Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On liberty and brewskis

The issue of alcohol consumption by Christians is one of those hot button issues that get people all riled up and I haven’t been intentionally inflammatory in a while (although I am about to end my self-imposed moratorium on posting about infant baptism…) so why not throw this post out there? (In the spirit of full disclosure, I completely abstain from alcohol. Haven’t had a drink in well over a decade and don’t miss it at all. It just doesn’t appeal to me and honestly I find the social ills associated with drinking so severe that I can’t justify having a beer even though I have never had a problem with alcohol abuse personally) . So let’s take a look at alcoholic beverages and Christians…

Can a Christian drink alcohol? Is it lawful, is it permissible?

Certainly. I don’t think you can honestly make a Biblical case requiring a total abstention from alcohol. There are too many references to drinking wine without a corresponding admonition against drinking in the Bible to assert dogmatically that Christians are forbidden from drinking alcoholic beverages at all. For me, the question is not really about whether drinking is lawful. It is a deeper question.

Should a Christian drink? Now that is a whole different question. I will certainly grant that the Bible affirms that drinking wine is OK as long as you grant that drunkenness is not OK. So how much is too much? What qualifies as “drunkenness”? Do you have to be falling down, puking your guts out, lampshade on the head to be drunk or just impaired? We don’t get a blood alcohol guideline in the Bible, so a breathalyzer doesn’t help. Is a half a glass of red wine OK, but two beers is not? There certainly is mention of drinking wine in the Bible but there are also a number of warnings against drinking to the point of intoxication. It seems like drinking is just toeing the line, how close can I get to drunkenness without actually being “drunk”? If you choose to drink, you have to draw a line somewhere and that line can be a tricky one to draw.

That isn’t even the most important question in my mind. The question for me is not one of lawfulness, but of motivation. Sure you can drink, but what is your motivation for drinking?

I guess the question becomes not can you drink, but rather why do you want to? Given the baggage that comes along with alcohol, the societal costs, etc. why even bother to drink in the first place? Is it not the case that the negatives of alcohol far outweigh whatever perceived benefit you gain? There must be something that drives people to drink (pun intended!). So what is it?

Is your motivation that you are enamored with the taste of alcoholic beverages? Maybe a nice glass of wine with dinner but beer and hard liquor serve the purpose of getting you buzzed. I have never enjoyed the taste of wine, so I don’t get that but I certainly don’t buy the “I like the taste of beer” argument. If that were the case, why not non-alcoholic beers so you get the advantage of the yummy taste without the danger of drunkenness?

Is your motivation to show that you have thrown off the shackles of legalism? I fear that some people see Christian liberty as a reason to charge headlong at the line to see how close they can come to it without crossing the line. You may be able to drink a couple of glasses of wine without being “drunk” but I guarantee that if you don’t drink at all, drunkenness is not a problem. Thumbing your nose at “the Man” for telling you not to drink is not the best rationale. I understand the visceral reaction to legalism, but just because fundies say don’t drink, wear ankle length skirts only and no card playing doesn’t mean you should start wearing mini-skirts and chugging bear while playing Texas Hold ‘Em. Drinking just to show you can is hardly a noble thing.

Is your motivation to be more like the world, tipping back an ice cold Budweiser just like in commercials and like your non-Christian buddies do so you can fit in? I think there is a real danger that “social drinking” comes awfully close to being worldly for the sake of fitting in. I will be honest, I can hang out with friends and watch a football game without drinking a beer. Somehow the game is just as enjoyable. A cup of coffee and a slice of pie is just as social as beer and nachos.

Does drinking wine automatically give us a pass on beer? How about hard liquor? Are some alcoholic beverages OK and other are not, and how do you make that distinction? Given all of the issues that crop up, why not just abstain?

I personally think that the Christian should choose to abstain, not because it is unlawful but because it is unhelpful. I think turning to 1 Corinthians 10 and Romans 14 will give you even more to ponder…

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor 10: 23-33)

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)

It is not a salvation issue. It is not even a fellowship issue. It is an issue that requires sober thought and study (pun intended again!). If you don’t drink because you think it is prohibited by Scripture, I would encourage you to really reexamine the text to see if that is the case. I don't think that it is. But if you do drink, I would ask you to look at your motivation for doing so and see if it is really to bring glory to God or if it is perhaps something else.

It strikes me that the best position is to recognize that you are permitted to drink (or to put it another way not prohibited from drinking) but choosing not to anyway. Maybe I am way off base here. If I am, please show me where. My stance on this and many other issues of Christian liberty boils down to this:

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.


Travis said...

"If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—'Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch' (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?

"These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth."

— Colossians 2:20-3:4 (ESV)

There's all manner of things we won't go so far as to say we "should" do (such as drinking a second cup of coffee in the morning, or [ever] eating a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie), but that doesn't mean it's therefore wrong to do such-and-such. The absence of a thing does not equate to the presence of its opposite. (Should not does not equal [not] should.)

If God gives us a desire, and gives us a gift which fulfills that desire, then it's good to give God glory by enjoying that gift. And it's downright dangerous to discourage such activity:

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer."
— 1 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)

Arthur Sido said...

Travis, not trying to be smarmy just trying to work these thoughts out. If someone were to make that same argument with marijuana, would it apply? God made it and while it is not mentioned in Scripture, neither is beer or vodka.

Again, I am not saying it is unlawful to drink wine (and wine only). I am not making laws or implying piety. What I am questioning is what the motivation is? We have lots of desires and lots of ways to fill those desires, many of which are completely unhelpful and unhealthy.

Bethany W. said...

I like this post, Arthur. Well done! And, I like your puns too - very witty.


Debbie said...

Hey, Arthur,

I'm right there with you on this one - just because we have the freedom to do something doesn't mean we should. Part of the problem is that we never know who is watching and how they will interpret our actions. When I was in college and working at a camp for the summer, one of my co-workers saw me drink half a wine cooler. His response - probably partly because I had a reputation for being pretty straitlaced - was along the lines of "Hey, if Debbie thinks it's okay to drink, let's party!" And he went out and got drunk. That was enough to make me decide to not drink alcohol any more. I didn't like having that effect on someone. I also had a pastor while I was in college who influenced my thinking on this. He summed it up like this: "Drunk driving kills more people every year than the whole Vietnam war. I choose not to support that industry." Makes sense to me! (And that was years before I met my future brother-in-law, who at the time we met had just become a quadriplegic due to a drunk driving accident....)

I think that in areas like this people often ask the wrong question. When challenged about things like this, we (defensively) ask "What's wrong with _______?" Actually, we should be asking "What's RIGHT with ___________?" If we can't come up with a good reason that it's right to do, then we probably should not do it! (My kids hate it when I bring this in to conversations, responding to their "why can't I ...." with a "why should you....")


Steve Scott said...

Hello Arthur:

I see you in Alan Knox's comments all the time. I've checked out your blog a few times and find this post interesting.

You ask a few questions about motivation and positives/negatives. Would you mind if I shared those here coming from somebody who does drink in moderation and who has soberly thought this out for 15 years? Thanks!

Arthur Sido said...

Steve, absolutely! I had hoped to have a conversation on this issue and would welcome your view.

Steve Scott said...


I won't be able to give an exhaustive account, unless we talk back and forth for quite some time, but... First, I drink beer because I enjoy it. I have an occasional glass of red wine for the same reason, but I'm mostly a beer guy. I enjoy the flavors of quality beers. I appreciate what goes into the creation of them. As Scripture says that wine makes the heart on man glad, so it is for me. I can feel the effect of it and it is happy for me. I believe that the taste and feel are gifts of God to me.

I usually have one (or two at most) late at night. I have an analytical mind that goes a million miles an hour, so it has a calming affect that allows me to go to sleep easier. I also enjoy beer (or wine) occasionally with other people, Christians or not. It can lend to fellowship or friendship, just like coffee or tea or food. A beer goes great being at the ballgame.

I don't see alcohol in a special category separated from other things in God's creation, with the small exception that there are a few warnings as to its abuse. But there are also warnings against abusing Scripture, and that doesn't prevent me from owning a bible and using it.

Our culture is radically different from the first century Roman culture with respect to alcohol, so I try to place Scripture's exhortations in that culture's context. I also have a different view than most Christians as to what constitutes "offending a brother" and "causing a brother to stumble" and what a "weaker brother" actually is (I've written about this on my blog.)

Self control is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5) and taken in context of community, alcohol use can be a positive thing. I believe the lack of community dealings with the issue actually causes the issue to be worse. I've had experience with legalistic churches and teachers, with abstentionists and prohibitionists. Greater problems arise when things are made taboo.

Overall, drinking has had a positive place in my Christian life and has led to a better Christian testimony and witness for me. Anyway, just a few thoughts.