I originally wrote this post back in 2011 after John MacArthur stirred the dander of the 30-something pastor set who love to play like they are sophisticated metropolitans or who want to “take dominion over and reform drinking booze.” He wrote an article basically telling them to put down their beer steins and wake up to the fact that there is more to Christian liberty than the unshackled, William Wallace shout of freedom with drinking micro-booze.
When I engaged the critics of John’s article, I quickly discovered they made some of the lamest arguments for liberty drinking I had ever encountered. I wrote up a response to each of their key talking points. Since then, new arguments have been put forth, and seeing that this is an issue that is still a problem in local churches, I wanted to update my initial post.
Allow me to start off by affirming to my readers that I am not a teetotaler. I would never advocate for being a teetotaler. I probably have just as much disdain, if not more, for the legalistic social mores binding undiscerning Christians to classic American fundamentalists.
In fact, I like a good wine. I may have a glass if I am on vacation with my wife and we have opportunity to stay at one of those fancy Pacifica hotels dotting the coast of California. Recently, I have started taking a Coke Zero and rum in the evening, which I find delicious. When Costco has a case of that fruity, alcoholic beer-malt liquor stuff on sale, we’ll pick one up. And during the holidays we splurge a little and buy a bottle of Bailey’s.
However, I am also aware of the fact that alcohol in any form is viewed by the majority of American Christians as being “sinful.” Yes, I realize they are mistaken about that, but reality is reality, and that attitude is not changing anytime soon, in spite of anyone’s efforts to the contrary.
As long as beer and wine is perceived as a terrible vice used by party people on spring break, rowdy tailgaters at a football game, and tavern brawlers whose mugshots appear on the Smoking Gun website, it is not a wise idea for Christian ministers to foster alcohol consumption among their people. My life is lived in front of many folks, and it is to those people I am responsible for ministering Christ. Making it a habit of obnoxiously flaunting my liberty with alcohol consumption is not helpful for them, and will only generate more confusion than is necessary.
Now, with that being stated, there are individuals who insist Christians should not only express their liberty with drinking, they have anointed drinking as a spiritual virtue. Anyone who opposes their outlook is mercilessly ridiculed and condemned. The arguments they put forth, however, are not well thought through. So, let’s look at the lame arguments I have encountered defending Christian liberty drinking.
Martin Luther and/or the Reformers and/or the Puritans brewed beer and consumed wine.
That is generally the immediate response to my position of cautious moderation. “Well, Martin Luther and/or the Reformers drank beer, so why can’t we?”
Keep in mind that Martin Luther lived 500 YEARS AGO!
While we certainly applaud Luther and express our heart-felt Christianly thanks for him defending the timeless truths of the Gospel, that does not mean we are to automatically emulate him, or any other Reformer for that matter, and his various social convictions.
Think about it. What is more important? That we reform ourselves according to biblical standards or historical standards? What was a normal part of society in Germany 500 years ago may had been acceptable, but was it necessarily biblical? Even if it is just American Christians who have weird hang-ups with alcohol because of the old prohibition days still doesn’t mean we need to be like German Christians today. It may not be the best use of liberty for them either just because they live in Europe and have no connection to our prohibition past.
The same can be said about the other Reformers as well. Do we adopt all the social conventions of the Reformers and the Puritans just because they did them? Several Reformers practiced astrology, like Phillip Melanchthon. That’s not to say everything Melanchthon wrote stinks of new age mysticism. He was just as much a complex sinner as the rest of us. But his belief in astrology does reflect a common, historic practice among many Protestants during his time. So, who is ready to reclaim and take dominion of horoscopes from the Fundies and reform them for the glory of God?
The more bizarre use of the “Luther drank beer” argument is the appeal to Puritans, who supposedly were quite the bar flies, or at least one would think according to their beer drinking defenders. But we’re talking about the Puritans. Those were the guys who thought wedding rings were popish and outlawed Christmas during Cromwell’s Protectorate. Will we “reform” according to those convictions?
And just a closing word about the absurd claim that a brewery was the first building the Pilgrims built upon arriving in the new world. That is an urban legend. If you and your people are sick and dying and winter is coming on in a strange land, do you waste time building a brewery? Or will it be basic shelter?
Food is abused by way too many people, but you don’t hear Christians crying out about gluttony. Yet there are more people in churches who overeat than there are alcoholics and drunkards. No one rebukes those gluttonous Christians for their reckless overindulgence in food.
The biggest (no pun intended) problem with this argument is that gluttony is not just overeating. It is especially NOT overeating in the sense of a guy eating an entire large pizza in one sitting or scarfing down Chili’s 3,200 calorie “Freakin’ Onion” appetizer all by himself.
Gluttony is always tied to drinking in the Scriptures. What we know to be a drunken, debauched lifestyle. One may say overeating is a part of the debauched lifestyle, but it is the idea of out-of-control, riotous living that makes “gluttony” sinful. This is not super-sizing your McDonald’s order.
Consider Deuteronomy 21:20: And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’
If you look at the entire context, you have parents – PARENTS MIND YOU!; you know, mama and daddy – bringing their son before the elders to be judged because he is basically a thick-headed good for nothing who spends his time and money (family’s money) on riotous living. The word “glutton” has the idea of a vile, worthless person.
Notice what happens with this son. He is brought before the elders of the town so they can pass judgment upon him and if they judge against him, he is stoned to death. That’s the death penalty, folks. He is not executed for being 60 pounds overweight and having lunch at Jack in the Box every other day. (See my further study HERE).
Related to the “gluttony” argument is the “obesity is just as bad if not worse than alcoholism” argument. This one is usually put forth in the combox after a teetotaler lists a bunch of statistics telling how many people die from alcohol related deaths, or how many women and children are abused by alcoholic husbands or parents. As a rebuttal, it’s dogmatically proclaimed that obesity is just as bad if not worse of an epidemic and social problem as alcohol.
That is a profoundly ridiculous comparison. The societal impact of alcoholism and obesity is incomparable. That is because alcoholism has the greatest potential to destroy innocent lives.
Many. innocent. lives.
In fact, alcohol has destroyed those lives unmercifully. There are no Mother’s Against Obese Driving organizations advocating against 350 pound people driving automobiles. There are no laws against driving under the influence of fried chicken. A cop won’t stop a guy and ask him if he has been eating, and then give him a breathalyzer to test his blood-gravy level. And there is a good reason for this: Obesity only hurts one person. No man, after leaving the Macaroni Grill has ever gotten into his SUV, and under the influence of the Mama Mia! chicken Alfredo platter he consumed 30 minutes before, crossed into on-coming lane and killed a family.
Now, just so I am clear. I am not saying obesity is a good thing. Being overweight does have considerable health problems for the individual. AND I would say Christians should make eating healthy a part of their spiritual lives. My point here is to merely show that obesity is no where near being the societal problem associated with the consumption of alcohol. No where in the ball park. Obesity is a result of bad lifestyle choices. Much like smoking, another vice liberty drinkers tend to encourage.
That objection falls flat because Christians are not equating the flaunting of liberty drinking with drunkenness and alcoholism, the common idea when one speaks of “abusing alcohol.” Christians who are troubled by those who flagrantly parade their liberty drinking from the pulpits, and among others at church, are simply saying that such behavior is profoundly immature and wildly inappropriate.
Married couples are certainly at liberty to make out with a bit of PDA if they so choose. They are also free to touch one another in an arousing fashion that would lead to sex. Not one person is forbidding them from partaking in the act of sexual relations.
But I think we can all agree that it would be grossly unseemly, not to mention a bit icky, if that couple were to have one of their big PDA make out sessions at church in front of the single folks. I think we would all say the same about them sharing explicit and graphic details about their sexual experiences at a Bible study fellowship.
Why do we want to be so legalistic about alcohol when it is such a blessing to mankind? God created wine for us to enjoy the bounty of His earth. The prohibition is against drunkenness, not consumption.
Again, no one is condemning the consumption of distilled spirits. We are all on the same page with the prohibition against drunkenness, not consumption.
The faulty logic of this claim suggests that because wine is processed from grapes, and alcohol is a natural derivative of fermented grapes, that places alcohol in a special category of blessing. Additionally, it is argued that passages like Deuteronomy 14:26 and Psalm 104:15 proves that God not only blesses the consumption of alcohol, but commands it.
Of course, that line of argumentation ignores the overwhelming multitude of biblical passages that warn against the consumption of alcohol. Certainly the prohibition is against drunkenness, not consumption, but seeing that the Bible speaks so pointedly against the dangers of drinking alcohol, why would God’s pastor want to use a pub as a setting for a men’s Bible study?
Moreover, that is the exact same argument I have heard from Christians who seriously think God has blessed the smoking of pot. I kid you not. I once had one fellow, with a stern conviction in his voice and passion in his eyes, explain to me that God gave ALL the grass and green herb of the field for man to use, and that means cannabis. I reckon, by extension it would also include opium and the coca plant. And before anyone tries to “rebut” me by saying “but the grass and herbs were meant to be for FOOD, not SMOKING, duh,” keep in mind that pot can be baked in brownies.
I realize a lot of the liberty drinkers were saved in one of those smothering, fundamentalist Baptist churches who regulated every behavior and activity with an iron fist of legalism like a draconian-driven HOA board of directors. I mean, a person couldn’t even wear short pants in the church building, let alone dream about drinking a beer. I sympathize with those folks. I really do. But honestly, is drinking beer really THAT important?
When the in-laws were in town for the holidays, there were times we would go to Sunday brunch at some fancy restaurant. My wife had a niece who would only eat macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. She had an entire buffet laid out before her, and she obsessed on the mac N’ cheese. I remember telling her, “You have this wonderful banquet of food and all you are eating is mac N’ cheese? You know, there is much more to life than mac N’ cheese.”
Likewise, there is much more to Christian liberty than sitting in pubs drinking micro-brews.