You’re probably thinking: Not another alcohol post!!!! I myself have tired of reading them too. Much has already been said–some good and some bad. So, then, why another post on alcohol? I think there is something that has not been said and I will try, perhaps feebly at times, to explain.
For many years now, the people of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have long been known as teetotalers. Many churches use church covenants containing an anti-alcohol phrase like “We will abstain from the use and sale of alcohol as an intoxicating drink.” So, by tradition, the people of the SBC do not drink. Traditionally, Southern Baptists did not attend carnivals or play cards. It didn’t matter if the card playing was not related to gambling, card playing altogether was seen as a sin–no spades (that would make me very sad), no war (boring as it may be), and no poker (even if no gambling takes place). Unlike past days, church discipline is no longer done concerning matters of card playing. Today, however, alcohol is still a hot-button issue for many, and the issue itself is showing a chasm in the SBC.
It would seem a deepening rift is emerging in the SBC related to the alcohol issue. There are two sides to the argument: 1) The side that argues all alcohol is wrong in every circumstance and 2) the side that argues Christians do have liberty to consume alcohol as long as they do not become drunk.
Argument 1: The Traditionalists
Traditionalists are, generally speaking, the so-called old guard, or at least they have been brought up in churches tied to the old guard. Old guard churches are typical 1950’s and 1960’s churches that are doctrinally conservative, preach the gospel, rabidly Arminian, and know what they believe.
The church life of the traditionalists is certainly not cult-like but it is marked by preaching and Sunday school teaching that is, at best, indoctrination. The goal of the church education programs is to educate the people what to believe and to eliminate all viewpoints to the “company line.”
Argument 2: The Libertarians
Libertarians (no, not “Liberals”) are, generally speaking, the so-called modern Baptist. Libertarians have been educated in churches which shatter the 1960’s mold of Southern Baptist structure–still doctrinally conservative and gospel-preaching, however. Libertarian churches are usually more Calvinistic (or at least not anti-Calvinistic), know what they believe, and, much more importantly, know why they believe what they believe.
Church life at a Libertarian church is marked by strong exegetical messages from the pulpit and Sunday School material which seeks to educate the people to read, understand, and apply the Bible for themselves. The goal of the church education program is to make disciples so that every viewpoint, both inside and outside the church, can be engaged and considered in the light of biblical revelation. Usually, on issues that are not related to like faith (the must-haves of Christianity like the bodily resurrection of Christ) and like order (the must-haves to worship together like the mode and purpose of baptism), there is much room for friendly debate and disagreement (like whether the return of Christ will be pre-tribulation, pre-millennium, etc.).
Certainly these are general pictures so there is bound to be some overlap between the two groups. Remember these are “general” statements.
THE INTERSECTION OF ARGUMENTS
The traditionalists and the libertarians are now clashing over the issue of alcohol. To be sure, there are mistakes being made on both sides.
Mistakes the Traditionalists Make
(1) Traditionalists usually make the issue of alcohol a litmus test for true Christianity. In most cases, a person who does not agree with the traditional position on alcohol is branded as a non-believer or a liberal based on this one issue alone.
(2) Traditionalists usually argue their points on the basis of tradition and logic, leaving out the Bible, or worse yet, misquoting and misapplying the Bible to support their view that alcohol in every circumstance is a sin.
Mistakes the Libertarians Make
(1) Libertarians usually argue from the biblical text. Usually, their exegesis is quite good as they note the Bible never forbids drinking except for a Nazarite or a priest actively ministering in the tabernacle/temple. However, the arguments are made in such as way as to belittle or demean the opponent. It is as if the Libertarians use the alcohol issue as a litmus test as to a person’s spiritual maturity.
(2) There are some libertarians who believe this is an issue of license. They reason, since the scripture does not forbid drinking of alcohol, it is their right to drink and anyone seeking to deny that right is uneducated or, worse, not a true Christian.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY
The Bible never forbids drinking (except for a Nazarite or a priest serving in the tabernacle/temple). Even in the two forbidden cases, abstinence from alcohol is not life-long, but only for a time.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament is favorable toward alcohol consumption while strongly affirming the damaging and destructive results of becoming drunk. In fact, Deuteronomy shows a quite favorable disposition to drinking:
22 “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. 23 And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25 then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 27 And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27, emphasis mine)
As Deuteronomy shows, drinking is permissible–even before God as an act of worship! But, on the other hand, Proverbs (among many other passages) shows the danger of overindulgence:
19 Hear, my son, and be wise,
and direct your heart in the way.
20 Be not among drunkards
or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
and slumber will clothe them with rags. (Proverbs 23:19-21)
As the Old Testament clearly shows, the issue is not drinking alcohol. The issue is drinking too much and becoming drunk.
The New Testament
The New Testament shows Jesus Himself drinking wine (at least as part of the Passover celebration) and turning water into wine at a wedding. Paul encourages Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach. Now, it is most likely the wine of that day was cut with water. The alcohol made the water drinkable as it killed bacteria, parasites, etc. Again, the New Testament clearly shows the issue is drunkenness, not drinking itself.
Silly arguments as some try to twist the Bible
Some strenuously argue that the wine and other alcoholic drinks in the Bible were not alcoholic at all. I’ve heard and seen an argument stating that wine is simply grape juice. Of all the words used for wine in the Bible, only one probably refers to grape juice. All the others are, by definition, referring to an alcoholic drink. Also, the Hebrew word commonly translated “strong drink” is referring to a malt-liquor of some kind–but it is undoubtedly alcoholic.
What is the bottom line? People in the Bible drank alcoholic drinks, and in some cases were invited to do so by God Himself. Drinking was not and is not a sin. As the Bible clearly states, drunkenness is the issue.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
(1) The libertarians need to realize that the drinking of alcohol is not a right. The Bible gives a Christian the liberty (not license) to drink alcohol as long as the drinking does not lead to drunkenness.
(2) The libertarians must understand and apply to the alcohol issue what Paul writes about eating meat sacrificed to idols. If fellow brothers are offended by the drinking of alcohol we must give up our liberty for the sake of their (weaker) conscience. In this case, any alcohol consumption must be done with the utmost discretion and probably in the privacy of one’s own home.
(3) The traditionals must realize that alcohol is not a litmus test for salvation. If someone chooses to drink, it does not make them less of a Christian.
(4) The traditionals must not make alcohol consumption (or the forbidding thereof) a matter of doctrine. To do so is to place an extra-biblical requirement on the faith and practice of a brother or sister in Christ. This, by definition, is phariseeism.
A BETTER PLAN
Rather than draft resolutions outlining an extra-biblical position, both sides should come together to affirm the dangers of drinking and the benefits of laying down our liberty for the sake of others. I would phrase things this way:
While the Bible allows for the consumption of alcohol, we have chosen to lay aside our freedom to drink so that we may serve the interests of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and serve as an untainted witness in the eyes of the world.
We fully affirm that some will still choose to drink and that this is not a sin.
We encourage all persons to debate this issue in the truest sense of Christian love and civility.
Many blessings to you all, teetotalers and drinkers alike.