I decided many years ago totally to abstain from alcohol, and it is my opinion that all Christians would do well to make the same decision. I believe this issue is important because it relates to a broader, and thus even more significant subject—that of the modern church’s ongoing move toward becoming more and more like the world.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am biased. I hate alcohol—not the taste (although to be honest, I hate that too), but what it does to people. The first funeral of a teenager that I conducted was of a young man killed by a drunk driver. I’ve had literally hundreds of counseling sessions with couples and spouses as their marriages teetered on the brink because of alcohol. I can’t count the hours I’ve spent in jails and prisons visiting inmates whose lives have been forever negatively impacted because of crimes they committed while under the influence. Even more hours have been spent in emergency rooms, trauma units, and at hospital bedsides, while ministering to victims of alcohol.
The horror stories I could tell could fill a book: the teenaged girl losing her virginity while drinking, the college student brain damaged after a fraternity initiation, the young minister involved in a terrible wreck after having just a couple of beers to relax, and scores of others.
Let me be blunt! I see absolutely no positive argument for something that will make you act like an idiot, smell like a brewery, fight like a fool, impair your motor functions, drain your bank account, give you a hangover, scare your kids, alienate your spouse, make you a danger to your fellow man, and has the potential to enslave you.
I wish I could tell you that all I know about this is from the vantage point of a pastor. Regrettably, I must admit that during my prodigal days drinking was very much a part of my social life, and for the same reason most people start drinking—peer pressure. I wanted to fit in.
I can also tell you the time I decided to quit. It was early one morning when I woke up in the middle of a street in front of a frat house across from the Southwest Missouri State University campus. I decided right there and then that drinking could get you killed. I was right.
The Bible’s Counsel
Before we go any further let me state the obvious. I know that Jesus miraculously created wine as his first public miracle in Cana, and that a person could have consumed enough to get drunk. Yes, Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for medicinal purposes. It is true that the Bible nowhere forbids the drinking of alcohol, only its abuse to the point of drunkenness. Paul said, “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life” (Ephesians 5:18*). It is also true that many people, including many Christians, drink only in moderation; a glass of wine with their dinner or a cold beer on a hot day. And I’m not suggesting that such will make you descend into the gutter.
But let’s consider the whole counsel of God concerning the use of alcohol. Proverbs 23:29, 30 says: “Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks.”
There are six consequences listed in verse 29, all in the form of a rhetorical question, the first of which is, “Who has anguish?” The Hebrew word for anguish is an expression of despair and impending doom. It is no coincidence that 40 percent of suicide attempts are alcohol related. The wise man goes on to ask the source of sorrow, fighting, complaints, unnecessary bruises, bloodshot eyes; and makes it clear that the source is overindulgence of alcohol.
Most people in the ancient world drank alcohol. The Egyptians and Babylonians were manufacturing beer 3,000 years before Christ. But here’s something you need to know. Alcohol use changed radically in AD 700 when Arab chemists discovered how to distill alcohol, which led to the ability to produce highly potent concentrations. Thus the wine and beer produced previous to that was, for the most part, very low in alcoholic content. You could get drunk, but you had to drink a lot to do so.
However, today, if you buy a bottle of whiskey, liquor, or even wine, the natural fermentation is bolstered by the addition of distilled alcohol. New wine in biblical days had very little alcoholic content, and even aged wine had a low amount compared to today’s standards. Don’t take my word for it. You can easily research it using the Internet.
So-called “adult beverages” are very much a part of American social life. However, the advertising industry doesn’t sell intoxication, but fantasy; it doesn’t sell reality, but fiction. Ads for alcoholic beverages tout happiness, wealth, prestige, sophistication, success, maturity, athletic ability, virility, creativity, and sexual satisfaction—but these are the very things alcohol abuse destroys. Proverbs 23:31, 32 says, “Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper.”
I haven’t even mentioned that millions of Americans are in bondage to alcohol because of their addiction to it. But listen to the closing verses of Proverbs 23: “You will see hallucinations, and you will say crazy things. You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a swaying mast. And you will say, ‘They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?’” (vv. 33-35).
A Simple Question, A Larger Concern
Let me ask a simple question: Why should you drink? If you never take the first drink, you’ll never become addicted. If you don’t drink, even if you could handle it, you won’t be a stumbling block to those who can’t handle it (and I believe Paul said something about not causing your brother to stumble). And if you don’t drink, you won’t be supporting an industry that has caused untold heartache for millions of people.
Try a little experiment. Carefully read a city newspaper for the next seven days. Make note of all the stories of tragedy and heartache that somehow involve alcohol. Then, against that backdrop, try to defend its use. A quote often attributed to Abraham Lincoln is, “Alcohol has many defenders, but no defense.”
At the beginning of this article I suggested that this topic is representative of the broader subject of the church becoming more and more conformed to the world. I have a number of preacher friends who are social drinkers. I know of several churches that have changed their policy manuals to allow for social drinking. I’ve even heard it defended as a tool for evangelism (I wish I had the space to deal with that one).
But let’s be honest. Is it not simply an attempt to fit in with the world? What happened to “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking . . . ”? (Romans 12:2, The Message).
America’s No. 1 problem drug is not an illegal drug like cocaine, marijuana, meth, or heroine, as big a problem as they are. The No. 1 problem drug is a lethal one—alcohol. It causes more deaths and more addiction than any other drug. More than 55 percent of highway deaths are alcohol related. There are more than 17 million alcoholics in America, and that number is rising. And it is impossible to quantify the death, disability, psychosis, and relational harm done by alcohol.
No, the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not drink,” and you may be able to handle it. But what about your children who are introduced to the use of alcohol by your example and who are not able to handle it? I can point to many parents who would give anything to be able to go back and become abstainers if only for the sake of their kids.
Taking all this into consideration, isn’t it best to remember the words of Paul? “You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is good for you. You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23, 24).
*Scriptures are from the New Living Translation of the Bible, unless otherwise indicated.
John Caldwell is the retired pastor of Kingsway Christian Church, Avon, Indiana.