Popping the Cork on a Can of Worms?
I posted a comment on alcohol that unleashed a flurry of conversation on alcohol and its virtues. There are many Christians who wish to drink and who will defend their right to drink against all comers. To be sure, everyone has the right before God to judge what the Scriptures say about a given behavioral issue, and often Christians will disagree. I expect to convince no one who is utterly unwilling to consider the issue on its merits and give me a hearing. Of course, they might likewise argue that I have my prejudices. So let me set them forth so that you will know what they are.
First, I was raised in a home where alcohol was freely used—at times in “moderation,” at other times in excess. Often there was a blurring of where exactly moderation stopped and excess started. How many drinks can one take before it becomes excessive? I determined before I entered college that I would not drink. It had an excessively disruptive effect on my family—divorce, abuse, conflict, and the list goes on. I determined not to drink before I entered the ministry and before I really started regularly attending church.
Second, since high school I have attended a series of tee-totaling churches. This was not some personal fixation to search out the few churches that held to an excessively narrow view. It was the main view of Baptist (Southern) evangelicalism in the 1970s. (For what it’s worth, it was apparently the normal view for much of the new evangelicalism in its early days. H. J. Ockenga, for instance, preached against drinking.) Many Baptist churches have adopted the standard church covenant written by J. Newton Brown around the time that the New Hampshire Confession (1833) was drafted, which had members pledge to refrain from the sale and use of alcoholic beverages. Tee-totalism wasn’t a fundamentalist issue. It was an evangelical Christian issue, though I know that some Presbyterians have differed here.
Third, I worked for several years as an EMT. I have seen up close and personal the devastating effects of alcohol in the lives of people. From personal injuries sustained while under the influence to battered wives and bruised children to burnt-out homes where an intoxicated person died after having started a fire accidentally, I have seen what alcohol can do. Moreover, I worked on an Indian Reserve for four years and dealt regularly with a culture in the grip of alcohol addiction. It is a pernicious evil and one that is easily and often abused.
Fourth, I pastored in a culture and a country where alcohol was a regular part of life, even among professing believers. Though our church in Canada used the standard church covenant (one of my predecessors introduced it), many churches either dropped or emended that part of the old covenant. As a church we asked for voluntary compliance. I have never made the case that it is absolutely and completely unbiblical for all persons everywhere in every case. But I have argued that it is extremely unwise in today’s world. I had people leave our church so they could drink. They did not leave because I mishandled the Word, or because they were not getting fed, or because I was haranguing alcohol. I seldom mentioned it. They left because they did not like the covenant. The man who left was baptized along with his wife who was converted under my preaching. His background was Italian Catholic and alcohol was a regular part of his extended family life. When he realized after several years that he could not be a leader in the church if he drank, he left the church for a more open church. To me this was very sad. To make a church choice solely (or so it seemed) on the basis of alcohol consumption seemed very immature.
I have adult children now who will have to decide this issue for themselves. There are lots of professing Christians touting liberty and choosing to drink. Recently a friend of my daughter discovered she is pregnant. She has opted for a “moderate” drinking position. But she will not drink while she is pregnant because of its potential to harm the baby. What am I missing here? It’s okay to drink but not when you are pregnant? It’s okay to poison yourself a little because you can handle it but you don’t want to poison your baby? God created this stuff to make us happy but it will hurt an unborn child? There is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation unless you are pregnant (or nursing). This is the stuff we are defending? Even in “moderation” it seems that alcohol has a deleterious effect on some individuals. And no one can say just how much alcohol one can consume before the moderation becomes excessive. Some astute person may suggest that expectant mothers give up any number of things–all perfectly good–while pregnant, chocolate for instance. This is true. But there is something about alcohol that hurts the fetus in a way that chocolate does not. I have seen children who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome but never fetal chocolate syndrome.
So I have chosen a path of safety. I choose not to drink. I don’t need to imbibe for hydration (as was the case in the first century); it serves no meaningful purpose in my life; and I don’t believe that it will ever hinder my testimony. In regard to this last point, I don’t drink coffee either. I have managed for thirty years to say kindly “no thank you” when offered a cup, and I really don’t think anyone has ever been offended there either!
I plan to write a piece on what biblical reasons I use for not drinking shortly. Stay tuned!