Kevin H: On Drinking
I guess I haven’t yet irritated him enough or generated enough hate mail coming his way for him to pull the plug.
Some of my writings have been sparked by current happenings, while others are just more like things I think about. (But someone else already uses “Things I Think”, so I can’t use that title.)
So this time I’ve decided to write about alcohol.
Maybe this can be the one to create enough disturbance and causes me to lose my writing privileges. 🙂
Now, in all honesty, my hopes are to be able to write about this in an equitable fashion and whatever the resulting discussion ends up being, for it to take on an irenic and respectful tone. But, of course, I also hope that the Phillies will win the World Series this year. 🙂
One blog article certainly can’t come close to sufficiently addressing all the attending aspects and issues of a subject like this. But let’s see where this goes.
The dangers of alcohol can be seen all around us. In the U.S. alone, thousands are killed every year in drunk driving accidents. Wives and children and others suffer tons of told and untold abuse at the hands of those abusing the bottle. Families are torn apart. Chain-bearing, life-sucking addictions are formed. Thousands more die every year from binge drinking, many of whom aren’t even alcoholics. How many stupid decisions are made by those under the influence of alcohol? Decisions that aren’t statistically documented, but we know would count into the millions if they were so.
No matter what one’s take is on alcohol, it clearly is a serious issue with grave implications.
So how are we as Christians to approach the issue? What does the Bible have to say about alcohol? How do we interact with others on the subject?
Let’s start with what the Bible says about drinking. Now obviously, we can’t cover this in depth in just a couple paragraphs. However, on the whole, we see the Bible speak to alcohol in negative, neutral, and positive ways. Warnings about alcohol, especially in regards to drunkenness or addiction are plentiful in Scripture. (e.g. Ephesians 5:18, Titus 2:3) The Bible also makes many positive references about alcohol, seemingly portraying it as a blessing and something to be enjoyed. (e.g. Deuteronomy 14:26, Psalm 104:14-15)
There are examples in Scriptures of people who didn’t drink and of those who did. John the Baptist was not to drink. Jesus and his disciples were of those who did drink, specifically seen doing so at the Last Supper. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine, allowing those who had already drank to continue to doing so.
Nowhere in the Bible are we told that to drink alcohol is a sin. We are told that drunkenness and addiction is wrong. We are also given warnings about causing others to stumble. There are certainly situations where alcohol can cause some to stumble.
So how do we as Christians handle this subject today?
First off, I don’t think this is an issue that necessitates uniformity in Christendom. On the whole scale of theological issues, it is far from a fundamental essential belief or doctrine. Those who make it a subject of great importance of Christian living, from any side of the issue, I think are making too much of it. But it is still a serious subject, nonetheless.
Serious because not heeding the Bible’s warnings about alcohol can lead to detrimental effects, sometimes severe. Serious because Christians can sometimes wrongfully beat up others about the subject, many times it being their own brothers and sisters.
There are Christians who will speak quite condemningly of those who do choose to drink. Even for some who will qualify their statements by saying that they can’t call drinking a sin because the Bible doesn’t, will then still speak in a judgmental and condescending manner of those who drink, most especially if they are fellow Christians, and worst of all – pastors who drink. On the other side of the coin are those who do drink and like to brag about it and portray any Christian who doesn’t drink as a Pharisaical pansy. Moreover, both sides will often misrepresent or exaggerate the “ills” of the other side in order to make the opposition look worse than they really are.
I personally choose to drink. I have no problem with a Christian who chooses not to drink. But I have long seen a problem with those who hold to drinking as being wrong in a legalistic demeanor. Where they will make rules beyond what the Bible says. Even with those who will admit that the Bible doesn’t call drinking in and of itself a sin, but will then go on and basically tell you why it’s wrong to drink. Many of the classic fundamentalist/evangelical taboos such as card playing, going to the movies, dancing, etc. have dwindled in notoriety over the years. Drinking is the one that has held on in many circles.
More recently, I see a problem on the other side of the coin with some who like to flaunt their freedom to drink. Who like to portray themselves as the “cool” or “relevant” Christians. I need to be careful to not do the same.
The last aspect I want to touch on is that of not causing your brother to stumble, as it is often brought into the alcohol discussion. For those of us who think it’s okay to drink, we should always be considering our freedoms in relation to how they affect others. However, I don’t think this is a call for us to make all kinds of new absolute rules. Let’s play this out for a moment.
The argument is often made that even though we have liberty to drink, we should never do it in a way that might possibly cause another brother to stumble. Now some circumstances are obvious. You don’t ever take a struggling alcoholic to a bar to drink with you. However, it is also often argued that you shouldn’t ever take the chance of letting another Christian who thinks it’s wrong to drink see you drink or know that you drink. Lest it may cause them to stumble and violate their own conscience or convictions and start drinking because of your example. Or it may cause them offense to see or know you drink, and that would also be a cause of stumble. And on and on. So more or less by the end of all these arguments, for one who has the freedom to drink, it is only okay to do so in secret where no one else may ever possibly see you or know about it. Essentially a new absolute rule is created.
Now what if we try to stay consistent in this not stumbling your brother approach and apply these same rules to everything else. There are still some Christians who believe it is wrong to go to the movies. Does this mean we should never again go to the movie theater to avoid the possibility of ever causing a brother to stumble who might see us going to the theater or find out that we did? And what about Christians who think it’s wrong to drink caffeine? Do we now only ever drink coffee, or tea, or soda in secret? And what about dancing? Or gambling? Or dating? Or using credit cards? Etc., etc, etc.
If we made a list and avoided everything that might possibly be a personal taboo to some Christian out there, we are going to be resigned to keeping ourselves locked in our houses and living in an environment even more backwards than the Amish.
Lastly on this aspect, the argument is made that alcohol is the biggest and most destructive problem out of all these possible taboos and so that is why it gets special consignment for attention and avoidance. But this is my thought in that regards. Yes, there are plenty of people who struggle with alcohol and its consequences may be the most severe of any we can put on the taboo list.
However, I would hold that while alcohol may have the most severe effects, Christians who struggle with consumerism, and materialism, and covetousness, and keeping up with the Joneses far outnumber those who struggle with alcohol, at least in our Western culture.
I would argue that quantitatively, these vices cause far more sinful actions and ineffectiveness in Christian lives than does alcohol. So being that these things are also big problems, if not even bigger than alcohol, do we also do everything we possibly can to keep ourselves or another Christian from stumbling in these manners? Do we choose to intentionally live a poor life? To live in a shack of a house? To never own a nice car? To never go on a nice vacation? Because if we did ever obtain something of significant financial value, we could possibly cause ourselves or a brother who struggles with consumerism, materialism, and covetousness to stumble. And there are lots of strugglers out there.
So I have gone on far long enough for one blog article.
These are some of my thoughts on the issue of alcohol. An issue that has been and continues to be quite divisive in some segments of Christianity, at least for the past hundred years or so. No matter what one’s thoughts are on the subject, I would at least hope that when the subject comes up, we can work to avoid the condescension and condemnation that has so often accompanied its discourse, and speak respectfully and fairly to and of those with whom we differ.