Alcohol: Should Believers Drink?

I just get tired of having the same conversations over and over, especially about alcohol consumption:

Person: "Christians who drink are a bad witness to the world."
Drew: "The only people who think drinking is a sin are Christians."
P: "So."
D: "A Christian's witness is to the world, not other Christians."
P: "What about the weaker brother? I don't want to cause them to stumble."
D: "True, but you eventually want them to mature, right?"
P: "Yeah."
D: "So the plan to help them mature is to teach them not to drink, too?"
P: (confused silence)
So, I've outlined some Scripture, made some observations, and set a plan of action. Please let your silently confused friends read this.

Alcohol: Should Believers Drink?

Please download the .pdf of this essay for better formatting and an easier read.

In any discussion about how God interacts with us [what we call theology], two givens immediately arise.
#1. The Bible is the authoritative breath of God. Everything else is subject to what Scripture says. It stands over church history, denominational resolutions, and papal law among many other things.
#2 God wants us to have a clear understanding of how to deal with alcohol, not linger in ambiguity and confusion. This understanding will line up with God's character and will. If there is disagreement in those two areas, reading the rest of this is pointless.


All verses used are English Standard Version, except where noted otherwise.

I. THE BIBLE AND ALCOHOL USE
1. Abusing alcohol is sin. [Pro 20:1; Pro 23:20; Rom 13:13; Eph 5:18]
- Alcohol abuse impairs judgment and causes damage, addiction, and death.
- When we allow ourselves to be controlled by anything but the Spirit, it is sin.
- Alcohol abuse can be linked to scores of divorces, broken relationships, and lost lives.
2. Consuming alcohol is not sin, but is actually partaking in a celebratory gift from God.
- Israel used wine in many capacities, including blessings and holy offerings.
- Melchizedek blesses Abram with wine. [Gen 14:18]
- Wine was used as a drink offering to the Lord. [Lev 23:13]
- Feasting and drinking wine was considered a tithe to the Lord. [Deu 14:24-26]
- God gives us wine to gladden the heart. [Ps 104:14-15]
- Jesus said that what comes out of our mouths will defile us, not what goes in. [Mat 15:17-20]
- Jesus seemed to drink wine*. [Mat 11:18-19; Luk 7:33-34]
*While specific incidents are not recorded, he was accused many times of being a drunkard. He also
contrasted himself with John the Baptist who fasted and didn't drink alcohol.
3. In wisdom, there are times and places believers should not consume alcohol.
- If we have a young believer under our care who is confused about alcohol. [1 Cor 8:7-13]
- If we have a young believer under our care who struggles with alcoholism.
- If others at our table have vowed to God to abstain from alcohol.
- Overall, we are commanded to use our freedom to lovingly serve one another. [Gal 5:13]
4. We do not take what seems wise to us and make a law for others to follow.
- Every believer is given the Holy Spirit to guide and teach and lead in all aspects. [Jn 16:5-15]
- The Pharisees made more laws so others would follow God's Law better, this leads to death. [Mat 15:1-6]
- Sometimes what seems wise to us is something that leads to death. [Pro 14:12]
5. God sometimes commanded people not to consume alcohol.
- Samson and John the Baptist were commanded to totally abstain from alcohol. [Jdg 13:7; Luk 1:15]
- Similar to fasting, abstaining from alcohol has to do with obedience, not because alcohol is evil.

II. COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS
1. "Drinking alcohol is a bad witness to the world."
- Those who erroneously think consuming alcohol is sin are believers, not "the world".
- Believers should give up rights to win souls, not to fit in other believers' idea of spirituality. [1 Cor 9:19-23]
- Believers who think they should avoid "all appearance of evil" are not in line with Scripture.*
*The King James Version's poor translation of "all appearance of evil" is actually "every kind of evil".
2. "Abstaining from alcohol is necessary for the 'weaker brother'."
- If our consuming alcohol misleads a young believer under our care, we should abstain, but not forever.
- Eventually, we must teach them how alcohol is truly a gift from God to be enjoyed [see pt III, 2-4].
3. "Abstaining from alcohol is my way of being set apart from the world [what the Bible calls 'holy'] ."
- Our holiness is declared by God [Lev 11:45], we do not "set ourselves apart" more than God already has.
- Our command to "be holy as {God is} holy" is obeyed when we act out of the holiness God gives to us.
- Tying to "set ourselves apart" is sinfully trying to attain more "holiness", which is folly.
4. "Drinking alcohol is too risky, so believers need to abstain from it completely."
- Consuming alcohol can be risky for some, it is still an issue of wisdom and specific conviction.
- And as stated above [see pt I, 4], making new laws from what seems wise is not the way of Christ.
5. "Wine in Biblical times had less alcohol than today so we treat it differently."
- The content of alcohol doesn't matter because people in Biblical times were still getting drunk.
- Debating the exact nature of first-century wine [i.e. water to alcohol ratios] is unnecessary.
- The sin is drunkenness, no matter how much wine it took.
6. "Those in Christian leadership need to stay away from it to be above reproach."
- First, being "above reproach" is the same having a "bad witness," but in a different from.
- Second, leaders are reproached according to God's heart in the Bible, not extra-Biblical rules. [Titus 1:5-9]
- Third, the Biblical mandate to leaders is to set an example for others to actually follow [1 Tm 4:12].
- Standards don't apply to leaders only, but to the whole church to live the same way.
- This suggestion warrants a hierarchy with "better" believers in leadership, "lesser" ones out.

III. HOW BELIEVERS SHOULD HANDLE ALCOHOL
1. Believers must never become drunk.
- We are free in Christ, but no one is free to sin.
- Our freedom is to serve Christ freely. [Rom 6:15-23]
2. Believers must walk in the freedom to obey God regarding alcohol consumption.
- Learning how to consume alcohol in moderation is every believer's free choice.
- Every believer has God's Spirit and must learn to rely on Him concerning this free choice.
- Teaching abstinence as a rule only attempts to strip believers of this freedom to choose.
- Teaching abstinence as a rule only attempts to usurp the Spirit's power to help us follow Him.
- For each of us, God has something for us to see in how we should handle alcohol.
- For some, abstinence is obedience to God.
- For others, moderation is obedience to God.
3. Believers must enjoy alcohol to the glory of God. [1 Cor 10:31]
- Our command moves beyond "not getting drunk" to learning to use alcohol as a tool for God's glory.
- This includes building others up, being thankful, and aiding in saving souls. [1 Cor 10:23-33]
4. Believers must occasionally consider young believers in their care.
- As stated above [pt I, 3], believers use their freedom in loving service to others.
- At the same time, we do not live by other people's standards, but in obedience to Christ. [1 Cor 10:29]

IV. ALCOHOL AND THE GOSPEL
1. Abusing alcohol is sin, making it an issue of the heart.
- Abusing alcohol is taking God's gift and disobeying Him with it; this is sin.
- We sin when we put our sinful desires above God's righteous desires, and sin leads to death. [Jam 1:14-15]
- Our hearts cannot produce God's righteous desires on their own; our hearts are enslaved to sin. [Jhn 8:34]
- Trying to "fix" alcohol abuse any other way than dealing with the heart is folly. [Scrip]
2. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to give people new hearts.
- God, in His grace, offers us a relationship with Him by offering us new hearts. [Jer 31:31-34]
- When we turn from sin, this new heart is born within us, and we are made new. [Jhn 3:2-15; 2 Cor 5:16-19]
- Only this new heart is free to please God by walking in obedience.
3. Ultimately, a new heart is the cure for alcohol abuse.
- People who abuse alcohol are enslaved to it, and need to be set free.
- A new heart would set them free to deal with alcohol in obedience, whether moderation or abstinence.

V. ALCOHOL AND THE CHURCH
1. The Church must encourage each other to rely on the Spirit, not prescribe new laws.
- Jesus lived out and taught a life dependant on the Spirit and obedient to the Scriptures.
- We can trust the Spirit to bring about repentance and obedience in people's lives.
- In this trust, we can resist the temptation to control behavior through coercion and/or intimidation.
2. The Church must model how to deal with alcohol in a way that proclaims the Gospel.
- If we follow through on a decision about alcohol, but not in obedience to the Spirit, we have failed.
- If we freely obey the Spirit, but don't give credit to God for freeing them, we have failed.
- As in all things, believers walk in Christ's redemptive power in the Gospel, bearing witness to all. [Scrip]
3. The Church must teach each other how to use alcohol for God's glory.
- For most churches this begins with developing a culture that openly discusses alcohol.
- For everyone this begins with finding new ways of using alcohol for God's glory.
- As leadership sets an example, they would need to step out first, and then teach from that.

APPENDIX
"Akin on Alcohol" by Joe Thorn - http://www.joethorn.net/2006/07/01/akin-on-alcohol/
"Alcohol, Abstention, and Redemption" by Steve McKoy - http://www.stevekmccoy.com/reformissionary/2005/09/alcohol_abstent.html

16 comments:

Andy said...

Drew, you mention in your comments on how we, as believers chould handle alcohol and you say that we should "learn how to consume alcohol in moderation" Can one truly define "moderation"?
You also talk about dealing with alcohol in a way that proclaims the Gospel. How?
And, I am assuming that if we consume in "obedience to the Spirit" that the Spirit will tell us how much to consume?
We as Christians in South LA, at least I believe, should be countercultural. Our culture is consumed with alcohol. We can create a festival of any kind and think that alcohol MUST be involved. How does this bring God glory? I think that everything we do should bring God glory, how does alcohol do this?
There are so many people just around us that have ruined lives because of alcohol. And, they think they are using it in "moderation". It all begins with what the individual considers moderation. Just ask someone who is a recovering alcoholic.

jnthn said...

One should help to redefine what moderation is. If one abstains, so they don't give a "bad image" to the community, they create a void where there could be a contribution to the understanding of what moderation would be.
I think that being in the midst of it, and being able to show that after X number of drinks I am good and I can stop is important for people to see. Just one person saying they have had enough will really help others to do the same. That would be a moderation of drunkenness.
The other type of moderation would be one of regularity. This could be a problem even for a person who doesn't drink into drunkenness.--Something you don't really address directly. How many time a week could one drink. The glass of wine with dinner or before bed or should alcohol be considered a beverage of festivities held only for special occasions?

Drew Caperton said...

Andy - Good point about defining moderation. I'll define it in my next draft.

Also, it's not alcohol that ruins lives, but its ABUSE. Our local culture is consumed with GETTING DRUNK, not just alcohol. By using alcohol in a way that glorifies God, you ARE being counter-cultural, just as much as being abstinent is counter-cultural.

And about God's glory, alcohol can be a tool that believers use to bring God glory. So alcohol isn't glorifying God, we are. I also listed ways we could do it in part III, 3. But aside from those, we can drink alcohol to God's glory the same way we watch a movie to God's glory- we simply enjoy it and thank God for it, all without abusing it.

Jonathan - Good idea about drinking frequency. I'm not sure there should be a cap on how often one drinks. I believe the issue to be freedom. The question might be better served as: are you free to not drink today?

Kent said...

I agree that abuse is what consumes our society, but it's not limited to Lafayette or any one area more than another. The entire planet is affected by the abuse of alcohol.

To my knowledge, there are very few verses against drinking, or drunkenness. Those are from Paul that say if it causes your brother to stumble, you should abstain. The other is do not get drunk on wine, but rather on the Holy Spirit (which leads to a whole different discussion).

I think it's definitely safe to say that drinking, in of itself, is not a sin, but the question is "should beleivers drink?" If it's causing other brothers/sisters to stumble, then no. It's also a question of motive. Are you drinking to get drunk? Is it to enhance the food you're eating. Is it to relax you? Is it to impress others? You get the idea. There is no general answer for everyone. It comes down to you and the conviction laid on your heart.

jnthn said...

thinking about abuse leads to many other areas, but a question you, kent, brought up the about why would someone be drinking or anything else. if we are doing it for some type of escape or fulfillment from that object or activity and not from God it's wrong. That, to use old testament language, is creating an idol of worship instead of God. We should be finding our satisfaction from our spiritual relation with God. It ultimately comes down to a personal question which much be faced in the face of God.
What we can do is to create an environment where that question can be dealt with and only then should the secondary question of alcoholism or any other -ism be dealt with. The heart needs to change before the action.

Drew Caperton said...

Yes, yes, yes. God always looks at the heart, BUT teaching anything extra-Biblical [that drinking is a sin] is completely wrong. Even curbing it by saying only leaders shouldn't drink, is still wrong.

But about causing brothers to stumble, I don't believe the answer is simply "don't drink." Because then we're in the same boat we're in now. We must TEACH the "weaker brother" that alcohol is something that we have been given to enjoy and use for God's glory.

The call for the Church is to PRO-ACTIVELY teach this, not just keep this hush-hush.

Andy said...

Get specific with this statment that you seem to use a lot "use for God's glory".

Drew Caperton said...

When I say "use alcohol for God's glory", I mean a few things:

#1 - In the general sense, eating and drinking to the glory of God means to fully enjoy what God has given us without abusing it. For example, believers can truly take joy in a movie / meal / beverage / magazine / painting / ice cream / video game / whatever and by simply enjoying what God has given us to enjoy, we are doing it for His glory.

#2 - God is glorified when His children turn to Him in repentance and new life. If it is an unbeliever's custom to drink alcohol, I'm free to enter that custom to get to know an unbeliever better. I'm free to drink if my conscience doesn't condemn me [Rom 14:23]. In my case, it doesn't. This is for God's glory, that I may enter their custom and show them Jesus.

#3 - In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul is urging believers to eat what is before them because "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof [10:26]." But for those less mature, we can abstain from anything that offends them [10:28] so we're not a stumbling block and thus, destroying Christ's work in them [Rom 14:20-21].

BUT here's the sticking point... we don't constantly live our lives for the less mature. If we did, no one would grow in freedom or maturity; we would be neutered from offending anyone in the slightest. Jesus wasn't neutered; he offended the religious all the time. Paul says it this way, "why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? [10:29]" We must teach less mature believers to handle things that are culturally taboo with Christ's freedom. In Paul's day it was meat sacrificed to idols. In our day it's alcohol. We do not avoid offense or taboo completely, we use our freedom to abstain for a weaker brother, who hopefully doesn't stay weaker. Paul ends this little bit by saying "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." God is glorified when believers get mature by shedding traditions taught by men and stepping into freedom, whether they end up drinking alcohol or not, they're still free to choose. This glorifies God.

Jmoore said...

I am a 27-year-old native to Lafayette. I fully understand the culture and the result the abuse of alcohol. I also know the results of moderate drinkers and to be honest with you, there isn't much different except for
circumstances and the delay of destruction. Yes, people that indulge are quite noticeable and often ruin their lives. But I think even the moderates lack a
certain integrity and character that can be found in staying completely sober. I honestly think it is a heart issue.

If we can glorify God with the controlled consumption how much more can we glorify him with our sobriety.

I do agree that we should not act like pious Pharisees and call down our brothers and sisters for drinking. But I will not commend it or praise it.

Can we use drugs then to glorify God? That is no different from Alcohol.

I appreciate that we can all have different opinions and come together to discuss.
Although strongly disagreed, this response is not intended to attack anyone.

Drew Caperton said...

Jmoore - Great comment. I think you brought up some good points which I'd like to address:

1. I know literally 50 people who are believers who drink alcohol and do not get drunk. I am truly sorry that you have not met anyone who can drink and not eventually get drunk. But your experience doesn't change what Scripture says.

2. "But I think even the moderates lack a certain integrity and character that can be found in staying completely sober." Even though you didn't intend for this to offend, it did. You're saying believers who drink alcohol without getting drunk lack a certain integrity that you [who abstains] have. Ranking your integrity above others' based on extra-Biblical rules isn't a good idea.

3. "If we can glorify God with the controlled consumption how much more can we glorify him with our sobriety." You're confusing the consumption of alcohol with getting drunk. We can drink alcohol and be "completely sober"; they aren't opposites.

4. Drugs and alcohol are exactly the same, you're right. We can use drugs [like Tylenol] in moderation [for a headache] just like we can use alcohol in moderation. And we can use both for the glory of God, especially when that headache is preventing you from concentrating on the Scripture you're reading.

5. I would like for you to produce Scripture of any kind that says that abstaining from alcohol is better than drinking it in moderation.

And when you're looking, keep in mind that Jesus probably drank alcohol [he was accused of being a "drunkard"], 1st century Christians definitely drank alcohol [1 Cor 11:17-22], and in the Old Testament drinking wine was part of a tithe unto the Lord [Deut 14:24-26].

6. Differing opinions is one thing, but you are elevating a certain Biblically-correct behavior [abstaining from alcohol] over another certain Biblically-correct behavior [consuming alcohol without getting drunk] and saying that one act has more integrity than the other. Seriously, where is the Bible are you getting this?

jnthn said...

I think that what Jmoore is speaking of when he talks of abstinence being of a higher character he is drawing on Christian/cultural traditions of spiritual virtues. If one is to pull a figure such as John the Baptist to mind, you will be reminded how he ate bugs and lived in the desert. That is the tradition of the ascetic monk through the middle ages.
When there is concern or doubt about drinking or anything "nonessential" the ascetic lifestyle is usually the thought which produces it.
Drew how would you reply to the question of ascetism in regards to drinking, i.e., Isn't drinking a waste of resources that I could use for the kingdom, isn't it causing me to be distracted from what I should be doing, which is praying, fasting, and reading the word? This question is the one that sticks me when it comes to much of 'our' forms of entertainment...movies, tv, shopping, expensive dining out, video games, or what it usually is for me, coffee.
It seems your reply would be something along the lines of "for God's glory," and not to devalue that, but how much does the ascetic lifestyle as countercultural to the decadent lifestyle of Americans seem a valid reason for not drinking.

bretts said...

Very interesting reading. I think this article has a relevant opinion on this issue. (link)

http://www.catholicexchange.com/node/53513?page=printer_friendly

“Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.” - G.K. Chesterton

_nice_ said...

Believers also drink of course.Honestly it is written in our Holy Bible that you must believe Him and not to drink. Drinking is one of a millions of temptations around us.We have our choice to choose what is the best for us.
If you are believers or shall we say believing Him,it's up to you on how to handle yourself.Don't forget that our body really need it so drink moderately as well because we also know that it will affect to our health.

_______________________
ann
Alcohol abuse affects millions. This site has a lot of useful information.
http://www.alcoholabusecenter.com

soniya said...

This article very interested to read.
this is a relevant opinion this issue. Good article and it is very informative. keep going on.
---------------
soniya
Alcohol abuse affects millions. This site has a lot of useful information.
http://www.alcoholabusecenter.com

neal said...

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shiny said...

Yes, people that indulge are quite noticeable and often ruin their lives.I appreciate that we can all have different opinions and come together to discuss.
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shiny
Alcohol Rehab