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.