addiction recovery, alcohol, alcoholism, beer, biblical scholarship, christianity, church, divine guidance, divine judgment, drunkenness, DUI, George Washington, God's will, God's Word, Jesus Christ, judging others, marijuana, Prohibition, religion, spirits, theology, walking in the Spirit, Welch's Grape Juice, whiskey, wine
Awhile back, I tackled the topic of marijuana. In this post, as the title indicates, we’ll discuss alcohol.
What triggered my writing this post was a Facebook friend who posted a link to another blog article in which the writer was making a case against Christians imbibing alcohol in any quantity at any time.
The second and third paragraphs were right on the money, and I quote:
For years, well-meaning, sincere Christians have debated the subject of drinking. Let me be clear by saying there isn’t a single verse in the Bible that says a Christian cannot have a drink; although the Bible clearly warns about the destructive and addictive nature of alcohol (Proverbs 20:1; 21:17; 23:29-35; Ephesians 5:18) and is very clear that drunkenness is always wrong (Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Peter 4:3; Habakkuk 2:15; 1 Corinthians 5:11).
The Bible is also clear that mature Christians should avoid causing others to stumble by drinking (Romans 14:21), and that leaders ought to avoid drinking alcohol (Proverbs 31:4-7) and cannot be given to drunkenness (1 Timothy 3:3,8; Titus 1:7.)
From there on, he is preaching his own personal opinion and he is perfectly entitled to do so by the Bill of Rights. But he has a personal agenda that needs to be addressed.
Some Historical Background
Interestingly, this debate generally takes place only in the US, typically because of our cultural history of anti-alcohol crusades and, of course, Prohibition. However, in other countries — such as those in Europe — the believers there are not encumbered by such doctrines of men and give the topic little, if any, thought.
Back in the day when safe public water supplies were completely unknown, people drank alcoholic beverages because almost all the water available to them was unsafe to drink — there was a very real health hazard from water-borne illnesses, such as cholera — and the alcohol in beer, wine, and spirits killed the germs. Germ theory was completely unknown in those days and boiling water to kill them is a modern practice. It is only in relatively modern times that we had a safe enough water supply to make drinking water a viable alternative to alcoholic beverages.
Brewing and distilling was also a money crop in older times. Grains spoil over time, but converting them into beer or whiskey both added value to the crops and allowed farmers to store the fruits of their labors far longer than the original grain. George Washington, a devout Christian and a man of impeccable personal integrity as well as being our first president, ran his own whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon.
Much more important is the biblical example. Jesus drank wine, as did everyone else in the Bible, period. I personally believe that Jesus drank alcoholic wine daily and even during the Last Supper because that’s what Jews in His day did — Jews still celebrate Passover with real wine to this day. Point of fact, His very first miracle was to turn water into wine. Since the master of the feast specifically referred to a typical host’s practice of serving the best wine first and switching to lesser vintages after everyone was too drunk to notice, the context of this account clearly indicates that the wine Jesus miraculously created indeed contained alcohol.
The local “sin police” of the day, the Pharisees, also noted Jesus drinking wine, as well.
The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” — Luke 7:34
I find the idea that the Pharisees would accuse Jesus of being a winebibber when He was actually drinking grape juice to be totally ludicrous!
Anyone who says otherwise is superimposing his or her personal doctrinal agenda over clear historical and scientific fact. The religious imperative to prove that Jesus created grape juice rather than wine at Cana is a 19th-century American fiction, an invention of the temperance movement, and the concept was completely unknown prior to that. Many such folk try draw some kind of bogus distinction between “new wine” and “wine,” essentially claiming that new wine was simply grape juice.
New wine, old wine, who cares? Regardless of the claptrap such prohibitionists have devised over the years, grape juice starts fermenting immediately after it has been pressed. It was only in 1869 that a man named Thomas Bramwell Welch applied the then-new-fangled pasteurization process to grape juice to produce a non-alcoholic communion element. The result, Welch’s Grape Juice, was the first alcohol-free grape-based product in human history and, as you all know, it is with us to this day.
Almost all prohibitionists are also people who have either experienced the devastation of alcoholism first-hand having recovered from it personally or through a close loved one, or second-hand through more-distant relatives and unrelated others. I cannot blame them for their stance. If I were in their shoes, I would probably be pretty adamant on the topic myself. But that doesn’t allow them to preach it and put believers who do drink in moderation with a clear conscience under condemnation.
Like all prohibitionists, the author of the article has cherry-picked a series of anecdotes to make his point. Yes, there are indeed a multitude of horror stories about alcoholics and what they have done while under the influence. One has to only look at the death statistics concerning drunk driving to find more than we can stomach.
The author not only describes alcoholism-related tragedies within his own family, but goes on to describe a man he talked to who was imprisoned for brutally raping his 8-year-old daughter while in a drunken stupor. The author’s implication then clearly places the blame for this heinous act at the foot of alcohol consumption.
This is typical of the kinds of anecdotes cited by anyone who is vigorously espousing a cause: find the most evil, repugnant thing you can think of and link it in people’s minds with whatever you are standing against. This is an essential tool in all propaganda.
Truth be told, that inmate had far more problems than simply being an alcoholic. To lay the blame for his reprehensible deed solely at the feet of alcohol consumption is totally disingenuous. It vastly oversimplifies and minimizes the far more complex and dangerous set of psychological problems leading him to have even considered the idea in the first place. In my opinion, the inmate was already a pedophile in his fantasy life — alcohol simply removed his inhibitions against acting them out.
The people who are alcoholics because they are genetically susceptible to that addiction (aka the Disease Model) are a minority compared with those poor souls who use alcohol as their drug of choice to medicate the emotional pain they carry from abuse, rejection, neglect, and personal tragedy suffered in their pasts. If they were not using alcohol as their drug of choice, they would have found something else, such as illegal drugs, gambling, illicit sexual behaviors, eating disorders, cutting, workaholism, or some other compulsive behavior from a long list of those available — and many other addicts do just that. No matter what the substance or behavior, addictions are a devastatingly destructive tragedy for all who are afflicted with them.
Alcohol’s Moral Character
Blaming alcohol for the ills of society is very much like the deluded folks who are trying to control gun violence by outlawing guns, mistakenly assuming that guns are inherently evil. As the clichéd truism goes, “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” and if guns are not available when such madmen as the recent one in Santa Barbara choose to act out, they will use whatever weapon is at hand, whether it be a knife, baseball bat, axe, etc.
Alcohol has no inherent morality anymore than a gun or any other object does. It is neither good nor evil. If it were inherently evil, the Bible would have very clearly stated such, as it indeed does with drugs. While marijuana and alcohol are both mind-altering substances, for some inexplicable-this-side-of-heaven reason, God makes a clear distinction between the two and says that drugs are bad and alcohol is OK — within His limits, that is.
The paragraphs cited above from that article are the gold standard, period. Anything more than that is simply someone’s agenda and interestingly enough, God has little tolerance for agendas other than His own:
Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men — Isaiah 29:13 (emphasis mine)
If a Christian — even a minister — decides to drink alcohol, those who don’t are not allowed to condemn him/her as “less than” for it nor are they allowed to exalt those who agree with them and refuse to imbibe. To drink or not to drink is strictly a matter of personal conscience before God.
Those who violate God’s commandments regarding drunkenness will also be held accountable by the Judge of the Living and the Dead, whether through natural consequences on this earth (e.g., being arrested for DUI) or through His piercing gaze and perfect judgments before the Throne. Either way, violating God’s standards regarding alcohol will bring some form of death to our lives and we would do well to keep that in mind as we make our decisions on the matter. As the saying goes:
…Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom … —Job 28:28a
The analogy God gave me for the “fear of the Lord” is this: one of us civilian types interacting with a Navy SEAL. He will lay down his life to protect you and your freedom, but you never, ever, EVER want to disrespect or try to take him on! It’s kinda like the chorus of that old Jim Croce song:
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with Jim
Far, far more than a fictional pool shark named Jim or even a Navy SEAL, you don’t ever mess around with God or take Him and/or His standards lightly.
That’s the fear of the Lord and that’s the beginning of wisdom!
Legalism vs. Our Freedom in Christ
The real issue here is not whether a believer should imbibe alcohol or not, but that of law vs. our freedom in Christ and walking in the Spirit.
The person who posted this article I referred to mentioned “loopholes” several times in both his original post as well as in the debate that ensued. “Loophole” is a legal term used to describe a way to legally get around the restrictions of a particular law.
A person with a legal perspective operates on the assumption that, if it isn’t specifically permitted, it’s forbidden. A person with a freedom perspective operates on the assumption that, if it isn’t specifically forbidden, it is permitted. This is the perspective from which I have approached this question of alcohol. This is what the NT calls “our freedom in Christ.”
Building a Fence Around the Torah
The biblical example of the legal viewpoint are the Jews. They were very concerned about breaking God’s laws because their relationship with God was all about the rules, the very essence of the Mosaic Covenant. Initially, they were so concerned about not breaking those laws that they tried to add specificity to whatever they considered a bit too vague. They made additional rules that were more strict than the Torah because they felt if they didn’t break their own rules, they would never get close to breaking the biggies that God had actually commanded. This concept is called “building a fence around the Torah” and is a cornerstone of Judaic religious thought to this day.
A similar thing happened with the Pentecostal Holiness folks. For example, Jesus said that to look on a woman with lust in his heart is the same as adultery. The Bible also says that we should be separated from the world. They created a list of certain kinds of activities which were forbidden because they determined those behaviors were either worldly or would induce lust. So no movies, no television, no co-ed swimming, no alcohol, only certain hairstyles and dress lengths, no makeup for women, etc. This is building a fence around the concept of “holiness,” just like the Jews did with the Torah.
Back to the Jews. When addressing the issue of not working on the Sabbath, they first needed to define work. Certain types of work, things that needed to be done daily in an agrarian society, like milking cows or rescuing their donkey out of a ditch were permitted, but other things like kindling a fire were not. To this very day, Orthodox and Conservative Jews refuse to turn on electric light switches on the Sabbath because they consider that to be kindling a fire. What they do is hire a non-Jew to go into their synagogues and turn the lights on and off for them. Loophole.
This is total hypocrisy. If it was indeed morally wrong in the eyes of God to turn on a light on the Sabbath, why would it be OK to pay a goy to commit the very sin they were avoiding?
Here’s another example: when it came to the subject of travel on the Sabbath, Jews of Jesus’ day had arbitrarily determined how far one could walk before it became work, that traveling further than X distance from one’s home was the limit. Then they had to define what “home” was, so they reasonably decided a home is where one’s possessions are. Here’s where the loophole came in: to get around this limitation, the Pharisees would have a servant walk behind them and, whenever they reached the legal travel distance, that servant would drop a worn-out piece of the Pharisee’s clothing, such as a old sandal, by the roadside and then they would continue walking until they reached the legal distance again, drop another article of clothing and keep going, repeating that process until that Pharisee arrived wherever he wanted to go on the Sabbath. Loophole.
Let’s look at the modern alcohol question we’ve been debating here from that selfsame legalistic perspective. We’ve already established what the Scriptural rule is: it’s OK to drink, but not be drunk. But then we have to define drunkenness because the Bible does not. Is it one drink, two drinks, three drinks? Of what kind of alcohol? Wine, beer, distilled spirits, mixed drinks? Or do we determine drunkenness by measuring blood alcohol and establish some arbitrary level as the limit? How do we measure it fairly for all believers? Is if fair to say that only those who can afford a personal breathalyzer can drink because only they can accurately determine their alcohol levels (and this does not begin to address the historical issue of breathalyzers being an invention of the 20th century)? Complicating matters further, person have varying personal sensitivity levels to alcohol (e.g., the same amount that would cause me to start feeling a mild buzz would have my tiny wife falling-down-stupid drunk).
As you can see, the Latin phrase “reductio ad absurdum” (reduced to absurdity) quickly goes into effect. What is far, FAR easier is to simply say, “Don’t drink. That way you can never possibly violate the rule. You’ll never compromise your testimony. It’s just safer that way.” Another fence.
Our Freedom in Christ
Now let’s re-examine this question from the perspective of our freedom in Christ. We are indeed permitted to drink. How much is too much? When the conviction of the Holy Spirit tells us we’ve had enough, period.
If we imbibe to a point where we cannot hear His voice and blow it, our bad! We confess it and repent, receive His forgiveness, suffer whatever consequences may occur, and learn never to do that again. If one of us feels that imbibing is something he shouldn’t do, he is free to do so. If he is an alcoholic, he cannot allow himself to indulge himself because he has repented of worshipping that idol to serve the One True Living God.
If God commands one of us by His Spirit to abstain either temporarily or permanently, then to partake is thereafter sin for that person — regardless of what other believers are permitted to do by the same Spirit. It would also be a sin for that person to turn around and say, “If I can’t do it, neither can you!” to other believers because that teetotaler is not the voice of the Holy Spirit to anyone.
Paul speaks of this very issue in Colossians:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.… Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations — ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using — according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. — Colossians 2:16-17,20-23
As Martin Luther once put it: “Love God and do what you want.” The implication of this is that, if we truly love God, we will obey Him (John 14:21). Within those limits, we will be free to do what we want. Loving and obeying God doesn’t need loopholes. People who look for loopholes are not loving God, they are loving themselves and looking for a way to remain in control over their lives, rather than surrendering to His control.
I don’t occasionally imbibe alcohol because I believe Jesus turned water into alcoholic wine at Cana and that gives me a legal loophole. I do so because I like the taste of margaritas. I am permitted this because I am free in Christ to do so until and unless the Holy Spirit tells me otherwise. If He cautions me to abstain in certain situations (and He has), I obey Him. If I am ministering to one or more alcoholics, I do not flaunt my freedom in their faces, causing them to stumble. I ensure that I never drive impaired because I never allow myself to become impaired regardless of whether I’m going to drive or not. If at some future time He commands me to abstain permanently, I will obey Him.
On the other hand, my protege and son in Christ has never drunk a drop of alcohol in his entire life. That is his conviction and his freedom in Christ to choose that course. I applaud his commitment to that decision.
The question I have to ask those who feel like they need to abstain is this: are you abstaining because you feel that is what the Holy Spirit is speaking to you at this moment in your life, or are you doing it because you have been deceived into conforming your life to ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’…according to the commandments and doctrines of men? I don’t presume to know which of the two it is; only you and the Holy Spirit can answer that question and, frankly, it’s no one else’s business — mine included!
But that does not make you or anyone else who abstains more holy than me or anyone else who doesn’t. Our holiness comes from the blood of Jesus and the finished work of the Cross, not from whether we drink alcohol or not.
Walking by the Spirit
The crucial aspect of this issue is the answer to the only question that matters: what is the Holy Spirit personally telling you to do about whether to drink alcohol or not?
Because God knows the future of everyone we will ever interact with, every future event we will experience, and how we will react to those events and persons, He may tell you to abstain for a season, maybe even permanently. Whether He explains His reasons or not — and the likelihood of Him doing so is generally somewhere between slim and nil — obey Him, period!
His opinion is the only one that counts and the true test of His lordship over your life is that whenever a difference of opinion occurs between you and God, He wins.
Finally, if you are a recovered or recovering alcoholic, it is never, ever OK for you to drink even a sip of alcohol for the remainder of your time here on this earth. No exceptions! Do not let the devil deceive you into thinking otherwise using this article or any other writings on the topic. Here’s what Paul has to say on the matter:
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. — 1 Corinthians 6:12
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. — 1 Corinthians 10:23
As I have taught in another article:
- Where the Bible is clear and specific, be equally clear and specific.
- If the Bible is vague or non-specific, remain equally so and resist all temptations to make things more specific through your own cultural biases, societal norms, religious traditions, or personal experiences.
- If the Bible is silent on a matter, shut up and keep your opinions to yourself!
The author of that article violated Rules #2 and #3.
Sorry, I cannot agree with him on this issue, otherwise we’d both be wrong.
That same article on correct interpretation of the Scriptures also explains the difference between exegesis (proper biblical interpretation) and eisegesis (interpreting the Bible through the lens of your own opinions).
I am adamantly opposed to the temperance movement’s eisegesis of the miracle at Cana and other passages because: 1) I am opposed to eisegesis in all its forms and am dedicated to rooting it out of Christian doctrine (including in my own beliefs), and; 2) I am adamantly opposed to people using lousy Bible scholarship to put my brothers and sisters in Christ into religious bondage (‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’…according to the commandments and doctrines of men).
It is such commandments, doctrines, and traditions of men that have so repelled the unsaved and marginally churched in this nation that they have thrown away the Truth-of-the-Gospel baby with the religious-nonsense-of-men bathwater. They cannot see the real Jesus because our religious bovine scatology is obscuring their vision of the ONLY Way, the ONLY Truth, and the ONLY Life.
Until and unless we ruthlessly root out man’s religion and its shame-based performance mentality from our beliefs and return to the purity of the Word, the love of God, and our freedom in Christ, our country’s devolution into religious, political, and economic chaos will continue unabated because our salt has become tasteless and our light has been hidden under a traditions-of-men bushel.
That is why I insist that accurate exegesis of John 2 shows Jesus turned water into real wine — not grape juice — at Cana.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. For the record, in my own personal opinion — for what that’s worth — is that Christians going to bars where sitting around drinking is the primary activity are indeed compromising their testimonies and should avoid such locations. All kinds of sinful activities occur in such places with alcohol being the lubricant — avoiding the appearance of evil should be kept in mind.
I have never been in a bar fight in my entire life. The biggest reason for that is this: I never go to bars. You can avoid all kinds of trouble simply by not being in places where trouble tends to occur. Just sayin’…