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Confessions of a Recovering Teetotaler

This post has been inspired by two things.

 

First, I would like to share a few lessons I have learned about alcohol.

Second, completely unbeknownst to me, I have created quite a stir and controversy amongst many Baptist pastors in my region. Although this controversy has been brewing for some time, I have only recently been told about it.

The flap is over a video (see below)  I posted on this blog a while ago that I had used in a worship service a few years back. Apparently some Baptist pastors recently “discovered” it, and it has become quite a concern among them. Pastors have met together in offices to watch the video together, sent letters and e-mails back and forth to each other—and the list goes on and on, from what I understand. At no point up until now has anyone contacted me, though.

It is tempting for me to take this post in a Matthew 18 direction, where Jesus taught that if you have a problem with your brother you should go to him first, before you bring others into the conversation. Or I could point out that the Bible offers no prohibition against consuming alcohol (only drunkenness), but does express deep concerns about gluttony, gossip, pride and greed.   For some reason these seem to be avoided topics.

Instead of speaking at length on those topics, I have decided to write about why I have come to the conclusions I have regarding alcohol.

My Story

 

I grew up with a father who had a glass of wine most nights at dinner. I never saw him drunk. I never saw him abuse alcohol in any shape or form. He never allowed me to break the laws of the land and let me drink underage. In fact, it really was not a major issue in my home. When I went off to college (the drinking age was 18 back then), I confess I partied too much on a small handful of occasions, and without question, broke the biblical command against drinking too much.

In all honesty though, I can count on one hand how often that happened. Why? There was very little mystery to me about alcohol. It was not a forbidden fruit. Quite frankly, in addition to the biblical mandate, I don’t like the physical effects of drinking too much.

I graduated with a business degree and went off to seminary. The school had a no-drinking policy, so I became a teetotaler. I did not agree with the rule, but it was their rule. The “sin” to me was not so much having a beer, as not keeping my word. I wanted to go to seminary and it was not worth it to me to break my word, nor to give up my education.

After graduation, I agreed to receive funding from the Southern Baptists to launch a church. This was back before the days the Baptists put a lot of money into church plants; nonetheless, I appreciated their kindness.

They had two rules: no drinking and no speaking in tongues.

Now, I enjoy a fine glass of wine or a cold beer. Still, without complaint, I continued my journey as a teetotaler. Once again, this was not because I agreed with the stance. It was because enjoying a beer or a glass of wine was not worth giving up the opportunity of making an impact on the Kingdom of God.

Let me be clear: I was prepared to put alcohol aside for life if need be. It was not like I had some countdown clock running until the Baptist funds ran out, so I could finally enjoy one of my favorite beverages. Even long after the funds ran out I remained a teetotaler.

Eventually, after nearly a decade of abstinence, I determined that it was OK for me to have a glass of wine. It is and was not a major issue for me.

I often frustrate people who get caught up in controversies. It’s not because I take up an opposite side, but because my opinion is often that it is not worth spending the time to take up a side at all. I believe many arguments rob us of the precious little time we have to focus on Kingdom issues.

 

But having said that, here is my view of teetotalism.

 

Teetotalism means well, but does not have a biblical basis. Those that try to make such arguments have to use a theological method of stretching the meaning and content of the passage. Ironically, I usually observe that those who take this position don’t use such a method in other areas of scripture. Many teetotalers will get quite red in the face when they perceive “liberals” are stretching scripture. (In case you are wondering, I do not consider myself a liberal.) Yet in maintaining this position, they have to do the very same exegetical gymnastics, if they claim teetotaling is a biblical restriction.

Others argue that consuming alcohol falls into the biblical category of “causing someone to stumble.” While this argument has merit (see below), I believe that even here the passage is taken out of context. 1 Corinthians 8 did not come out of a concern of the credibility challenge to unbelievers; it deals with how to behave around believers who have held onto legalistic views that are unnecessarily restrictive. Alcohol is not even mentioned in this passage. The reference is to meat eating.

Many teetotalers will even go as far as to say that the wine Jesus created out of water, which the wedding guests called the best stuff ever, did not have alcoholic content and was actually more like grape juice. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no evidence for this.   It is hard to imagine slipping in grape juice before a group of wine connoisseurs, convincing them they have found the good stuff.

From the beginning of the biblical story, well-meaning humans have added to God’s law to help restrict themselves. Eve did it when she added to the rule God gave about the tree of good and evil. The Pharisees, of course, did it in many ways. Think about how they applied God’s law in regard to observing the Sabbath and how they tried to get Jesus in hot water in Matthew 12.

Rarely does someone add boundaries because they think God did not do a good enough job. Instead, people add boundaries to help restrict themselves in their own weaknesses. This is not a bad thing. I have added rules to my own life because I know my weaknesses. The problem comes when well-intended people forget the well-intended reason behind the rule, and it just becomes a rule. Then the rule becomes a tradition. Entire denominations have been born out of distinctives that are not necessarily more biblically correct than those of other Christian denominations or groups.

Another problem is that the people with the rule (what ever the latest rule may be) begin breaking it in secret. Even though breaking the rule may not be immoral in itself, not being honest about it creates a new set of moral challenges. That is why I am always honest about decisions I have made, even when they go against certain man-made rules.

 

Why do I choose to enjoy a glass of wine?

 

While there are many freedoms I do choose to waive the right for because I follow Jesus, I am not inclined to do so because it is politically expedient—because there are people who think I should. So it is in this case. I wish to point out that I am free to enjoy a glass of wine.

In addition, in my 10 years of being a teetotaler, I could never identify anyone that I brought to the faith or kept from straying from the faith because I did not drink. Even when I worked with alcoholics, their issues had nothing to do with being around people who had an occasional drink. Instead, they had problems being in an environment where the temptation was present for them. I never met someone who thought their condition was worse because their Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic or Methodist minister enjoyed an occasional glass of wine. I personally have never seen the argument for such reasons proven true, not once.

Actually, I have found the opposite to be true. As I have I allowed myself to be free to meet a friend at a local bar, I have been astonished by the doors that have been opened. I have had many spiritual conversations both with Christians and those who do not yet know Christ because of my willingness to have a beer with them.

 

My Responsibilities

 

Frankly there are times I miss my teetotaling days. Things were so much easier back then. It is a whole lot easier to “just say no” than to take on the responsibilities of my freedom. Here is what I consider the responsibility of the believer who chooses to drink:

  1. Know who you are with at the time. If someone who struggles with alcohol is in your presence, then put it away. Very simply it is not worth the harm that can be done.
  2. Know your limits. You should not see how close to the edge you can live in any area of your life.
  3. Respect the laws of the land. This includes age and driving limits.
  4. Be responsible for those who do drink in your presence or in your home. If someone makes bad decisions while under your watch, you are in part to blame for them.

Rules for My Church

 

Because it is too difficult to control #1 and #4 above at church-sponsored events, no church sponsored events are allowed to include alcohol.

 

 

Closing Remarks

 

Contrary as some may believe, I am really not out to start a fight.   I have no desire to get into this any further, as I believe arguing about the right to have a glass of wine is a silly issue.   When it comes right down to it, there are four reasons I took the time I did to produce this.

Firstly, for those who do have concern, conversation and perhaps even accusation, at least now you have accurate information about where I stand and why I take the position that I do.   I will likely never change your mind, nor will you convert me back into being a teetotaler.   It is my hope that with good information we can agree to disagree on non-essential issues such as this.

Secondly, to serve as an internal teaching for my church.   Because this is not a core focus of ours, it is possible to go undiscussed.   At least they can now be pointed to their pastor’s position on this matter and have a clear understanding of what I consider their responsibilities, should they choose to exercise such freedom.

Thirdly, it is for the many pastors who are stuck in a system in which they may not feel the freedom to express their very opinion.   A “smart” church planter, missionary, pastor who fears that their career, grants, future job prospects or even future denominational positions could be at risk, don’t bite the hand that feeds them.   Therefore they remain silent on such issues in fear.   I have watched so many young pastors get bruised and battered under unnecessary yokes.   I have watched amazingly gifted and incredibly spiritual leaders in the denomination get chastised and forced to step down over such non-essential issues.   It is a bondage I wish never to be under again, wishing that those that went before me, even the multiple that privately agreed with me, had spoken up.

Finally, I write this in the name of evangelism.   I have watched people to listen to the pureness of the gospel and yearn to drink of the things of God.   Then the issues such as, but not limited to, alcohol come up where unscripturally based requirements are placed, in that “to be with “us” (what ever brand of “us” might happen to be), one must apply this rule”.   How silly followers of Christ look to an unbelieving world, with all of the fragmentation of denominations and church sects, in the name of having a better brand of Christianity.   I am pained to think of all of the spiritual conversations I missed out upon during my days of abiding by such rules, and I am pained to think of how murky the gospel has become, with our many “improvements” added, to become a serious lover of Jesus.

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