Jan 26, 2008

Weighing in on Christians and Alcohol - Part 1

Alright, now that I have finished my next paper that I have been buried in for the last three days, I can finally come up for air for a few moments. This week, a nice little banter occurred between two of my college students about some issues related to Christian liberty. Just what can a Christian do as a recipient of God's grace and not sin? It's an interesting question that has been debated for many years. I don't suppose to have a corner on the market here. And, I know that many of my opinions are just that, opinions, and will not be shared by many. That's ok.

My friend Caleb started this discussion with a post on his blog that can be found here: http://thehiddenmeanings.blogspot.com/2008/01/why-i-set-boundries.html

Then my other friend Michael, who loves a good controversy and debate, answered Caleb here: http://afterwelefteden.blogspot.com/2008/01/why-i-will-drink-when-im-of-age-and-why.html

Needless to say, I appreciate both of their opinions and their right to share them. I will not comment as of yet on the issue of cursing (because I do more of that than I should). Any of you that know me will probably know where I stand on the issue of the issue of alcohol. Many will assume that I have these opinions because I am a pastor and because I went to seminary and because I am a Baptist (and Baptists don't drink or chew or go with girls that do.) However, my opinions on alcohol were formed completely apart from those issues.

Let me start by making clear to you how I really feel about alcohol. I absolutely hate it! I hate everything about it. I hate it so much that I wish that all alcoholic production facilities would disintegrate and all the people who make billions of dollars making and pushing a legalized drug would spend an eternity being flogged with little whips by those whose lives have been destroyed by their poison. But since I am not God and that decision is not up to me and since alcohol is an evil that will not go away, then I have had to spend a lifetime deciding how I would deal with it.

Thank you for allowing me to vent with a little irrational emotion. With all that said, let me give you a few personal reasons why I hate alcohol and then I will get to some Scriptural and ethical reasons I believe drinking alcohol is unwise for anyone, but especially for a Christ-follower. (Notice I didn't say it was wrong for them to drink, just unwise. And I didn't say it was unwise for a Christian, but for a Christ-follower. Those two things are mutually exclusive)

Personal objections to alcohol
1. My Dad - My father drank alcohol for most of my life until a few years ago. Many years of my life were filled with Pabst Blue Ribbon, Coors Light, and Bud Light. I thought every one's father drank. My dad was not a bad drunk. He tolerated alcohol quite well. However, 30 years of drinking 6 or more beers a day helped to destroy his marriage to my mom and put him in the hospital twice with a heart attack.
2. Johnnie - I met Johnnie when she came to work at Hibbett's with me in college. She was a great girl and to my knowledge, didn't drink. She did hang out with several who did though. One night, the pressure and her problems got too much and she gave in. Three hours later she rolled her car and was killed instantly. I swore at her funeral that my resolve would be stronger than ever.
3. Finances - As I mentioned, my dad drank regularly for most of my life. When I prepared to go to college, there just wasn't enough money to send me to the school of my choice. I did the math though. 6 beers a day, 365 days a year, 18 years - more than enough for tuition. Just helped me see that alcohol may not be the wisest use of money.
4. Too many teenage funerals - As a youth pastor for 15 years, I got sick of attending funerals for students who where killed because either they or someone else was drinking. I know that they weren't old enough to drink and that their immaturity led to their death probably as much as alcohol, but that doesn't change the point. And the whole "Don't drink until you are 21" thing. That's just stupid and an attempt to add some control to something that's unwise anything. I was no more mature on my 21st birthday than I was on my 20th.
5. Personal responsibility to my family - I have a wife and three precious gifts from God in my sons. I owe it to them to represent a Christ-filled image of a man of God as much as possible. I have enough struggle doing that when I lose my temper or fail to lead them in prayer and devotional. I sure don't need to add to that fact confusing them about whether a man of God should drink or not. Life for them will be confusing enough.

Now, with that said, let me make clear my opinion. I do not think its wrong for a Christ-follower (or Christian) to drink. It's not an issue of morality to me. (Although the production of it may be a moral issue to me.) I believe it's an issue of wisdom. I believe that God calls his children to walk in the path of wisdom. The book of Proverbs is filled with commands to such. Also, Christ has become for us wisdom:
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 1 Corinthians 1:30

I believe its a very unwise thing for a Christ-follower to drink and a bad use of the use of the Christian liberty that we have. For it to classify as a sin, it would have to be an intentional, culpable violation of God's will - including violating the Holy Spirit's role in our conscience. I have never been convinced by anyone that drinking alcohol is not an unwise thing. Most of the time the debate is about whether there is something wrong with it. Now, I know that there are a lot of things we do that are not wise - watching too much TV, spending hours playing NCAA football on Playstation, driving 75 in a 70 mile/hour zone. Life is filled with the battle for wisdom on our part. That's why I believe that this issue is so important. Why would I do something unwise that adds no value whatsoever, no matter how culturally acceptable it may be?

I will have some more opinions to post about this subject later, but I want to answer some of my friend Michael's points.

1. "not only is drinking, in moderation, not hazardous to ones help, it has been proven that red wine actually increases the antioxidants, which helps prevent heart attacks." Come on! You gotta do better than this. Drinking wine may help prevent heart attacks, but so does Lipitor, Crestor, and running 5 miles a day on treadmill. There are lots of ways to be more healthy without this. At one time, placing leeches on someone to drain poisons out of their blood was considered good for you. Don't see a lot of people rushing to the store to by leeches. Just because something may be good for your health does not mean it may not be wise.
2. "the perception that alcohol is immoral is held by a small majority of individuals, most of whom reside in the Southern Baptist Convention. outside of the south, drinking is social. in europe, where the drinking age is sixteen, the rate of alcoholism is lower, and drinking alcohol with a meal is morally accepted. here in the US, it is only viewed as immoral by those who have seen the abuse of alcohol, and not its use in moderation." First, this is not an issue about what is acceptable to most Southern Baptist or Presbyterians or any other religious persuasion. It's about biblical wisdom. Second, just because drinking is considered socially or morally acceptable does not mean its wise. There was a time, both here and in Europe, that it was socially acceptable and in some peoples beliefs morally acceptable to own slaves. Not only that, but the Bible would appear to not only not condemn slavery, but speaks to slaves and slave owners (Philemon). There were also many slave owners who were very good to their slaves, treating them as family. Many people could not understand why William Wilberforce and others saw it as an immoral issue. However, few in our day and time accept it anymore. Would the fact that in some countries smoking marijuana is socially and morally acceptable make it a wise thing to do?
3. "now there is something to be said for not doing something for the sake of a weaker brother, which is in 1 Corinthians. but should we not look to strengthen our brother by freeing them from their legalistic mindset? this is where true wisdom is, not in the degradation of alcohol, but in using alcohol moderately, and being wise about whom one drinks with. but this is by no means an argument for giving up the use of alcohol all together." I agree that legalism gets us nowhere. However, the weaker brother principle is not about freeing people from "legalistic mindsets". It's about being wise enough to know that the freedom of Christ may allow us to do some things, but wisdom keeps us from exercising freedom for our sake. How does showing someone that I can drink in moderation actually free them from anything? Especially when you do not know their spiritual background and condition? Furthermore, why would the gospel need a Budweiser to give it credibility? True wisdom is not found in exercising our freedoms in moderation, but in being able not to exercise them at all, not because someone or some system told us not to, but because we are "bought with a price and I am not my own." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Finally, I would tell my friend Michael this - "Have a drink on your 21st birthday. you are free in Christ. Be careful. Be temperate." However, I want to know something. Did Jesus tell you to do this? Did you arrive at your opinion or conviction through careful prayer and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit? Or did you arrive at it by debating alcohol with your friends and looking for some proof texts for it? Is there something about the formation on the character of Christ in you that calls you to this? Or did you just find something on Mark Driscoll's website or book that you thought was cool? I will not argue with you that you are perfectly justified to drink and I believe you would do so in moderation. But I also believe that exercising your freedoms sometimes come at a cost that we pay for many years.

I will have more to say on this subject soon, including some Biblical reasons and some opinions of others why the path of wisdom with alcohol might be abstinence.


Michael said...

man, you gotta be kidding me :)

i'm sure i'll talk to you soon about this. and I'm sure that we will agree to disagree. i think that i can use alcohol with wisdom. it already helps me with people who i know drink that won't even enter into conversations with you because of you're "hatred" of alcohol 9/and you're a minister, but thats beside the point.

and, believe it or not, i came to this opinion with the council of my parents, my mother specifically, whom i have great respect for. that along with MUCH prayer has brought me to the conclusions i now hold to be true.

but you know me, just like a good debate :-)

Matt Haines said...

again. these are only opinions, but opinions I believe heavily.

I would be very careful if the only way that I could enter into conversations is because I become more like them. I am not sure about the whole relevance issue is what it's cracked up to be. I am not sure that what Paul meant by "being all things to all people." I know you didn't say that. I just think it's a slippery slope to say that I will use alcohol to create ministry opportunities. I would rather leave that up to the Holy Spirit.

I deeply respect your opinion and your mother's if she shares that opinion. It's a debatable issue of Christian liberty. I have learned not to lead out with this issue because it is so controversial with so many people.

If you can say with integrity that Christ has led you to this decision through deep prayer and the personal counsel of Scripture, then so be it. That will suffice to me. However, be careful of the implications it will cause and be willing to live with whatever the consequences may be.

To me, the cost of this liberty is just too high with too much at stake.

Again, I did not say you or your parents are wrong. There is not right or wrong on this one. Believe me.

John said...

I like it Matt.
Not drinking alcohol was a huge witness to me in England. I can't tell you how many opportunities it gave me to explain "why don't you drink?" and how many people I talked to who honestly wished they could do the same. I have always seen it as an unwise activity but that never stopped me from going down to the local pub with friends and enjoying myself.

On a somewhat different note, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, drunken driving, and alcohol abuse in general has absolutely skyrocketed in England over the past decade. Claiming that they are "better with drink because they started sooner and learned to respect it." Is completely and utterly false. If anyone wants statistics or even anecdotes then I will be sure to provide.

Michael said...

my apologies John, I was misinformed on that point.

Anonymous said...

Matt, thanks for your insights. As one whose life has been deeply touched by alcohol I share your opinions. My life was changed at the age of 6 by alcohol and I have never been the same since.
I know the youth of today are looking for "freedom", but this freedom has chains of bondage they know not of, and their children and children's children may well suffer the consequences. My prayers are for your young friends and their blindness to Satan's attempt to lead them away from God's best.

Cabes said...

The last comment was by far the best words of wisdom i have heard on this subject. Fellas, there's your experienced veteran! Learn from it.

Haines said...

I too know the affects alcohol can have on a family. As Matt's bro I saw alot of the same things he did. I saw how it affected my mom and dad's marriage and they will both tell you to this day, that without his battle with alcohol, that they would still be married today.

I also saw it tear up another marriage of a good friend of mine. He had 3 beautiful daughters and now he is not a big part of their life because of it.

I choose not to drink because I see NO POSITIVES in it at all. I may get drunk and have a "so-called good time". But what do you really have? You have a bunch of idiots gathered together showing their butts and then they get in a vehicle, where they can endanger their life and the lives of the innocent on the roads. And they get to vomit all night and wake up with a headache?

What exactly is good about that?