Alcohol and the Christian

Imagine a group of Christians from a variety of denominations together for a nice dinner, when the waiter brings over a bottle of wine and the wine list?  Depending on the group, it could be an awkward moment.  Alcohol is a touchy subject in the Church, at least in the American Church.

CNN has reported the findings of the National Association of Evangelicals' top leaders.  The article, "Most U.S. evangelical leaders don't drink, survey finds" posted by Richard Allen Greene, found that of the top leaders of the NAE's members, sixty percent choose not to drink.  I don't think we should find this number surprising.  And we need to understand that the reasons vary but do not (and should not) include the idea that alcohol consumption in-and-of-itself is a sin.

Below are three arguments why Christians choose not to drink.  The first being absurd, and the other two being somewhat more common.  Right upfront, I'll say that I believe this is a personal matter of voluntarily restricting our own freedom in Christ, but in no way should be a legalistic rule placed involuntarily upon others.  (It needs to be said that "freedom in Christ" is NOT the freedom to do what ever hedonistic, glutinous thing one wishes, on this I must be clear).  I also hold that the Bible clearly teaches that drunkenness (over consumption) is a sin. And, I'd like to say for those who struggle with this temptation or are enslaved to alcohol in anyway, alcohol is not for you.

The Extreme Arguments. There are three arguments I commonly hear about the prohibition of drinking.  The first comes in a variety-pack, but all of the flavors fall into the same category of extreme.  The extreme arguments use poor exegesis to claim drinking is an outright sin.  These arguments usually are very selective in which Scriptures they seek for support.  They also seem to overlook many Scriptures that show evidence of drinking that wasn't condemned as a sin.  Wine was used in the drink offering of the Old Testament.  Jesus and his disciples seem to have drank alcoholic beverages, namely, wine.  There were many Godly men with wine presses.  Parables of wineskins bursting likely would have required the gas of fermentation.  And Jesus uses wine to symbolize his shed blood and new covenant in the Lord's Supper.  But I also must say, while the Bible does not outright prohibit drinking, it does offer many stern warnings about drunkenness.  Often, wine is the symbol of God's wrath.  And the Bible cautions that wine and alcohol can, like money, be a source of real temptation and disaster.  I'll say it again: for those who struggle with this temptation or are enslaved to alcohol in anyway, alcohol is not for you.

Now, even though the Bible does not prohibit drinking, there are two arguments that are reasonable so long as they are not pushed to the extreme of legalism. 

Don't Cause Others to Stumble. The first argument is the Romans 14, "do not cause anyone to stumble" position.  This argument follows in line with Paul's teaching.  He instructs that there is no unclean food, but there will be some around us that still see some foods as unclean.  He goes on to say, "Do not for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.  Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.  It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble" (Romans 14:20-21, ESV).  The most obvious application to this Text is don't drink around an alcoholic!  But there is so much more to this.  A pastor may choose not to drink to prevent the immature from using him as an example specifically to drink.  Or the pastor may choose not to drink because he leads a flock of older, traditional believers who might greatly struggle with their pastor drinking.  Or he may drink only among select and trusted friends that share his view and beliefs and he knows are not going to stumble because of his dietary choices.  Or in a place like Utah, a pastor may choose not to drink coffee when he meets with Mormons.  The key here is that while the pastor has freedom in Christ, he voluntarily chooses to restrict one or more freedom--as he sees best fit--in an effort to prevent people from stumbling.  This is a valid, Biblical argument that all Christians should live by; and it includes food, drink, and actions.  Where this argument goes wrong is when it becomes a hard rule of "no drinking," pressed upon all people. The beauty of the passage is that Paul can freely choose to restrict his freedom in Christ and pick it up again in different circumstances; therefore, this opportunity should be extended to all who have this freedom.

Playing with Fire.  The other argument I hear (although not as credible as the position just discussed) is the "playing with fire" argument. This argument says that because alcohol could potentially get out of hand and become an addiction, it is best just to avoid it all together.  I'm not sure the reasoning is great.  The same could be true of money, but pastors still have and use money.  However, with the heavy stress placed upon pastor, and the increased attacks of Satan's army, it's reasonable that a pastor would willingly limit is freedom in Christ for his own sake.  There are many denominations the require complete sobriety of their pastors for this very reason.  The down side to the argument is that many fall into the idea that a restriction should be placed on everybody and that those who drink even a little are somehow sinning or unholy because they are flirting with a greater potential.

This is a controversial issue within the Church, even causing church splits and inter-denominational fighting.  But it does not have to be this ugly when we remember what the Bible teaches on the matter. 

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