God Gave C2H6O(9 posts)
The Old Testament Patriarchs did it. The Prophets did it. Jesus and the Apostles did it. The Early Church Fathers did it. The Reformers did it. The Puritans did it. Then, in the last century or two, someone figured out what all of them had missed for those thousands of years. I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, so this one thing troubles me: Why did God not providentially place a couple of Southern Baptists in Cana of Galilee on that fateful wedding day to prevent his son from doing such a foolish thing?
Read How Does It Feel To Exclude Jesus From Your Denomination? by Brent Thomas.
Read The Sword and Spirits, Drinking with Jesus, & Akin on Alcohol by Joe Thorn (HT: Timmy Brister).
This is a topic that I have never intended to write on, primarily because of the inevitable knee-jerk reactions it will provoke. Those reactions will be along the lines of, “Yeah, right. Here’s another libertine trying to justify his sin, another carnal Christian (a fictitious character, by the way) indulging his flesh in the name of Christian liberty.” In a post on another blog, and in the subsequent comments (the provocation for this post), the observation was made that the only people who seem to care about this issue are precisely that kind of person. That observation, which in my experience has been accurate, was intended to demonstrate that only the unsanctified and self-centered would defend such an indefensible practice, but the spiritually mature know better. I believe the commenters who questioned the motives of those who defend this practice were sincere, but very often that charge is little more than a way of disqualifying their opponents by attacking their character — Clearly, if you were more holy, you would see it my way — so, because of the very predictable ad hominem, very few are even willing to take on the argument. Well, like a modern day Mighty Mouse, here I come to save the day!
The topic, in case you have forgotten your chemistry (like me — I had to look it up) is beverage alcohol use. The purpose of this post is not to defend myself, but the sufficiency of Scripture and the character of God. That may seem grandiose, but I believe the stakes are that high. You will see why as this topic unfolds. The purpose of this post is not to persuade anyone to drink wine who doesn’t want to. Also, I do not believe I am under any obligation to prove anything. I am not trying to bind anyone’s conscience, and I believe Scripture is plain enough to place the burden of proof on the prohibitionists, not me.
Although it should go without saying, this is not a defense of drunkenness. It’s a shame that I have to say so, but there are those who refuse to separate drunkenness from the enjoyment of a gift from God. They will probably continue to do so in spite of this disclaimer, but there it is.
Another reason I have not formally addressed this issue is the fact that many men whom I deeply respect disagree with me. In fact, the one Bible teacher who has had the greatest influence on my theology, of whom I can say with no exaggeration, “I am who I am because of his ministry,” will disagree with me on this. I won’t name him, because that would require me to explain just how we disagree in order to avoid misrepresenting his views, so I’ll leave it at that. On the astronomically unlikely chance that he is reading this and knows who he is, with all due respect, Sir, I think you’re wrong; but you’re still my hero.
Some of the issues I will address, not necessarily in order, are:
- Is drinking alcoholic beverages a sin?
- Is abstinence a higher standard?
- Is moderation acceptable, but abstinence wiser?
- Are the “rules” different now than they were in “Bible times?”
- What about the “weaker brother?”
I will not be addressing the “wine back then was Welch’s” argument. With all due respect to some pretty smart guys who say so, I just don’t think it’s a viable theory worthy of consideration. [Update, 2008-08-07: Bob Hayton has addressed this here.]
I really have nothing to say about this that has not already been said. If readers from Doulogos come over here and suspect that some of my remarks are copy & pasted from my comments there, well, that’s possible. Additionally, much of my understanding of this issue comes from God Gave Wine by Kenneth L. Gentry. If readers of that book suspect me of plagiarism, I confess right up front; but it’s not intentional.
Finally, some may ask, “Why address this at all? If it is such a contentious, divisive issue, why not just give it up? Why not just abstain for the sake of peace and unity?” Because peace and unity cannot be had at the expense of truth. The truth cannot be sold, especially so cheaply.
This issue is being discussed currently because the Southern Baptist Convention has written a resolution condemning alcohol use. Consequently, the question has been asked, “How Does It Feel To Exclude Jesus From Your Denomination?”
Tune in next time for Sola Scriptura and the SBC.
Read How Does It Feel To Exclude Jesus From Your Denomination? by Brent Thomas.
Read The Sword and Spirits, Drinking with Jesus, & Akin on Alcohol by Joe Thorn.
Buy God Gave Wine by Kenneth L. Gentry.
As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, this issue has been raised in the last few weeks because the Southern Baptist Convention has passed a resolution expressing “total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages.” Please take the time to read the resolution for yourself.
The resolution cites as its justification the negative results of alcohol abuse and addiction, attributing them all to “alcohol use.” It attributes the acceptance and advocacy of alcoholic beverage consumption by “some religious leaders” to “a misinterpretation of the doctrine of ‘our freedom in Christ’.”
If the words “alcohol use” were replaced with “drunkenness,” I would agree with every part of the resolution except the part about “supporting legislation that is intended to curb alcohol use in our communities and nation.” We already have laws against drunk driving, boating, and handling firearms. Those are good laws. We certainly do not need to waste our time and efforts pressing for redundant laws. The witness of the church has suffered enough from the crusades of those who have confused the Great Commission with the Great Political Campaign; but that’s a topic for another post.
While the legalistic nature of the SBC resolution should be evident even to abstentionists, and while legalism is certainly spoken of in Scripture as a great evil, my greatest objection goes much deeper than that. I believe that this issue, although it may seem superficial, is a fair litmus test of one’s view of Scripture, and therefore of God. Is Scripture true, or not? Is it the sole source of doctrine, or are there additional doctrines that need to be added? Does Scripture contain the whole counsel of God, or did he leave some things out? This resolution, and the history of fundamentalist prohibitionism, is no less than a rejection of sola Scriptura, “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). It doesn’t get any more fundamental than that. That, and not my enjoyment of a drink, is what fuels my passion on this issue.
As I approach this issue, sola Scriptura will be the first guiding principle. The second, which is Siamese twin to the first, is tota Scriptura, the doctrine that all of Scripture is authoritative and relevant. While prohibitionists are always quick to cite Scripture forbidding drunkenness or describing special circumstances calling for abstention, I have yet to hear a serious treatment of passages such as Psalm 104:14–15 or Deuteronomy 14:22–27. It seems as though they have taken white-out to the two-hundred-plus passages mentioning wine.
The final principle governing my approach, which should really go without saying, it that of 2 Timothy 2:15 — “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Perhaps the most glaring deficiency of the SBC resolution is the atrociously amateurish hermeneutics. If this is a good example of the authors’ exegesis and hermeneutics, I wouldn’t let them teach my five-year-old’s Sunday school class, let alone represent an entire denomination.
So far, I have only stated my position without proof. As in all things, Scripture alone and Scripture in full must be our authority as we consider this important issue. In my next installment, I will begin answering the question, “Exactly what does Scripture say about wine?”
Search the Bible for the words wine and strong drink. Ignore those that obviously address drunkenness, unless you’re looking for a defense of it (time-saving hint: you won’t find any). Read each passage in context. Ask the text, “Is it a good thing?” Consider the passages calling for abstention. Ask the text, “Who, why, when, and for how long?” This is the time to leave comments involving passages that you believe support an abstentionist or prohibitionist position, but do so with 2 Timothy 2:15 in mind. If you’re too lazy to do the work, chances are that I’ll be too lazy to consider your comment.
The following is a list of verses containing the words wine and strong drink, generated by E-sword from the KJV.
Genesis 9:21, 24; 14:18; 19:32, 33, 34, 35; 27:25, 28, 37; 49:11, 12;
Leviticus 10:9; 23:13;
Numbers 6:3, 20; 15:5, 7, 10; 18:12; 28:7, 14;
Deuteronomy 7:13; 11:14; 12:17; 14:23, 26; 16:13; 18:4; 28:39, 51; 29:6; 32:33, 38; 33:28;
Joshua 9:4, 13;
Judges 9:13; 13:4, 7, 14; 19:19;
1 Samuel 1:14, 15, 24; 10:3; 16:20; 25:18, 37;
2 Samuel 6:19; 13:28; 16:1, 2;
2 Kings 18:32;
1 Chronicles 9:29; 12:40; 16:3; 27:27;
2 Chronicles 2:10, 15; 11:11; 31:5; 32:28;
Ezra 6:9; 7:22;
Nehemiah 2:1; 5:11, 15, 18; 10:37, 39; 13:5, 12, 15;
Esther 1:7, 10; 5:6; 7:2, 7, 8;
Job 1:13, 18; 32:19;
Psalm 4:7; 60:3; 75:8; 78:65; 104:15;
Proverbs 3:10; 4:17; 9:2, 5; 20:1; 21:17; 23:30, 31; 31:4, 6;
Ecclesiastes 2:3; 9:7; 10:19;
Song of Solomon 1:2, 4; 4:10; 5:1; 7:9; 8:2;
Isaiah 1:22; 5:11, 12, 22; 16:10; 22:13; 24:7, 9, 11; 27:2; 28:1, 7; 29:9; 36:17; 49:26; 51:21; 55:1; 56:12; 62:8; 65:8;
Jeremiah 13:12; 23:9; 25:15; 31:12; 35:2, 5, 6, 8, 14; 40:10, 12; 48:33; 51:7;
Ezekiel 27:18; 44:21;
Daniel 1:5, 8, 16; 5:1, 2, 4, 23; 10:3;
Hosea 2:8, 9, 22; 3:1; 4:11; 7:5, 14; 9:2, 4; 14:7;
Joel 1:5, 10; 2:19, 24; 3:3, 18;
Amos 2:8, 12; 5:11; 6:6; 9:13, 14;
Micah 2:11; 6:15;
Haggai 1:11; 2:12;
Zechariah 9:15, 17; 10:7;
Mark 2:22; 15:23;
Luke 1:15; 5:37, 38, 39; 7:33; 10:34;
John 2:3, 9, 10; 4:46;
1 Timothy 3:3, 8; 5:23;
Titus 1:7; 2:3;
1 Peter 4:3;
Revelation 6:6; 14:8, 10; 16:19; 17:2; 18:3, 13
In this installment, I will bring Scripture to bear on the assertions I have made. To systematically go through every mention of wine or strong drink in Scripture is a long and tedious process. I know, I’ve done it. I won’t bore you with every one of them. The comments to this post will be the place to bring up passages that you believe I have overlooked or avoided. I will attempt to answer objections in a later post.
As you saw at the end of the last installment, there are over two hundred uses of the words wine and strong drink in Scripture. There are passages describing, forbidding, and warning against drunkenness, which are not germane to this discussion. There are passages dealing with special circumstances requiring abstention. Those will be discussed in a later post.
There are numerous passages in which wine appears just as a matter of fact. Nothing positive or negative is said about it. That, however, does not mean we cannot draw any conclusions from them concerning wine. The most obvious conclusion is that wine was a constant, normal part of life throughout Bible history. Through it all, there are no sweaty preachers ranting about the evils of “demon rum” and repeating tearful anecdotes about the poor man who thought he could get away with “taking Satan into his mouth” just once, but ended his life an alcoholic wreck. That kind of drama is entirely missing from Scripture. (I do realize that not all prohibitionists are “sweaty” or “ranting,” but if they will portray Biblical enjoyment of a gift as carnal and licentious, then I must be allowed my caricatures, as well.)
Throughout the Old Testament we see wine as an integral part of worship, which continues as Christ instituted the Lord's Table, assigning the representation of his blood to the Passover wine.
The first mention of wine in Scripture, after that of Noah’s drunkenness, is in Genesis 14. Lot had been taken captive, and Abram had rescued him along with all the other captives and spoils of battle. “Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of Heaven and Earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thine hand.” Melchizedek brought wine for the purpose of dispensing a priestly blessing. Lest anyone doubt Melchizedek’s character, Psalm 110 declares Christ himself to be “a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Exodus 29 brings the institution of “one fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering,” repeated again in Leviticus and Numbers. Wine is included among the produce that must be tithed on. The passage that nailed me between the eyes when I was at the height of my (brief) prohibitionist piety is Deuteronomy 14:22–26, “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. "You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.” The idea of spending a tithe on “strong drink” was a revelation to me. Clearly, God could not both prescribe and forbid the same thing.
Wine is also named frequently as a blessing. Isaac’s blessing of Jacob (Genesis 27) includes these words: “Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.” In Deuteronomy 7, God promises that, if Israel will keep his commandments, that he will “bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee.” In 2 Kings 18, the Lord promises to return Israel “to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil olive and of honey, that ye may live, and not die.”
Numerous texts describe the loss of wine (and other crops) or its production as judgment from God. Among them are Deuteronomy 28, Isaiah 16 & 24, Jeremiah 48, and Lamentations 2.
Probably the most common text cited in favor of wine is Psalm 104:14–15: “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man.” It seems fairly obvious that wine is given by God, and that we should receive it gratefully.
More convincing than the texts that describe literal wine as a blessing are those that do so figuratively. If wine was a thing to be condemned, surely God would not choose it to represent blessing when he has all of creation to choose from. Yet, he includes it among other things as a cause of joy, health, and wealth.
In Zechariah 10, it is said that “Ephraim . . . shall rejoice as through wine (at the salvation of the Lord).” In the previous chapter, we read “. . . corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.”
Hosea 2 speaks of the woman who played the harlot (Israel) and did not acknowledge that her corn, wine, and oil were given by her husband (God) and offered silver and gold to Baal. God then destroys the vineyards that she has attributed to her lovers. Then, in a picture of redemptive grace, he draws her back to himself, and gives her new vineyards. “And the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel (God sows).”
Song of Solomon repeatedly uses wine as a metaphor for the sweetness of marital intimacy: “. . . thy love is better than wine” (1:2), “. . . how much better is thy love than wine!” (4:10), and the erotic suggestion, “I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate” (8:2).
Isaiah 55:1 presents “wine and milk” as a picture of grace: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Throughout the Old Testament wine is constantly present. It is present as an ordinary part of life. It is present in the priestly sacrifices. It is used in celebration, and it is a cause for gladness and joy. It is a choice metaphor for marital intimacy.
In the New Testament, as we should expect, wine is still an ordinary staple of life. Jesus used wine to illustrate his messages (Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5). The “good Samaritan” didn’t have go get wine to pour on the beaten man’s wounds, he was carrying it with him (Luke 10). More to the point, Jesus drank wine. In Luke 7, he is even accused of drunkenness. Furthermore, he made wine — several gallons of it, for the purpose of celebration. Finally, observing the Passover with his disciples, he took the cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Wine is a good thing; of that, there should be no doubt. It should be treated the same as every other gift from God. It should be received with gratitude, giving glory to God.
In the last installment of this series, I established the fact that wine and strong drink are a good gift from the Lord that should be received as such with gratitude and joy, as should all gifts from God's hand. Now I want to turn to the issue of abstinence according to Scripture. Does Scripture ever call for abstinence, and if so, under what circumstances and for what purpose?
Scripture really has little to say about abstinence. There are a few instances where abstinence is prescribed or described. When the account is prescriptive, it is always for a time and purpose. Only Samson and John the Baptist were called to a life-long Nazarite vow, which included abstinence from wine and strong drink.
In Leviticus 10, Aaron and his sons are commanded not to drink wine or strong drink when they were to minister in the tabernacle. The purpose was to set them apart as holy from that which was unholy, common. Ezekiel 44 contains a similar command.
Numbers 6 introduces the Nazarite vow. The Nazarite was forbidden to cut his hair. He could not go near dead bodies, including family members, should they die during the days of his separation. He was to “abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin.” When the days of his separation were complete, he was to bring the prescribed offerings to the priest and shave his “dedicated hair.” “. . . and after that, the Nazarite may drink wine.”
In Judges 13, the angel of the Lord announces to Manoah and his wife that she, although barren, would conceive and bear a son, Samson, who would be a Nazarite from the womb, necessitating temporary abstinence for Mrs. Manoah as well.
Jeremiah 35 brings us the interesting story of the Rechabites, who had been commanded by Jonadab the son of Rechab “Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever: Neither shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any: but all your days ye shall dwell in tents; that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers.” The Lord instructs Jeremiah to bring the sons of the house of the Rechabites together, set wine before them, and instruct them to drink. In obedience to the patriarchal command, the Rechabites refuse. God then commends them for their obedience, and chastises Israel for their disobedience to him. It is a fascinating account of God and his holiness and justice and of disobedience and its consequences, but it has nothing to do with abstinence from alcohol. Obedience is the theme.
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah requested that they be allowed to forgo the king’s meat and wine because “the heathen at their feasts offered up in sacrifice to their gods a part of the food and the drink, and thus consecrated their meals by a religious rite;” (C.F. Keil). It has only now occurred to me that they probably ate meat and drank wine at other times, but I have not yet pursued the answer to that question. Daniel 10 tells us, “In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled” (emphasis added). Did he then eat meat and drink wine afterwards? It seems probable.
In Luke 1 we read the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias and Elisabeth. The angel said, “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.” Like Samson, his was a special calling to be set apart for a unique purpose.
It may seem as though these special cases, because they are special cases, have no bearing at all on what the norm should be. However, I believe they are especially relevant to us for that very reason. These individuals were being set apart for special purposes. Set apart from what? From the normal, acceptable, expected behavior and practices of everyday life, which include wine and strong drink.
“Well then, Mr. Winebibber,” you might ask, “is there ever a time to abstain?”
Stay tuned . . .
“I know there’s nothing wrong with alcohol, but I abstain for the weaker brother.”
What is wrong with that statement? Absolutely nothing, in the right context. However, if that means abstinence as a lifestyle, and categorizing everyone who disapproves as the weaker brother, it demonstrates ignorance of the Scriptural principle involved.
Romans 14 and 1Corinthians 8 speak of meat, which, for our purposes, can legitimately be replaced with wine and strong drink. Both are good things, given by God for our nourishment and pleasure, which, let us not forget, serve the ultimate purpose of God’s glory. The meat sacrificed to idols was perfectly good to eat, not defiled in any way by having been sacrificed to pagan gods, since those gods did not exist; but some immature Christians, in their ignorance, could not eat it with a clear conscience. Wine and strong drink are good, commended to us in Scripture; but some Christians, ignorant of what Scripture teaches concerning alcohol and conditioned by their home and/or church to believe it is sinful, worldly, or unwise, cannot enjoy it with a clear conscience. Some, but not all, of those Christians are called “weaker brothers,” and are deserving of our consideration as we exercise our right to enjoy God’s gifts.
The only Scriptural call for purposeful abstinence is when doing otherwise will cause a brother to sin. How can doing something that is clearly not a sin cause another to sin? God is far more concerned with the activity that takes place in our minds than what we do with our hands. If we mistakenly believe something is a sin, and willfully do it anyway, we have rebelled against God even though the particular activity is good. If a brother, for any reason, believes drinking alcohol, or eating chocolate, or playing baseball is sinful, and we persuade him to do it without first convincing him of the truth, we have caused him to sin.
Who, then, is the weaker brother? He is not just anyone who doesn’t drink and thinks you shouldn’t, either. He is not one who is annoyed that you would drink in his presence knowing he doesn’t. He is definitely not one who has read Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and has decided that he is the weaker brother because he disapproves of drinking wine. Odd as that sounds, such people do exist. They believe others should comply with their preferences based on those passages. They are not the weaker brother. These people are not going to follow the example of others; they are offended that others do not follow their example.
The weaker brother is ignorant of his liberty and bound to a false standard of morality, but could be persuaded to violate his conscience by the example of a mature believer exercising his liberty inconsiderately. What constitutes “exercising liberty inconsiderately” depends on the situation. The best I can do, following the guidance of Romans 14 and 1Corinthians 8, is give a few examples as they may occur in my experience. You will have to make your own application.
We are acquainted with the local IFB pastor and his family. They are total abstainers, but I don’t think he would call drinking a sin. We are also acquainted with the local SBC pastor. I have heard him give a less dramatic rendition of the caricature I presented in Part 3 of this series. If I was sitting on my deck sipping a Warsteiner Dunkel and either of these good men dropped by for a visit, I wouldn’t tuck my bottle out of sight in shame, or in fear of offending a weaker brother. Neither of them would have a beer even if I offered it. At least one of them would probably die a martyr’s death first. They are not weaker brothers. They would not violate their consciences at my urging.
Now, suppose a member of either of those churches stops by, and I am sampling my home-made wine. I offer him a taste, and he declines. Seeing by his expression that he is uncomfortable with it, . . .
. . . I say, “How about a Coke, then, or a glass of water?” Then, when I go to get his drink, I take my wine glass away and return with a soda for myself as well. Maybe some other time we’ll have a conversation about wine, and I’ll be able to show him what Scripture says. At the same time, I’ll emphasize the fact that, whatever he does, he needs to be fully convinced that it is right. Until that time, I won’t rub his nose in my liberty.
. . . I say some thing like, “Ah, come on, it’s good! Try it!” I cajole and prod him, challenging his abstentionist scruples: “You don’t think there’s something wrong with it, do you? That’s just legalistic nonsense!” Perhaps I coerce him until he gives in, but without full conviction.
Obviously, the first choice is the right choice. I am respecting my brother’s conscience, and leaving the door open for discipling him toward a stronger, better informed faith. In the second scenario, I am bullying him into sinning against his conscience.
I take my family to dinner after church. Our normal habit is pizza and a pitcher of beer (not really, but let’s pretend). This Sunday, a family joins us whom I know or suspect are abstainers. That alone doesn’t make them “weaker brothers,” but rather than place what might be a temptation before what might be a weaker brother, we’ll have root beer instead.
I could go on with countless examples, and you have probably thought of a few, also. This is a principle that must be addressed with wisdom and charity on a case-by-case basis. The motivation for abstinence in these cases is not to be more righteous, or to adhere to some imagined “higher standard.” It is love for our brother. We are not to stubbornly insist on exercising our rights at the expense of our brother’s sanctification. When we do so, we sin.
The other side of this coin is the admonition to those who abstain to not judge those who don’t, just as those who drink should not despise those who do not. “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him” (Romans 14:3). Those who abstain are not to think of themselves as more righteous, more mature, or wiser that those who do not.
Whether we eat or drink is irrelevant to the kingdom of God. Scripture tells us clearly which things are sin and which are not. When considering those things that are not clearly sinful, the rule is “live and let live.” Love one another, and live at peace with one another. Make no rules to bind the conscience that are not clearly found in Scripture, and do not encourage others to do what they cannot conscientiously do.
Read more on the question of offense and the weaker brother in the following interestingly titled Fide-O posts:
When All Else Fails Quote a Bible Verse by Scott Hill
Weaky Weakerton by Scott Hill
Larry Legalist Goes to Corinth by Scott Hill
Hercules Henderson by Scott Hill
Off The Fence On Offense by Tony Langdon
In the next post, which should be the last, I will answer questions and objections that have been raised here or elsewhere. It might be a somewhat redundant post, but hopefully, it will tie up any remaining loose ends. Now is the time to bring up any questions or objections that you think have not been adequately addressed. Last call!
In this post, I will answer questions and objections that have been brought up in the comments on this blog, as well as those I have encountered elsewhere. Some of this will be redundant, it may be a bit rambling and unorganized, and it might get long. As I address some of the comments that have been left on this blog, it should not be construed as singling out the commenters as stupid or foolish. The objections I will address are common ones that have been around as long as people have been promoting abstinence. All of them have represented my point of view in the past. For every time I have used the word “ignorant,” I must confess to having been ignorant myself. Ignorance is no cause for shame. An unteachable spirit is. With that stated, I will dive in.
“Abstinence is easier than moderation.” That was the first objection raised in my comments by Daniel, an eminent Canadian philosopher and theologian (whom you should blame or thank for provoking this series). He raised it here in jest, as we had already discussed it at his blog and in emails. I know he will agree with my answer because he has already told me so, and I am simply copy-and-pasting from my email to him.
Daniel applied the argument of Augustine, who was speaking of sexual abstinence, to alcohol consumption. My answer to him was,
On your statement, “complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation,” that may be true, depending on the person. My concern, as I’m sure yours is, is not what is easiest, but what is right; and I definitely don’t believe it’s right. First, moderation is no virtue if, in your heart, you are immoderate – and that is the confession of one who says he abstains because it’s easier than moderation. He imagines he is a drunk at heart, and responds, not in repentance and faith, but by taking a supposed “better way”. You see, the drunk’s problem is not alcohol, but his sinful desire. If he abstains, he saves himself and possibly others from the consequences of his drunkenness, but not from his guilt. Wanting to sin, and choosing not to, only appears innocent; but the guilt remains. So the one who abstains because he has no Galatians 5 self-control is no less guilty than the one who drinks with abandon. In fact he may be worse off because he believes he has conquered his sin, when in fact, he has only suppressed it. He may be worse off because he believes he has conquered it by his own will-power. Second, when God has said “Here, take this gift, a token of my love for you, given for your benefit,” I hardly think the right answer is, “No, thanks. It’s easier to pass.”____________________
Daniel also expressed disgust with “some who set out to champion ‘Christian Drinking’ — not out of a desire for a clear understanding and application of scripture — but because they love the world and the things in the world, and they desire to live in the world without being hassled by ‘the man’.”
When I began this series, my biggest fear was that I would be the recipient of drunken high-fives from the frat-boy types who seem to revel in their “authentic” journey to follow Christ their own way. I want it to be clear that I, along with Daniel, abhor that attitude. If that describes you, I do not speak for you. Christ did not die so that I could continue “just as I am.” He died to free me from my sin — its penalty and its power. That is the true meaning of “Christian Liberty” — freedom to do what is right. If you profess faith in Christ but still willfully live in sin, I cannot consider you a brother in Christ. Your faith is dead. I can only entreat you to repent.
Another commenter suggested the application of 1Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” He asked,
Is it wise or profitable to drink alcohol when it is not a necessity? Within the cultural context of the Scriptures wasn't it wise and profitable to drink alcohol due to the dangers of drinking unsanitary water? Wasn't Timothy practicing abstinence to the point of losing his health and Paul basically had to command him to drink alcohol for its medicinal value (1 Timothy 5:23)?
At a time and place in history when there are plenty of nonalcoholic beverages available that are sanitary and profitable, is there wisdom in placing yourself in a position of coming under the power of alchohol which could lead to drunkenness? Due to the warnings of Scripture about the power and danger of alcohol (Prov. 20:1; 21:17; 31:4) isn't it wiser to abstain if possible?”
Yes, according to Scripture, it is wise and profitable to drink alcohol. I think we have looked at enough Scripture to demonstrate that. Scripture never presents it as a necessity, just a good thing, so whether or not it is necessary is irrelevant. As for the “unsanitary water” argument, I just don’t buy it. Wine was not given because there was no clean water. If God, who is sovereign over all and perfect in his providence, chose to supply them with dirty water, he certainly would not have provided a substitute that was simply the lesser of two evils. No, God gave wine, just as he said, to make the heart glad. Furthermore, medical science testifies to the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.
Whether or not we live “at a time and place in history when there are plenty of nonalcoholic beverages available that are sanitary and profitable” is debatable. I would be interested in knowing what those choices are that are actually healthy. Surely not soda pop, especially diet sodas. Water, milk, and fruit juices have been around since Genesis, along with wine.
Is it wiser, due to Scriptural warnings, to abstain from alcohol? Is it wiser, due to the plethora of Scriptural commendations of alcohol, to enjoy alcohol? Yes. Or no. Take your pick. Whatever you do, do it based on what Scripture teaches, and with a clear conscience; but leave the rest of us alone (Romans 14:3).
The warnings in Scripture all apply to immoderate indulgence — drunkenness. Certainly, abstinence is wiser than drunkenness, but is it better? Maybe, but maybe not. See my answer to Daniel, above.
Another commenter objected to my use of the word “legalism” to describe the SBC resolution:
You may disagree with their hermeneutic, but they are by no means "legalists" by virtue of the fact that you disagree with them. Legalism is always connected with trying to establish your own righteousness apart from Christ and then applying your righteousness establishing rules to other people. It always has to do with pleasing God apart from faith in His Son. I do not think most intelligent supporters of this resolution can be call legalists. It is not fair, and when the word "legalism" is used so loosely it looses its value as a word to describe anything. . . . One more thing that should be considered: An SBC resolution is by no means a law that every SB must obey. It is voted on by the people to represent the denomination's opinion on the matter. It is not imposed upon anyone. SB churches are autonomous. The convention doesn't rule over them; it is designed to serve the churches, not force the churches to serve it.
There are a couple of common uses of the word “legalism.” One is attaching justification (salvation) to obedience to any law, including God's law. The other is imposing man-made laws under the name of righteousness, sanctification, holiness, or “standards.” It is the second definition that I am applying, and it fits.
Whether or not the resolution is binding on churches or individuals is irrelevant when the unmistakable message is that it represents Biblical standards of holiness and those who do not submit to it are less sanctified, less wise, and are failing to live up to some supposed higher standard set by the authors.
Certainly, they are not “‘legalists’ by virtue of the fact that [I] disagree with them.” Nothing is true just because any man says so. Isn’t that a major point of this series? They are legalists because they impose the traditions of men on others. If you still object to the term “legalist”, I’m willing to go with “Pharisee.”
Although I stated at the beginning that I would not be addressing the “wine back then was Welch’s” argument, one commenter brought it up, and I just want to answer the basis for his suggestion. He said,
Do you realize that the word wine historically can mean either fermented or non-fermented grape juice.
eg. Noah Websters Dictionary: "Must, New WINE; wine pressed from the grape but not fermented." (1828 A.D.)
English definitions are useful when exegeting works written in English, but the Bible was not written in English. For a correct interpretation, we must define the original Hebrew or Greek word in its original context. We must determine what it meant to the author, and how it would have been understood by the original audience. What it meant to them is what it means to us.
Does the use of alcohol have any corrolation on mainline churches and their fondness of liberalism compared to the fundamentalism of the neo-conservative groups?
Liberal churches have little regard for the commandments of God, let alone traditions of men. They do have their own brand of legalism, but it doesn’t cramp their style in the way fundamentalist legalism would. Liberals are saved by being “basically good people” or “doing their best.” The bar is set as low as possible, but it is still salvation by works. That’s the only tangent I’m taking in this post. Now, back to business.
Are [meat sacrificed to idols and alcohol] really parallel? They both might offend but meat was once prohibited by Law, however, wine/strong drink was not.
Actually, only certain kinds of meat were prohibited to Israel. Meat sacrificed to idols is a different issue, however. Paul said that there was no prohibition on eating meat sacrificed to idols. Really, anything that someone could mistakenly believe is wrong could be a parallel to meat sacrificed to idols.
Times and cultures change. Alcohol abuse hasn’t always been the problem it is today. Don’t we need to consider the present-day culture and abstain for that reason? Look at all the pain and suffering caused by alcohol today. It hasn’t always been like this.
Are you kidding? Do you imagine that drunkenness and debauchery are modern innovations? Let me introduce you to a fellow named Lot. He got drunk, committed incest with his daughters, and became the father of his grandchildren. That was in Genesis. First century Corinth was Partytown. People were making pigs of themselves and getting drunk at the church pot-luck dinners! There is nothing new going on now.
Besides, who says alcohol abuse is such a widespread problem? To hear the prohibitionists talk, as surely as use leads to abuse, there must be rampant bacchanalia going on everywhere, since more than half of Americans drink alcohol, and most other countries have an even higher percentage of those who drink. However, most people, Christian or not, drink moderately. This is largely the result of growing up. Most people reach adulthood, get jobs, have families, buy homes, and live lives that simply are not compatible with irresponsible behavior. They work hard, manage their money, drive carefully, and stay sober.
So, while there is a drinking problem, it is nothing new, and it is not a problem that most people have, and I’m not the first to say so. Here is another man’s expression of the same opinion. If you want to talk about a problem that really is widespread, read this:
Study: More Americans too fat for X-rays, scans
Obesity hurting accuracy of images, doctors say.
Thursday, July 27, 2006; Posted: 2:12 a.m. EDT (06:12 GMT)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- More and more obese people are unable to get full medical care because they are either too big to fit into scanners, or their fat is too dense for X-rays or sound waves to penetrate, radiologists reported Tuesday.
With 64 percent of the U.S. population either overweight or obese, the problem is worsening, but it represents a business opportunity for equipment makers and hospitals, said Dr. Raul Uppot, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"We noticed over the past couple of years that obesity was playing a role in our ability to see these images clearly," Uppot said in a telephone interview. . . .
"It is a major issue because . . . the patient may still have a tumor, the patient may have appendicitis, the patient may have other inflammatory processes," Uppot said. Full article at CNN
Most people who drink don’t get drunk, but most people who eat do overeat. With two thirds of the U.S. population overweight or obese, where is the resolution against ice cream?
I apologize for the long, rambling nature of this post, at least to those of you who stayed with me to the end. I have tried to answer all objections, but if you think I have overlooked something, hit me in the comments. I will either answer you or point you to the post where I already have. Just be sure you have actually read the whole series first, please. This was to be the last part of the series, but I want to do a summary and concluding post. That will be the last, I promise.
As I wrote at the beginning of this series, this is not a topic that I ever intended to address formally. I had written this somewhat smart-alecky post, and that was enough. However, anyone can be a wise-guy. “I’ll drink all the wine you can make out of water.” See? There are enough clever quips to go around. What has been in short supply are Biblical examinations of the subject, which I intended to supply in one concise, to-the-point post. Well, it immediately became obvious that one post could not sufficiently handle it thoroughly, so here we are, seven posts in, and finally wrapping up. Thanks to all who have stuck with me this far.
My intention has never been to persuade anyone to drink alcoholic beverages. If you now feel you should drink even though you have no desire for it, I want to state clearly that you need not feel that way. My arguments against abstention do not apply to you, because you are not abstaining. Abstention is purposeful, not passive.
On the other hand, if you have been bound by man-made, anti-Biblical rules, I wish for you to be free to enjoy God and his gifts to you – all of them. I wish for you to do so with gratitude and joy, with a heart overflowing with love for the Lord who made you, and all that the world contains, for his glory. I wish for you to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, of which self-control is a part.
While I have tried to be thorough, I know there is more to be said about this. I recommend reading God Gave Wine by Kenneth L. Gentry and Drinking With Calvin and Luther!: A History of Alcohol in the Church by Jim West.
Long ago a city was born. It was located on the eastern edge of Minnesota, and called Minneapolis. It was a city of renown, and people traveled there from all over the country, yea, even the world, to visit its attractions. Everyone knew where it was. Those who drove followed maps that directed them, by way of various state highways and interstate freeways, to that same location, which never moved, in southeastern Minnesota. Those who came by airline, train, or bus bought tickets indicating “Destination: Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Citizens of Minneapolis received mail addressed to Minneapolis, Minnesota and posted mail return addressed from Minneapolis, Minnesota. In short, that Minneapolis was located in Minnesota was well documented and undisputed.
Then one day, not so long ago, a group of cartographers began producing maps placing Minneapolis in Iowa. When the accuracy of those maps was challenged, they had only a few defenses.
“Interstate 35 runs through Iowa. Minneapolis is on Interstate 35. Furthermore, the alleged Minnesota location is only a short drive from Wisconsin, barely in Minnesota at all.”
Others who wished to defend the Original Maps confronted them with evidence — maps, travel tickets, mail — but the cartographers responded with reasons that Minneapolis, while technically situated in Minnesota, should be placed in Iowa.
“Iowa has milder weather and safer road conditions than Minnesota. If Minneapolis was in Iowa, it would have fewer traffic accidents; so again, while technically situated in Minnesota, it would be safer if it was in Iowa.”
Again, they were confronted with the evidence — maps, travel tickets, mail — but the cartographers were immovable.
“I had an uncle who went there once. He thought he could drive safely, but he ended up in getting killed in a wreck. Therefore, while technically situated in Minnesota, it would be wiser to put it in Iowa.”
“Minneapolis was originally incorporated in Iowa. The city people now call Minneapolis is, um, not Minneapolis.”
Wearily, the defenders of the Original Maps replied, “But Minneapolis is in Minnesota — always has been. Look at the evidence. In spite of all of your criticisms, Minneapolis in Minnesota, is a nice place. Look at all of its good features — The Twins, the Vikings, the Timberwolves, Minnehaha Park, Valley Fair, Bethlehem Baptist Church, several lakes . . . yes, there is the possible hazard of the Mall of America, but that is easily avoided. Did we also mention that Minneapolis is in Minnesota?”
The cartographers condescendingly replied, “After all we have told you about Minnesota, why do you want Minneapolis to be there? It seems as though you have a desire live dangerously. What makes that location so important to you? Could it be that you have a secret desire to drive on icy roads?”
The defenders of the Original Maps shook their heads and went home, sad that many people were ending up in Iowa when all they wanted was to see a Twins game and hear John Piper preach.