Alcohol: To Imbibe Or Not To Imbibe?

The issue of alcohol has always been a controversial one within the Christian community. Did Jesus make, or advocate the use of, intoxicating wine? Is having an occasional drink really that big of a deal? These are certainly valid questions that committed Christians have asked over the
years.

Beliefs and practices among individuals vary. Baptists, Pentecostals and conservative Methodists tend to advocate total abstinence, while Catholics and mainline Protestants generally take a more moderate approach. This is an “in house” debate with sincere, well meaning believers on both sides.

I personally am a lifelong teetotaler. For a variety of reasons I have always felt that it was something that I was better off without (more on that in a moment). Yet I am also a strong advocate of Christian liberty and I firmly believe that prudishness and legalism are actually counterproductive to true holiness. So would lightning strike me if I were to drink a beer or a glass of wine? Probably not, but that misses the point.

I fully acknowledge my personal bias as I have seen alcohol destroy many lives. I have often wondered how much different those lives might have been if they had just said “no” to that first drink. These observations have made me quite sympathetic to Billy Sunday’s declaration that “The saloon is a liar. It promises good cheer and sends sorrow. It promises prosperity and sends adversity. It promises happiness and sends misery…. It is God’s worst enemy and the devil’s best friend.¹ “

Nonetheless, I realize that I cannot call something a sin that the Bible does not. God only forbids drinking in when done in excess. Bible lands were lands of lush vineyards and grape products were a key part of their respective economies and in the people’s everyday lives. I certainly hold no ill will toward my brothers and sisters in Christ who see the issue differently than I do. Blogger Tim Challies sums it up well:

I am convinced that the consumption of alcohol is a Romans 14 kind of issue that falls within the bounds of Christian liberty. This necessarily means that one abstains because he believes that this is what the Lord requires while another partakes because he believes that the Lord has given him this kind of freedom. Both do it based on their understanding of Scripture and both do it to heed conscience. Even though one has a better understanding of what the Lord demands of us, neither one is sinning and both are required to obey conscience. ²

Yet if you are a Christian who drinks, I still encourage you to use great caution and discernment. From the roughly 750 references to alcohol in the Bible, only a handful describe it in a positive light. For example, in the Book of Proverbs, wine is referred to as a mocker and a deceiver that leads to violence (20:1-2). Other Proverbs describe it as leading to poverty (23:21), sorrow (23:29-30), immorality (23:33), insecurity (23:34), insensibility (23:35) and is even compared to a venomous snake (23:32)!

Admittedly, I have always been a bit perplexed at the account of Jesus making wine at the wedding feast (John 2:1-11). The reason is really not a reflection of casual drinking. Rather, the concern is contextual. At the time Jesus had arrived at the feast, the guests had “well drunk” of whatever they were drinking (verse 10). For Jesus to provide more alcohol in a setting where people were already intoxicated would mean that He contributed to drunkenness, which is a clear cut sin. With this in mind, it has been suggested that the beverage Jesus made was a nonalcoholic
grape drink. While this is possible (the Greek word used here, oinos and can refer to grape juice in any stage, either
fermented or unfermented), it seems like a bit of a stretch at a wedding. It is here that a bit of historical background is helpful.

In Bible days, clean drinking water was sometimes very difficult to come by. So the people had a very practical way around the problem. They would dilute the wine with water. This served two purposes: The alcohol in the wine would serve as a purifying agent for the water and in turn, the dilution would prevent the wine from making you drunk. At a ratio of about six parts water to one part wine, your bladder would intervene before you got a buzz! Nonetheless, to drink undiluted wine was still generally frowned upon.³

Even in the secular world (especially since COVID), many are rethinking their attitudes toward alcohol. Consequentially, more alternatives are available in the form of nonalcoholic beer and cocktails. I believe this is a positive thing. There are certainly occasions when non-drinkers might want to enjoy something more festive than a soft drink.

As for me, my abstinence is geared toward three specific goals:

  • To keep my mind and spirit clear, focused and sober (Proverbs 20:1; Luke 21:34; 2 Corinthians 10:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 5:8)

  • To avoid addiction and enslavement (1 Corinthians 3:17; 9:27; 1 Thessalonians 4:4)

  • To set a positive example for others (Matthew 5:13-14; Romans 14:21).

… and that has always served me well.

Keep It Real,

James

NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY:

1. John R. Rice, ed, “The Best of Billy Sunday” (Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Sword of the Lord Publishing, 1965, page 76. Quoted in Jack Van Impe’s book
Alcohol: The Beloved Enemy . 1980. Jack Van Impe Crusades, Royal Oak, Michigan, page 852.

2. Challies, Tim. Christians and Alcohol. 28 November, 2011.

3-Taken from John Macarthur’s sermon Be Not Drunk With Wine Part 2.

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