Alcohol consumption is an issue that can serve to divide the body of Christ. Since the Bible is clear that drinking wine or other alcoholic beverages by themselves is not sinful, this should never be so. While either side of the issue may have strong feelings on the issue, if God does not specifically state that one should not drink and freedom in Christ means just that, then one should always seek the Lord for an answer. Jesus Himself turned water into wine at the Wedding in Cana. So I state clearly at the start of this post that drinking alcohol is permissible and my intent is not to claim otherwise.
That said, I would suggest it is best for a follower of Jesus is to avoid intoxicants of any kind including alcohol. I would suggest that its imperative for anyone in any type of leadership. Let me explain why I think so.
The very thought that I am writing this post testifies to the power of Jesus in this world. Why? Because for much of my life, drinking was as natural part of my life as breathing. Raised in a family of alcoholics, my worldview was so intertwined with alcohol, the very idea of not drinking was something that I could not even contemplate. We drank with holidays, with birthdays, with the good and with the bad. Every time the family gathered we drank lots of booze of all kinds and called it good family time. If good things happened in life, you had a baby, Yay. let’s celebrate with lots of beer. If terrible things happened, family member died, let’s mourn with lots of beer. We met our friends and spouses over drinks and bonded with our parents and children over a few beers. A few meaning many by the way. I could have sooner thought of stopping eating.
My father, a smart, funny extraordinarily accomplished man and my idol growing up, was and is an alcoholic. My grandfather, the scariest man I ever met who was also a pillar in his field was an alcoholic as well. At least four generations of male relatives, talented, smart, funny men shared the same addiction. They, in their own way, were also each destroyed by alcohol along with the children God gave them charge over. Divorce, drunk driving, spousal and familial abuse were as much family trademarks as our dark hair.
With family history not being my friend and the carnage that resulted being all around me every day growing up, you would think that I would avoid alcohol like the plague. Despite seeing the wreckage of all these people’s lives caused by their relationship with alcohol, drinking was still the center of all things thought to be good in my life. When raised without Jesus and in the midst of the pain and turmoil caused by alcoholism, somehow taking away the pain with the same thing that caused the pain makes sense. The emptiness and pain that comes along with a destroyed family of addicts has to be filled somehow, right?
I was well on my way to destroying my life with booze like my dad and grandfather when Jesus stepped in and saved me, first from my sin and then from the burden that my father still bears every single day. The thing is though, it was a close run thing. After I was saved, I did not immediately stop drinking. Despite my wife asking me to and multiple attempts previously to throw out the alcohol in the house, I always came back to the trough of sin. My flesh greatly wanted to continue sinning. The world and the god of this world would have been delighted had I continued to drown myself with wine rather than be filled with the Holy Spirit.
At this point though, we had just started going to a new church and I was actually for the first time seeking what God wanted of me. I wanted to hear from God on my life and family and professional career but unfortunately I did not want to hear God in the one area that I really needed to hear him, drinking, the area that He had been telling me to leave for years. As crazy as it seems now, alcohol, my own little idol was off limits for direction from God despite the fact that I knew He was God. The addiction that was trying to kill me had to stay but I was otherwise praying for God to show me where to go. It makes no sense now but that it is the non-sensical logic of a kid from an alcoholic family.
The new church had some interesting differences though. It was great and vibrant and taught the Bible unfiltered leaving out the traditions and opinions of man. The folks there sought to follow what the Bible said and rather than stay just inside the rules set out in the Bible, they sought to follow Jesus as much as they could. Though the Bible says that wine is not a sin, our new pastor did not drink. Our new church friends did not drink. They understood that they had the freedom to drink and never told anyone not to themselves, but they chose not to out of love for the Lord. God had been showing me for quite a while before this that I should stop drinking. I was able for the first time to see people who I liked, respected and whose relationship with Jesus I aspired to live without alcohol and with no regret. It was not a dry and dusty life, but one that was free from any spirit that would sap or compete with the Holy Spirit’s influence. Do not be drunk with wine which leads to debauchery or dissolution but be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was only now that the conviction that God had been giving me over drinking finally won out over my stubborn sinful nature. I fell to my knees and asked God to save me from my addiction to alcohol. He answered and set this captive free from bondage to alcohol. I consider this a miracle and if you knew me or my father and grandfather you would be praising Jesus just like I do every day I wake up and don’t think about alcohol..
But consider this, what if my pastor and new church friends had been drinkers? What if the pastor had said all the right things about freedom in Christ, comparisons with food or other perfectly sound arguments that I don’t necessarily disagree with scripturally, but I believe in the end miss the point. While Jesus saved me and set me free, it was my own previous choices that were still imprisoning me and would have destroyed my family had I continued in them. If you have the example of drinking pastor and drinking elders and beer flavored small groups, what choice do you think I or any of the millions of others who are struggling with alcohol would make when trying to get free of addiction? Knowing me at that time, I am pretty sure that I would have gone on feeding my flesh and drowning the conviction that the Lord was putting in me. Even if I had made the right choice, how much harder would it have been to sift through the counter arguments, “Sure, I am killing myself and causing my family problems but they does it, he is the pastor and he is fine. Maybe I just need to tone it down a bit.” Addicts are awesome at justifications to continue their addictive behavior so you can fill in the blanks with anything that would have just allowed the drinking to continue.
In talking with my pastor and friends later, they had no idea that I was struggling with generations of alcoholic bondage and burdens as I was very good at hiding it and new to the church. They did know the most important thing, that someone who was one of God’s sheep could be struggling and as drinking doesn’t ever add anything to the family of God, they did not want to add to someone else’s burden with no kingdom focused return.
Now multiply my example by the thousands and tens of thousands of people in the world who battle with alcohol every day. There are thousands upon thousands of people whose family history is so sodden with alcohol that they can’t even contemplate a better way and who cannot understand the “glass of wine with dinner” drinker. Moderation may make sense to you, but it is just an invitation to excess to others. Many of them are like I was, trying to get out of that life, but struggling mightily because of what sin has done to them.
The question can be boiled down to its simplest form, “Who do you want to be to them?” An example of something different or an agent of temptation. Someone set apart from the world that thinks nothing of alcohol or someone a lot like what they are experiencing already. A person has to be out of the mire to pull someone to safety.
Each person is responsible for their own sin. This is true. Each person’s issues should not dictate their brother’s freedom in Christ. Also true. Anything can be a stumbling block. Yes, yes, and yes….but…brothers and sisters in Christ, this one should be easy and the possible damage is momentous. Saying no to a glass of wine, if it’s not a problem and replacing it with something that is not potentially damaging is a minor thing. When someone posts shiny glasses of wine on Facebook with a luxurious meal and candlelight, does that person realize that they also may subtly endorsing someone’s choice of destroying their own life? Yes, its permissible, but is it worth it.
My family and I were watching a video on Youtube one day of a popular Christian worship band. They were doing an informal acoustic session in a cafe type setting and the music was wonderful with God being praised. While the camera was panning, it showed what looked to my mind like a beer bottle on the counter just for a split second. After years of not drinking and not thinking about drinking, that split second of temptation set off a roller coaster of emotions in my brain where all of the turmoil from years before came roaring back at me. I suddenly craved all the trappings of the bar life that I left behind years before and struggled with a wave of emotion that tossed me about. It was only a short time, I did not give in to any temptation and seeing the same video later revealed that it was not even a beer bottle, but, my own weakness and the power of suggestion was clearly demonstrated to me. If not for the power of Jesus and the clear testimony of His saints even in this seemingly little thing, exchanging wine for juice is a little sacrifice after all, I would still be in bondage. As Christians we are free to choose on this issue, but we should also count the cost. We have freedom in Christ which just as often allows us to turn from things that are bad for us or the Body of Christ as allow us to do things that are disputed.