We are too often incoherent in our treatment of alcohol. I delayed writing this for sometime as I have friends on all sides of the issue. More frequently I see posts of articles decrying alcohol in a way that is frankly void of biblical thinking. Being asked about this question often, I suppose publicly stating a position is important. What, then, is a Gospel centered approach to alcohol? Simple: discern how, when, and if you should drink or not drink. Simple enough…
Alcohol is not sin
It is not a sin to drink alcohol. It is a sin to get drunk. Period. Too much preaching points to alcohol as being sinful, which is unbiblical. Some even hedge this a bit by saying strong drink is a sin, also unbiblical. Why? Because God allows for it and he also drank and will drink. At this point my abstaining friends are thinking “yeah, but…” The problem is unbiblical preaching is inherently unstable, and frankly for my pastor friends, poor preaching. There are clear benefits to drinking supported by both science and Scripture.
Getting drunk is sin
The Bible EXPLICITLY states that being drunk is sin. There is a line clearly drawn in Scripture. I am all for preaching against drunkenness for it has firm biblical handles from Genesis to Revelation. There are even groups of people who shouldn’t drink based on certain passages, and there is practical application to those in our modern context.
Preach broader than alcohol
The fruit of the spirit lists self-control. This issue is much broader than alcohol, but I’d submit includes alcohol. If one is predisposed to lacking self-control, or specifically lacks self-control in a particular area, that area should be avoided. Lack of self-control in playing video games can have a similar appearance to a person on drugs. In the Gospel we are free, but not free to sow to the flesh, but to the spirit. Preaching on self-control nails everyone and has the benefit of being biblical.
1) Wine is different… People got and get drunk Genesis through Revelation. Whether it takes 1 drink of 10 drinks to get drunk does not matter. Drunkenness is the sin. Also, the relationship of water to wine is such that one based on sermon on the topic a doctor told me a person would drown in their own tissue for consuming too much liquid, yet people got drunk in Bible times.
2) The Bible says to avoid the appearance of evil… This is a mistranslation (sorry KJV only crowd.) The issue is to avoid any form of evil. This is a BIG deal. Meaning, a pastor walking into a bar may appear evil but it may very much be a holy, missional thing (counseling, removing someone who is drunk, graciously attending an event, etc.) Taking a drink is not evil for it is not a sin. (Preaching wrongly on alcohol is a form of evil.)
3) We are not to cause stumbling… Causing someone to stumble means causing them to sin. It is sin for a Christian in their freedom to place a shot or a pint in front of an alcoholic. At times it may even be a sin to drink in the presence of those who struggle with self-control or who think one shouldn’t drink. Much preaching based on the stumbling is illogical. Based on many sermons I have head people should not eat based on people’s struggle with gluttony. The issue of stumbling makes many issues full color and not black & white.
4) I think it is wrong… Then if you drink you sin for you are not doing it in faith. It is OK and biblical to, in your conscience, believe drinking alcohol is wrong. Based on those who destroyed their lives because of alcohol, taking a strong stance against alcohol is not unbiblical. In some instances it is even prudent. But, in doing so, be biblical.
5) No good comes from a Christian drinking… I read this all too often in articles arguing for abstaining. Yes, good can come from a Christian drinking. For instance, there are many medications I cannot take, so alcohol helps prevent traumatic medical events from occurring. Meaning, it is helping me maintain health and the temple. I would submit that is a good thing. At this point what people say is “oh, for medical reasons that is ok.” But, in the Bible alcohol is consumed for worship situations as well. A person drinking in self-control and with discernment can and does bring out good things. Paul likely told Timothy to take a little wine because Timothy was probably over reaching on qualifications of a pastor. Alcohol doesn’t help an upset stomach.
The bottom line:
The Gospel sets us free. In living for more than ourselves, we bear fruit of the spirit, which includes self-control. We should seek to demonstrate this in all areas. We all struggle with sin. Whether, how and when to drink should be carefully discerned. The answer will change as your ministry context changes. For sure getting drunk is sin, and the Bible gives clear warnings about the potential dangers of alcohol, but the Bible does not declare drinking a sin.
If you lean towards getting drunk and/or alcoholism runs in your family, abstaining is the prudent choice. If you work with minors and others who struggle with drinking, abstaining in public is a prudent choice and perhaps in private as well. If in the presence of those who struggle with alcoholism, abstaining is a prudent choice. If you drink in the privacy of your home and/or in public because the previous situations are not in play, God bless. But for both sides, do not use your freedom or abstaining as a measure of superiority or holiness for the Bible argues strongly against you both. For those who drink should be commended for self control and those who abstain should be commended for their sacrifice. Both of these are demonstrations of a thirst for holiness.
This may not be a clean and simple answer, but neither is life clean and simple until we see Jesus face to face.