Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Christians and Booze: “Life in the spirits” Part Two

While a Christian is free to drink alcoholic beverages, an option is abstinence, refraining from drinking alcoholic beverages altogether. This may be a long-term or short-term practice. There are several good reasons to abstain from alcohol. The first is to consider the thoughts and feelings of others. In the early church, drunkenness was associated with pagan religion. When people became Christians and converted from paganism, they needed to break from this lifestyle, particularly, from debauchery—excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures. However, there were other Christians, probably Jewish Christians, who did not have this background, and would exercise their liberty to drink wine in front of converts from paganism. What resulted was that the Gentile converts were deeply offended and grieved. So, in Romans 14:13 Paul says:

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. (NIV)

Later in this passage, he gives specific principles about drinking wine.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. Romans 14:19-21

While a Christian may have the liberty, maturity and self-discipline, he or she may choose not to exercise this liberty for the sake of another brother or sister who cannot handle it. Besides other Christians, Paul asks us to consider even the thoughts of not-yet-Christians.

 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Cor. 10:31-33 (NIV)

Of course, this does not mean that we should neglect teaching new brothers and sisters about their freedom in Christ. There will always be not-yet-Christians coming within view of the church and new converts coming into the community of the church. Therefore, the mature and knowledgeable believers should lead them toward maturity, “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present them fully mature in Christ," (Colossians 1:28).  This includes a biblical perspective of Christian liberty, discernment, and life in the Spirit.

As an argument for teetotalling, I have been asked: “But what about the alcoholic that comes into the church?  If Christians are drinking booze, won’t this cause him to stumble … to relapse?”  This is a fair question and one that we should consider, especially when ministering to a variety of people.  Christians do need to be aware of various conditions of people, their needs, vices, and struggles, and act with discernment and discretion.


The Pastoral Epistles state that elders in the church are not to be drunkards, and in the same way deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine,” or as the ESV states: “not addicted to much wine,” (1 Tim. 3:8). The issue may not be drunkenness but alcoholism—an addiction or mental and physical condition from the excessive and/or regular use of alcohol, even in social settings. Alcoholism may be more covert than drunkenness, showing up in various ways.  (See the NCADD Self-Test).

 Alcoholics generally need an intervention and regular support toward a life of sobriety and serenity.  As an associate pastor, I attended an AA support group hosted by our church for two years. I learned a lot from the leader, Jim, who did not advocate avoiding the world of booze as much as navigating successfully through it. Alcoholics that attended found support in the group (and other groups) which was greater than the temptation they faced.  At times sponsors gave members the assignment to enter and exit a liquor store without buying anything. Thus, for me the argument that Christians should not serve or drink alcoholic beverages because an alcoholic might be present, does not understand an addict’s road to recovery or life within a world of booze.  On the other hand, if an alcoholic needs to attend an AA meeting just to counter the pressure from Christians to drink, the Christians should exercise greater discretion and sensitivity, not doing something that will cause a brother to fall.

A second reason for abstinence is religious devotion or spiritual focus. In Leviticus 10:9, the priests of Israel were commanded not "to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die." The Lord had called them to holiness, and their judgment in priestly functions could not be clouded. Abstinence was also the practice of those taking a Nazirite vow. Nazirite from the word nazir means "consecrated one."

The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite, he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins. Numbers 6:1-4 (NIV)

When an Israeli wanted to set himself apart unto God and devote his whole life to the Lord, he took a Nazirite vow. This was the highest level of consecration and included abstinence from wine and other fermented beverages, as well as anything that comes from the grapevine including grapes, raisins, grape seeds and grape juice! Samuel and Samson were Nazirites for life (1 Samuel 1:14-15; Judges 13:4,7).  John the Baptist also had taken a Nazirite vow (Luke 1:15; 7:33). A Nazirite vow could last for 30, 60 or 90 days- or even a lifetime.

 Similarly, a Christian today may voluntarily choose a vow of abstinence from alcoholic beverages as an act of devotion to God (Acts 18:18; 21:23). This may be for a predetermined period of time, similar to a fast from food. Obviously, a Christian who makes this choice for abstinence will not sin by drunkenness, and not become an alcoholic.

Other reasons for abstaining from alcohol include: ministry to alcoholics, recovery from alcoholism, personal distaste for alcoholic beverages, health reasons recommended by a physician or pharmacist, athletic training-school code of conduct, role model to students and young athletes, avoiding a double standard for parents and children, matters of conscience when raised in the home of an alcoholic, and activity in organizations such as MADD and SADD. It is a matter of conscience, discretion, experience and conviction.

The Scriptures teach that a Christian is to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, not the spirit(s) of alcohol (Eph. 5:18; Acts 2:4, 13). While Christians have freedom to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation (wine, like food is clean), abstinence is preferred in many cases. Each Christian must decide before God what he or she should do, and then live by his or her conscience. Paul concludes his thoughts on eating and drinking by saying,

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. Romans 14:22-23 (NIV)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Christians and Booze: “Life in the spirits”

There are a lot of Christians drinking booze these days. Even among younger evangelicals (as evangelicalism has undergone degrees of deconstruction) there is increased acceptance of “life in the spirits.” That which was taboo one or two generations ago in evangelical churches is increasingly acceptable today, and perhaps encouraged.  While evangelicals are still hosting “Celebrate Recovery” they are also sponsoring “Pub Theology” where “the format is simple: beer, conversation, and God.”  Yet, others raise concerns.

Last week I read Nathan Rouse’s blog titled: A Caution for Every Christian That Drinks Alcohol.  The question continues: should Christians drink alcoholic beverages? Some still say, "Christians ought not to drink." Others reply, "It's not wrong. Jesus drank wine." Others say, "You shouldn't drink if it offends a weaker brother." Others claim: "I have liberty to drink, if I choose to do so wisely." The discussion goes from one end of the table (or bar) to the other.

I have to admit that my thinking has shifted.  While I was formed as a Christ-follower in conservative, evangelical settings where teetotaling was encouraged (and prided), my experiences among godly Christians in Europe challenged me to study what the Bible teaches on the subject.  I learned that like several topics, various proponents present one side of the topic rather than wrestle with the tension in scripture that allows for freedom but also sounds warning and concern for others. My fear is that as the pendulum swings toward “life in the spirits,” the evangelical church will encounter new challenges.

So what are we to think regarding Christians and booze?


As we examine this question of Christians and booze, we begin with the teaching of Scripture that drunkenness is forbidden. What does it mean to be drunk? Drunkenness is having one's faculties impaired by an excess of alcohol. In this state, a person has diminished control over his or her physical, mental and moral powers. While there are degrees of drunkenness from "a little tipsy" to "plastered," each person has a limit (higher or lower than state laws) when he or she yields control to alcohol, and degrees of judgment are lost.
In the Old Testament, drunkenness is associated with immorality. Noah become drunk and in his nakedness acted shamefully (Gen. 9:21). Lot became drunk and his daughter committed incest with him (Gen. 19:30-36). Nabal became drunk and at a critical time God took his life (1 Sam. 25:36-37). Elah became drunk and he was murdered by Zimri (1 Kings 16:9-10). Ben-hadad and all of his allied kings became drunk, and all were slaughtered except Ben-hadad (1 Kings 20:16-21). Belshazzar became drunk and lost his kingdom (Dan. 5). Furthermore, the Old Testament warns against the effects of alcoholic liquor, drunkenness and alcoholism.
Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. Proverbs 20:1 (NIV)
Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. Proverbs 23:19-21 (NIV)

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. "They hit me" you will say, "but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?" Proverbs 23:29-35 (NIV)

Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst. Therefore the grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers. Isa 5:11-14 (NIV)

And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth. Isaiah 28:7-8 (NIV)

Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. Hab 2:15 (NIV)

Clearly, God forbids drunkenness. At no point are Christ-followers to yield control of their faculties to excess alcohol. If they do, it is sin.

Likewise, the New Testament warns against drunkenness.

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rom 13:13 (NIV)

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. "Everything is permissible for me "— but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me"— but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Cor. 6:9-12 (NIV)

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as l did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Gal 5:19-21 (NIV)

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Eph. 5:18 (NIV)

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 (NIV)

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do— living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 1 Pet 4:3 (NIV)

For the Christian, drunkenness is a pattern that belongs to the former life. It is associated with a pagan lifestyle and the immorality that accompanies it. In contrast, the Christian is to be Spirit-filled, sober, alert and self-controlled (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 6:18; 1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8).

Therefore, the two options for Christians to practice in regards to booze are 1) moderation and 2) abstinence.



Moderation means restraint, keeping within reasonable or proper limits. If one chooses to drink alcoholic beverages, he or she must avoid drinking to excess, namely to intoxication. The dilemma in this matter lies with degrees of sobriety and drunkenness, and knowing when someone has diminished control over his or her physical, mental and moral faculties. Obviously, the effects of alcohol can become apparent rather suddenly in some people.

The content of alcohol in any beverage must be considered. According to the Alcohol Council Information Center, beer has 4-7% alcohol, wine has 9-11% alcohol, brandy has 15-20% alcohol, and hard liquor (80-100 proof) has 40-50% alcohol.

When alcoholic beverages are commended in Scripture, they refer to low level alcoholic content such as wine or beer. In Exodus 29 and Leviticus 23, the people were told to bring drink offerings of wine to the temple for God. According to 1 Chronicles 29:19 it is likely that a supply of wine was kept in the Temple for the drink offerings. Judges 9:13 mentions a special wine that cheers and makes one happy. In Proverbs 31:6-7 it says when somebody gets old and sick and about to die, to give them beer or wine as a sedative to ease the pain.  In Isaiah 24:9 the drinking of wine was accompanied with singing good songs. In Isaiah 55:1-2, wine is equated with salvation; the phrase "come, by wine," is an invitation to salvation. In Mark 2:22, Jesus illustrates his teaching on the new age of his coming with wine and wineskins. In John 2:1-10, Jesus performs his first miracle, changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana. It was considered by the master of the banquet to be "the choice wine" and "the best." In John 13, the Lord Jesus drinks wine, and ordains the Lord's Supper. In Luke 10:34, when the Good Samaritan found a man on the side of the road, he poured wine on his wounds.

The psalmist viewed wine as a provision from God, and expressed its benefit when taken in moderation:

He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. Psalm 104:14-15 (NIV)

Moreover, the freedom for Christians to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation, even for leaders, is observed in the Pastoral Epistles. They must not be "given to drunkenness", "indulging in much wine " or "addicted to much wine." What is condemned is not drinking wine, but drunkenness and alcoholism.

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife% temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 1 Tim 3:2-3 (NIV)

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 1 Tim 3:8 (NIV)

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. 1 Tim 5:23 (NIV)

Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless— not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Titus 1:7 (NIV)

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good Titus 2:3 (NIV)

In the case of Timothy, mentioned above, wine was used for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). It promoted healing when taken in moderation. Timothy's practice of total abstinence, in Paul's opinion, was not necessary, and having a harmful effect on his health. He suggests a little wine as a remedy against dyspeptic complaints, as a tonic, and as counteracting the effects of impure water.

Modern studies continue to show the benefits of drinking a glass of red wine at dinner. Alcohol can decrease the tendency of blood to clot causing heart attacks and raise good cholesterol levels. Yet, the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee cautions against this as the most proven way to improve heart health and suggests practices of eating healthfully, exercising regularly and maintain a healthy weight.

An historic application of moderation within the church stems from Paul's rebuke to the church at Corinth for abuse of the agape feast, the Lord's Supper. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! 1 Cor. 11:20-22 (NIV)

The food and wine were divided inequitably. Some were eating more than others, and some were drinking more, even to the point of drunkenness. What is condemned in not drinking wine but drinking to drunkenness. An application of this text by the historic church has been to serve wine as the cup in minimal quantity or moderation in order to avoid what occurred at Corinth, namely, drunkenness. 

If a Christian chooses to drink alcoholic beverages, it is wise only to drink those that contain low alcoholic content such as wine or beer. It is also important to predetermine the limit such as one serving with dinner, or at a wedding, anniversary dinner, holiday or special celebration. Regardless of whether a Christian chooses to drink alcoholic beverages or not, he/she must define and hold to a predetermined limit. A good rule of thumb is to be conservative rather than push the limit to the degree of drunkenness and thereby sin.

Clearly, the Bible commends drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation and for medicinal purposes.  One can conclude that among other gifts, alcohol is a gift from God.  While alcoholic beverages are manufactured by humans—part of human culture (cultura), alcohol is also found in nature (natura). Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that at least a few creatures in the wilds of the Malaysian rainforest like to drink the naturally occurring alcohol in fermenting fruit. As a part of God’s creation, alcohol is good.

In the book Saturate, Jeff Vanderstelt speaks of taking something good from God and making it a god.  He says, “We do this with sex, friendships, food, alcohol, work, and even children and spouses.”  While alcohol may be good, it can quickly become a god; it can easily become “a master.”  After the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians that “neither the sexually immoral … nor drunkards … will inherit the kingdom of God,” he said, “I will not be mastered by anything,” (1 Cor. 6:9-12). It is easy to take something good—even a gift of God—and misuse or abuse it. When it masters us, it becomes a god.  When is becomes twisted or misused, it can become ruinous and destructive.