I’ve written before on my theology of beer. But, with a recent post on a blog I frequent, in discussing varying views on alcohol, one commenter said his pastor preached a sermon where he offered these 3 positions (backing it with the listed passages of Scripture below):
- Prohibitionist – all drinking is a sin and alcohol is evil (Eph 5:18; Prov 20:1; Prov 23:29-35).
- Moderationist – drinking is not a sin and Christian conscience must guide each person (Psalm 104:14-15; John 2:1-11; 1 Tim 5:23; Matt 11:19)
- Absentionist – drinking is not sinful but choosing to avoid it is the wisest choice (1 Thess 5:22; Matt 5:13-16; 1 Cor 3:16-17)
While the prohibitionist view espoused above wrongly uses the verses referred to in coming to such a conclusion, I actually believe all 3 views miss something in the bigger picture.
Thus, I would espouse a 4th view, mainly that of celebration.
I love this passage, one people never really know exists:
And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. (Deut 14:24-26)
Though some like to quote portions of the old covenant law as a moralistic code for today, I’m not sure this passage will be so freely quoted. Anyways…
And, though one might want to argue that wine is grape juice (which we all recognise as silly conjecture), one cannot get around what strong drink refers to in this passage. Even more, the beautiful thing is that this is all in the midst of a big celebration with the bringing in of the tithes! It was a celebration of eating and drinking, even drinking fermented wine and strong drink.
Not only that, but consider the wedding at Cana. These people had already had a good amount of wine and Jesus still busts out another 150 gallons (550 litres) or so of wine (maybe a pointer to the celebration at the marriage supper of the Lamb).
It’s all about CELEBRATION, which I suppose we (me included) are not so good at. Quiet times tend to underline our Christian status today. But celebration was a major factor in Hebrew-Jewish life.
Sometimes, or maybe most times, we are more boring than the God we confess as our Lord. I am by no means some rebellious punk saying nothing matters on this issue and we should do as we please without thoughtful reflection, being overly filled with alcohol consumption. That is NOT my point!
But, at times, when the word moderation is suggested, and biblically argued for, I think it can come forth from a desire to actually bridle what God desires. We tend to embrace something only just enough. But God desires celebration to be part of our lives. And what better way than with fermented drink.
Feel free to celebrate! And feel free to celebrate with fermented drink! It is important to the heart of God.
Great post. I agree. 🙂
I see your point Scott. I personnally cannot justify consuming alcohol not because of the verse above but because of Romans 14, especially verse 21. I lead youth at my church and most of their parents have no problem consuming alcohol however, those parents aren’t teaching moderation. I abstain from any hard drink because of my past history with it. (a differing view from yours-also Romans 14) I just can’t justify using it because if I cause one of the youth I teach to stumble I am held to a higher account for my actions. (James 3:1) I did discuss this topic with my students and helped them understand the Bible doesn’t condemn drinking but drunkenness. (view 2)
From past experience with family and friends most “Christians” who drink preach moderation as their excuse to drink, but they don’t know where that point lies in their lives. So they become inebriated or worse. Each time someone has gotten hurt. I like your fourth point because it uses a scripture most people don’t know about.
To note: Your verse is in regards to giving a tenth of your possessions back to God. If those circumstances mentioned in Deuteronomy were applied today the verse to me seems void. I don’t know any American that cannot find a church or at the very least an organization to give their “tenth/tithe” to God. Thus there would be no reason to buy hard drink and food and celebrate. I have no problem with Christians drinking so long as they don’t fall into drunkenness or cause others to sin. I don’t care what scripture is used to justify any type of activity, but I’d rather focus on loving others through my actions. I don’t feel consuming any “hard drink” does that. That is my stance and my opinion on the subject though. Great post, I enjoyed reading it and seeing a view I never encountered before. Keep up the good work.
Nick (If this is the Nick I think it is) –
I know you live in the Bible belt where, though we say there is no state church, there is one quite strong one in the Southern Baptist Convention. There is a lot of sway there that is not so helpful.
Unfortunately, living in such a context (I grew up there and lived there 25 of my 32 years), I know the culture all too well. I do agree with Rom 14 and the wisdom given there. And I appreciate the wisdom you are trying to glean from there. But I am saddened our culture got in that place in the first place, which came from wrongly applying Bible verses and a legalism. Still, we have to consider these things. The problem is that, after something has been preached as wrong (sin) for so long, and then one finds out it is ok, they can tend to take great liberation. That shows our irresponsibility. But I only wish our culture had never moved to that wrong biblical position in the first place.
You said: I just can’t justify using it because if I cause one of the youth I teach to stumble I am held to a higher account for my actions. (James 3:1)
You don’t really believe that, if someone got drunk because you simply drink here or there, that you would be held accountable? Of course, one with selfish motives might take that up. But that is just silly. It’s like if, because I listen to music written by non-Christians and a youth in my church found out and started listening to Marilyn Manson and went off the deep end, their parents tried to hold me accountable. That is just completely not of God. I do understand your position with Rom 14, but don’t think just because you drink a beer and a youth in your youth group goes off and gets drunk (which he shouldn’t be drinking in the US under 21) that it’s your fault.
You said: Your verse is in regards to giving a tenth of your possessions back to God. If those circumstances mentioned in Deuteronomy were applied today the verse to me seems void. I don’t know any American that cannot find a church or at the very least an organization to give their “tenth/tithe” to God. Thus there would be no reason to buy hard drink and food and celebrate.
The argument is not very solid here. I don’t believe tithing is God’s command for giving, though a good starting point. But the passage still applies because God actually at some point, in the law, said for his people to buy [fermented] wine and buy strong drink. You can’t deny he encouraged it and it’s now in Scripture.
Of course, if one lives in Europe, this is all just silly talk anyways. It’s simply an obsession with a more Bible-belt culture (which has now affected much of African and Asian Christianity) quick to condemn or, at best, feel moderation is the biblical stance but still go for absention as if it is the the most godly choice. No choice is more godly, that we must note. And only one choice is ungodly (not of God), that being preaching alcohol is sin. But we live in particular cultures and you are wise to consider your culture.
Scott, yes this is the Nick you are thinking of. My fault for putting the James passage in that spot. I meant if I preached that alcohol was totally ok period I would be held accountable for that. What I try to teach them is that they are responsible for their actions. Most of the boys want to go out and drink because their dads do. Most of their dads are soldiers and alcohol has always been a part of that lifestyle. The church I’m serving at is very southern in nature. Very few are Ok with tattoos. I guess to me if I am causing someone to stumble then I am in the wrong. I don’t consume alcohol now because of my past with it but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t consume it in my house. What I do in private God sees and is different than what those youth would see. They are “baby” Christians and don’t need someone handing them the reins to search out other vises. I teach the Moderationist view to the youth I lead. It’s their choice to sin or not and I am not held accountable for that. However, I am held accountable for leading them astray.
I choose to be a part of view 3 because of past experience. (hurting others and myself-almost lost my future wife because of it) However, I teach view 2. I saw Christians who never consumed a hard drink cave in college under the pressure of others when they attended certain events. (Grammy party at the Hard Rock) They became social drinkers. It doesn’t seem like encouraging “young/baby” Christians to celebrate God with fermented drink would be the thing to discuss but rather why they chose to drink in the first place. It’s a personal issue not a black and white issue. That’s why the church as a whole has missed the boat. It differs for every Christian. (gluttony falls here as well) Thanks for the post and good discussion. I’m glad you can allow my thoughts to be expressed. That is rare for so many Christian leaders.
I’ve used that verse a lot before as it comes to the legalistic tithe. Never thought to use it against a legalistic approach to adult beverages. But I do like your fourth choice. Even #3 was too strong for me. One side note though. This wasn’t just a celebration at the time of bringing in the tithes. It was what the tithe was SPENT on. Don’t hear that preached much though. LOL
Again, I appreciate your approach considering our southern culture. I just wish we could rearrange the worldview to a kingdom worldview, rather than think of a plan B that kind of fits in. We end up approaching the issue somewhat sideways rather than the way God intended. And it all starts with a culture that says a) you shouldn’t do it or b) if you do, you better keep your eyes open so that you never make another one stumble. It all connects to a suppressive view, rather than a kingdom view.
For example, there was a view in the south not too long ago that held blacks were less than whites. Rather than people like Martin Luther King approaching it with a Plan B, he started from the ground up with a kingdom vision that there is no social-racial barrier at all within the kingdom of God and as God intended for His creation. He was hated, he was accused, he was even martyred. But his approach was more about rearranging towards a kingdom approach (tearing down false perspectives and building correct ones) than simply finding a kind of alternative that really wasn’t in line with God’s greater purposes, but at least appeased everyone. And think of the prophets of old, goodness me.
As leaders, we really need to think this through and be wise. Knowing the perspective of today to just rebel and not consider others, we have to guard against such. But this is why we are not doing this on our own. We have a covenant community we are connected to and solid brothers/sisters that walk with us. And I am glad Jesus did not come to maintain the status quo, but establish the perspective of what it would look like if God’s rule were on earth as it perfectly was in the kingdom of heaven.
Several comments are expressing a very “American” perspective on the topic and I say that as an American that spent half of my very long life living in other countries.
Only America had prohibition and the outcome of that was painting any use of alcoholic beverages with a very ugly brush. Since prohibitionist days churches have kept the flame going and created a huge divide where drinking is concerned. Most people are preconditioned to think drinking is evil because of churches. Just saying…
Yes, there is abuse but that happens with or without alcohol. You could solve a great number of problems before eliminating alcoholic beverages: parenting and personal issues to name a couple.
People in other cultures don’t see it the way we do and have no problems with the occasional glass of wine or whatever. Even children under the watchful eye of parents are allowed a sip. Actually it is the lack of prohibition that diminishes the desire. Foreigners also understand celebrating which many times goes to the point of being legally drunk but make the necessary arrangements to get people home safely, no harm done.
I am a church planter and it took me years before loosening up to allow folks their glass of wine. I finally realized that no one goes to hell because they drink so why make it an issue.
It’s our post-victorian culture that says it’s easier to ban or prohibit something rather than to educate and teach moderation. From candy to fast food to alcohol to tabacco to drugs to sex — instead of applying God’s wisdom and accepting our responsiblity which can apply to ALL actions and EVERYTHING we do and partake in, we simply tell people “hands off” and slap them. Why? Because it’s easier. It takes much less effort to just say “no” than to actually come along and show someone how they can become responsible by experiencing Christ’s wisdom and character — allowing Him (not rules) to be our guide.
All the “hands off” approach does is create individuals who don’t know how to act responsibly in ANYTHING and so when they are in a situation where they are suddently allowed to partake (either due to age or social setting) in something that could potentially be harmful to them, they can’t stop themselves and they overdo or binge on it.
Everything is permissable, in humility, wisdom and moderation, all of which CAN be taught, but more properly comes from having Christ within us. When He possesses us, we posses those traits, and nothing can overtake us and catch us unaware. Then we are able to “let our hair down” and celebrate, just as King David and the Kingdom of Israel did, without worry of hurting ourselves or offending God and others.
Oh, and just to be clear, I don’t drink or smoke or do drugs (I do admit to not eating the way we are now told we should to be “healthy”) However, I don’t partake in those things because I have no desire to, not because I think they are sin. I don’t like even the smell of alcoholic beverages (let alone the taste) (I know some people out there are probably wishing they had that same “affliction” — I realize I am probably blessed to have that). The smell of smoking also is offputting, although I do like pipe smoke (probably because it reminds me of my granddad). Anyway, I so far have chosen not to try that, though I don’t view it as a wrong. And, although I think that SOME drugs may have some fairly harmless recreational uses (just as alcohol does), I wouldn’t involve myself with those simply because it’s been forbidden by law, and we are instructed to obey the law of the land unless it contradicts God.
Like many others I have had to work through issues with alcohol in my own christian walk. I have had to make those decisions about where the line is between my freedom in Christ to enjoy alcohol in a range of situations, without drinking enought to undermine myself.
Personally, I believe their are two issues which determine how I should interact with alcohol (and would apply to nicotine, cannabis or any other drug too) its [b]influence[/b] and my [b]motive[/b].
Paul says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:15-18)
Now I have long wrestled with where to ‘draw the line’ it became clear to me that the reason God wants his people to avoid drunkeness is because beyond a certain point it has an significant influence on our decision making and judgement. Paul is clearly illustrating to the Ephesians the type of influence he want the Holy Spirit to have in their lives (a significant one) and drunkeness seems the best analogy for this. God wants his Church to be sensitive to his Spirit and to make decisions based on his promptings, not impeared by excessive alcohol. It is also why I would encourage Christians to avoid cannabis and other perception altering stimulants. It is not about ‘do not touch’ but rather as Paul says in the passage above, “walk, not as the unwise but the wise”. I would also say that when nicotine, or even caffiene or food in extreme cases, addiction becomes an issue it too will effect your ability to percieve the Holy Spirit or make wise choices.
The second issue is one of motive and this can apply to both moderationist and absentionist. The question is why are you ineracting with alcohol that way?
For the absentionist, if your motive is that you have struggled with alcohol in thepast and you are in the progess of working through the damage of this with the Lord, then avoiding drink altogether for a while seems wise and biblical. However if your motive is that you do not believe you can ever drink alcohol and maintain a sensible consumption, then I would suggest you need to seek God for the strength and self control to see more fully the sanctifying work of Christ in your life.
For the moderationists the questions are different – why do you drink? If it is to celebrate fellowship, God’s creation and generally enjoy the freedoms Christ secured for you then I see no issue. However I know that when I get busy, stressed or tired I find an alcoholic drink in the evening can become a habit. It can become the calming effect I seek before bringing my issues to God, now I would say my motives have ceased to be glorifying to God.
My final thoughts are on a passage already quoted:
“Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
In the end, God calls us all to personal obedience to him and this can move the permisible into the realm of sin for an individual. For example, I do not believe that smoking cigerettes is sinful, unwise, but not sinful. However a couple of years after I came back to Church God spoke to me about my smoking and told me to stop. Now for me, smoking has become sin, as it was disobedience to God. I would have had no grounds to demand the same from another, this was God speaking to me.
Let us remember to enjoy both our own freedoms and restrictions in Christ. So much legalism in Christianity comes from turning an issue of the permissible into a universal issue of sin.
Sorry but you’re making an assumption here that the drug alcohol interacts the same with everyone’s body. That simply is not true. There are some people who can physically not drink alcohol. If you advocate for moderation, then you may be reading their obit shortly. That is a medical fact. There is an interaction between body, mind and spirit when one is dealing with alcoholism, so BE CAREFUL!