To Drink or Not to Drink: Abstinence or Moderation
By Shawn Kennedy
It’s no secret, when it comes to the subject of drinking as a follower of Jesus Christ, people have passionate opinions, personal experiences, and deeply held convictions.
For some followers of Jesus the very thought of someone drinking a beer or a glass of wine makes them cringe. They serve in a church and signed a covenant that they would not drink under any circumstance and for any reason.
They have read the research that indicates 1 out of 7 people who drink on a consistent basis eventually become alcoholics. They cannot understand why someone who loves Jesus would want to participate in something that has a solid chance of sabotaging their life or the lives of the people they love. They don’t say it out loud, but deep down they feel that if someone is a Christian and they drink alcohol they may love Jesus, but they really are not a serious, sold out, fully devoted follower of Jesus.
SOME ARE FINE
On the other hand, some followers of Jesus feel the exact opposite when it comes to this subject. They see nothing wrong with having a drink and depending on the day and depending on who they work with they may have two drinks. They are in a church that hosts events with beer tents and wine is accessible and available for people to enjoy. For these people their only issue with someone drinking alcohol is the type of alcohol they are drinking. They question whether someone truly loves Jesus is if they are drinking a Coors Light, instead of a Stone IPA. They relish freedom that is given through Christ and long for others to walk in this same freedom.
SOME ARE ADDICTS
Then there are others, who truly are addicted to alcohol. They use it to numb the pain of reality, escape from responsibility and alleviate the burdens of life.
So what stance should we take? If we are a follower of Jesus should we drink in moderation or should we abstain? To drink or not to drink that is the question.
It is simple question, but it doesn’t have a simple answer.
BLACK AND WHITE
There are some things in the Bible that are black and white. They are clear cut and leave little room for debate. We do not need to pray about it, ask others for their advice or read books to further our knowledge. In these areas, our issue is not CLARITY, but rather OBEDIENCE.
Here are two truths we clearly find in the Bible.
TRUTH #1: THE CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL IN OF ITSELF IS NOT A SIN
In the Bible people who loved God from time to time drank alcohol and it was not universally prohibited or mandated that they should not drink.
In Psalm 104, we find the psalmist attributing wine as a gift from God that should be enjoyed.
“He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.” (Psalm 104:14-15)
If we go back further, we find God commanding the people of God to once a year set aside a tithe of what they owned and enjoy it in the presence of God. One of things they were to enjoy was wine.
“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always.” (Deuteronomy 14:22-23)
What we find affirmed in the Old Testament, we have every reason to believe was affirmed in the New Testament, especially when we come to the life of Jesus.
The first miracle of Jesus wasn’t healing a blind man or calming storms on raging seas. The very first miracle of Jesus was at a wedding in Cana, where He turned water into wine. It wasn’t a small amount of wine and it wasn’t a weaker quality of wine.
“The master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:9-11)
Is the consumption of alcohol in of itself a sin? No. There is not one passage of scripture in the Bible that universally prohibits followers of Jesus from ever consuming a drink of alcohol.
BRIEF CHURCH HISTORY
Not only do you see people who love God enjoying a drink from time to time inside the Bible, you also see this outside the Bible throughout church history.
In my opinion, the historical position throughout much of church history has been that followers of Jesus enjoyed alcohol in moderation. In the Middle Ages and still to this day, monasteries are considered to be the epicenter for some of the greatest quality beer. Martin Luther’s wife was a home brewer and John Calvin’s salary package included an allotment wine.
As time progressed, so did the the stance inside of the church. There became a clear shift from moderation to abstinence after seeing first hand much of the destruction in the wake of those who abused alcohol. In 1869, a methodist pastor named Dr. Thomas Welch created an alternative to wine for communion. Since that time, people have highly debated whether followers of Jesus should drink under any circumstance and for any reason.
TRUTH #2: BEING CONSUMED BY ALCOHOL IS A SIN
The Bible goes to great lengths to stress that drunkenness or being consumed by alcohol is a sin. In God’s eyes it a serious matter. It isn’t funny, cool, to be celebrated or elevated.
Here are a few passages that demonstrate this truth.
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.” (Proverbs 23:29-31)
“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.” (Romans 13:13)
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
There is never a time in the Bible where God approves of being consumed by alcohol.
If you are reading this article and you are consumed by alcohol, please get help. If you cannot put a glass of wine or a glass of beer down for a week, you need to take a serious look at your life. On behalf of your pastor, your spouse, your friends and family, get help!
GETTING BACK TO THE MAIN QUESTION
The main question isn’t “CAN a follower of Jesus drink?” The main question, we are asking and I am attempting to answer is “as a follower of Jesus SHOULD I drink?”
When it comes to this question, you will not find a clear black and white answer in the Bible. Unless you are under the age of twenty-one, it is a grey area in the Christian life . Grey areas are difficult areas for us and require a large amount of discernment. The answer to grey areas might be different for different people and at different seasons and times. Our tendency is to take our personal convictions in those grey areas and make them absolute truths for people to follow and obey. When we do this we operate outside the bounds of what the Bible teaches.
It is with this in mind that I would like to suggest three practical questions that I ask myself as a follower of Jesus when dealing with the question, “to drink or not to drink?”
QUESTION #1: IS IT WISE?
Just because in Christ I have the liberty to drink, doesn’t necessarily mean I should exercise that liberty. My main guiding rule in grey areas is to slow down and ask, “Is it wise.”
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise.” (Ephesians 5:15)
As a pastor, I am especially aware of this question. Who is around me? Who is watching me? What kind of example am I setting? Is this a safe place? Am I guarding the reputation of our church family?
Just because I can drink, doesn’t mean I should drink.
QUESTION #2 IS IT WELCOMED?
We have to be aware of our surroundings and ask the question, “Is this welcomed?” We cannot live your lives trying to please others, but we can make decisions that look to benefit others.
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” (Romans 14:13)
It is incredible what happens, when we slow down and ask what is the best way to love those around me. We have great freedom afforded to us in Christ, but we also have a great responsibility and opportunity to love.
QUESTION #3: IS IT WORTH IT?
Ask yourself this question, “what is my primary motivation?” Are you trying to escape, drowned out challenges in life or feel accepted? Or is what motivates you a deep down joy and pleasure? Do you love the taste and complexity? Is it worth it?
I think when it comes to this question, we should treat followers of Jesus with love, liberty and respect. Some of us have a deep conviction to abstain from drinking. Some of us have a deep conviction to enjoy a drink in moderation. All of us should seek first and foremost to honor and glorify God and build His Kingdom.
Shawn Kennedy is a part of the Lead Pastoral Team at Existence Church. He is the co-author of Kingdom Come: A Gospel-Centered Guide to Discipleship. You can follow him on twitter or facebook.