Preacher, is it wrong to drink?
From time to time I get a single question from several different members on different occasions. When this happens I assume that the issue is obviously something on the minds of those whom I have the privilege of pastoring. Consuming alcohol is a perfect example of this. Almost monthly I am approached by a member of our church inquiring about the use of alcohol in a Christian’s life. I don’t have to convince anyone that this issue has a history of hot debate and much division among Christians. Likewise, I am well aware that many gifted men and women have written eloquently about the subject and I do not consider my response to offer never before heard insights. As a pastor, however, one of my roles is to help my people walk with the Lord and apply His word to their lives. So I will enthusiastically and unapologetically respond to the question of alcohol in a Christian’s life.
However, in the name of openness and honesty I am going to respond to this question from a very personal perspective. Instead of trying to flesh out a theological treatment of a Christian’s relationship to alcohol, I am going to simply offer my own convictions that I practice in my own life. These are MY convictions and so I practice them in MY life. I have no desire to portray my convictions as somehow being the final word on this issue. But I am also in no way ashamed to share the way I have handled the question of alcohol in my life. A pastor is not worth his salt if he is afraid to allow his life to be an example to those he leads.
I do not consume alcohol. I do not abuse it, nor do I drink it in moderation. I do not drink it privately or publicly. Why have I chosen to abstain from drinking alcohol? Here are the nine reasons why I do not drink. My hope is that you can gain insight and direction from them if you are wrestling with this issue.
9 reasons I do not drink alcohol
Reason #1 – I was raised in a family that did not drink alcohol.
It is impossible for me to say that this has not had a huge impact on my life. Many of my Christian friends do not share this experience so removing alcohol from their lives is more difficult. Growing up, I was rarely exposed to alcohol consumption in social settings and I certainly never witnessed alcohol being abused by an immediate family member. Therefore, it is very natural for me to not drink. This does not make my family any more righteous than others. It is simply a factor that must be acknowledged. We all are deeply influenced by the culture and practices we are surrounded by during childhood.
Reason #2 – I want my children to know from their parents’ example that they do not need alcohol to enjoy life.
As a junior in high school I went to bluegrass festival at a local state park near my home. While bluegrass music was the published reason for the gathering, it was also a well known weekend long party with lots of alcohol. I was allowed to go for a set period of time and had no intentions of drinking. My parents trusted me in large part due to the way they raised me. It was here that I remember noticing something for the first time. My friends and peers who regularly drank alcohol to “party,” had parents who regularly drank alcohol to “party.” I remember walking with a young lady to her parent’s campsite and they all had a beer in their hand. It dawned on me that they had a lot less likelihood of discouraging their daughter from drinking than my parents. My parents could always say, “We don’t alcohol in our lives and neither do you.” Her parents could not say this.
I currently have five children who will one day be five high school students who will be offered alcohol at a party, sleepover, or some other gathering. I cannot shield them from this completely. They will have to stand on their own. However, when they are in that moment I want them to know that it is possible to have a guilt free good time of laughing and enjoying friends without alcohol. They should have to look no further than their mother and father for this example.
Reason #3 – I recognize that if I consumed alcohol it would be stumbling block to many people in my congregation.
In my community and in my church I am first a Christian and second a spiritual leader. Because of this I am not allowed to ignore the impact of my decisions on others. Sadly, many Christians are far more committed to their freedom in Christ than the bond and responsibility they have to their fellow brothers and sisters. Because of the freedom I have in Christ I am spiritually bound to a very special group of people called the church. Within the church I am too always be on guard for anything that might cause another believer to stumble or fall.
In I Corinthians Paul deals with this concerning the subject of food that was eaten after it was offered to idols. For the believers in Corinth, who worshiped and followed the Lord Jesus, there was nothing sinful about eating the food that at some point had been used as an offering to a false god. However, for those new to the faith this posed an obvious conflict. So what does Paul say? Regardless of one’s personal convictions, if something causes another Christian to stumble, it should be avoided. He writes, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (I Cor. 8:9, ESV).
One has to look no further for a contemporary example of this issue than the social networking the World Wide Web offers us. Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with some dear friends from high school, college, and seminary. It has also given me a neat way to see what is going on in the lives of my current friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. Sadly, I have noticed that some of the very same people who identify themselves as Christians seem to always be found with a beer in their hand at every gathering. Does having a beer mean they are not authentic Christ followers? Of course not! But what kind of image does this display to the people who view these pictures? If you were teaching 8th boys or girls in Sunday school would you want them to see a picture of you drinking a beer at every party you attend that is captured on Facebook? Think about it.
Reason #4 – Not drinking is another way that I can look different than the world around me.
I struggle so much with balancing the fine line between living in a sinful world and living as a redeemed child of God. Therefore, I have to constantly look for ways I can stand for Christ and look different from the world around me. There is a long tradition of Christians who have chosen to refrain from drinking alcohol because it represents a great opportunity to live differently than the world around them. I am proud to follow in this tradition. Does this mean that Christians who consumes alcohol is abandoning their faith in Christ? Of course not. I am in no way communicating that Christians who do not drink are somehow more spiritually mature or more loved by God. I am saying that alcohol is one of several great opportunities for Christians to take a stand and choose to be different than the status quo.
Allow me to give an example. Let’s say I attend a social gathering and I choose to have one beer. While holding my beer I sit down beside a man who has been drinking all afternoon and well beyond the point of drunkenness. In walks a guy I’ve been inviting to church. In that moment I look no different from the man beside me who is clearly violating God’s word. We are both sitting at the party with a beer in our hand. What does this communicate to my friend? How does this help me show him that Christ has made in a difference in my life?
Reason #5 – Alcohol, in our culture, is associated with a great deal of sinful behavior.
No one will deny that alcohol can and does lead to a lot of other poor decisions. Because of alcohol abuse, parents have abused their children, employees have lost their jobs, young people have lost their virginity, cruel words have been spoken, fights have occurred, and sadly innocent and guilty people have lost their lives. Yes, I am aware these are extreme examples but unfortunately they are all too common. Here is my point. Alcohol is associated with a lot of behavior that is clearly sinful according to the scriptures. So it stands to reason that not allowing alcohol into my life is a one of many ways I can protect my life from these other struggles and temptations. Someone might respond, “drinking a few beers does not make me want to hit my wife.” That may be true but what about your language? I have witnessed many self controlled, well mannered people get loose with their tongue and speak crudely or profanely after they have had a few drinks.
Reason #6 – If I chose to drink there is a possibility I could develop an unhealthy dependence upon or addiction to alcohol.
Like many families, my family has people who have struggled with substance abuse. I am no expert in alcoholism but I do know there are some people who become chemically addicted to alcohol and others who become emotionally or psychologically addicted to the feelings they experience while intoxicated. Most alcoholics probably struggle with both aspects to some degree. It is also widely accepted that there are some people who are more vulnerable to substance addictions because of their personality, background, and physiological make up. The truth is I could be one of those people. But if I do not expose my body or mind to alcohol I am 100% sure that I will never become an alcoholic. Just a few months ago a prominent pastor in our state was forced to resign his ministry post because he had developed an alcohol problem. In a candid confession, he admitted that he had chosen to depend on alcohol when he should have been depending on his relationship with Christ. When I read his open and honest letter to his church I was heartbroken for this brother and his influential congregation. Sadly, I also pondered how this all could have been avoided had alcohol never been in his life to begin with.
Reason #7 – I do not want to do anything in my life that I could not do in front of my entire church or at least not be ashamed of confessing in front of my entire church.
There should be nothing in my life that I am ashamed to admit or display in front of my brothers and sisters in Christ. If something is in my life that I would hesitate to share with my church family then at worst it is sinful, at best, it is an issue that could cause another believer to stumble in his/her walk with Christ. Either way, it’s safe to say I do not need it in my life. Not everything in my life is appropriate for a Sunday morning worship service. But everything in my life should be appropriate to discuss or confess in front of my church during a Sunday morning service. The truth is I would very awkward drinking in front of my congregation. These feelings alone are enough to guide me away from drinking at all.
Reason #8 – I want to remain clear and mentally sharp at all times in order to testify about the gospel no matter where I am or what I am doing.
Any state trooper who undergoes substance abuse training will tell you that even one or two drinks impair a person’s judgment. I Peter 3:15-16 clearly teaches that as a believer I am supposed to always be ready to give an account for the gospel of Christ. Peter writes, “but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
Why would I want to put anything in my system that could dull my senses or cause me to miss an opportunity to clearly and compassionately explain the gospel to another person?
Reason #9 – While my relationship with Christ is far more important than my denominational identity as a Baptist, I am not ashamed to follow in the footsteps of men and women within my faith tradition who abstained from drinking alcohol.
When people poke fun at Baptists their remarks often focus on the notion that being a Baptist means you can’t do anything fun. I admit there are some who identify themselves as Baptists who are extremely legalistic but the fear of being labeled a Pharisee should not cause us to shy away from our heritage.
Dr. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes,
“We should remember from a Baptist perspective that there are historical precedents for affirming abstinence (from consuming alcohol). In 1886 Southern Baptists issued their first 2 resolution on alcohol. Since then there have been almost 60 resolutions that in a united voice have addressed the risk of alcohol and the wisdom of abstinence. For 120 years Southern Baptists have made clear their stand on this issue. Individual Baptists no doubt continue to take a drink as they had before 1886, but the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole has been crystal clear on where it stands for a long time. I am confident that our forefathers understood the issue of Christian liberty as they passed these resolutions. I am grateful for this tradition. I believe we should continue it.”
In conclusion, it is important for me to reiterate again that these 9 reasons are why I do not drink. I am not establishing 9 reasons why every Christian around the world should not consume alcohol. Do I think my reasons are grounded biblically? Yes. Am I ready to demand every person in my church to sign a covenant to abstain from alcohol consumption? No. However, I would hope that every member of my church would humble themselves before the Lord about this issue. If we are seeking the absolute perfect will of God for our lives then He is more than capable of showing us how to handle any and all choices we make, including our relationship to alcohol.