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Alcohol and Christianity: A Response

Sat, Jan 14, 2017

As those familiar with my story already know, I was raised Mormon. For the first twenty-five or so years of my life, I believed a prophet of God had commanded his people to not drink alcohol, coffee, or tea. — This commandment is called the Word of Wisdom in Mormonism. — Further, because of how heavily the Word of Wisdom is taught to children and teenagers in the LDS Church, my worldview placed drinking alcohol or coffee as a sign of rebellion against God and a very bad sin.

While living in Europe after university, I was surrounded by a culture of alcohol very different from the culture of my youth in Alabama. This would lead me to research Mormon theology for the first time. Which, eventually, lead to studying my Mom’s Methodist tradition’s view on alcohol. This would lead to me finding John Wesley who pointed me to salvation through Jesus Christ.

All of that being said, even after becoming Christian, I held to the Word of Wisdom. It was so ingrained in my being and my identity. I felt righteous because I had gone so long and resisted so much temptation to drink. Being temperate and not drinking coffee or tea were a way I showed my dedication to God and projected my faithfulness to the world.

Then, one evening while doing a little Bible reading, I came across Colossians chapter two.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. […] Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations — ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” Colossians 2:6-8, 16-23 (ESV)

There it was. In a few succinct verses St. Paul directly challenges the prophethood of Joseph Smith — the validity of his visions and new festivals of temple worship — and places the holiness of the Word of Wisdom in serious doubt.

I had to ask myself, was adherence to the Word of Wisdom glorifying God? Was it bringing me closer in relationship to and reliance on the Risen Lord? The answer to both of these questions was no. By following the Word of Wisdom I was still relying on Mormon adherence to the law to save me. I did not trust that my faith in Jesus alone was sufficient to save me. I still felt I needed to offer him something in return to earn his favor. Further, by continuing to follow the commands of Mormon “revelation” I was continuing to reject Jesus as the head of the Church and allowing room for revelation and doctrine outside of Holy Scripture and the traditions on the One Holy Church.

That evening I went to World Market, bought a nice German beer — a Weihenstephaner Kristallweißbier if I recall correctly —, and enjoyed my first beer while reading Colossians over and over again. God didn’t strike me dead. Jesus didn’t withdraw his loving offer of salvation from me. Instead, I was surrounded by the Holy Spirit and rooted further in the knowledge from whence my salvation came. Jesus was my Lord and I would not rely on any actions of my own for my salvation.


Over the last while, I’ve seen this article on fifty reasons why Christians shouldn’t drink shared over and over again by evangelicals on social media. Given the above you can understand why I have strong objections to it. For me, not drinking was sinful. I was serving a false god and trying to work out my own salvation. Additionally, this article is full of bad theology that is spiritually hurtful to those in situations similar to mine and taints the Church’s message of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ.

I know I really shouldn’t have written a response, but I cannot allow bad theology that is hurtful to the Body of Christ to stand unanswered. The evangelical tradition affords itself a place of normalcy and authority in the Church. In reality, the evangelical tradition in North America is a minority view in the historical faith of global Christianity both past and present.

My hope is that the below responses are taken in the way they were written. Not in anger, but in Christian love. My intent was truly to attempt to explain the majority view in the Church on alcohol while also being charitable to those who abstain for various valid and noble reasons.

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, please read it charitably and with an open mind. Whether you agree or disagree, may God continue to find ways to help his Church overcome the tension and anger caused by our division in North America on this issue and others.


50 Responses to Bad Reasons for Christians not to Drink

(1) I can’t be sober-minded if I’m not sober.

“Sober” has not always chiefly meant “not drunk.” To be sober means to be serious and take things with the correct weight and with an eye towards the things of God. Having a glass of wine with dinner or a little whisky in your nightcap does not make one suddenly turn into a light-minded clown.

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the other Inklings met weekly over several pints of beer to discuss their writings and theology. I dare anyone to claim the works of these men are the products of silly, drunk, clowns!

(2) Alcohol has an assignment: destruction.

The historic Catholic Faith teaches that humans fell into sin and death in the Garden. Because of Adam and Eve’s rejection of God, humankind is destined for destruction; we are born totally depraved. This depravity means we don’t need alcohol to bring about our destruction. All things used contrary to the Glory of God lead to our destruction.

(3) Alcohol is a depressant. Anything that depresses should be avoided at all costs.

First, “depressant” in this context does not mean “that which brings about the medical condition called depression.” In the context of alcohol, a depressant is a type of substance that reduces arousal or stimulation in the brain. If drinking alcohol or any other activity makes you depressed, please seek help. Depression is a real disease and you cannot fight it alone.

Second, I know of no prohibition against the reduction of stimulation in Holy Scripture. On the contrary, God commands us to take Sabbath and rest from our labors. He gives us the Comforter of the Holy Spirit to ease our minds. Not taken to extremes, God wants us to take time for relaxation and to retreat from the hustle of the world around us, just as Jesus often did during his ministry.

(4) I don’t want to make my brother or sister stumble in the name of exercising my “Christian liberties.” My choice to drink could lead to someone’s demise.

Standing in solidarity with those who struggle against a particular sin is a very powerful personal witness. If you minister to/with those who have overcome or are overcoming alcohol abuse, by all means, be a witness of God’s solidarity with all who struggle by abstaining from alcohol if that is what God is calling you to do.

Just remember, God’s call to ministry and witness is different for each of his servants. One person’s call to abstain from all Internet connected technology in solidarity with those he or she works with at a pornography addiction recovery camp, does not necessitate that all Christians should stand in solidarity in the same way. Alcohol is no different.

(5) Alcohol skews my judgment.

If one is drinking such quantities of alcohol that one’s judgement is becoming skewed, I agree, one should stop drinking. If this is a constant struggle, then one should seek the help of others. This is a sign of alcohol abuse.

Drinking a glass or two of an alcoholic beverage at a reasonable pace, by a healthy adult, however, does not lead to skewed judgment.

(6) Alcohol leaves me worse, not better.

This is a sign of alcohol abuse. Please seek help and stop drinking. You are trying to self-medicate a serious pain in your life. Let others and God show you the path to healing.

Many people try to self-medicate with alcohol, others turns to pills or food. The fact is, in our depraved state, humans will always naturally turn toward paths of “salvation” where they feel in control. Only God in Jesus Christ brings relief and healing. One must surrender oneself to God to find relief.

(7) What I do in moderation, my children will do in excess.

?

(8) Even the unsaved know I shouldn’t drink. Bible in one hand, beer in the other—any lost person could point this out as a confusing contradiction.

Those outside of God’s restorative salvation seem to know a lot about what Christians should or should not be doing. Let’s not let the culture define who we are, but the traditions of the One Holy Catholic Church founded in and tested against Holy Scripture.

If having a beer is contrary to studying and reflecting on the Holy Word of God, then I will stand with such contradictarians as Martin Luther, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Thomas Cranmer, a host of other Reformers, and centuries of theologians from the Apostolic Era to the present. All of these and many more saints of the Church have enjoyed a drink alongside deep discussions on the Word.

(9) Alcohol doesn’t bring others closer to the Lord when they see me drinking, but further away.

This is why the Church does not rely on the experiences of one individual to guide her teachings and traditions. Though the way you drank might have had the effect of driving people away from our Common Lord, that is not the experience of everyone. Personally, the way I drink has led me to have conversations with many people formerly lost to the church. Recently, I’ve spoken with an agnostic scientist about sacramental theology over a nice brown ale and explicated the orthodox teaching of the Church on human sexuality to some Millennials over a crisp hefeweizen.

(10) Alcohol doesn’t bring me closer to the Lord when I drink, but further away.

See number nine above. If the Holy Sprit is guiding you not to drink, please obey his command. However, remember, this is a personal revelation and a personal command for what God has planned for your life. The entire people of Israel were not required to become Nazarites because a few were called to such a lifestyle. St. John the Baptist took this vow from birth, but our blessed Lord Jesus, did not.

In my life, some of my closest moments with God have been sitting on my back porch with a nice beer, my dog, and my study Bible.

(11) I want to be fully awake and ready for the return of Christ, not drowsy, sluggish and fuzzy.

By this logic, Christians should avoid taking Benadryl lest they are too drowsy to meet Jesus in the clouds should he return!

Listen, God conquered sin and death. Drowsiness is nothing. Let’s face it, whether he returns right after dinner and good Cabernet or at five o’clock in the morning before I’ve had my coffee, he’s going to have to restore me to full energy to get me going. Being as he’s healing my body of all its impurities and brokenness, I think a little energy will be part of the mix.

(12) Show me a family for whom alcohol has made a positive difference in their lives. You won’t be able to.

Show me a family for whom — fill-in with list below — has made a positive difference in their lives. You won’t be able to.

You get the drift. This is a horrible argument. And, at any rate, I can actually say alcohol did have a positive impact on my family. Research on the topic of alcohol is what drove me to Christian theology which is what lead me to accept Jesus Christ as Lord. I’d say that’s a pretty positive impact on my family’s life.

(13) I have never heard anyone say, “Wow, that gin and tonic made me feel so Christlike!”

See above and replace “gin and tonic” with the same list. This is a bad argument. Plus, I can almost guarantee at least one case of someone giving a gin and tonic to a weary, wet traveler and feeling rather a bit like their Savior.

(14) I want to avoid all appearances of evil.

Thankfully Jesus did not. He dinned with tax collectors and ministered to prostitutes to declare the Good News to all the world. Personally, I do not care what society — yes, even the Church — thinks about me, so long as I am about my Lord’s business of making disciples and baptizing in the name of the Triune God.

(15) Alcohol makes it much harder for me to practice the fruit of self-control.

I think I’m starting to see a pattern. Are “drinking alcohol” and “alcoholism” synonyms in this article? Alcoholism is indeed a sickness and the product of our fallen state. Alcoholism is a human’s reliance on a substance rather than the Living God for strength or comfort. Having a glass of wine or drinking a pint or two of beer can be done in a way which glorifies God, celebrates the wonder of his creation, and calls to the extravagance of his mercies towards humanity. Drinking alcohol and alcoholism are not the same thing.

(16) Alcohol causes me to lose my filter.

Again, personal experience does not make a rule for the entire Church to follow. Drinking too much can cause one to say things he or she normally would not. So can not getting enough sleep. So can having too much caffeine. So can anger. So can lust.

Keep all things, including alcohol consumption, in moderation and under the yoke of Christ and this will not be a problem. I and many other Christians all over the world drink weekly and this is not a problem expect for those who overindulge.

Seriously? So is caffeine. Do you drink coffee or soda?

(18) Alcohol is addictive.

People experiencing alcoholism have come to rely on alcohol to deal with their pain. People who falsely seek comfort outside of the love of God will become reliant and “addicted” to their false comfort. This includes prescription pills, food, and many other things.

Used correctly and to the glory of God, alcohol is not any more addictive than ice-cream, Pepsi, or caffeine.

(19) Alcohol is a numbing agent for pain and sorrow only Jesus can heal.

Alcohol, used appropriately, is not a replacement for the peace of God. Alcohol is generally drunk in the company of others in celebration and fellowship. You know, like at the Last Supper, each week during Holy Communion, around the pub table with the Inklings, etc. In these moments, like at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, alcohol brings communal joy and fellowship between people and God.

Can all of this happen without alcohol? Sure. I can wake-up in the morning without coffee, too. I just prefer my morning with a nice cup of Joe. Alcohol is the same way.

(20) Many regrets are associated with alcohol. (I can give you a whole bunch!)

Your personal experience does not speak for the church or establish a general rule.

(21) No one has ever said, “If only I had taken a drink, things wouldn’t have gotten out of control.”

Okay… It sounds like you might be referring to a wild party or something. This might be surprising to you, but wild parties can happen without alcohol. I went to the University of Alabama — a big party school — and went to several parties where almost no one was drinking — deep in Baptist territory, remember. Even at these parties, things got out of control; things were broken, fights happened, people cried, etc.

Control is a discipline of holiness that we are lacking in our fallen state. Don’t blame our fallenness on alcohol, it gives people an escape from responsibility for their sinfulness.

(22) Alcohol causes me to act in ways I normally wouldn’t.

Your personal experience does not speak for the church or establish a general rule.

(23) Alcohol kills brain cells.

False. See the following citations.

  1. http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/10-brain-myths9.htm
  2. https://gizmodo.com/drinking-alcohol-doesnt-actually-kill-brain-cells-1498785941
  3. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/23/health/the-claim-alcohol-kills-brain-cells.html?_r=0
  4. http://mentalfloss.com/article/49024/does-drinking-alcohol-kill-brain-cells

(24) Alcohol is a counterfeit and provides a false peace.

This has already been discussed. This only occurs when alcohol is being abused within the context of alcoholism.

I assure you a Jackalope Bearwalker is no counterfeit! It is quite delicious! I’ve shared quite a number of pints with people dearly loved by the Lord and had wonderful, Spirit-filled conversations.

(25) The Bible says that no drunkards will enter the kingdom of God. Being drunk starts with one drink. I don’t want to see how far outside the lines I can color when eternity is at stake.

If that’s what God is calling you to do, then do it. We all have our special weaknesses and thorns that we are especially weak towards. If yours is substance abuse, then temperance is a good choice for your life. Just remember, your personal experience does not set a rule for the whole Church.

(26) Alcohol is a waster—money, gifts and talents, destinies and so on.

If used incorrectly alcohol — or anything — can be a waste. If used correctly — such as when I have a pint along with my Bible study — it is not a waste.

I don’t take back a single moment of the times I’ve shared with God during my special back-porch studies!

(27) Alcohol leads to really bad behavior. It is a factor in 50 percent of violent crimes.

Rejecting right relationship with God draws humans further and further from his grace which leaves humans with only our depraved inclinations towards sin. God is the source of holiness. Man is the source of sin. Not alcohol.

Do not allow people to blame their sinfulness on a substance. That is bad theology. With the Holy Church across generations let each Christian proclaim, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.”

(28) Alcohol distracts and derails you from living the victorious life for which Christ died.

Our inclination towards sin and our desire to be God has since the beginning of humankind’s existence distracted us and drawn us away from the One True Source of Holiness and Life. In the Garden it was a serpent. For some it is a bottle of Jack. For others still it is a lifestyle of parties and promiscuous sex. The sin is rejection of our creatureliness and dependance on God for life, not the path we take to get there.

(29) Wisdom is the principle thing that I need to pursue at all cost; alcohol makes me stupid.

Your personal experience does not speak for the church or establish a general rule.

(30) Alcohol has ruined many, many marriages.

No, alcoholics who rely on alcohol to “solve” marriage problems or “cover” pain and hurt have ruined many marriages. Marriage is covenant between two people and God. If you remove God as the glue and if you cease to hold up his definition of marriage and seek comfort and healing outside of the three-being relationship, you are working contrary to God’s will. Those who reject God’s will and forge their own paths to love and peace ultimately find their ruin. Don’t blame the boots because you used them to walk to a brothel.

(31) The only influence I should be “under” is God’s.

Agreed. What does this have to do with alcohol?

(32) The Bible tells me to be alert; alcohol delays my reaction time.

By this logic, Christians should avoid all medication that unnecessarily makes one drowsy. NyQuil is out, only non-drowsy DayQuil leads to holiness!

But, NyQuil helps me relax and get rest which leads to quicker healing, you might say. Nope. Apparently, we must always be prepared for some sort of apocalypse and cannot rely on our God to protect us in the event we’ve popped a NyQuil.

In all seriousness, pray often and keep your heart and mind continually open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This is the meaning of being alert. Take your NyQuil to help you get a few hours of rest during the flu. The God of Heaven and Earth will be by your side bringing healing and watching over your bedside to keep you safe as you sleep.

The same God is ever-watchful by your side when you enjoy a nice bourbon by the fireplace before bed.

(33) If I don’t start drinking, I’ll never have to stop.

True, but if Christians avoided all things that could potentially lead to sin, I’m not exactly sure how we could be in ministry to the world.

Again, if God is calling you to temperance as a means of protection against your unique weaknesses, listen. God knows what is best for you. This, however, does not make a general rule for the Church to follow.

(34) Alcohol severely tarnishes my testimony.

That’s a shame, but a very good reason to abstain from alcohol. However…

Your personal experience does not speak for the church or establish a general rule.

(35) Don’t want your teenagers to drink? Yep, same reasons apply to you.

Or I could model responsible, joyous drinking under the yoke of Christ for my children so that they can be a light of sober moderation when your kids are going crazy about alcohol in college.

(36) God is holy; alcohol is not.

Nothing apart from God is holy. Holiness requires the presence of God. We are holy through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, through being grafted into Christ’s literal body in baptism, and by consuming the blood and flesh of Jesus at his Holy Table.

I should also note that God sanctifies wine — alcohol — to become for us the blood of Jesus Christ and a sign of the New Covenant made on the cross. If the blood of Christ isn’t holy, I don’t know what is.

(37) Alcohol and prayer don’t mix.

No. They can and should mix. They only do mix when drinking to the glory of God’s creation and in celebration of his great mercies.

(38) Alcohol and Bible study don’t mix.

No. See my previous answers noting my personal experience with Bible study and alcohol. Also reference the writings of Reformation and other theologians who discussed the deeper things of God in pubs and other places.

(39) Alcohol lowers my resolve to resist temptation.

This sounds like a good personal reason to not drink. I urge others in your situation to also live a life of temperance if that is the plan God has put before them. The same holds for any other substance or situation that impairs one’s ability to remain in union with the Source of All Holiness. Listen always to God and pray continually for his guidance in what his path is for your protection and growth in his love.

(40) Alcohol = Brokenness (broken lives, health, dreams and so on)

Sin is brokenness. Union with God in Jesus Christ is healing and holiness.

As with all of creation, alcohol can be used in broken, sinful ways and in ways that honor and glorify God.

(41) When the world sees us drinking, it sends the message that Jesus isn’t enough.

In what context?

As a replacement for God’s healing love? Yes, that’s alcoholism and is a sinful rejection of God’s rightful place in one’s life.

As an act of joy or celebration? As an act of fellowship? As a time of relaxation or reflection? The Jesus I proclaim stands beside us in these moments and so many others. His first miracle was ensuring that the joy of a wedding feast could continue long after the host’s initial supply of wine had run out. Jesus alone is the source of the metaphorical wine of joy in our lives and, as the Creator and source of life for all things, the literal ultimate source of the physical wine of our celebrations.

(42) Moderate drinking? How about moderate pornography or moderate heroin use or moderate lying or moderate adultery?

Sin cannot be done in moderation. However, when a sin is related to over indulgence of something, moderation is simply neutral or possibly even positive use. Ice-cream, for example. In moderation its use is neutral, neither bringing holiness nor detracting from it. In excess, however, it leads to gluttony and the reliance on itself instead of God for comfort and joy. Alcohol is in the same category.

(43) Christians are called to live a life of total surrender and separation from the world.

False. We are called to be in the world as a witness to God’s holiness and as emissaries of the Good News. We are commanded to go to the all the people of the world proclaiming the Gospel and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

(44) Alcohol makes me forget. It can make me forget that I am married, that I am saved and so on.

This is really serious! Alcohol does not have this affect on healthy adults. It sounds like you might be having a serious medical reaction to alcohol. It might be it is interacting with medication you’re taking or maybe you have an allergy of some sort. At any rate, your decision to stop drinking is very wise. You also need to seek medical help. Let your physician know about this odd reaction you have to alcohol. I think there might be more going on than just alcohol in your body. May God work through physicians and others to restore you to health!

(45) “I don’t get drunk. I only have one or two drinks.” If they didn’t affect you, you would drink soda.

Oh, trust me, I do drink soda. Only for the flavor though. Yep. Not for the caffeine or the rush large quantities of sugar bring me. I don’t buy caffeine-free, diet soda because I don’t like the flavor. Yes, that’s it. The buzz of caffeine and sugar bring me are not part of the equation at all.

(46) I should never look to the glass or bottle for joy, which can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But what if joy is found with God through the contents of the bottle, is it still wrong? I find joy through my hymnal with God. I find joy through a really nice cup of coffee with God. I find joy in a bowl of cereal shared at my family table with my wife, my daughter, and the Holy Spirit.

Why would a glass of wine shared in joy with my wife in the love of our Christian marriage be any different? Why would my joyful pint of beer with fellow brothers in Christ be wrong?

(47) Alcohol fills my mind with impure thoughts.

Those thoughts were already there. We’re fallen beings not yet made perfect in God’s New Creation. It’s bad theology to blame sin on a substance. We are the source of sin and we are called to conquer sin by reliance on God’s grace alone.

(48) If it could hinder my faith walk or love walk or dishonor the lordship of Jesus Christ, I need to forsake it.

Agreed. If this is God’s call on your life, temperance is the correct choice.

(49) Alcohol doesn’t help me run the race that Jesus has marked before me to finish with more accuracy. It does the polar opposite.

Your personal experience does not speak for the church or establish a general rule.

(50) For any argument that tries to justify Christian drinking, there are at least 50 other reasons not to. The writing is on the wall. It’s not God’s best for Christians to drink.

God reveals himself through the narrative and various other texts of Holy Scripture. The Bible is the canon, or guard rail, of our faith. This along with the traditions and witness of the One Holy Catholic Church over the last two-thousand years is the source of our faith. Neither Scripture nor tradition points me towards a position of a general rule for Christians to avoid alcohol. Because of this, I cannot support your claim that all Christians should abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages.

Tags: #post-mormon #mormonism #salvation #alcohol #alcoholism #drinking