Thursday, July 29, 2010

Alcohol is of the Devil!

23 comments:

Travis said...

I look forward to your next post on this. Will you please go into detail on what is "good" about alcohol. Is there a difference about what is "good" about alcohol in the Biblical context verses our context?
Thanks, as always, for your thoughts.

Chase said...

I'm not sure that the comparison to fire, sex, and speaking is a good one as drinking alcohol is entirely optional and the world would function perfectly well without it--we wouldn't have to find some intricate means to replace a responsible use of alcohol.

Secondly there's a concept (that i've haven't fully fleshed out yet, so it may be kind of rough) that with things that have a "too much" side, we learn what "too much" is only when we see people go there. For example, don't we know what drunkenness is because we see drunkards and therefore know what behaviors to avoid? If this is true, then having alcohol around automatically means having drunkards of some degree.

I would argue that societies would do better if entirely devoid of alcohol even though the people won't be any better, but we probably won't succeed at eradicating alcohol worldwide. So since we have it around, is it a "may as well enjoy it" situation?

PJ King said...

@Travis:

While you're waiting on Chris' next post I would keep the following in mind...
As Chris shared, Psalm 104 celebrates wine which "gladden[s] the heart of man." And Isaiah 25 speaks of a grand feast which includes a feasting of "well-aged wine" (which is definitely not grape juice).

Those two passages do suggest that the pleasurable aspects of wine are celebrated in scripture. This, of course, has to be contrasted with the condemnation of drunkenness, but I think it's fair to say (given the above) that the gladness of heart caused by wine is not inherently drunkenness. Drunkenness is real and condemnable, but seems to be more of the loss of control than an experienced pleasure.


@Chase:

As far as your "fire, sex and speaking" list goes: surely sex is optional, at least at the individual level. But one of the (many) reasons we are drawn to marriage is because sex is pleasurable, whether serving an explicit function or not. Are we to abstain from sex during the times when conception is unlikely? I hope not.

As far as the "too much" argument: we don't really know how much is too much food to eat (especially over long periods of time) until we start getting fat. Should we abstain from all food? Or should we eat minimal amounts (and in unpleasurable fashion) so that we are not tempted to cross any lines?


There are some things in life which God has given us simply for our pleasure. All things (e.g. alcohol, food, sex, TV, exercise, work, family), however, can be abused or turned into an idol because we are a fallen people. But does the possibility of temptation mean that we cannot enjoy the pleasures (as defined by God) of the things he has given us?

Also, keep this in mind: personally, I have not yet experienced the temptation of drunkenness. It's just not desirable to me; I do imagine that most Christians who drink alcohol are not often tempted by the sin of drunkenness.

Kurt Cockran said...

I'm thinking you may tackle this in a future post, but what about the use of wine vs. grape juice in the Lord's Supper? I found it interesting that you neglected to include that in your "pro-wine" verses, though I'm sure you may have just biblegatewayed "wine" and it wouldn't have popped up because of it being the "fruit of the vine."

agratefulheart said...

Why such a big deal about saying alcohol is ok and for those who have a conviction against it need to think again? It's ok to think that alcohol in itself is evil. It has so much potential to do so much harm, why even touch the stuff? Even you drinking it responsibly can cause your brother to struggle who has had a past of history of alcohol related problems...and you may never even know.

I understand that there is no Scripture saying "thou shall not drink wine." But I do find all over Scripture that you should not doing anything to tempt your brother/sister to fall into sin. I'm not saying that you have to have my conviction about a no drinking policy, but I do think that it should be respected and not attacked. Why spend so much energy debating those who have a conviction when they are just following what the Lord has put on their heart in Scripture? In all honesty, I find this debate downright offensive. A Christian challenging my conviction about alcohol is just as offensive as my friends pressuring me to drink with them every time I go out with them. We should be encouraging one another to live off our convictions not discouraging it and teaching others to become insensitive to it.

PJ King said...

@Kurt:
One of the problems is that some do not consider "fruit of the vine" to be wine. They argue that it must be new, unfermented wine (grape juice). Passages with that kind of language make it difficult to argue the real point.

Also, when I wrote a post on communion, I had difficulty in finding a verse that prescribed the use of wine (or fruit of the vine) in any explicit manner.

I do agree with you that last supper drink was wine, and that we should (at least consider) using it for our communions, but I wasn't able to find enough Biblical evidence to warrant the argument. I would greatly appreciate it if you had any verses to share. :)


@agratefulheart:

Don't take our words to mean something that they don't.

No, it's not okay to think all alcohol (including wine) is inherently evil. God praises alcohol in the Bible, and it's clear that Jesus himself partook. If alcohol is evil, then God praises evil things!

Also, we have no problem with individuals deciding that they have a personal conviction to not use alcohol (in fact, we support it!) The problem is when someone's personal conviction is that no one should drink alcohol. That creates divisiveness (and asceticism) that is unnecessary in the church!

Ben Arbour said...

@agratefulheart:

I, for one, want you to know that I deeply respect your convictions. I would never encourage anyone to do anything against their own conscious, for everything that does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). It seems that the Lord has convicted you that you should avoid alcohol. By all means, please do what you think is best--never do otherwise.

That said, I have a hard time believing that you're genuinely okay with people disagreeing with you on the no-alcohol issue. After all, right after you said not everyone needs to share your opinion, you go on to discuss causing a brother to stumble (cf. 1 Cor. 8). We do well to heed Paul's injunction against causing other people to stumble. However, might we consider a few things?

In America, we as a people struggle with obesity, failing to take care of our bodies as the temple of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 3). This is an especially significant problem in Southern Baptist life (which is the community of Christians in which I find myself). Am I to never eat a Big Mac because my doing so legitimizes that and thus causes others to stumble? I haven't found anyone who wants to make that case. But, if someone is willing to be consistent, I'd be much more likely to honor their argument. Until then, I don't buy it. After all, Paul was talking about food sacrificed to idols--it was a religious issue.

Furthermore, what about Jesus? He wasn't concerned with His image enough to "not drink." In fact, someone called Him "a glutton and a drunkard," and He didn't respond by saying, "no, you've got me confused with someone else--I don't drink alcohol." Clearly, Jesus, being sinless, wasn't a drunkard. But we should take our cues from Christ--the example to us in ALL things. If He didn't see it wrong to imbibe, neither should we. If we disagree, we aren't doing theology with Jesus at the center. We should seek to be Christocentric, through the lens of Scripture.

Additionally, you haven't interacted with any of the scriptural argumentation Chris has brought to the table. Again, he isn't trying to convince you to drink; rather, he's trying to show that alcohol isn't evil. Alcohol is like money--it's amoral. It can be used for good, or for evil, but money all by itself is neither righteous nor unrighteous, it's amoral. The same is true of alcohol. Chris is merely seeking to educate readers as to what the BIBLE says about alcohol.

Finally, I agree that we should abstain from alcohol in any and all cases where it would cause another immature believer to stumble. But, we don't stop there. We should also seek to bring the immature to maturity. Why is it that we're okay with leaving people in their immaturity when it comes to alcohol but not on so many other issues? Granted, this isn't the most pressing issue of our day, but neither is it altogether insignificant. It seems to me that (within the SBC) this is a big deal--an idol of false spirituality based on anything and everything but Jesus and the Scriptures. That's all Chris is driving at.

So, apologies to you and/or anyone else who feels attacked by Chris's post. I'm quite certain he didn't intend that. And please know that no one at Pillar on the Rock would EVER encourage someone to ignore the convictions God has placed on your heart. Just don't proselytize those convictions to others as though they are perfectly clear in Scripture. Chris has shown us that the alcohol issue is much more nuanced.

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Chris Krycho said...

All: sorry it's taken so long to respond. Yesterday was my date night with my wife (we saw Toy Story 3 and it's great), and I was at work all day today.

Travis: Hmm. I'm not sure what particular differences there are in the Biblical context versus our own. Of course we know that wine was drunk for both medicinal and sanitary purposes in Biblical times in ways we do not require it now, but I think Psalm 104:14-15 and Isaiah 25:6 both point to wine's intrinsic value as something God made for man's delight. (Many other verses do likewise; wine not being tread is punishment, for example: see Isaiah 16:10, Jeremiah 48:33.)

As far as particular ways it's good, it relaxes people and encourages laughter when used well. It is good for celebrations and times of joyful sharing of friendship. It is good because it makes men's hearts merry. All of that necessarily excludes using it when depressed, to wash away memories, etc. It is given for celebration... to make men's hearts merry.

Chase: While I understand the concern about there being a constant state of drunkenness, I would argue that's a consequence of fallenness, not a result of alcohol itself. In addition to the points PJ already addressed, I disagree with your view that the world would be better without alcohol in it. To take another example: video games can be incredibly addicting—I had a few friends and many acquaintances in college whose grades, friendships, and walks with God all suffered from their addictions to World of Warcraft. That doesn't make games in general, or even that game, bad. Not having the game wouldn't fix the problem, either: those people would find another thing to sinfully replace God in their affections.

Is alcoholism tied to abuse? Absolutely. But the problem isn't the alcohol; that's just an excuse people give themselves by drinking themselves into a state where they'll abuse someone. The problem is that the person is abusive. They would not stop being abusers if they suddenly had no supply of alcohol; they would just find other justifications and so on. Ben's comparison to money is an apt one, and PJ's note about God creating some things simply for our pleasure is a good point as well.

Thus, it's not merely that we "may as well enjoy it:" we should call it good, just as God does, while recognizing the problem it may be for some.

Chris Krycho said...

agratefulheart: First, if you don't mind, would you be willing to post under your real name here? You can see our comments policy for more details, but generally we ask people to avoid pseudonyms. Thanks!

Second, addressing the points of your post: I am very sorry if I gave the impression in this post that those who have a personal conviction about drinking alcohol need to change their own view. I worked hard not to convey that, but I may have done so nonetheless. As I said in one of my concluding paragraphs, "As believers we are to walk wisely, avoiding temptation (especially where we are particularly weak), and we should even go out of our way to help each other overcome sin. We should support and encourage men and women who struggle with alcohol, and if our drinking around them causes problems, we should refrain."

I would never pressure anyone to drink. Nor should any believer. In fact, I am generally quite circumspect in asking what people's convictions are so that I do not pressure or even offend them.

I am sorry you find the discussion offensive. However, I believe it is one that must be had. As I wrote recently, it is not our job to teach simply what we think, but what Scripture says—even if that is an unpopular or difficult position, or indeed one that simply requires a great deal of wisdom.

The debate must be had because while I am entirely agreeable to people walking out their personal convictions, I am no more okay with those convictions being foisted on others as word-of-God-truth without Scriptural warrant than I am okay with claims that we are still under the Judaic law, that we may not dance, or that we may not sing songs written after some arbitrary year or in some arbitrary style. It is wrong to add to the commands of Scripture—it's one of the things Jesus criticized the Pharisees and Paul the Judaizers most fiercely for. We dishonor God when we add to his commands, putting burdens and restrictions for which Jesus gave us no basis. We elevate our own reasoning over what Scripture teaches, and that is a grave offense indeed.

If you have a personal conviction not to drink, please do not change it. Stand firm on it. If it is built on unbiblical reasons, of course you should consider it carefully—but if it is because of a conviction God has laid on your heart about being wise, by no means should you let it go. Call out fellow believers when they do pressure you in this area: it is wrong for them to do so. Yet please respect that this is an area of Christian freedom, where your brothers and sisters are not sinning to drink.

Thank you for your response; it is good to have this conversation!

Chase said...

Two things:
1. Jesus definitely condemns the practice of "teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" and also that "There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." (Mark 7). From this standpoint, we would be wrong to make a law condemning Christians for drinking alcohol.
2. I understand that the problems that can come with alcohol consumption are a result of fallenness and don't reflect the inherent goodness or badness of alcohol (as Ben said, it's amoral). However, it is a dangerous tool in the hands of people at large that can increase their ability to cause harm. I did comment before that people without alcohol aren't better people, but they are less facilitated in destruction. People with traffic laws aren't kinder, children without knives aren't more obedient, and men without access to the internet (and porn) aren't better husbands, but all of them will hurt themselves and others less (even though they still will hurt themselves and others). That is why i argue that people would "do better" if there were no alcohol, and also why i think many Christians would like to cut it out of the believing community altogether. But if it's a religiously based enforcement, then it damages the believing community because there's not a sound biblical argument against the consumption of any alcohol.

Coming to the end of this comment i'm writing, i think what i'm doing is just speaking too theoretically, so maybe i'll just politely show myself to the door of this discussion :)

Chris Krycho said...

Thanks for clarifying. I think I understand your point a bit better. That said: we regulate the use of money, not forbid it; we regulate the use of knives, not forbid it; we regulate (for ourselves) the the use of the internet, not forbid it. Not having the internet doesn't reduce lust or even pornography—the history of the 18th and 19th centuries is plenty of evidence of that! If we took your argument as you phrased it here (and I hear you loud and clear), we would say that it would be prudent for most Christians not to have televisions, internet, knives, or cars.

I hold to a more historically reformed outlook on the world, namely: it is good (however fallen) and we should enjoy it. We should enjoy it carefully and wisely, but we should enjoy it.

As I noted in my comment to agratefulheart, that's not making any argument for those who have personal convictions to abandon them. It is, however, arguing that the sort of "fencing off" of dangerous areas that you suggest (which, incidentally, precisely the origin of the temperance and prohibition movement) is a bad idea: because, as you noted, there's no way to ground it in Scripture, and yet the church strives to proclaim it as "wisdom."

It may be practically beneficial (temperance is, but I'm quite convinced from history that prohibition isn't), but ultimately we need to do as Ben suggests, and teach people real wisdom. It's far more profitable to teach people when (or if) they should drink, and help those who who struggle (in every way Scripture teaches us, including abstention with them). After all, that is what Scripture shows us, and that's a far better solution than any we might come up with on our own.

I'm not sure that's entirely clear; does it make sense to you?

Again, thanks for engaging in the dialogue; I'm convinced it's an important one.

Travis said...

Hey guys,
You will have to forgive me. I do not have abundant internet access or time to fully flesh out what I'm about to say, so I'll post some conclusions and then clarify and/or expand as necessary after Chris's next post.

First of all, if it were not abundantly clear already, I have come to a different conclusion than Chris regarding this matter.

That being said, I want to make a quick comment about the nature of Christian dialogue before I give my conclusions.

I think it is perfectly alright if someone, by Biblical argument, shares their personal conviction with an accompanying hope that others come to the same conviction that they have.

Consequently, I am perfectly alright with the idea that Chris has hopes that I would come to same conclusions he has regarding alcoholic consumption. Chris has not, and prabably would not, in view of Christian love, pursue this as his sole end, but I maintain that it would be an obviously inconsistent conviction if he desired that all others differ from him. Based on his convictions and corresponding life experience, I imagine that Chris thinks that I have yet to experience a small part of God's goodness in this regard.

Likewise, based on my conclusions, I think that Chris, as well as other Christians who partake, have missed out on what I have experienced as God's provision of goodness in my abstinence. Consequently, since in Christian dialogue I seek mutual edification, I share my conclusions in hopes that others would come to share my convictions and the consequent provision of God's goodness. I hope you are all okay with that.

Travis said...

Here are two quotations from a long personal statement I crafted a few years back on this subject:

"the Bible strongly condemns drunkenness, states that we are suppose to worship God with our minds, reflect his image and glory, and respect our bodies as a temple of God’s Holy Spirit."

So good, so far. It continues:

"the wine drunk in Biblical times was diluted to non-alcoholic levels, or, as I believe more accurately described, to levels where the intention was to avoid drunkenness."

This merits more attention than I can provide here, but the following historical insights can be helpful in the meantime:
2Mac 15:39 "For as it is hurtful to drink wine or water alone; and as wine mingled with water is pleasant, and delighteth the taste: even so speech finely framed delighteth the ears of them that read the story. And here shall be an end. "

“Each cup must contain wine which, when mixed with three parts of water, will be good wine.”
-The Talmud, Tract Pesachim (Passover), Chapter 10

"No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." 1 Tim 5:23

So, although the Bible acknowledges that wine is good in many places, we know that the wine consumed in Biblical times was quite different than the alcohol consumed in today's culture. What was good about wine in Biblical times? Health? No doubt. Taste? Absolutely.
In our modern society does alcoholic consumption present exclusive benefits for our health? Only in extreme circumstances where the benefits of modernity are unavailable. What about taste? Is there a place in our modern society to enjoy the taste of alcohol? Well, see, therein lies the problem, because the alcohol that "delighted the heart of man" in Biblical times is not the alcohol consumed in today's practice. Should we then dilute our alcohol? Why was it diluted in Biblical times? It was diluted as a preventative health measure. The intention was always to avoid drunkeness, yet health necessitated that drinks be mixed with (low percentages of)alcohol. In today's society, this preventative healthcare is garnered elsewhere, and thus we lose preventative healthcare as a legitimate reason for alcoholic consumption.
If, in Biblical times, the reason for alcoholic consumption was solely built on taste, they would have not diluted it. Their culture, however, considered this inappropriate, even harmful. So we know that taste alone is not a legitimate reason for consumption.

Much more could be said here, but let's jump forward to modern times:

Fortunately, today's society offers a seemingly limitless array of drinks that "delight the heart of man." For instance, I experience great delight with every sip of Barq's Rootbeer. Don't even get me started on Brahm's Eggnog (I'll have to do without both of those for about two years while I live overseas!) After all, Nehemiah urges us to "Drink what is sweet (like Rootbeer and Eggnog)...because today is holy to the Lord!"
Meanwhile, with a clear conscience I pursue the presence of God void of any chance that I might be unnecessarily surrendering the control of some part my body intended for the worship of God.
Do you know what a single drink will do to your mind?
"Experiments show a 30 percent reduction in LTP (long-term potentiation - your ability to add information to your long-term memory) at alcohol concentrations reached after only a single drink…"
(Braun, Stephen. Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine. Oxford University Press. 1996)
With a command in Scripture to worship God with all of my mind, I can't intentionally debilitate of one of its functions by 30%! Think I'm splitting hairs? I probably am. Nonetheless, God is much less concerned with split hairs arbitrarily determined by the latest research than with my pursuit of holiness.

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Travis said...

In this pursuit of holiness, I can, with no assistance whatsoever from alcohol, conjure joy-filled laughter and extreme delight in the presence of my Father and in the company of Christ's church.
And of course I want others to experience this. I unashamedly and consistently say that followers of Christ should not drink. If they drink, they are missing out!
Is this ascetism? Personally, I find my practice extremely valuable in "restraining sensual indulgence."
Am I adding to the gospel. Far be it from me that I ever hint at such a thing! We are saved by God's grace and God's grace alone!
Given that I'm fairly busy in my current endeavor, perhaps further discussion can happen over root beer floats at some point in the future (It will be my treat!).
In the meantime, I encourage you all to abstain from alcoholic consumption...

PJ King said...

I only have time for a quick response...

If wine, in that day, was so diluted as to remove any potency of alcohol, why then would there be such a condemnation of drunkenness? Wouldn't the typical wine be so diluted that you'd have to bust a gut in order to drink enough to get drunk?

Also, there are plenty of references in the Bible of people actually getting drunk on wine. I can hardly imagine you can argue that all wine was watered down as heavily as you suggest - especially during feasts - because, once again, getting drunk on tiny bits of alcohol is improbable to the extreme.

Cheers

Ben Arbour said...

Travis,

The prohibitions in the Bible concerning alcohol are condemnations of drunkenness, not any and all alcohol. I appreciate your testimony of experiencing God's goodness by abstaining from alcohol, and if that's your conviction, great. But it is highly unbiblical for anyone, yourself and myself included, to urge people to refrain from the very things that God encourages us to enjoy (responsibly). The argument concerning food (which, ironically, the Bible has much more to say about) would go something like this:

The Bible condemns gluttony (which parallels drunkenness by its excessive celebration of a good thing). We should abstain from as much food as is necessary--only using food for survival (only using alcohol in cases of medicinal health). Failure to do so results in excess, and prevents us from experiencing God's goodness by refraining from the gifts He's given us to enjoy.

Baptists, as a people, don't struggle with a lot of sins relating to alcohol. I've heard it said of Irish Catholics, but I've never hear anyone say, "That guy drinks like a Southern Baptist!" It's high time that we quit patting ourselves on the back by calling attention to how righteous we are (Look! We don't drink alcohol, and we add to the commandments of God!) and instead put on some sackcloth and ashes for our real sins, such as obesity.

Travis said...

The culture distinguished between harmful drinks and acceptable drinks. The condemnation of drunkenness included drinking undiluted alcoholic beverage. It was harmful in their eyes. Of course, through drinking diluted beverage in excess, one can also become drunk, but I think the intention of dilution was to avoid drunkenness, while maintaining desirable taste and proper preventative measures for health.

I agree that gluttony is a sin often ignored. In recent years, I have also experienced a growth in my understanding of discipline in this area. I am happy to say that I have experienced God's goodness through a systematic approach to bringing my appetite under the Lordship of Christ. There is a fundamental difference, however. Food is absolutely necessary for life, whereas alcohol is not. It's as simple as that. In my obedience to Christ, I celebrate by consuming good food, ("Go and eat what is rich!") but I do not let my appetite control me. Food consumption is a necessary appetite to be managed. Alcoholic consumption, in today's world, is an unnecessary practice for which an appetite should not be developed.

God commands us to enjoy life. He does not command us to drink alcoholic beverage. I can enjoy life by "drink[ing] what is sweet" without consuming alcoholic beverage.

Chase said...

Okay i'm going to chime in again. I'm pretty sure that wine runs at about 12-17% alcohol on average and i won't be quick to believe that wine in biblical times was significantly weaker. Wine at 12% alcohol mixed with 3 parts water should make a drink with 3% alcohol content, if i did my math right.
If we can say this is an acceptable drink, then Oklahoma beer at 3.2% should be acceptable as well, or at least if an ounce of it is replaced with water. Yet beer has such a stigma attached to it that i'm willing to bet that those who make the "weaker alcohol" argument will still turn it down.
I think if we're going to say drinks with alcohol should be avoided, i feel that we should avoid them regardless of the the strength of them.

Chris Krycho said...

Chase, that's helpful; thanks. I hadn't even thought about the ratios involved, but that's an important point, and it dovetails nicely with a point PJ and I have been discussing a bit behind the scenes, namely: If the alcohol is at the level it was at Biblical times, can it be enjoyed in good conscience?

As a side note: I had typed a 405-word response to Travis, realized it would serve better (with some small tweaks) as my next post... and then lost it all to a computer restart that I initiated, having forgotten about the content in the meantime. I had to rewrite all of it! In any case, you all can expect two full posts to fully flesh out my response to teetotaler arguments. The first will address the line of argumentation that Travis has brought up (by far the most common, in my experience); the second will deal with Romans 14:1-23 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-7 (a much less common, but ironically much stronger, argument).

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