Should the Tee be Totaled? Spirits and Spirituality

As the loyal readers know, thepaintedman likes music, movies, beer, and Jesus, though not in that particular order. This blog tends to focus on music first, then beer, followed by a smathering of movie and faith. Some have asked how my interest in beer and my personal faith can walk hand in hand, in fact a recent interview with Josh Dies includes an adamant assertion that alcohol is no good and ruins lives. With his worldview and mine in stark contrast with regard to our views on spirits and spirituality, I have begun thinking a great deal about how to present a discussion on the two sides of the argument… notably the different views of the Biblical and theological perspectives on alcohol.

I begin with an excerpt from the world’s foremost authority on faith and booze, wikipedia:

Throughout the first 1,800 years of church history, Christians consumed alcoholic beverages as a common part of everyday life and nearly always used wine (that is, fermented grape juice) in their central rite—the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. They held that both the Bible and Christian tradition taught that alcohol is a gift from God that makes life more joyous, but that overindulgence leading to drunkenness is a sin. In the mid-19th century, some Protestant Christians moved from this historic position of allowing moderate use of alcohol (sometimes called moderationism) to either deciding that not imbibing was wisest in the present circumstances (abstentionism) or prohibiting all ordinary consumption of alcohol because it was believed to be a sin (prohibitionism). Today, all three of these positions exist in Christianity, but the historic position remains the most common worldwide.

The stance of moderationism likely summarizes my beliefs most closely, though I do, admittedly, become intoxicated from time to time. Typically, however, despite enjoying good beer and good whiskey, I rarely consume more than 2-3 alcoholic beverages in a week’s time and likely average less than a 12-pack per month. Moderationism makes sense to me as a Believer because any state where I lose control of my functions puts me at greater risk to commit sin. While I sin knowingly, my propensity to sin, and sin egregiously, can easily be increased by imbibing alcohol. I have never blacked out or been drunk enough to forget things I had said or done, however inhibitions are most certainly lowered and I am certain that I have divulged information I should not have or said hurtful things several times in an intoxicated state.

This stance seems to be the dominant Christian worldview on the subject, though as noted in the wiki above, there are two other sects that believe differently. Both sects are oft lumped into the group termed “teetotalers” but, as noted above, have differing reasons for their foregoing of drinking alcoholic beverages. There is certainly merit in their arguments (well at least in regards to one of the two).

Josh (of Showbread) stated in his interview with me:

I’m a teetotaler, I’ve never in my life had any sip of any kind of alcohol and I never will. I think alcohol is a tremendously dangerous addictive drug that at best harms the brain and body and at worst kills, devastates and destroys millions of individuals, families and lives all over the world. To me, it’s something like a legal and socially acceptable version of heroin… It’s more a social issue to me than a spiritual issue, even though for me personally there is a spiritual component involved. I don’t make the claims I make with a bible in hand, criticizing the morality of others. I just think what I think for myself…

His beliefs sound like they’d line up with the stance of abstentionism:

Abstentionists believe that although alcohol consumption is not inherently sinful or necessarily to be avoided in all circumstances, it is generally not the wisest or most prudent choice. While most abstentionists don’t require abstinence from alcohol for membership in their churches, they do often require it for leadership positions.

Josh’s latter affirmations that his decision is “more a social issue to [him] than a spirtual issue” and that his beliefs are for him specifically tend to make me think that he doesn’t believe drinking alcohol is necessarily a sin but rather believes that it typically leads to sinful behavior. If I have the chance to talk to him again, I will clarify this, however his statement shows that he is adamantly against alcohol in his life, would advocate for the prudence of abstaining, but would not require friends and family to subscribe to his philosophy in order to maintain their relationship with him, nor would criticize and belittle those who disagree with his stance.

Moreover, I cannot disagree with Josh’s assertions that alcohol ruins lives, but it’s hard for me to say that “at best” it harms the brain and body, especially with evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol can be both medically and psychologically beneficial to the imbiber. Abstentionists oft point to Proverbs 31:4-5 to demonstrate how the Bible shows that Christians, perhaps as servant leaders in this world, would be prudent to abstain: “It is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and deprive all the oppressed of their rights” (NIV). Though, perhaps verses like this one can be used to also enhance the stance of moderationism by demonstrating that overuse of alcohol is what would cause one to “forget what has been decreed”.

The third position of note is prohibitionism. Prohibitionists assert the evils of strong drink. Going futher, those subscribing to this belief believe that “wine” in the Bible can actually translate to unfermented grape juice, notably understanding this to be the case with all positive uses of wine in the Bible. While the other two stances seen to have a great deal of logic and substance behind their stance, I personally find little merit to this stance. That does not mean that I advocate that the disciples being drunk at times in the Bible was a good thing, but it does mean that I believe that Jesus indeed turned water into wine (hopefully a good merlot or shiraz), God gave wine as a gift to his people on more than one occasion, and that the uses of medicinal wine in the Bible were not uses of unfremented grape juice. While I do not mean to insult or discredit those advocating this stance, I cannot personally find merit in this stance (though you should not have to take my word for it and can read LDS’s “Words of Wisdom” from Doctrine and Covenants or writing from Salvation Army founder William Booth or televangelist/theologian Jack Van Impe).

The thoughts and theories supporting moderationism and abstentionism both make a great deal of sense. Many moderationists would likely assert that abstinence is appropriate for certain people and some abstentionists would likely assert that moderation may be okay for certain people. However, there is certain disagreement. Some of it very strong disagreement.

Abstentionists believe that consuming alcohol in the presence of a weaker brother or sister in Christ is not acceptable and causes a rift in the fellowship (note the first point in this sermon by John MacArthur). Causing a brother or sister to stumble is a big Christian no-no. And, despite falling into the moderationist view of this debate, I cannot deny that steering someone towards sin is a sin itself. Though, is it not possible to avoid being a modern-day humanized Wormwood by being a “situational abstentionist”? The abstentionist, however, may attest that this is simply not enough, seeing as we are not always aware that a brother or sister has an addiction or issue that our consumption could reignite if done in their presence. This argument, while somewhat vague and not highly structured, has great merit.

Moderationists disagree with the abstentionist view offering this criticism (once again from the theological gurus over at wikipedia):

Moreover, moderationists suggest that the prohibitionist and abstentionist positions denigrate God’s creation and his good gifts and deny that it is not what goes into a man that makes him evil but what comes out (that is, what he says and does). And so, moderationists hold that in banishing wine from communion and dinner tables, prohibitionists and abstentionists go against the witness of the Bible and the church throughout the ages and implicitly adopt a Pharisaical moralism that is at odds with the what moderationists consider the right approach to biblical ethics and the doctrines of sin and sanctification.

The first part of this statement may be a bit over the top in regards to abstentionists. While prohibitionism certainly undermines “God’s creation and good gifts” as far as I can see it, I do not see that abstentionism is fully negating the possible merits (though Josh’s quotes above may prove me wrong in some accounts). Rather, prohibitionists could simply assert that prudence would dictate that the risks outweigh the rewards in our modern times. Morever, to deny that what goes into a man has at least some influence on what comes out would be foolish… perhaps moderationists are missing something in their argument.

The second part of the above statement hits a nerve for me. At one point in my life, a few friends of mine and I (while residing on a Christian college campus) nearly printed shirts that read, “Eat Me Raw… You Pharisees”. It is safe to assume that building walls around faith is not something I endorse. Adding additional “theology” that have little Biblical basis and/or are unnecessary is something that always burns me as a Beliver who thinks faith and relationships trump religion and doctrine in nearly all cases. How one worships can be through catechisms and responsive readings or through modern worship, but even the most structured churches cannot and should let doctrine ruin them… but… I’m not so sure abstentionists are really going against the “witness of the Bible” or adopting “Pharisaical moralism”. In fact, as long as abstentionists adopt the belief of someone like Josh, who does not try to force their beliefs down the throats of others, theirs is simply an exercise in admirable prudence.

I see that the abstentionist who takes their stance similarly to how I lived out my straight edge beliefs is as open-minded and non-Phariasical as the moderationist. When I was a straight edge kid in high school, I practiced the doctrine but never jumped on anyone or told them they had to live how I did. The abstentionist, however, who believes it is their mission to be preachy and condeming is no better than the straight edge kids who frequented the same scene as I did as a youth, but pushed, shoved, and started fights with other kids for drinking or smoking.

I see the major issue with the abstentionist view as the inability to live it and not preach it. As a Christian, one feels a strong responsibility to be their “brother’s keeper” and, thusly, will likely find it hard not to tell others what to do and what to believe. In fact, this may be the inherent flaw in the belief… thus leading to public and private declarations that may come across as self-righteous and judgmental, despite a noble and fair intent.

Coming back to myself and my thought and beliefs, it’s hard not to see merit in both of these arguments (and equally as hard to find any in the prohibitionist argument). I certainly subscribe to situational abstentionism, as I will not imbibe if I feel like it can cause a stumbling block for a struggling friend or family member. I also do not drink alcohol when I am very upset or angry, it’s likely to bring forth sinful and/or harmful behavior. I also think that those in recovery should practice abstinence, as the dangers of the relapse are great and many. But, as an admitted beer snob, I certainly am not an abstentionist on the whole… but drinking in excess is obviously bad. God wants us to be happy, but happiness and drunkenness are not synonymous.

Here is some food for thought… if we do not know our limits, how can we be sure not to go past those limits? Further, if we have never gone past those limits, how do we know what they are? An interesting quandary, it seems.

These questions bring forward the most important question to consider for the moderationist… what is “drinking in moderation”? Is it a beer each night after dinner? Is it a six pack on the weekends? Is it a glass each night with dinner? I don’t have the answer to this… but perhaps this question needs to be answered for you before you pick up another glass… or can… or bottle.

Should the tee be totaled? Josh Dies thinks so. Billy Graham thinks so. The Salvation Army thinks so. John Calvin and I don’t necessarily agree.

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~ by thepaintedman on December 9, 2010.

6 Responses to “Should the Tee be Totaled? Spirits and Spirituality”

  1. I was having a really rough day about a week ago at school. (I decided to go back and finish my degree after starting a family, so rough days are common.) On this particular thursday, there were a series of unfortunate happenstances that made me want to pull my hair out. Instead of pulling my hair out, i went down the street to the taco place to grab a bite and a brew. I walked in the door and there sits the Pastor of the youth program I help out with on sundays and a couple of other guys. He invites me over to the table, I sit down and immediately order a beer. It didn’t even occur to me that this would be a bad idea. It wasn’t a bad idea, and nobody seemed to mind. I had my beer, ate a taco and enjoyed a good conversation with friends. I felt like a different person. I fail to see anything wrong with that.

  2. Abstaining should not be a matter of guarding one’s self from sin rather a matter of inhibiting the capacity of the individual to complete his or her mission of transforming the world with Christ and in His love. The sin argument doesn’t do it for me. I personally drink alcohol on occasion and enjoy it a great deal but with a twinge of regret (note that it’s not guilt) each time. Everything is permissible just not beneficial. The best argument for the abstentionist is not one of personal choice but of prophetic witness. Alcohol is evil in that it destroys millions of lives which is enough reason for any Christian to quit or never sip, however, if this is your discerned course of action you should probably stand by it and preach it to the rest of us. Alcohol is certainly a matter of social evil and exploitation of the weak. If you are strong enough to drink in moderation, you should be strong enough to abstain in solidarity with those who suffer from addiction and in opposition to the giant capitalist market conspiring to attract more adicts and keep them hooked (we’re talking about monopoly of the soul here.). I’m basically saying that I probably shouldnt drink but I do anyway. The result is not any more personal impurity (because I have enough of that regardless of my stance on this issue anyway), no, the result is that a system of profit at the expense of destruction is supported. This is still lamentable but so is most of life including the individualist pietism of American Christianity. This is not a matter of choice or personal capacity for toleration it iOS a matter of justice. The question is whether I am fired up enough about this cause enough to do something about it. My spiritual ancestors tried prohibition and we saw how epically terrible that ended up, so what’s the next attempt. Right now it seems to be assimilation to a culture that has made a consumer fetish of rebellion. Evangelical kids have escaped their parent’s dogma and are unwittingly duped by corporate interests and Coors’ craft collections (Blue Moon). The pill from our parents that we really needed to reject was their Christian freedom being dressed up in red, white and blue and bought by the highest bidder. Oh, you care about alcohol? Save an addicts life by paying for rehab, or be certain that your local chapter of AA does not pay rent (or pays as little rent as possible). Our stances can’t end at our own personal spheres. We must do something. We are embodied for a reason as God made Himself body for a reason. There is no stasis in Christianity. There are no adjectives that suffice. Only verbs tell a story and ours is tied up in the Word made flesh. In my personal sphere the main issue with alcohol is not always the bad behavior that results from it but the money spent on it in lieu of sharing with the church. We are so advanced that our personal taste andself defining beverage choice is worth much more to us than the common mission of our Christian community. We have stuff to do for Jesus’ sake! And for His mission in the world. Tee total for something more than yourself please!

  3. Thanks for the anecdote Steve. Sounds about right to me.

    Ben, I appreciate your words and I completely get where you are coming from. I have come to miss these types of discussion with the Whites, though I still have them on occasion with Luke.

    That said, as someone working in the treatment of offenders in our state prison system, I am greatly concerned with addiction and addiction issues. Christ’s transformative power is oft the difference that a man (or woman) needs in whether or not their treatment works… that and, of course, wanting to change.

    Addiction is real and alcohol certainly ruins lives, but I like a good beer at the end of a long week. If I ever had a problem, I know that I have the right people around me to lead me back to the Lord and where I need to be. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for everyone.

    Perhaps abstinence in dissupport of the system and protest of what the drug can do is the way to go, but that said… it’s not the way I’ll be going anytime soon. I believe that God can use even beer as a means for fellowship… for me, some of the best fellowship I have is my beer and Bible study and the beers I share with fellow Believers discussing our lives and lifting each other up.

    Thanks again and let’s keep this discussion going.

  4. This is a great article Justin. I think I probably relate most to the moderationist as well. For seminary I had to sign a contract where I would abstain from such things while in school. I was pretty torn on this because I enjoy a good beer sometimes. However, I was never lead to believe I could appeal signing this with the dean, so I just signed it and drank anyways while in seminary. I have absolutely no regret or guilt for doing it. Some of my closest friends from the seminary also did it. The contract to me is fairly silly. Church of God believes in mostly abstaining anyways so that really leads to them having the contract in my opinion. If I was at a catholic seminary I would be able to drink my face off(not that I would) However, I also would not be able to be married and have sex, so I am probably in a better situation than if I were at a Catholic Seminary:-) I knew my drinking was not hurting anybody so I was completely comfortable with my decision. I actually believe Jesus might have been drunk a time or two on the “unfermented grape juice.”(This is absolutely ridiculous to me. There is no biblical evidence to defend this claim, however, there is for real wine.) People also like to use the argument that their wine was not as strong. I also don’t buy that. If anything it was stronger in biblical times. I enjoy a good beer or some whiskey or scotch from time to time and unlike the wonderful Ben White, have absolutely no regret. Sidenote, Justin, I think you waited to drink till after I stopped having my parties because you just wanted to witness the sideshow from everyone else:)

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone!

  6. Hey guys…good article Justin, great conversation. I just wanted to add to Tim that if you were at a Lutheran seminary you could be married AND drink your face off, as long as it was good German beer of course. Now, at my new Episcopal seminary beer might not be snobby enough!

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