Teetotallers and Drunkards
Question: “Some Christians won’t touch alcohol, whilst others imbibe a little. Who is right?”
The issue of abstinence from alcoholic beverages or the proper use of them is a perpetual one in the church. It really ought not to be, for Scripture is actually very clear on the subject.
Teetotallers are of two kinds. Some refuse to touch alcoholic drinks of any kind out of Christian liberty. For one reason or another, they consider it wise not to make use of intoxicating drinks in their own lives. They do not consider drinking alcohol wrong in itself, nor do they condemn others who do drink alcohol, but they refuse to do so themselves.
I have known people like this. One instance comes to mind. When at dinner, we were discussing whether or not to have a glass of wine with our meal, this visitor at our table declined. I asked him if it was an offence to him for other diners to drink wine. He assured me that he would in no way be offended. He told us that his reason for not drinking was that he had been brought up in a home where his father was a drunk. He had learned from his doctor that there is a genetic tendency among some people to drink too much. He was fearful that this genetic tendency might be in him. And so, rather than run the risk of becoming a drunk, he had made a decision early in life not to imbibe any alcoholic drinks under any circumstances. It was for him a matter of Christian liberty.
Others who have been slaves to drink and who have escaped this awful bondage are aware of the fact that for them any use of alcoholic beverages at any time constitutes a danger, which must at all costs be avoided. They refuse to drink any alcoholic drinks; this too is with them a matter of Christian liberty. However, in many instances they prefer not to have others drink in their presence. They prefer this, not because they consider it wrong for others to drink, but because the drinking of others in their presence would constitute a grave temptation for them.
Those who know that they are in the presence of a delivered alcoholic must follow the rule laid down by Paul in connection with eating meats sacrificed to idols: “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (I Cor. 8:13).
Under such circumstances a teetotaller is not sinning.
But others consider any imbibing of alcoholic drinks to be sinful. These sin themselves by taking such a position.
Their reasons are many. A few of them can be mentioned. They argue that the abuse of drinking is so wide-spread and creates so many other problems that drinking itself is wrong. The abuse of liquor makes its use wrong. They point to men who under the influence of alcohol become abusive and impossible to live with. They point to skid row and show us there in the gutter is a former skilled surgeon, a professor with two PhDs, and a noted scientist. They remind us of the lost jobs, the broken homes, the abused children, the wrecks caused by drunken drivers and the enormous cost to society. They are quick to point out that partying is ingrained in our culture, that some young people drink themselves to death in colleges and universities, that drinking parties are the scandal of some young people of the church. They see the solution as total abstinence. And they work to get legislation passed to prohibit alcoholic drinks. Some even argue that the drinking of wine is wrong because converted drunkards will once again return to their bottle when they drink the wine that is served at the Lord’s Supper.
Nevertheless, this position of total abstinence is wrong. I know that those who favour a position of total abstinence argue that the Bible prohibits the drinking of alcoholic beverages, but this is a specious argument that twists Scripture’s teaching.
I mention a few points here. Wine in the Old Testament was a symbol of heavenly joy and blessing. Grapes in Canaan, a picture of heaven, were used to make wine that makes merry the heart of man. The list is long and impressive: Genesis 49:11, Psalm 104:15, Deuteronomy 8:8, I Kings 4:25, etc.; wine was used in the sacrifices (Num. 15:10; 28:14); vineyards were a cherished possession in Canaan (Song 2:13; I Kings 21:1-14).
Further, our Lord made wine miraculously at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1-11) and wine was used in both the Passover feast and the Lord’s Supper.
It is argued that the wine referred to was not fermented grape juice but this too is specious reasoning, for the same word is used as the one used for wine when Scripture condemns its over use. The fact is that wine occupies an important place in sacred Scripture and nowhere is its use banned. Warnings are repeatedly made that over-use of it and drunkenness are heinous sins. But over-indulgence of any of God’s gifts is sinful. Scripture teaches us that moderation in all things ought to characterize the life of the Christian.
I said that prohibition of alcoholic beverages is sin. It is a sin to call the use of alcohol a sin. This truth is set down in I Timothy 4:1-5. Paul clearly states in that passage that “every creature of God is good” when it is “received with thanksgiving” and “sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” To deny this fundamental truth is, says the apostle, the doctrine of devils and a departure from the faith. This makes such claims that alcohol is in itself wrong a denial of God’s goodness. God is good. His creation is good. The use of His creation is good, when it is used for His glory. This truth lies at the bottom of an important doctrine of Scripture that has consequences for the life of the Christian in the world.
All I have said does not mean that a believer is obligated to drink alcoholic beverages. He is no more obligated to drink them than he is to use a mobile phone. But never must we call unclean what God hath cleansed. That is wrong.
By Herman Hanko