My Position on Drinking in the 21st Century (An informal paper) by Enric Lopez My Position on Drinking in the 21st Century The main focus of the debate on drinking alcohol in our day seems to stem from people that read the Scriptures and find no clear command to abstain from drinking wine. It is true that a person will not find these specific words in the Bible, yet I hold the conviction that believers in the 21st century should abstain from it. Am I a legalist? Do I put words into the text that don‟t exist and apply tradition to the text? To some it would seem so. And yet I believe that my position, although not explicitly taught in Scripture, is the most Biblical. In the following paragraphs, I will endeavor to prove to the reader why this is the best position to hold. This does not cover every possible facet of the topic, but does extend over what I see as the most important parts of the discussion. “Different Times Require a Different Approach” Let us begin with the belief that since no command to abstain from drinking exists then it must be acceptable to drink in moderation. Does the fact that no command exists really mean that we as believers can drink it up as long as we don‟t go too far? We need to begin with the differences between 1st and 21st century Christianity. I am not positive that Scripture could have explicitly said “Thou shalt not drink wine ever” because if such a command had been made and followed, then likely some people groups would have suffered from illness and perhaps death. Obviously there were clear springs back then of pure water, because people like the Levites and those who took the Nazerite vow were commanded to abstain from wine completely; they needed something to drink. But not all people and towns in the 1st century had the benefit of having pure water. Because wine was a necessity (and not a luxury as it is today) for these people groups, I do not believe that a just and omniscient God could have made such a command for New Testament believers. To explain further, just as there are bodies of water in the U. S., Mexico, and other places around the world that aren‟t drinkable because of bacteria and parasites today, the same problem with water existed back then. The way to fix this problem was to drink what the Bible calls wine, which was used to kill the bacteria in water, and making the water safe to drink. In Greek culture, the percentage was usually 3-6 % alcohol content (1 part wine, 4 parts water), or lower (up to 1 part wine, 20 parts water), according to writings of people in that time (Pliny, Cato, Cicero and others. I found these facts on secular websites that weren„t even dealing with the Christian‟s relation to wine. They were merely stating historical facts of alcoholic beverages in “classical” times and had no agenda). This did give the water a measure of alcohol and if drank over a long period of time one could get drunk by it. However, normally it took a whole day. Prov. 23:30 “Who hath sorrows?… They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.” Is. 5:11 “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! Acts 2:15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. Going by these facts, it is estimated that today‟s alcohol is 9-15% stronger than that of the 1st century (this percentage would exclude what the Bible often refers to as “strong drink,” which was usually, but not always, closer to the alcoholic content found in some beverages today. It should be noted though, that strong drink was available to the rich classes of the day, and not the common people: those who could afford to use that many grapes, or wait the length of time needed for the fermentation process.) Now we move to our day. We live in a time where alcohol is not a necessity, but a luxury. We have countless options to choose from that satisfy our thirst without running any risk of drunkenness. We live in a time that has an industry which is corrupt. The beer and wine companies are selling a product that is made strong (which enslaves the drinker with addiction to the substance) for the sake of gaining a profit. They do not care if their product destroys families, ruins lives, or ends the lives of people, which alcohol does in some way every day. This is far different from the what the 1st century church dealt with. On this basis, we are essentially dealing with a situation that did not exist in Biblical times. The call for believers then is to use wisdom from God as we ask it from Him and wisdom that is revealed in His Word. Basing one‟s beliefs on the fact that there is no specific command found in Scripture telling all to abstain from alcohol is irrelevant, irrational, unwise, and in my opinion is used in order to rationalize and justify one‟s own actions in order to do what one desires with a “clear conscience” (this is a motive, but not the only one). There are warnings in Scripture about the dangers of the drink itself. Prov. 23:31 “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.” Hosea 4:11 “Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.” And drunkenness is strictly forbidden. Eph. 5:18. Some claim that Scripture has made a distinction between drunkenness and just the drink itself and therefore drinking in moderation is fine for a believer. Yes, there is a distinction, but I do not take that to mean that we can drink guilt free today as some take it to mean. Once again, we stated clearly that our alcohol of today is stronger than that of Bible times. Wisdom would suggest that even one glass of today‟s beer or wine may be the equivalent of a days work for the drunk in the 1st century. I can state this with great certainty. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says this about the affects of alcohol, “…Difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory: Clearly, alcohol affects the brain. Some of these impairments are detectable after only one or two drinks and quickly resolve when drinking stops” (emphasis mine). In his article titled “Even a Little Alcohol Affects the Brain” Steven Reinberg of Health Day cites a doctor saying: Even low levels of alcohol can impair brain function, says a study that found the specific areas affected by amounts of alcohol tantamount to social drinking. Low levels of alcohol affect motor coordination, memory and lower social inhibitions at a blood alcohol level of 0.01 percent, far below the legal drinking limit of 0.08 percent says lead researcher Dr. Richard Olsen, a professor of pharmacology at the University of California at Los Angeles. “This is the affect one or two drinks will have,” he adds. Except for the use of strong drink, no one in Bible times was able to get drunk off of the common person‟s wine after one or two drinks as we established earlier - it took the whole day. People make a bold assumption in thinking that drinking in moderation today does not qualify as being drunk. For the sake of argument, perhaps having one or two of today‟s alcoholic beverages doesn‟t qualify as being drunk by Biblical standards. If not one or two, then definitely at three or four. The problem is a specific line can‟t be drawn with absolute certainty. But does any Christian want to flirt with disobeying a command in Scripture simply because it might be within the realm of acceptance by God? We will prove later that God does have the definitive answer (He knows what is right and wrong on this subject) and explain later that drinking any form of alcohol is not worth risking judgment by the One who knows infinitely better than we do where the lines are drawn. “Different times require us to use Wisdom: Applying Principles from God‟s Word” There are several principles that need to be applied in a Christian‟s life in regard to drinking alcohol. (1. First, the principle of not putting yourself in a place of temptation. James 1:14-15 “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” This passage talks about the progression of sin. Where does sin begin? It begins in the mind (“his own lust”). When you drink alcohol your mind is dulled and you are not aware or as sharp as you should be, as we saw clearly from the sources above. Do we really want to take in a substance that puts us in a position to not be able to make right decisions as a result of its dulling affects? Why would we be willing to put ourselves in a position of falling to temptation to do just about any conceivable thing? Satan is seeking those he can destroy, thus we are commanded to be sober and vigilant -- something we cannot do when our mind is weakened by alcohol. So what about the person who says he can hold his alcohol, or that he is in control? Even if the person in question doesn‟t get “drunk” (I question when someone is drunk and not drunk based on the affects of alcohol mentioned above), my question would be, “what are you trying to prove?” Are you trying to prove that you can handle alcohol? You might be impressed with yourself and think you‟re really macho, but God is not impressed. God is more impressed by those who live a pure, virtuous life. For example, Job, who was blameless, feared the Lord, and turned away from evil (Job 1:8). God was able to point Job out to Satan and put him on a pedestal as a model for the way servants of God ought to live. The call of the Christian life is one of being holy, because our Father in heaven is holy (I Pt. 1:16). It is safe to say that we misrepresent God by trying to go as far to the edge as possible without going over it, when we should be turning away evil and becoming as close as we can to the image of Christ to whom we will be conformed one day. (2. The principle of keeping the Christian‟s testimony pure and clean. 1Pt. 2:11-12 “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation [behavior] honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” Our lives must be a picture of Christ-like innocence. This passage speaks of those that would want to find reason to accuse us. But when they see our good works as we abstain from fleshly lusts, (remember, lust is anything we covet outside the boundaries that God has put for us) they may glorify God in the end. No where will you find that we are to be like the world in order to win the world. When I read Romans 12:1-2, Eph. 4:17 (“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind.”) Colossians 3, Phil. 3, and a host of other passages that deal with a believer‟s behavior, I know that I cannot be like the lost in any way, for that would misrepresent who God is as well. Many will say that we should go to bars in order to reach those people (while drinking alcohol or possibly not.) I believe this idea flies directly in the face of the two principles we just looked at. With this mentality, it‟s apparent that we should go to strip clubs to witness to those people, correct? Sure, we would risk temptation as men, and we would risk our testimony being compromised as well. But we have the right motive so it should be fine, right? I‟m obviously being sarcastic. But there is no difference in my mind between walking into a strip club to witness and going into a bar and witnessing. Perhaps it is easier to succumb to temptation at the strip club than the bar, but does that make one a better choice over the other? NO! God is not impressed by what levels of temptation we can handle. And for testimony‟s sake, both place are to be avoided. We must imitate the life of Job and turn away from evil. (3. There is absolute certainty that all believers will be judged according to their deeds on earth. Despite the risks of temptation and testimony, people want to find a reason to drink alcohol. Why is this issue pressed by so many? I don‟t have a clear answer except to say that drinking alcohol is what some want to do, therefore they will do it regardless of the consequences. However, there are consequences that might be greater than any earthly result. 2 Cor. 5:10 says “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” This passage, along with others, clearly speaks of the fact that all our deeds will be judged by our Righteous Judge. Certain people that I have talked to who advocate drinking alcohol told me that they would never drink any themselves, yet weren‟t going to tell others not to. This is based off the belief that this issue is too gray to have an overarching standard for all believers. Therefore, they say that it is up to each believer to individually come to a conclusion that is personal. This type of thought process leaves God totally out of the picture. My question to them is, is anything gray to God? Along the same lines as 2 Cor. 5:10, 1 Cor.3:13-15 tells us that every work by all people will be tried by fire. Just because from a human perspective we view this as “gray”, does that mean that it will not fall under “every work” in 1 Cor. 3:13-15? There is no cause for us to think that drinking alcohol is so neutral that it would be exempt from such a judgment. This really brings me to a serious note: If we have a healthy fear and respect for our God, then we would take this, and other matters more seriously. Before we label something as gray, we need to find the mind of God on the issue at hand. Instead, people work out things in their own mind first, and then apply what they come up with to the Scriptures. That is totally backwards and I should not have to explain how dangerous this logic is. We must let the Word of God shape our thinking, not our thinking shape the Word of God. Because of these Biblical principles: the future judgment of all believers, the major differences in the alcoholic content beverages, and differences in the times we live in between 1st and 21st century Christianity, my position is this: I am 100 % positive that completely abstaining from all forms of alcohol is the clearest, wisest, most right, and best thing Biblically for a believer to do in our time. I am much, much less confident that drinking alcohol in any form would be right for a believer to do today. I truly don‟t understand any other position on the issue. Therefore, I will abstain from all forms of drinking, and will strongly encourage others to abstain as well. Since I know that I will be held accountable for my actions and what I tell others to do, I am compelled to have such a firm belief. I do not want to have on my account the sin of drinking alcohol, and the sin of telling others to drink simply because I thought it was too gray to have a solid conviction over. Furthermore, all Christians have an individual responsibility for what they do. Before anyone drinks, I think they need to ask themselves a few questions: Do I really need to drink alcohol, or are there other, better options available? (some 1st century Christians did not have an option.) Which leads to the question, is this really best? And if it is not best and just “good” (I have yet to hear someone prove that) then are there better options? With drinking alcohol there is a risk of testimony and falling into temptation; are there things to drink and other places to go that do not have those risks? What is your motivation for performing this act of drinking? (These questions are based out of these texts: 1Cor. 6:12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 1Cor. 10:23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 1Cor. 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. ) “Different Approach to Reaching the Lost.” Many state that we need to “reach people where they are.” This results in the belief that believers should be willing to go into bars and witness. Having an alcoholic beverage while in there is not outside the realm of possibility since you are trying to relate to them. “Even Paul said that he became all things to all men right?” I would like to deal with this mentality and this passage in detail since it has a lot of relevance to our discussion. 1). The Practicality of this Philosophy. We already discussed the testimony aspect, but what about the actual effectiveness of witnessing to those in a bar setting. Have any of my readers ever had the opportunity to witness to someone who is drunk? I have at least three times. Each time, although a blessing to give out God‟s Word, was tremendously… ineffective. A tanked individual really has trouble understanding things like justification and substitutionary atonement (not that we necessarily use those terms, but we do explain those concepts to them; and they don‟t understand those either). The Gospel is easy enough for a child understand, but they need to be coherent. The second issue of practicality falls in the arena of how the lost individual views Christians and Christianity as a whole. What would be the lost person‟s perception of you when you tell them about Christ in a bar while you hold a brewsky in your hand? “You‟re a Christian, so what are you doing in here?” What kind of message are we bringing to the lost when we mix the world with the Gospel? We encase the Truth of God‟s Word in a form that is confusing to them. I would submit that when we present the true Gospel in a form that is contrary to that truth (i.e. in a form that carries messages that stem from the world) we then alter the message of the truth, and then proceed to weaken, if not on occasion completely eliminate the power of that truth. Chances are, we all know someone who goes to the bars on weekends, whether they be a neighbor or a coworker. There is no need to compromise the Christian‟s testimony by going to a bar when all we have to do is proceed through our front door and see all the lost people that we encounter every day! There is no need to reach these people “where they are” when they are next door, or standing next to you at work, or in the park with their child, or behind the door that you knock on when going on visitation. (Notice that all these examples can be accomplished without willfully putting yourself in a place of temptation or compromising testimony.) We must be praying for those opportunities that God would give and be aware of the souls around us. We cannot be sending a message to the lost that says everything on the earth is still for our pleasure; just call yourself a Christian and you‟ll be fine… God will let you into heaven. Plus, the world knows that Christians are supposed to be different. We give them a misrepresentation of what Christianity is and who Christ is when we act the same as them. Which brings me to the question: Why are we trying to act like the world anyway? Is it to find favor with them so they will listen to us when we present the Gospel? I believe that is putting our own wisdom into reaching the lost, and that is what Paul says that he does not do: 1Cor. 2:4 “And my speech and my preaching was not with words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” The power of the Gospel transforms lives, not our enticing words or human logic. Besides this, we shouldn‟t expect to have the world„s love because we are taught in Scripture to expect the exact opposite. 1 John 3:13 “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.” In John 15:18-19 Jesus says, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” 2). So what did Paul mean when he said that he became all things to all men? Let us read the verse in context: 1Co 9:16-23 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. The context is clearly, what Paul is boasting in and what his motivations are. This is seen by the “bookends” of the passage (“I have nothing to glory in” and “I do all things for the sake of the Gospel.”) Then, Paul in essence proves that his motivations are pure by his writing in vv. 19-23. He begins to prove this by saying “I have become a servant/slave to all.” Then he proceeds to prove his servant‟s heart by being willing to witness to Jews that are “under the Law, to Gentile “dogs”(as they were then viewed) that are without law, i.e. to those that are lawless/wicked (note his parenthesis: he says that he becomes these things without compromising his status of being under Christ‟s law). Also, to those that are sick/weak. All these examples that Paul gives could be summed up in one word: “unlovely.” Paul was willing to go to the unlovely people of the world, risking reputation among other things, to win some. This was his sacrifice for the Gospel‟s sake and nothing else. Therefore, he proves that he did not try to reach people for his own gain. If anything he did was for his own gain, then he would not be willing to reach out to those that would cost him something. It is sad that this passage is misread and misused because there are truths that we really need to apply to ourselves today. It is ridiculous to come to this passage and attempt to justify certain actions in order to “win some.” I have asked people who use this passage this way, “so then, in your estimation, where did Paul go and what did he do as he „became all things?‟” I would then suggest that perhaps Paul would have gone to the temple of Diana, or some place similar (sarcastically of course). Because if going to shady places and compromising testimony is what Paul intended by this passage, then he must have gone and done things that would have been questionable himself, right? Although Paul was not a perfect man, according to God he is a prime example for us to follow and imitate (Phil. 3:17.) Furthermore, if Paul‟s actions were characterized by compromise and risking testimony, then he would be a hypocrite and contradicting his own teaching in just about every letter he ever wrote on the behavior of believers and preachers, which then would disqualify him of being an example for us to imitate. This mentality honestly does make me upset: that people come to the Word with an agenda to add things to the Scripture to fit their view of what Christianity should be. Let us never add or subtract anything from the Word when it comes to the Christian„s conduct. Instead, we need to let God tell us how believers are to behave in this present world. “Differences in Thought Patterns” It is important for us to take a few steps back from the drinking debate and evaluate the mind sets and foundations for the differing convictions on this topic. I believe the two major opinions on this subject matter have two separate goals in which all their following beliefs are produced. (My words may sound harsh here at times, but I think it necessary to make the point as strong as it should be). As believers, do we desire to live a life of mediocrity or excellence? I would submit that in order to be following God as we ought, we are to have the goal of excellence. But what does living the excellent life look like, and what does the mediocre life look like? This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor does it cover all possible modes of thinking, but it does give some insight to our discussion. The Excellent life asks, “what is right with” in a particular matter that isn‟t explicitly taught in Scripture. The Mediocre life asks “what is wrong with”. (Notice the difference: one thought pattern wants to know the Biblical righteousness of a matter while the other desires to find a reason to do what is desired). The Excellent life approaches the Bible in a way that seeks to find what God‟s mind is on a matter that is unclear. The Mediocre life approaches the Bible in a way that seeks to find the loopholes in order to justify one‟s desires or actions. The Excellent life makes decisions that will ensure becoming closer to the image of Christ as we are commanded to do. The Mediocre life will make decisions that will ensure getting as close to crossing the line of sin as possible without (as far as they know) actually crossing that line. In other words, it is the mentality of, “how much can I do and get away with it?” These are some of the things that mark which camp a person falls into. (There is definitely middle ground, because no one pursues excellence at all times, and some are genuinely warring with their flesh on issues.) From my discussions with people on the side for drinking alcohol, I believe these mediocre goals can be deceptive in nature, so that the person with those goals does not realize the type of life they are actually pursuing. Most honestly believe that they are within God‟s demands for their lives. I would ask, which line of thinking and actions represents you the most? I need to ask myself this question also. It should be the desire and passion of all believers to live excellently before our God. And when it comes to drinking alcohol, the mentality must be the same. God calls us to excellence, not mediocrity.
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