Yesterday, I had something odd happen. I was chatting with the pastor of our mother church in Virginia and realized something. Both of us had taken a segment out of our sermons to address a topic we had rarely covered before, but one we felt God had laid on our hearts. This subject was alcohol.
First off, I’ve never drunk an alcoholic beverage in my life. This puts me in the minority (by American statistics). According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 86.4% of Americans over the age of 18 reported they had drunk alcohol at one point their lives with 56% saying they had drunk in the last month.
Sure, there have been times when I’ve thought to myself that it would have been nice to have had a drink or two, but personally, I have made the decision to abstain. I’ve never grabbed a beer after a hockey game or had a glass of wine on a date. Does that somehow make me morally superior to those who have drunk alcohol? Not in the least. It’s just a decision I thought was best to make.
Growing up, I heard quite a few sermons about the negative effects of alcohol. In fact, the description of Hell, as painted by some preachers I heard, was of a group of men and women sitting around a fire drinking Bud Light! The point was simple. The Bible forbids all drinking. Drinking alcohol is bad. You are a sinner if you drink. You will go to hell if you drink.
It’s not surprising then that in childhood years my desire to drink was not that strong. But as I grew older I began to study more about what the Bible had to say in the 200 plus verses on wine. Gradually, my opinion began to change. I saw passages like the following:
- John 2 with Jesus turning water into wine.
- 1 Timothy 5:23 saying a little wine is good for the stomach.
- Ecclesiastes 9:7 instructing to drink wine with a merry heart.
- Psalm 104:15 stating God gives wine that makes the hearts of men glad.
Now you would think that after seeing all these passages that my mind would be swayed away from teetotalerism and towards drinking. But that did not happen. While there were other changes I chose to make in my life that differed from my upbringing, drinking alcohol was not one of them. Why not? Here are several of my reasons.
Personally, I Choose Not to Drink Alcohol Because…
1) Scripture Is Full Of Warnings
Again, as much as teetotalers might like to claim the Bible absolutely forbids all alcohol, I simply do not see this reflected in Scripture. Real wine with real alcohol that could distort the thinking of the people who consumed it was used by people at the marriage of Cana. This was not grape juice. But along with the appropriate uses of wine come many warnings against drunkenness. Proverbs has much to say about this.
When I scan the roughly 236 passages in scripture that reference wine, my overarching takeaway is that while wine is permissible for the Christian, there are also strong danger signals. Scriptures like Ephesians 5:18, 1 Corinthians 6:12, and roughly 75 others all warn against the danger of drinking wine in excess.
Summary: Drinking might be permissible in certain situations but there are certain dangers that surround it.
2) Our Culture Does Not See Drunkenness As Shameful
In certain cultures, the idea of getting drunk is very shameful. For example, a great Christian friend of mine lives in Albania. He drinks wine and beer on occasion. When he first came over to Toronto, he was surprised that the issue of alcohol was such a point of discussion among Christians. Why? Because he was raised in a culture of temperance. You drank a little and that was it. You used alcohol for cooking purposes. You drank a small shot glass after closing a business deal. His key word is moderation (A word I am not sure we fully understand in North America).
Frankly, I think his cultural upbringing better resembles the environment in which Jesus was raised. For him, you did not get drunk because that brought shame to yourself and to your family. There was positive peer-pressure (you might say positive beer pressure). If I were in my friend’s shoes, I think the case for drinking alcohol would be stronger.
Unfortunately, that is not the culture in North America. Instead, everything in both Canada and the US preaches excess. It’s cool to turn 21 and get wasted. And while your parents might frown on you doing this, deep down Dad is often smiling because “boys will be boys” and that was what he did when he was growing up (Pretty tough for me to take when I hear parents talk like this).
Rarely have I talked to a person who regularly drinks alcohol who has not at one point drank a little too much and gotten tipsy. There are usually those “one times” they drank and tried to drive home, got too friendly with their friend’s spouse, or did something they normally would have never done. Statistics back up this claim with 26.9% of reported American drinkers claiming they had engaged in binge drinking within the past month.
3) The Statistics Are Just Mind-Boggling
Statistics indicate roughly 1 out of every 7 people who take their first sip of alcohol will become alcoholics. 1 out of 7. For sake of conversation, let’s just say I beat those odds. I do well and hold myself to just the occasional drink every now and again. Do I really want to play this game with my kids (not planning on having seven by the way!)? Consider just a few of the troubling statistics from the NIAAA website:
- An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causing making this the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
- In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths (31 percent of overall driving fatalities)
- Globally, alcohol misuse was the fifth leading risk factor for premature death and disability in 2010. Among people between the ages of 15 and 49, it is the first.
- Researchers estimate roughly 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
This list could go on and on.
4) The Health Benefits Are Not Great
While there are some benefits to moderate alcohol consumption, there is a lengthy list of negative side effects that include liver disease, cancers of the mouth, and nearly 50% of the cause for cirrhosis deaths. Also, it should be noted there is a pretty good case to be made that much of the alcohol drunk today is significantly worse than that consumed in Biblical times.
5) New Believers Will Follow My Lead
As my friend Troy Keaton says, just as dentists have a certain bias against sugar, so pastors tend to have a natural bias against alcohol. It’s true. Honestly, in writing or speaking about this subject, I have to temper my emotions because this matter is personal with me and almost every other pastor I know.
There is a myth that Christians have the freedom to exercise their Christian liberty in any way that they choose, regardless of how it affects others around them. “What I do with my life is my business.” As a pastor, I know this is not the case. Christians watch what other Christians do. For example, as a kid, I remember grading my pastor’s sermon based on the number of head nods from Christians I respected in the church. If they thought it was good, so did I!
For many Christians, this is the same. They gauge what is right and wrong based on what the most mature believers are doing. This is not right. They should be looking to Jesus. But it is also a reality. That being said, when I apply the Romans 14 maturity test to alcohol, it makes good sense to me just to leave it alone. Because even if I can handle drinking just fine, there is a good chance that one of my followers will struggle more in this area because of my influence.
6) I Know Myself Too Well
By nature, I tend to be a binger. Ask my wife. I can eat like a camel and then go days without eating. It’s just the way I’m wired. I might eat a bag of chips in one evening and then have nothing to do with them for months. Knowing this, I simply do not trust myself with alcohol.
On another note, over the past several months I have done several interviews with people who have struggled with severe depression. Probably the worst thing someone struggling with this mental illness can have is alcohol. Why? Because when you get to your lowest point, the urge to pick up a case or two at the local beer store becomes overwhelming.
Again, drinking alcohol might be okay for you. But it’s just important to know yourself really well before you start. If you have any tendencies towards binging, depression, or anxiety I’d strongly advise just to leave it alone.
7) I Want My Personality To Be Consistent
We’ve all heard the stories of the freak guy who can drink fifteen beers and still be completely sober and function at his highest capacity at work. For almost every person I have interacted with, this is not the case.
Maybe they are feeling a bit edgy and one beer loosens them up a bit. The second has them laughing and telling jokes. Gradually, they evolve into being an entirely different person than they were before their first drink. They have done what Ephesians 5:18 forbids by coming under the control of something other than the Holy Spirit.
Here is why I think this is dangerous for the Christian. If we always have to have a beer to take the edge off in our lives, we can often miss the deeper work the Holy Spirit is trying to do. For it is often in the frustrating moments in life that he is doing his greatest work.If we always have to have a beer or cup of coffee to take the edge off in our lives, we can often miss the deeper work the Holy Spirit is trying to do in our lives. For it is often in the frustrating moments in life that he is doing his… Click To Tweet
I don’t want to be the dad that had two personalities — the grumpy dad after work and the fun dad after he got his beer. I want to be the dad and husband that waited on God during tough times rather than turning to the bottle.
8) Our Ability to Do Harm Is So Much Greater Than In Jesus’ Day
Contextualization is important when applying the message of scripture to our lives. For example, in the Old Testament, there are different ceremonial and civil laws that do not apply to us today. Most Christians I know understand this. We get that God gave his people a certain set of guidelines that were important for their time and culture.
But let’s stop and ask the reverse question for a second. Are there things that were permissible in Jesus’ day that might be more harmful to believers in our present context? I believe the answer is yes and that alcohol might be an example.
Think about it. Never before has the ability of a drunk person to do harm been greater than it is today. In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths in the US (31% of overall driving fatalities). One slip up, one DUI gone drastically wrong, one embarrassing post on social media and we can inflict an incredible amount of pain on others that was not possible in the past.
In a literal way, this is sobering.
After reading this, I totally understand if you do not agree with my viewpoint. Many of my friends do not, and that is perfectly okay. These are just my reasons, and I welcome any feedback you might have! Again, my reason for writing this is not to cast judgment on believers who choose to drink. I simply feel it is an issue too important to be ignored.