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Prudance or Legalism on Alcohol Consumption?

I have good reason to hate alcohol. Three generations of men in my family died of alcohol related diseases and I lost my father to liver failure when I was 11 years old. Many of my extended family members have lost lives, families and wealth due to alcohol abuse. I have seen my fair share of debauchery and these facts alone caused me to stay away from the bottle even before I became a Christian. With that said I have been very uncomfortable with the stern lines we have drawn in our churches, seminaries, conventions and networks demanding abstinence when the scripture only demands moderation. I recently read two articles on opposing sides of the controversy and encourage you to read them HERE and HERE. Our favorite quotable theologian Luther who wrote about his love for beer only behind his love for God said, “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!” Though obviously sarcastic it is safe to say that Luther’s confidence in the authority of the Bible gave him no cause for demanding total abstinence. He did however encourage moderation saying, “God does not forbid you to drink, as do the Turks; he permits you to drink wine and beer: he does not make a law of it. But do not make a pig of yourself; remain a human being.” What if we actually handled the subject the way the scripture handles it by teaching those in our care “not to get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but instead be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) Given the slide of our culture and the savage effects of alcohol abuse I think it is wise for us to teach abstinence as prudence but not as law. We should be cautious to impose any rule that would disqualify Jesus and the apostles from attending our seminaries, or leading our churches.

Comments(10)

  1. Reply
    Jamie Limato says

    1 Cor. 10:31 says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

    Could it be that those who aren’t stumbling and causing others to stumble could in fact have a beer or a glass of wine and bring glory to God? I would say so.

    I think those who on the side of complete abstinence and mandate that for others are treading on a thin ice of legalism. This legalism is a slippery and thin trek that could cave in on this individual hoping that their righteousness and acceptance is found in their deeds. Just a thought.

    We all have our soap boxes. Seems to me that this issue has been dividing brothers that often times agree on the essentials.

    If it was good enough for Jesus, the disciples, and our Brother Luther, it is not cause you or others to stumble, you are not getting drunk, and the Holy Spirit is not convicting you of it then cautiously move forward as the Word and the Spirit direct, whether that be abstinence or enjoyment to the Glory of God.

  2. Reply
    clintclifton says

    Jamie,
    You are my faithful commenter. Thanks!

  3. Reply
    Becky Porter says

    My comments will not be spiritual in nature, but human in nature. If we can “socially” take a drink and move on with our lives that is one thing but for those that can’t take a drink and move on where does that leave them? And who knows WHO is going to be that one that cannot take a drink without being in total bondage to it? Some how I can’t see the church being soft in this area. So many lives would not end up on the trash heap if alcohol could be avoided totally. My 46 year old cousin, Chris Cain, is in a class 5 maximum security prison in Missouri for one reason, alcohol. This is his third trip to prison for alcohol and he will be there until he is 82 years old if he lives that long. His mother said before she died she felt better when he was in prison, at least she knew what he was doing and where he was. There is a woman in Missouri in a wheel chair paralyzed from the waist down because of Chris’s addiction to alcohol. He grew up seeing his parents take that “social” drink and move on with their lives….he couldn’t, he didn’t. It is a heartbreaking experience to visit a loved one in prison and leave them there. Alcohol comes with too high of a price.

  4. Reply
    clintclifton says

    Mrs Becky,
    Thank you for your comments. I agree with you (for the most part). I think we SHOULD TEACH ABSTINENCE AS PRUDENCE! but we cannot teach it as “required”. We are people of the Word and we have to be careful not to make the Bible say things that we would like for it to say. My point is this… The Bible clearly teaches moderation but nowhere teaches abstinence.

  5. Reply
    Dannie Williams says

    Clint,

    There is the exception of the Nazarite vow where the command is to abstain from the use of alchohol and John the Baptist was one of those. Jesus said that he was the greatest of the prophets. Something to think about.

    Bro. Dannie

    • Reply
      clintclifton says

      Wow… I’m humbled… it’s not every day you get a comment on your blog by the one and only brother Dannie! I’m tempted to change my position based on that alone! So, let me ask… Do you think a pastor should teach the members of your church that the Bible teaches that Christians should abstain from the use of alcohol based on John the Baptist’s vow? or to ask the question another way, should we teach the Christians in our churches that it is a sin to drink alcohol and defend our statements by citing JTB’s vow?

  6. Reply
    Dannie Williams says

    Well Bro. Clint I see that you take the teaching approach of Jesus by asking questions with question, which is good. First I would say that using John the Baptist to teach total abstinance is weak but at the least it is an exception to total freedom. The issue that is the most influential upon me is the passage about the weaker brother. Using my freedom to potentially cause my brother to stumble is critical to me. The truth of the matter is that there is no rule and I don’t try to make one for my church members. What I do try to teach is simply the non-practicality of the use of alchohol.
    I will address the facts: 1) Alcohol desensitizes us to sin( I once asked a policeman: “what percentage of crime would be elimanated if alcohol were not involved? He said 70-80%.) 2) Alcohol in some people adversly affects liver function 3) We can never know whether alcohol use in moderation around the underaged will result in its use in excess when they come to legal drinking age. 4) If one never uses alcohol he will never become a drunk. 5) Abuse in the home is grately affected by the use of alcohol.
    6) Why would I want to drink alcohol when I have so many other options like, sweet tea, coffee, coke, Dr. Pepper, juices of every kind and good ole water?
    Now I know that these arguments are not in scripture but the principles are there that help us.
    Final question: If Jesus were to return today would you rather be totally sober or desisitized by alcohol at some level? I drank alcohol from the time I was 15 until I was 21.
    I can honestly say that my relationship with God was never benefited from the use of alcohol. I can say it created lots of problems in my marriage and I have spent 32 years of ministry trying to help put lives and families back together broken by the use of alcohol. These are good enough reasons for me but the Bible makes is clear that each one must be pursuaded in his own mind.

    And the blog goes on,
    Bro.Dannie

    • Reply
      clintclifton says

      Brother Dannie,

      (For those of you who don’t know, Dannie Williams was my pastor when I first came to faith in Christ as a young man. He discipled me and installed a deep passion for church planting)

      I feel like I’m getting in the ring with Mohammad Ali… and am not likely to make it out alive! My subconsciousness is screaming… “Don’t spar with a champ” but here goes nothing…

      There are plenty of things we should advise people no to participate in that are not necessarily called “Sin” in the Bible. Cable TV for example desensitizes us to sin – Promotes attitudes and actions that Jesus died to eradicate… I don’t imagine that Jesus would have cable if he were among us in flesh today…. all day long I could advise people to get rid of cable based on these things. But I cross the line into legalism if I tell them that having Cable is a sin. That’s like saying having money caused you to sin… The money (and alcohol) are inanimate, they are not good or bad, our treatment of them is the matter of importance.

      I actually think we agree … It is best that we teach people that they should not drink at all. But for those millions of American Christians never get drunk but periodically consume alcohol… how should we advise them?

      This is the case for 90% of those who attend my church.. good godly people – full of faith and the Holy Spirit… But completely comfortable with a glass of wine at a dinner party or a beer after work.

      I say we present abstinence as a matter of wisdom not law (Just as you did in your above argument). My concern is that we start designating drinking (or any other thing) as “sin” when the scripture does not.

      The fact is… If we draw a hard line on the alcohol issue, if we call it sin, we make Jesus a sinner… and we make Paul a promoter of sin (1 Tim 5:23). This is a far greater issue than if it is acceptable for one to drink socially.

  7. Reply
    Dannie Williams says

    Bro.Clint,

    I learned you well. You said that better than I.

    Bro. Dannie

  8. Reply
    Jamie Limato says

    Bro. Dannie and Bro. Clint,
    You are men of wisdom and careful words. Thanks for you example of how to faithfully deal with scripture and how we can be friendly and yet faithful in debate. Thanks for being men of God.
    Blessings

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