paul continues by saying that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim 4:4). Can you have a drink with a clear conscience, or do you feel as though you would be stepping over limits that God has established for you?

Finally, our entire lives should be devoted to God’s glory. For example, we’re instructed to be “alert and self-controlled” (1 Thess. 5:8) and over-exercising our ‘freedoms’ can quickly interfere with that calling. Titus 3:1 tells us to “be ready for every good work” and an idolatrous preoccupation with alcohol will prevent you from honoring that call. There are dozens of other verses (many of which have nothing to do specifically with alcohol) that call us to be wise, intentional, live quiet lives, etc. As Paul stated, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. (1 Cor. 9:19)” What deliberate, intentional limits have you set upon yourself (if any?) in order to glorify God?

The focus of our lives shouldn’t be using our freedom to the maximum extent possible. That mentality leads to the question “How close can I get to sin?” For example, that would lead me to ask “How much can I drink?” That’s kinda like asking “How fast can I drive South but still be headed North?” It doesn’t make sense! Either you’re seeking to honor God, or you’re not. The focus of our lives should be honoring God and reaching out to those around us. That mentality leads to the question “How can I wisely use my freedoms to glorify God?”

The friend who sent me the message that sparked this blog series is a very godly man and a dear friend. We met in 2010 while we were deployed and became very close friends almost overnight. During our deployment he abstained from all alcohol for the sake of his testimony. His co-workers knew the pre-Christian, drunkard that he used to be, so he showed them the difference that God had made in his life. He wisely used his freedom for God’s glory. I urge you, if alcohol abuse is part of your past, then sobriety should be part of your present; not out of a sense of legalism, but because of the power and credibility it gives your testimony. Not because getting drunk is a sin, but because being sober is a chance to witness to those around you.

An Exception

I’ll also add that underage drinking is a sin. Providing alcohol to a minor is a sin. Why? Because it is a violation of the law of the land and Christians are commanded to obey the law. Romans 13:1-2 is abundantly clear on this issue:

1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

In Conclusion

So, can a Christian drink alcohol? Yes. Should a Christian drink alcohol? It depends; how can you best honor God in any given situation? Would having a drink be a wise decision? Can you have a drink with a clear conscience? Does a beer make your witness less credible or does it make you more approachable? In Portland, I anticipate there may be times when having a beer might make plenty of sense because it makes me more relatable; it gives me a chance to get to know people in the hopes of sharing the Gospel with them. In East Tennessee (where I grew up), I don’t think it would be as wise, because so many people assume that Christians shouldn’t drink ever under any circumstances.

One possible objection to this stance could be something along the lines of this: “You can’t possibly believe or teach other people that getting drunk is permissible.” I would simply reply that perhaps we should start treating people like adults and point you to Colossians 2:16. Perhaps it’s time to start pushing people towards making wise decisions and living according to a set of values, instead of trying to force rules upon them that don’t always work in every situation. Instead of forcing man-made rules upon people, point them towards the beauty and joy of honoring God with their lives. Christ has set us free (John 8:36, Galatians 5:1). But we should be sobered by the realization that our freedom is meant to glorify God, not satisfy the flesh.

Another possible response to this would be something along the lines of “heck yeah, I’m going to celebrate with a kegger!” If that’s you, then you’ve missed the entire point. Remember, the point of our freedom is to honor God, not serve ourselves.

So what do you think? Am I totally off base or does this make more sense than some of the other ‘rules’ floating around? I feel like this works in all situations; which is part of the beauty of Biblical wisdom. I hope that this view has challenged you to rethink your take on alcohol and, ultimately, increases your freedom to serve, honor, and glorify God.

On Alcohol: Some Helpful Distinctions

Last week, we looked at the three most prevalent views that American Christians seem to believe about alcohol. We also explored the flaws with all three of those views and I promised to propose a 4th view that I think is more biblical. But before I do that, I want to take some time to make sure we’re on the same page by making some helpful distinctions.

The Gauntlet

First, any satisfactory view on alcohol has to be reconcilable with at least four different types of Bible verses (you may be able to think of more, if so please comment and let me know). I’ve nicknamed this group “the gauntlet.”

  1. There are verses like Proverbs 20:1 or Proverbs 21:17 that are very clearly against drunkards and those who idolize alcohol.
  2. But then you’ve got verses like Song of Solomon 8:2 or 1 Kings 4:20, which very clearly permit (and maybe even encourage?) alcoholic consumption during times of celebration.
  3. Next you find verses like 1 Timothy 5:23, which actually instruct the usage of alcohol (at least in small amounts). As far as I can surmise, these verses are extremely rare and the only other one I know of right now is Ecclesiastes 9:7.
  4. But, the most challenging for any view to incorporate is the account of Jesus’ first miracle in John 2:1-10. He essentially gave 120-180 gallons of wine to people who had already had “too much to drink” for them to be able to tell the difference between good wine and bad wine. In other words, Jesus gave more wine to people who were already drunk! He did this in a house in a small village in the middle of the desert. I’m going to guess there were, at most, 100 adults in the crowd (this is just a guess, but even if there were 500 that’s about 40 ounces of wine per adult). And, by the way, Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15), so the burden of understanding how Jesus’ actions were not sinful rests on us.

Hear me clearly: no view is complete until it addresses all four of these different types of verses/passages. A failure for any “rule” to be flexible enough to apply to all four of these passages should cause us to reject it.

Getting Drunk vs. Being Drunken

Second, I think a distinction needs to be made between “getting drunk” and “drunkenness.” Food is the perfect example: there’s a huge difference between “feasting” and “gluttony.” We all feast on Thanksgiving, but if we were to follow an endless pattern of gluttony (i.e. Thanksgiving dinner for every dinner), we would soon find ourselves morbidly obese with a host of health problems. In the same way, I believe that occasional drinking (even to the degree of being drunk) is acceptable under certain conditions but a continual lifestyle of drunkenness is sinful.

The difference is essentially this: are you adding alcohol to something or are you going to alcohol for something? Is it a spice added to a celebration or is it an obsession that provides comfort? There’s a huge difference between those two mentalities, but few people I know have actually taken the time to consider such a possibility. We just assume that all forms of alcoholic consumption are the same, but they’re not. One is merry-making; the other is idol-making.

Why the hair-splitting?

The reason I make this distinction is because Jesus forces me to. As I mentioned earlier, the greatest challenge to any theology of alcohol is the miracle of Jesus turning water to wine. The way I understand this part of the Gospel is that Jesus was at a celebration in a culture that did not have the weird views on alcohol that we do. They were all celebrating (thus adding alcohol to something) and no one there had a troubled conscience by the drinking. Thus, I feel it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that an occasional indulgence is actually permissible, whereas a lifestyle of drunkenness is sinful.

Now, please don’t take this where I’m not taking it! I never said that a binge is a wise idea, nor do I plan on it. Also, I don’t honestly think anyone who is trying to honor God is going to take the drinking of alcohol that far. But, how else do you describe 150 gallons as the refill at a wedding?! So, now that we’ve laid down the gauntlet and made a few distinctions, I’m ready to propose my view on alcohol…next week!

On Alcohol: Modern Views & Their Flaws

In case you haven’t been a Christian long, let me let you in on a little secret: there’s a lot of disagreement over whether or not Christians can or even should drink alcohol. In fact, if you ask 4 Christians about alcohol, you’re likely to get 5 opinions! Recently a dear friend contacted me to share a 37-page PDF that contained every Bible verse relating to alcohol. It’s the fruit of a year of reading the Bible and he’s just now beginning to study the topic in depth! He asked me and another friend of his if we had any thoughts on the issue so here’s what I told him. I hope that you’ll read this with an open mind and let me know what you think of it.

Regarding the use/consumption of alcohol, the way I see it, there are essentially three stances in modern American Evangelicalism:

  1. All forms of alcoholic consumption are evil.
  2. Light moderation is acceptable, but getting drunk is a sin.
  3. My “Christian freedom” lets me do whatever I want, therefore all things are permissible.

I think all three are flawed and I’ll critique each in turn.

  1. All forms of alcoholic consumption are evil. This view is flawed because, as far as I’ve been able to discern, it’s rooted in 19th & 20th century prohibition-ism and is directly contradicted by the Bible. I’m going to assume we all agree with this, are aware of 1 Tim 5:23 and other similar verses, and can move on. (Truth be told, I don’t know how anyone actually defends this stance biblically, although there are plenty of places online where they try.)
  2. Light moderation is acceptable, but getting drunk is a sin. While this view might be the most prevalent today, I think it is actually more restrictive than the Bible and, for that reason I’m hesitant to adopt this rule. We should never try to be “more biblical than Jesus.” I’ll explain why I believe this in a future post, but first…
  3. My “Christian freedom” lets me do whatever I want, therefore all things are permissible. While it is true that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1), he did this so  that we would not fall back into slavery. I think everyone has seen too much “liberty” taken by far too many Christians, especially the doubting world. We all probably know at least one guy (read: young, restless and reformed) who drinks, smokes, and cusses…all in the name of ‘Christian liberty.’ Meanwhile, he has ambitions to go to seminary or to lead in some form of ministry in the future. Personally, when it comes to guys like this, I don’t think his conduct is above reproach (1Tim 3:2). I don’t think he is living in a wise, intentional way that honors God (Eph. 5:16). Nor do I think he cares that he is being a stumbling block to many of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Rom. 14:13, 1 Cor. 8:9). In the end, I think, when it comes to a guy like this, his testimony is tarnished and he is robbed of his credibility because he’s too busy having a good, carnal time. I think John MacArthur said it best: “one cannot be genuinely “Reformed” and deliberately worldly at the same time. The two things are inconsistent and incompatible.” Ironically, I believe guys like this are slaves to their freedoms.

As far as I can tell, those are the three predominant views that most modern Christians subscribe to. If you can think of any others that don’t fall into those three categories, please let me know. Of course, I’ll be writing more on this topic, so very soon you’ll see a 4th view!