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.


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