In Light of Perry Noble Being Fired – We Need to Talk About Christian Alcohol Use
By now you may have heard that mega-church pastor Perry Noble has been fired from his church for his over-use of alcohol. The church Noble founded and pastored for more than 15 years, New Spring Church, made the decision after first walking through the steps of reconciliation as outlined in Matthew 18. A recent article reports:
“Perry’s posture towards his marriage, increased reliance on alcohol and other behaviors, were of continual concern. Due to this, the Executive Pastors confronted Perry and went through the steps of dealing with sin in the church as outlined in Matthew 18. Because Perry chose not to properly address these ongoing issues and didn’t take the necessary steps toward correcting them, he is no longer qualified, as outlined in 1 Timothy 3 and the church’s bylaws, to continue as a pastor at NewSpring Church.”
Noble admitted to relying more and more on alcohol as an escape and refuge rather than Jesus. This was part of the reason he was confronted by the church leaders and eventually removed from his position. To his credit, Noble supports the decision and says the elders made the right decision. I respect him for that.
In the wake of Noble’s very high profile firing the major tenor of blogs and articles that followed focused on Noble’s use of alcohol. Those who believe Christians should not use alcohol were quick to use Noble as an example. The writers weren’t hateful or judgmental in their commentary. In fact they were quick to urge people to pray for Noble, his family, and New Spring Church. For that I am thankful.
But their position on alcohol and using Noble as an example is another matter.
We could have a lengthy conversation about what the Bible does and does not say about alcohol. Prohibitionists will say the Bible gives enough evidence to abstain from alcohol use that every Christian should abstain. Moderationists (those that believe responsible alcohol use is permissible) will say that nowhere does the Bible forbid the use of alcohol.
The reality is that you cannot use a single Scripture or even a string of verses to say the Bible forbids alcohol use. Highly respected scholars like John Piper admit “Of course you can’t defend teetotalism in any absolute way from the Bible. It’s clear that wine is a blessing in the Bible.”
Additionally, teaching from Matt Chandler at The Village Church makes it clear that the prohibitionist position “is untenable”:
“From the pages of Scripture, we will find that the position of prohibition is untenable, not reflective of the text. Within the pages of the Old Testament, wine was considered to be a gift of God, indicative of His blessing. (Psalm 104:15, Deuteronomy 14:26, Proverbs 3:9-10)… What was this first sign? Did Christ raise the dead, give sight to the blind, cast out a demon, or heal the lame? No, He turned water into wine1 for a large crowd gathered at a wedding. In Luke 7:33-34, Jesus is accused of being a drunkard. Certainly the accusation was incorrect in that Jesus, being without sin, would not have taken drink to excess, but the implication that He indeed drank is certainly present…From the whole of Scripture, we never read a single command which universally prohibits drinking. Certainly select groups (Levites, Nazirites, etc.) were restricted from partaking of specific beverages, but those limits are not equally applicable to all believers.”
This teaching goes on to make an excellent point that needs to be clearly communicated. The reality that some will abuse the blessing of alcohol is not a reason to remove the freedom to partake for those that use it responsibly. The teaching uses two very good illustrations:
“Does the fact that some abuse the gift of sex lead us to a position of marital celibacy? Does the sin of gluttony lead us to purposed starvation?”
The Bible creates boundaries for the blessings of God. The blessing of alcohol has boundaries just like the blessing of sex and the blessing of food. And yet no one seems interested in prohibiting the free use of sex within the boundaries God established. And I don’t see anyone lining up to stop eating. Some might be tempted to say sex is necessary, unlike alcohol. And yet outside of procreation it isn’t. It is just a blessing to enjoy. Food is necessary to live. But double cheeseburgers aren’t. An example I often use is caffeine. Caffeine is addictive and many Christians are addicted to it but refuse to admit it, or stop using it. They don’t acknowledge that it’s an issue even though the Bible clearly teaches that we are not to be addicted to anything (1 Cor. 6:12ff).
Just as we aren’t willing to limit the blessings of sex and food within the boundaries God has established, we should not be quick to limit the blessing of alcohol either.
In this very short video, Mark Dever, lead pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., a highly respected biblical scholar known for his expositional preaching and ability to study and communicate the Bible clearly, says:
“I think it doesn’t matter what you do with alcohol so long as you don’t abuse it…that would be my answer from the Bible…When you get theological I’m going to say the Bible does not condemn this and we are actually in sin to divide the body of Christ over something that not only does He not condemn but He even by His own usage seems to condone.”
I could keep lining up the quotes from some of the most quoted, most respected, most listened to pastors in America. But you get the point. Holding to a position of prohibition as biblical is untenable.
This leads me back to why I think using the case of Perry Noble as an example is incorrect.
In an article from 2014 Christianity Today noted that Perry Noble has been honest about his struggle with depression. Noble has also been honest with his struggle with medication. The reality that Noble has struggled with mental illness and medication means that his struggle with alcohol makes sense. It also means using him as an example of why Christians – as a whole – should not drink is a false equation.
No one argues that alcohol must be used with great caution. And for some, it means not using it at all. I think of a good friend of mine that will not use alcohol because he has an addictive personality and wants to make sure he is never tempted to stumble. He is being very wise in refusing to drink alcohol due to his addictive personality. But he also acknowledges the right of other Christians to freely use alcohol is the Spirit permits them.
In the case of Perry Noble there is sufficient evidence to conclude that he probably never should have started using alcohol. The combination of ongoing depression and medication use make using alcohol very dangerous. The results are obvious.
Pervading opinion on alcohol use is shifting. Whereas once upon a time the dominant view was that it was wrong and Christians should always abstain. A shift is taking place. The new, far more biblical view is that alcohol is to be used with great caution and responsibility. Just as with food, sex, and caffeine, alcohol is a blessing that can be enjoyed by Christians within the boundaries God has established for its use. Teaching prohibition as biblical is distorting God’s Word and inserting opinion where the Bible is already clear. It’s legalism.
Within 10-15 years the issue of alcohol will no longer be an issue. The dominant view will be the biblical view that alcohol use is permissible but should be used with great caution, responsibility, and within the boundaries God has established. Of course there will still be those that believe all alcohol use is sinful. I hope they will make a shift to believing it is wrong for themselves, and not for others. And I hope Christians that consume alcohol will make it a priority to guard the conscience of other brothers and sisters by abstaining in situations where it would offend others.
The truth is that though alcohol is a blessing, it is not a necessity. No one should ever place consumption of alcohol above protecting the conscience of others and their own Christian witness. As with other gifts and blessings God has given us in this life, alcohol requires wisdom. Focusing on the biblical commands for the use of alcohol, namely wisdom and moderation, is a far more valuable discussion than prohibition.