Christian Theology and Alcohol Part Dio
This is the second installment of my perspective on Christianity and alcohol. If you missed the first segment, it is here: https://www.thebotanistbar.com/post/christian-theology-and-alcohol
Now that we have that out of the way, let's kick it right into part dio (two in greek). We shall assume the previous arguments were already perused.
Do Not Cause Another To Stumble
Let's dive right in... Another common passage to cite is the admonition in Romans 14:21. As is our custom, we will read the scripture and a few verses around it in order to get the context.
20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Well.. That's interesting. Classically we only see verse 21. "It is not good to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble." Being a fundamentalist, I believe in the inerrancy of the word of God so it is redundant to say I agree with this verse. That holds for the whole of scripture. The interpretation of what is being said is where the differences arise. Let us examine this passage and how it is applied.
I believe that the major point that is being described is the point of human temptation. We are all tempted by certain sinful behaviors over others. For some it may be drunkenness, for others it may be gluttony, gossiping, sexual immorality, stealing, pride, or covetry. For instance, a gluttonous person should probably not go to an all you can eat buffet, a person struggling with homosexuality should probably not go to a gay rave, and a gossipmonger should probably not engage in conversations about others and their lives to the best extent they can. To bring this back to the topic of alcohol, I would agree that you should not tempt an alcoholic with the drink. In this same way you should not tempt the glutton with meat, which coincidentally is the dominant exoneration in this passage. Indeed wine is only mentioned once as compared with five times of eating in this small excerpt. Why then do I not hear admonishments about opening a restaurant/grocery or serving ridiculous amounts of food at church potlucks (looking at you Baptists)? Well there is a simple reason in my opinion and it all falls down to "sin hierarchies."
I have observed throughout the churches history they will certainly pay lip service to the fact that we are all sinners and all sins are equal in the eyes of God. Sin is sin and all sins results in the condemnation to an eternal Hell absent the undeserved grace imparted by our creator for those who have faith in said grace. That being said, we see a human imposed hierarchy on sinfulness. Obviously murder, rape, and idol worship is "worth" much more in the sin hierarchy than say, telling a little white lie, a bit of gossip, or coveting that neighbors car a little. After all, "I'm not that bad, I don't do the really bad things." Think of this illustration: from the perspective of a perfect, all powerful God of the universe, all sin is evil. In the universal perspective murder is no different than gossip. It is the usurping of his commandments and denying his divinity plain and simple. Are we so prideful and self absorbed that we believe that one murder makes any cosmic difference in the vastness of creation vs the relative damage of coveting? It does not. It is sin, and it condemns the whole of creation visa vie the fall of man. But in one world of 7 billion people, it doesn't even ripple. Faith in God and adherence to his will is personal, as is our salvation. We can not save each other eternally, we can not have an advocate outside of Jesus Christ, there will be no excuses at judgment day and there will be no extraneous circumstances. But some seem to act as if this is the case. As if you can reason with God, and explain to the almighty that sure you committed some little sins, but you avoided the big ones so you should be good. I mean sure, I gossiped and I coveted, and I lied ect, but at least I didn't kill anyone so I am better than that guy (points to me). I have a feeling I am going to fall down on my face in front of the Lord and beg him to throw me into eternal torment because I am not worthy in any respect to be even in his presence. I am an evil man, and I have sinned against him in every way my treacherous heart could devise. I do not deserve forgiveness, but forgiveness I have and will receive because I have my one hope which is Jesus Christ my Lord. All of the good I have done is equally worthless compared to this. So stop with the hierarchies of sin, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Let's bring it back to the stumbling issue. If I know that another is prone to gossip then why would I provide them with "Juicy Dirt" on another? Am I no better than Satan in this regard? If I know that another has a predilection for alcoholism why would I offer them a drink? If I know that another struggles with sexual impurity, why would I tempt them? The answer is that you should make a prudential judgment based on the best moral and intellectual information that you have and do your best to make decisions as to what you will do. You will not always be correct. You will fail. You are human. The answer is not to set arbitrary rules for others to try to make these decisions for them. You can only control your own actions and act in the best way that you can. I that means not enabling the gluttonous person to eat that extra hamburger, then so be it. Think about your position and it's implications and stick with it. No one can ask any more or any less.
On Church Leaders and Influential Pastors
Ok Socrates I hear you say: So and so says that we should do X, Y, and Z and they are men of God and write books and give sermons. So should I not listen to them? They are an authority, and I am to submit to authority. They are trained and well read and they know better than me, so I should just do what they say and I am good. After all, they have sold millions of books and have churches with congregations in the thousands.
Fair enough. I will pose the question again though. What will you do when you are personally face to face with the creator of the universe? "This mega-church pastor with millions of Facebook followers told me to do this so I did it and I am good right?" John Caldwell told me so, John MacArthur told me so, ect ect. Can a mortal man save you? Can they make decisions for you? Can they intervene on your behalf? What if they are wrong? Will you stake your eternal salvation on the thoughts of another and their opinions? I won't.
Speaking specifically of alcohol, there are many reasons for the stances that these and many others take. They speak of the alcohol related injuries and life destruction. They talk of bad decisions made when under the influence. They talk of liver damage, and lives ruined. I don't disagree with any of these points. Almost any substance in the world when ingested, worshipped, or utilized to excess will produce the same results. Why just alcohol then? It's an easy scapegoat. It's a simple target. It's an excellent discriminator to demonstrate to others your holiness. The engagement from my standpoint is one philosophical and theological clarity and integrity.
Often quoted numbers such as there are 18 million alcoholics in the United States or that 50% of traffic fatalities involve alcohol are bandied about. I will of course dispute the number of alcoholics since there is a definitional problem. How do you know that they are alcoholics? What is the definition of an alcoholic? I have my definition: A person who seeks alcohol as their idol of worship above God. Other delineations are simply arbitrary determinations based on relative morbidity and mortality data. These can be changed at whim to encompass more or less people to make the statistic derivations more suitable to their particular pathos based argument. As for traffic fatalities, I will not argue reaction time based issues from the side effects of alcohol consumption. I will also point out that personal reaction times vary widely, other "legal" intoxicants impede these reaction times much more than a drink of alcohol, and it would be impossible to make an actual "limit" on an individual basis to make sure that everyone was "safe." What we have are crude amalgamations of data to try to give a best guess in terms of legal implications. Here's a thought. Eliminate vehicles. Then the issue will not present itself. Oh, and let's get rid of horses, carriages, heavy equipment, ladders, walking, standing, sitting on a high stool, doors ect. Then we won't have a problem? It's just the alcohol though you say. What about the other 50%? Doesn't that seem like too many as well? Eliminate the cars/trucks ect and you eliminate the problem. But we like transportation you say. Wait.. did you just acknowledge that things you like or desire have a certain risk associated with them much like everything in the entire world? Then I would argue that philosophical consistency would dictate that you apply this principle to every aspect of life and personal choice. Removing or attempting to remove this choice from an individual is an impossibility. Prohibition proved this.
On drunkenness biblical references
No argument will ever put forth that drunkenness is not explicitly condemned throughout the bible. Indeed it is both in the old and new testaments. Take some of these verses for reference:
1 Timothy 3:3
Not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe one with rags.
For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain,
And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink:
The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink;
They reel while having visions,
They totter when rendering judgment.
Envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.
There are many more as well, and all within the same clear statement. It is fairly clear that drunkenness and love of alcohol is disastrous and evil. I will let the many other sins mentioned go for now in this discussion, stating only that we should not ignore the grouping of them with drunkenness and focus on the topic at hand. As I said previously, drunkenness is a sin, and this would require a meaning of drunkenness. What is the underlying point? How should it be carried out? I would argue that the underlying point is imbibing wine or strong drink to the point of cognitive loss leading to immoral decisions, and loss of reason is the sin. This then becomes ta question of when does this imbibition become loss of reason? Enter personal responsibility. Yes that term that causes legalists and absolutists to shudder with horror. Is it one drop of alcohol? Is it three drinks? Is it two bottles of 151? That is a personal decision. As described above, every person is different in both their addictive tendencies as well as their tolerance. There is no rule that applies to all. This is the same in many if not all personal choice issues of sin. (The "illusion" of personal choice discussion will come later) If the argument is to err on the side of caution as it is with many arguments and completely abstain from any behavior that could possibly lead to you making a bad moral decision, then there will be very little living left to be done. For instance: if you wish to never commit the sin of gossip and flee from any possibility, then don't talk about anyone for any reason. This will make for rather banal conversation and inhibit relationship building. If you wish to never commit the sin of greed and envy, then you should not have a job, look for a raise, or consider money or material possessions in any way. This leads to a world full of hermits and recluses. If you wish to never commit the sin of sexual immorality in your mind, don't go out in public, and don't look at another person, because you could commit that sin in an instant if you do. This also leads down the same path. One then asks themselves: if that is the way that all sin should be avoided, how then is one to build relationships that are strong enough to allow the spread of the gospel? We navigate these waters via personal conviction, and struggling against our sinful nature daily, hourly, and by the minute.
We know ourselves and our predilection toward sin more than any other. We make our decisions based on our personal knowledge of our failings and our personal salvation and faith in a God sovereign. If this means you are to be a hermit, not talk to people, have no job, drink no alcohol, eat no meat, ect then that is your belief and more power to you. It is my belief that as Christians we are still on this earth for our short time to help others, spread the good word of Jesus Christ, and further the kingdom of Heaven. In whatever way you feel you can best do that is your choice.
After all.. you only have one being to answer to, and you will be found lacking...