by Mike Harding
This is the fourth in a continuing series of articles on the issue of alcohol. In this article we offer a Christian rationale for abstaining from alcohol.
Bible-believing Christians have widely been known for abstaining from beverage alcohol. These attitudes are now under pressure from within the Christian community. There are a number of good reasons why Christians should continue to hold to an abstinence position. In our earlier articles we considered these reasons:
1. Wine in the NT era and wine today are not identical.
The wine and practice of ancient times was quite different from modern drinking culture. It is a mistake to advocate for consumption based on a few Biblical statements that seem positive because of the wide differences.
2. The use of diluted wine is no longer necessary today in modern society.
Today Christians have an abundance of safe beverages that run no risks of addiction or drunkenness and cause no harm to one’s testimony. Even the diluted wine of NT times should be avoided.
3. Drunkenness is clearly forbidden as it has the potential to replace the influence of the Spirit in a believer’s life (Eph 5:18-20).
Alcohol consumption leads to drunkenness, a risk that Christians can avoid by practicing abstinence. Who can tell at what point he is drunken? Should we risk disobedience to clear prohibitions?
4. In the NT era Christians used diluted wine.
When using wine at all, spiritually minded Christians drank diluted wine under strict controls. They might also use it medicinally. We see that Timothy’s normal practice was abstinence. Should we risk our testimony today by drinking undiluted wine? We think not.
5. Christians should act responsibly concerning their personal testimony and influence.
Alcoholic beverages today are much stronger than those of the biblical era and thereby much more likely to produce impairment of judgment and drunkenness. Today, 5 ounces of wine equals 12 ounces of beer which equals 1.5 ounces of whiskey, such drinks are approximately three times the alcohol contained in an 8-ounce cup of diluted wine in NT times.
Alcoholic beverages today provide no spiritual benefit but have the realistic potential for harm. Paul cites the Corinthian motto, “Everything is permissible,” and then counters, “but all things are not beneficial” (1 Cor 10:23-24). Paul is condemning libertarianism and advocating that we do that which is spiritually beneficial, constructive, and good. As a matter of Christian witness we should not do anything that could seriously jeopardize our witness to others. Many lost people expect that Christians should not drink. Others who have been victimized by alcohol-related crimes are extremely sensitive to this issue. They might conclude that social drinking Christians are callous and out of touch with the real world. Our concept of freedom should not allow us to participate in activity that has been so injurious to millions of people in the world. Also, our own lifestyles will influence others both outside our home and particularly inside our home. Children will likely follow the example of their parents in alcohol related matters. People have to eat, but they do not have to drink in modern society. Social-drinking is purely a choice and not a compulsion. It is a choice that is offensive to some and deadly to many.
Alcoholic beverages today could lead to sinful slavery. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says, “but I will not be mastered by anything.” Modern alcoholic beverages are extremely addictive. The easiest way for believers to obey this verse is to abstain unless medical necessity compels it.
Alcoholic beverages today will more than likely cause others to spiritually stumble (Phil 2:4; Rom 14:19-21). “It is better not to … drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”
Alcoholic beverages today have greater potential of drunkenness and thus are more closely associated with the unsaved life (1 Cor 6:9ff; Gal 5:19ff). The mind is to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, not alcohol (Eph 5:18).
We should appropriately treat the human body as the temple of God (1 Cor 6:19- 20). Our bodies our God’s workmanship. Alcohol consumption subjects God’s temple to unnecessary risks which far outweigh the benefits (See this faq at the Centers for Disease Control). One can receive the benefits of grapes by grape juice today or special vitamins which capture in concentrated form the benefits of large amounts of wine (20/20 ABC News, April 2008, Barbara Walters, “Long Life”).
Alcoholic beverages today are easily and regularly abused and lead to other forms of wickedness. “And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink . . . They are confused by wine . . . They totter when rendering judgment” (Isa 28:7). Alcohol abuse is a causal factor in 70% of drownings/chokings, 50% of “freak accidents,” 27,000 deaths per year via liver disease, 30% of suicides, 20% of airplane crashes, 50% of fire deaths, and alcohol contributes to 500,000 injuries per year. Alcoholics outnumber all other addicts. Approximately 77% of all high schoolers use alcohol and nearly 30% drink heavily. Amazingly, over 40% of 8th graders drink. About one in ten of all drinkers will become alcoholics. In addition, 45% of all homeless people in America are alcoholics (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). According to national surveys, alcohol is a contributing factor in 65% of all murders in the USA, 40% of assaults, 35% of rapes, 55% of domestic violence, 60% of child abuse, 60% of traffic fatalities (Scott Williquette, “The Christian and Alcohol,” Sola). Interestingly, during Prohibition (1920-1933) many social ills in America decreased such as cirrhosis (66% drop), disorderly conduct (50% drop), and the rate of increase in homicide was actually higher before Prohibition than during it. In addition to all of this, regular consumption of alcohol increases one’s chance of heart attacks, cancer, birth defects, insanity, impotence and sterility. In light of the above I don’t believe drinking modern alcoholic beverages as a beverage is an option for Christians except when in circumstances similar to those encountered by NT Christians in the early church era. Even then the same precautions should be taken now as were taken then.
6. Abstention from using alcohol as a beverage is not legalism.
The Apostle Paul refuted legalism when he said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1; cf. 15:5, 24). He also said, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law . . . ?” (Gal 3:2). Legalism is the belief that one can gain God’s favor by keeping divine or human laws, whether for justification or sanctification–the belief that grace can be merited by good works (see Rom 4:5; Titus 3:5-7). In general God forbids “strong drink,” and modern alcoholic beverages today qualify as strong drink. Applying Scriptural principles to our culture which is significantly different than ancient cultures is not legalistic either. We do so out of our love for God and our fellow man.
We advocate for abstinence because of the many acknowledged dangers associated with alcohol use and the damage it causes to one’s Christian testimony and ability for ministry. In the modern era, there is no good reason for a Christian to drink alcohol.
Mike Harding is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Troy, Michigan and a member of the FBFI Executive Board.
This article is excerpted from a single, longer piece by pastor Harding. Proclaim & Defend will make the original article available in pdf format when our serialization is complete.
- See US Government “Wickersham Commission Report” [↩]