I had a delightful phone conversation with an old friend the past weekend. During the course of our discussion, my friend turned us to addressing whether or not Christians should drink alcohol. My friend is by no means a teetotaler, but he is becoming increasingly troubled by the “restless and Reformed” types, especially among the leadership of the churches where their ilk are dominant, who brazenly flaunt their liberty by drinking alcohol and letting everyone know THEY ARE drinking alcohol.
In the church circles where my friend currently runs within the Bible-belt south, he sees such expressions of liberty as being unwise. It causes more harm than good and it raises the question of why a minister would want to unnecessarily threaten the impact of his ministry just to defend his liberty to drink wine. In my friends words, “is the freedom to drink alcohol a hill a pastor really wants to die on?” I couldn’t agree more.
Our discussion took me back almost three years to a commentary I wrote addressing this very issue in relation to smoking and drinking. It was in response to another post I wrote responding sarcastically to an article Steve Camp wrote at his blog berating a deacon who told some folks to not smoke on the church grounds. I no longer read any of Camp’s stuff, but I thought my comments were appropriate for my friend to review. When I found the link for my buddy, I also thought I would re-post it here, slightly edited, for newer readers I have gathered since 2007.
Originally posted September, 2007
A handful of inquirers have asked me about my post I did last week about drinking in church parking lots.
Just so that I am clear: I don’t advocate the drinking of alcohol in church parking lots.
I was hoping people would click over to Steve Camp’s post on smoking in church parking lots and then return back to me and note the clever, humorous twist I took disagreeing with his criticisms.
But alas, a few folks were lost in translation, so let’s recap.
Steve wrote a post charging a church greeter with legalism who had scolded some youthful church members for smoking in the church parking lot. Steve went on to explain that real ministry is down and dirty and involves the lives of sinners who smoke. Thus, he concluded it was wrong for this greeter person to tell these church youth to stop smoking in the parking lot.
I believe Steve is over-reacting and wrongfully charging this greeter with legalism. I believe it is inappropriately tacky for youthful church members, or any church member for that matter, to be puffing on cigarettes in the church parking lot in between Sunday school and the morning service, and a greeter who asks them to stop is not acting legalistically.
I agree with Steve, and many of the posters in the combox, that smoking in and of itself is not sinful. A Christian has liberty to smoke cigars, cigarettes, and pipes if he so chooses. He just shouldn’t do it out in the parking lot where people are driving up and coming into the church. My wife pointed out, as did Daniel, that a married couple has the liberty to “make-out” in their car in between Sunday school and the morning service, but I hope we all agree that “making-out” is inappropriate behavior in church parking lots on a Sunday morning, even if you are married and may have tinted windows.
So, to illustrate my disagreement with Steve, I basically took his exact same article and replaced the word “smoking” with “drinking.” I am sure Steve, being a firm Reformer, believes a Christian has the liberty to drink alcohol just like he has the liberty to smoke cigarettes. The prohibition against alcohol in scripture is becoming drunk, not drinking in moderation.
However, I imagine Steve, as well as any other right minded Christian, wouldn’t want a group of youthful, 21 years old Christians cracking open their Buds out in the church parking lot in between Sunday school and the morning service. Sure they are at liberty to drink. They’re just having one beer, right? Or a glass of Australian Shiraz if they happen to be attending one of those high class Presbyterian churches.
Never the less, in spite of their liberty to drink, I hope Christians, even Steve, would recognize the lack of propriety with drinking in the church parking lot on Sunday morning. A greeter would certainly be right to confront them and ask them to stop.
Now, this discussion has raised some thoughts in my mind I wish to share if you all will indulge me.
First, smoking is not a sin. Yes, smoking doesn’t have the greatest of health benefits, but neither does eating fried apple pies, KFC, potato pancakes, and Slim Jims. Those Bible-belt fundamentalists who tend to yap about smoking being sinful and cite medical journal statistics to justify their stance against Christians smoking are usually the first ones to belly up to an “all-you-can-eat” buffet at a Chinese restaurant or at Cracker Barrel for a time of “fellowship” after church on Sunday.
I could only hope these dear brethren would learn to utilize a biblically informed toleration for other Christians who are at liberty to exercise their freedom in Christ to smoke their cigarettes or drink their Jim Beam, rather than judge everyone through their narrow personal preference standards.
Yet, telling a person not to smoke on church property because the pastors think it is inappropriate is not to the same as legalistically accusing someone of sinful vice.
Second, on the other hand, I must confess I am becoming increasingly annoyed with restless young Reformers who believe they are free to flaunt their liberty and boast openly of their smoking and drinking. I sort of sympathize with them because many of them are like me and were either raised or saved in a legalistic church who instilled in them misguided ascetic values as a governing code for personal conduct.
Somewhere along their Christian walk these young Christians are awakened to the glories of the doctrines of Grace and the principles of the Reformation. Eventually, over time, the restless young Reformer comes to rightly see the foolishness of those ascetic values and their eyes are opened to the truth those values are really preference convictions at best and are for the most part no way grounded in scripture. In response, they over-react in the opposite direction by imbibing wine, beer, and cigars and become boorish with their new found freedom in Christ.
I have witnessed this countless of times. In fact, there is a nationally known radio Bible teacher who broadcasts from an inn that boards white horses. Back in the early 90s, before it went national, this radio program aired live on Sunday nights from a station here in LA. When the host and his crew weren’t bashing John MacArthur and Master’s Seminary for their dispensational views, they would be boasting openly of their liberty to drink and smoke and mockingly criticize those evangelicals who think such activities are sinful. Even though I agree with them in principle, their attitude was, and still is, obnoxious.
Sadly, I see this obnoxiousness displayed in the attitudes of many Reformed brethren on the blogs. Even though you may have a more mature biblical perspective on drinking and smoking, you guys need to recognize there are many who do not agree with you and you should not be a jerk toward their weak conscience. Paul could not be any clearer that a Christian with liberty can be just as “legalistic” as the Christian with the weak conscience. See Romans 14-15 and Galatians 5:13-15.
The ministry is called Bottleworks, and its purpose is to have theological discussions in the local pubs like in the olden days back in the 1500s. The person who sent me the links asked me what I thought about their outreach. All I can say is I feel a bit ambivalent. I want to know what their end game is. In other words, what is it they wish to accomplish having a theological round table outreach in a bar? My experience has been that what ever it is you use to draw crowds is what you will have to continue doing in order to keep the crowds. Do we want folks to formulate their fellowship around drinking in a bar once they are saved? I don’t think that is necessarily a good thing.