My Facebook Conversation About Christians and Alcohol Was Helpful
I recently posted a blog about whether or not Christians should drink alcohol. (You can see it here). The ensuing conversation with a pastor-friend that I have known nearly all of my life was helpful as I think through this issue.
First we have to admit that the issue of alcohol for Christians has become both important and controversial. For years the standard talking point was that Christians didn’t drink. The churches I grew up in had that principle so ingrained in their culture that we didn’t even have sermons or lessons on the issue; not even a conversation. It was simply understood that Christians did not drink.
In my youth groups growing up we were told that it was wrong to drink. Given the fact that we were underage that was an easy talking point to repeat. But no one ever prepared me for the day when I was legally allowed to drink alcohol and needed to make the choice, biblically, of whether or not I would. Because, again, it was simply understood that Christians did not drink.
When I recently posted an article about whether or not Christians should drink alcohol I got a Facebook message from a pastor-friend that had some thoughts for me. Now, you might be thinking that a “Facebook friend” sent me a harassing message telling me how wrong I was for my views and “encouraging” me to repent. But you’d be wrong.
The message came from a pastor I’ve known virtually all my life. He has been a pastor at the same church outside Cleveland for more than 40 years. God has used his ministry to grow that church from a small neighborhood church to one of the largest churches in the area. I have great respect for this brother and the ministry God has worked through him. So when he sent a message I was not worried for a minute that it would be an ugly conversation.
After thanking me for my “ministry of blogging” my friend shared his perspective, which comes from “more than forty years of pastoral ministry in only one church.” His perspective includes the admission that he cannot say that “having one drink of alcohol is a sinful choice, “ but that he does believe it is “an unwise choice for the believer.” I appreciate this honesty as he recognizes that the position of prohibition as a biblical position is untenable. The Bible simply does not allow for this position. But I also appreciate that he is willing to share his view. And I received that counsel with joy.
My response, which is the same whenever I talk about this subject is that while Christians are quick to condemn alcohol use as sin because it is addictive and causes drunkenness, they often ignore other highly addictive substances that have short-term, long-term, and lingering side-effects.
For instance, when was the last time you heard a sermon on the sin of gluttony? It is very difficult to listen to an obese pastor rail against drinking alcohol because it is addictive. Unless the Bible changed somewhere along the way gluttony is still a sin. But Christians are quick to indulge in overeating and even joke about it as part of their “church culture.” Somehow I don’t think God is laughing.
We could include sugar, caffeine, sports, shopping, Facebook, video games, and many other things on our list of addictive and harmful gifts of God. I call them gifts because God has graciously blessed our culture with many wonderful things. But they are also temptations to overindulge. That temptation often leads to the abuse of these gifts. That abuse has immediate side effects, as well as short-term, long-term and lingering effects.
At the center of this discussion is not merely a substance like alcohol, but rather addiction. It seems that we as a people are prone to addiction in one form or another. If it’s not alcohol it’s caffeine, food, gambling, or sports. More and more people are finding themselves addicted to something. That addiction has undesired and harmful side effects and consequences.
One person that joined my conversation over Christians and alcohol was a paramedic with a unique perspective. He wrote:
“Considering I’m a paramedic I think I have an adequate grasp of substance abuse. I also know what [the] toll obesity has on society, statistically it is the greater threat…Addiction isn’t simply a matter of banning something, it’s a lifestyle problem. People are addicted to sugar, caffeine, fried chicken, golf, or football. Football steals a ton of time and resources from our people but no one rails against it. They are all the same problem, addiction is the problem.”
He’s right, addiction is the problem. Maybe our conversation has begun in the wrong place. Instead of starting with a particular substance, such as alcohol, maybe we need to start with the root of addiction: the heart.
At the core of this discussion is the heart of mankind. Our sinful heart wants to replace the sufficiency of Christ with just about anything else. We desire to be fulfilled and complete and will try and reach that place using anything we can find. The problem is that only Christ can make us truly complete and whole. In our efforts to be complete we travel from one thing to another only to be disappointed when we don’t find the fulfillment we are looking for. But the result can be one addiction after another.
The efforts of many religions and churches have been to make a list of “do’s and don’ts” that people are expected to follow. We think if we can just eliminate all the “bad” things from our lives then we will finally turn to Jesus. But this effort is little more than an attempt at behavior modification resulting in legalism. Those who can abstain from the undesired behaviors and actions on the list are seen as spiritual. Those that struggle with anything on the list are not.
A long-time friend joined the conversation by pointing out that our efforts to control with a list of do’s and don’ts has reduced dependence on the Holy Spirit for many believers:
“The issue is not the item, per se, but rather the heart. Likewise, we need more Christian liberty, not less. Either the Holy Spirit is sufficient to guide our attitudes and actions, or he is not. I think too many times we focus on whether something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ as opposed to simply leaving it to be whether it is something that someone desires to do or not, when they are engaged in a close relationship with the Father and being guided closely by the spirit…We should I think worry less about the things we should not do, and focus more on the things we should do – and in so doing allow the spirit to make us into what the Father desires.”
That sentiment is at the heart of this discussion. When the Holy Spirit is leading in the life of a believer there will be conviction towards the things Christ desires in our lives, and conviction away from the things that are harmful. The temptation to overindulge in anything – sports, food, video games, or alcohol – will become something we are consciously aware of and seek to fight each day. We are no longer concerned with behavior modification due to a set of rules but we are now focused on letting the Holy Spirit lead and transform us.
I appreciate robust conversations that include many perspectives. I learn from those conversations. I am driven to reflect and think and study to make sure of my own convictions. I’m thankful for those that took time to share. I’m thankful that we can “agree to disagree” with respect. This issue is nowhere near settled. It will continue to be a prominent issue in Christianity for the foreseeable future. I’m hopeful that it will dissipate as we reach a greater understanding of Christian liberty.