Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Jesus and Drinking - Revisted

Over at Steve McCoy's blog Reformissionary he links to an interesting discussion that took place at Southern Seminary about Alcohol and Ministry. I have read his blog and listened to the audio of the discussion at Southern. I am disturbed by some blasting of Mohler and others involved in the discussion. This issue is not an issue of religious freedom; to me this is an issue of Christian selfishness. Why is it so important for so called enlightened Christians find excuses for drinking? I originally posted my argument against Christian drinking back in March. I have reposted this article and made some follow-up comments at the end. Please read my re-post and tell me what you think.

Original Post: March 18, 2005
My message on Sunday to the students deals with Jesus’ servant attitude and how we must put others before ourselves like Jesus did. The passage is the Wedding in Cana (John 2) where Jesus does his first miracle by turning water into wine. This passage has become a topic of discussion not because Jesus performed a miracle, but rather because Jesus seems to be okay with drinking.

Many Christians as well as non-Christians point to this passage to find approval for drinking. While it is true that Jesus did drink wine, as did most people of that day. Their have been several attempts to legitimize this passage; one being that some saying the wine was not as strong as today. I am not sure that there is a way to prove the alcohol content back in Jesus’ day. This argument seems to fall flat. Other arguments that are extra-biblical seem to also fall flat. The answer, I believe, is found in the scriptures.

When trying to interpret the Bible, the rule of thumb is that any unclear passage is always interpreted by clear passages. With this in mind I looked into other passage dealing with drinking. The Bible frequently refers to being drunk as a sin. (Romans 13:13) The scriptures never show that Jesus was drunk or endorsed heavy drinking. The wine that Jesus drank was always with dinner and appeared to be enough to satisfy thirst.

So does this mean it is okay for Christians to drink? A couple rules apply before I answer that question. Being drunk is a sin and should never be allowed in a Christian’s life, also we must obey any laws in place about drinking (i.e. legal drinking age being 21) I believe it is up to each individual Christians to decide for himself. My wife and I have chosen not to drink at all even casually. The reason lies in one more scripture that we have not discussed. Paul examines the issue of eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 10.

You say, "I am allowed to do anything"--but not everything is helpful. You say, "I am allowed to do anything"--but not everything is beneficial. Don't think only of your own good. Think of other Christians and what is best for them. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

If someone who isn't a Christian asks you home for dinner, go ahead; accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you and don't ask any questions about it. Your conscience should not be bothered by this. But suppose someone warns you that this meat has been offered to an idol. Don't eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person. Now, why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it? Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:27-31


Paul answers the problem by saying that even though you are allowed to eat the meat that has been sacrificed to idols you shouldn’t if it will cause another person to stumble. I never want to be the reason that some other Christians decide to drink. I want to be an example of godliness. I believe that it is wrong for a Christian in our society to drink, because it would cause himself or others to grow further from Christ. Our goal as Christians is not to drink, but rather to grow closer to Christ everyday and drinking is not a part of that growth.

-------------Article End---------------

Steve McCoy tells us that the issue is not Alcohol but rather legalism. I don't ever want to a legalist; however the issue at hand is neither legalism nor alcohol. The issue is Christian selfishness. Paul spoke on an issue related to this discussion to the Corinthian church. Paul's position was we should give up whatever we need to to spread the gospel and disciple other Christians. How can we call ourselves godly if we are causing others to stumble? Alcohol is seen in a different light than it was 2000 years ago. It was not an issue, but eating sacrificed meat was. Can Paul eat sacrifice meat? Of course, but what if he did and it caused someone to stumble, would it be worth it?

Pastors have adults, teenagers, and children looking to them for a godly example. Is it setting a godly example for the pastor to drink? Not when there are families in my church that are deeply affected by alcohol. How can I say it is ok for me to drink in moderation, and not for that church member to get drunk? The people will never go above the spirituality of the spiritual leader in the church. It is just a fact, you might not like it or you might have an example of an exception, but for the most part members will never exceed the spiritually of the pastor. The people that are for Christian drinking at being selfish, they want to do what they want to do whether anyone is effected or not. Quit acting like children, step up and be godly men and women.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1

7 comments:

Paul said...

Ok...I'll bite (and by the way, the last drink I had was probably two years ago, and the time before that was around 11 years ago, so it's hardly an even occasional part of my life).

Let me just deal with a few of your statements:

"it is true that Jesus did drink wine, as did most people of that day."

Since that is true it seems impossible to make the argument that total abstinence is the only Christian alternative.

"I believe it is up to each individual Christians to decide for himself."

But you spend the rest of your post telling us why we are wrong if we decide for ourselves. For example, see the following:

"I believe that it is wrong for a Christian in our society to drink, because it would cause himself or others to grow further from Christ. Our goal as Christians is not to drink, but rather to grow closer to Christ everyday and drinking is not a part of that growth."

On what basis do you make this statement? How does having a drink cause the person drinking or someone else to grow further from Christ? When Jesus drank at that wedding was he growing further from himself? We MUST assume that Paul drank also. Was he growing further from Christ when he did so?

There are also good biblical passages that describe the new wine that God will provide at the feast he is preparing. That seems to tell me that there are, in fact, occasions where drinking does factor in our growth in Christ. What about those traditions that use wine in communion? It, in fact, is being used in a means God has given us for our growth in Him.

"I don't ever want to a legalist; however the issue at hand is neither legalism nor alcohol. The issue is Christian selfishness."

You may not see it, but the issue, as you have presented it, is in fact a matter of legalism. You have created a one-size-fits-all regulation for American Christians that the Bible does not itself create. How is that anything other than legalism?

"Alcohol is seen in a different light than it was 2000 years ago. It was not an issue, but eating sacrificed meat was."

But by your logic Paul should have said that because eating meat sacrificed to idols is an issue for some then all must abstain for the sake of those who might be offended. But that isn't what Paul said. He said there may be occasions to abstain, but that there were also occasions to partake. You are not arguing the point Paul is making in this passage.

"Is it setting a godly example for the pastor to drink?"

Depends. If you are Presbyterian or even a German Baptist the answer would almost certainly be "yes." The only reason it is not for a Baptist is because we have turned it into a legalism.

"How can I say it is ok for me to drink in moderation, and not for that church member to get drunk?"

The same way you can say that it is okay for you to eat in moderation and not for that church member to be a glutton. The answer to the abuse of food (when the abuse of food is a far greater societal problem in America than is alcohol) is not to quit eating. It is to eat right. The answer to the abuse of alcohol is not to quit drinking, but to quit getting drunk.

"The people that are for Christian drinking at being selfish, they want to do what they want to do whether anyone is effected or not."

I think the opposite is generally true. The primary reason I abstain as I do is because of the judgmentalism that I know will come if I do drink (even if it is just one). I think most Baptists who drink do a lot more looking over their shoulders about it than sit there thumbing their noses at the naysayers.

You have basically argued that there is no one who can sit down to a glass of wine who is not selfish and unchristian. You have not and can not prove that from Scripture. Mohler himself admitted as much. And Jesus example is your greatest roadblock (along with the passage you quote from Paul).

Steve said...

Bryan,

Seriously, this post is very poorly thought through. Paul's comments are very helpful, and I hope you will learn from them. I'll not rehash the same issues but to say this: Your position is clearly legalism. Bible doesn't make the rules, but you add to the Bible to give a right/wrong mandate. If you think you are doing this, I'm not suprised. Didn't Jesus call the Pharisees blind guides? Legalists always think they are right in their legalistic position. I'm sure where I struggle with legalism I'm just as blind. God help me in finding my errors.

Let me add these to Paul's excellent points...

1. You said, "I am disturbed by some blasting of Mohler and others involved in the discussion."

Who is blasting Mohler? If you mean responding to his points strongly, sure.

2. You said, "Why is it so important for so called enlightened Christians find excuses for drinking?"

Who is so calling anyone "enlightened Christians?" I'm just trying to be biblical like the rest of us. When Jesus came to the Pharisees and refused to follow their laws, I'm sure they said the same things about Him. I'm not Jesus, but this is legalism.

Also, you say we are trying to "find excuses for drinking?" That's like saying I'm reading Ephesians 5 to find an excuse to have sex with a woman. God's gifts are gifts and we should thank Him and enjoy them. And on top of all this, you can't know my motives, so chill out. If I remember right, Gentry, author of God Made Wine, doesn't drink but has written a book on the Biblical gift of wine. Is he trying to find excuses to drink, or maybe he's trying to be biblical.

3. You quote Heb 12:1 and say we should throw off everything that hinders, and I agree. But you assume that alcohol hinders and haven't proven it at all, since you would have to blame Jesus as well. Shouldn't He have set a better example? Won't His example give people in your church the excuse to get drunk?

I don't want to spend any more time on this with you Bryan. This just isn't thought through well at all on your part.

Steve

Gotch said...

Steve,
You sound upset, my intent was not to upset anyone. I am not attacking you personally. I am simply sharing my beliefs as I understand God's Word.

Still, no one has given me any clear reason for Christian drinking other than freedom in Christ. I do believe we have freedom in Christ; however, I also believe we can abuse God's grace and use it as an excuse.

Paul,
You say you don't drink because of judgment from others. Aren't you then giving in to the "legalist"? I still don't understand biblically why you believe its okay to drink.

Again, I not attacking you and do not want anyone to get upset over this blog. My intent was simple to provide thoughtful discussion for another point of view (I believe a biblical point of view). I would like to continue this discussion as long as our Christian fellowship remains intact.

Paul said...

Am I giving in to the legalists? Perhaps in some measure, but if I am I am doing it voluntarily. I don't do it out of fear of them or under compulsion, which is seems to me is what Paul was talking about in the 1 Corinthians passage you cited. My paraphrase: "If someone's going to blow a cog over this matter then abstain (not for your sake, but for theirs)." But I think it must also be clear that Paul is not setting down a new legalism in what he said. There is great freedom in what he said. But there is no freedom in your comment, "I believe that it is wrong for a Christian in our society to drink...."

I would say that the burden of proof lies with you, not with me. Drinking (wine especially) in the Bible is assumed. Jesus turned water into wine. Paul told Timothy to drink wine for his occasional stomach ailments. Psalm 104:14-15 says, "Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man's heart." Grass for cattle, plants, food, wine, oil, bread...these are all good things in the context of this Psalm.

Song of Solomon 1:2 says, "O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine." If we are to assume that wine is bad then he isn't saying much about his lovers kisses.

Isaiah 55:1, in the midst of the promises of God's blessing, says, "Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

In Romans 14 Paul says to abstain from wine if it causes a brother to stumble. This is probably good enough for those who preach total abstention to settle the matter. But there are two important considerations here. One is that Paul's admonition about causing another to stumble is a reference to weaker Christians who might be especially succeptible to violate their own conscience in this matter. They are opposed to drinking, but they see Paul drink and decide to violate their own conscience and drink themselves. He is not simply talking about someone being offended by Paul having a drink because it doesn't fit their code of moral conduct. On this passage C. K. Barrett says that there is nothing inherently wrong with drinking - any more than eating meat.

The second thing is that Paul has in mind an offense so severe that their very faith is in jeopardy. Some commentators suggest that it is the church itself that is being threatened.

Those things are a far cry from deacon Jones being upset because he saw me having a beer with my burger at Chili's. Deacon Jone's faith has not been affected. Deacon Jones is not in danger of offending his own conscience by having a drink simply because he saw me doing it. If he is then he shouldn't be a deacon because he is not holding to the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

No, deacon Jones is upset because I am breaking one of his legalistic rules. He cannot show me in Scripture where drinking is wrong, but he has this rule anyway. That's his legalism. I am not obligated to make a concession for his legalism, though I can if I so choose.

His legalism may include the requirement that all church members spend five hours in prayer each day. He cannot defend that position from Scripture and we would rightly call it legalism. Some might choose to spend five hours in prayer and some might not. But neither group should make their choice base on whether or not deacon Jones would be offended. Maybe he needs to be offended to break out of his legalism.

By the way. I am not upset with you. I think your post is full of incredible weaknesses - not least of which being your hermeneutical process. I'm simply challenging you as a brother to examine how you are treating this passage you quote in 1 Cor. especially, as that seems to be where your argument hangs. I think you also need to question some of your own assumptions - such as that drinking necessarily moves you away from the Jesus who himself drank, and that my drinking necessarily leads to someone else's drunkenness. Those are unfounded presuppositions. You also assume from the Hebrew passage that drinking is in itself a weight that so easily besets us. I can tell you that is not true for me and I'm pretty sure it isn't true for Steve or any of the other guys commenting over at his blog.

Gotch said...

Paul,
I want to thank you for clearly articulating you view. I was frustrated at first seeing people tearing apart the SBTS Discussion, without giving a clear description of their view.

I will have to retract one statement that I made out of emotion rather than fact. When I said it was wrong for Christians to drink I was incorrect. I can not make broad statements like that without biblical fact. However, I go back to what I said in my March article; I believe it is up to each individual Christian to pray about this issue and decide for himself.

I believe it would be wrong for me as a pastor to drink because of the 1 Cor. passage. The issue was different, but the principle still applies. They were certainly allowed to eat sacrificed meat, but it was not beneficial to other Christians to do so. I believe I am allowed to drink, but it would not be beneficial to my students or any members to do so. Pastor must be an example of godliness. While Jesus and others in the Bible did drink, alcohol is seen differently today, not as a gift from God, but a plague on society. How can I in good conscience say it okay for me to drink, when I have members trying to follow my example, some struggling with Alcoholism? How can I look into the eyes of a hurting wife and tell her it is okay for me drink, but he alcoholic husband is wrong. Do you think she would understand a biblical exegesis on the subject of wine? I then resort to 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

You say, "I am allowed to do anything"--but not everything is helpful. You say, "I am allowed to do anything"--but not everything is beneficial. Don't think only of your own good. Think of other Christians and what is best for them.

Some of the comments on other blogs seem to echo what the Corinthians church was saying, I am allowed to do anything, I can drink in moderation; that is my right. All I am saying is, it is not beneficial. Let’s think about the good of all believers, let’s think about what will be best in reaching that family with an alcoholic father.

Thanks for your comments and thoughtful discussion. I really do appreciate your views and your choice to abstain.

Steve said...

Bryan, your exegesis of 1 Cor. just doesn't wash. I'm not going to go in detail about it, but you just can pretend these are the same thing. Paul doesn't abstain always from meat sacrificed to idols, but only for a meal with certain people. You are using that to promote your version of total abstinence. You can't do that and act like you are promoting the biblical view or you are just being legalistic. This is a plain misuse of Scripture, and I know you don't want to do that.

So this isn't about honest disagreements here, but truth vs error. I encourage you to see it that way and look for the position of truth.

SMITTY said...

I'm not going to jump in on this argument...but I would like to say that a dogmatic point of view on either side of this particular issue can be dangerous