Alcohol, Weaker Brothers, and Legalism

Filed under: General, Beer, Wine, and Liquor — Chad at 9:55 am on Wednesday, December 22, 2004
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My wife referred me to a humorous little article called You Must Drink!, which is about coffee but intended to be an allegory about alcohol. It sounds like Mrs. Austin feels that some Christians have tried to force their Christian liberty upon her by insisting that she drink alcohol. I’m with you, Mrs. Austin! I’m always suspicious when religious nuts want me to drink something, whether its Kool-Aid or whatever. Better to abstain, at least until you know them pretty well.

But seriously now, I’d like to address a few teetotaler misconceptions. First on the list is the idea that we should abstain from drinking alcohol in order to be a good example to our children. This sounds good, but implicit in this statement is a subtle condemnation of Jesus Christ himself, who created wine for us and drank it with us publicly. Apparently, the teetotalers have decided that Jesus didn’t set a good example for children.

In opposition to this, I pray for the grace to be an example to my children of exercising responsibility in enjoying God’s blessings such as wine. That way when they get older, they will have an understanding of alcohol because they will have had an example of its proper use by their parents, and they will be free from the “forbidden fruit” aura that many children are shackled with.

I use similar principles in regards to other things such as firearms. Like alcohol, these can be dangerous without proper training and example. Little kids sometimes think guns look like fun toys. So I’ve tried to make it a practice to demonstrate their deadly power as soon as the younger ones are curious (about 2 or 3). When I help them hold one of my revolvers, or my Glock 17, and they feel the kick, they hear the blast, and they see what happens to the object we destroyed, they begin to understand. Their desire to play with it diminishes too, even though they don’t really grasp the concept of death until later.

Even more to the point, I don’t think that anyone would suggest that the best way to teach children about sexual ethics is to be single. For example, if teetotalers were consistent, they would say something like this: “Son, I want you to know that sex is dangerous, and the best possible thing you can do is to remain single. That way you never have to worry about getting even close to danger.” Follow that thinking to its ultimate conclusion, and we would really need to divorce our wives so that we could set the proper example of abstinence. I trust we can see the folly of that logic. Yet, does the philosophy become any more logical when we apply to alcohol? As Martin Luther pointed out, “Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?”

This is not to say that every one MUST drink in order to set an example! That would be looking at the issue from an individualistic, baptistic perspective. Rather, the church as a whole should set a godly example in its enjoyment of God’s blessings, rather than promoting stricter standards than God, which will produce immature Christians.

Someone told me once, very piously, that he did not drink alcohol because “I don’t want anything more than is necessary to come in the way of my relationship with Christ my Lord.” Again, that sounds real good until we look at what he’s really saying. Do you think that God would give it to us as a blessing, if it would be an impediment to our relationship with Him? I have heard the same logic applied to another of God’s blessings - children. I’ve known ministers that didn’t want children, in order that they could do more of “God’s work.” This reasoning says that we can get closer to God by following extra-biblical standards and denying ourselves His blessings. Sound familiar? It sounds like Phariseeism and asceticism, but it sure isn’t Christianity.

Does anyone else find it odd that there are people who proclaim that “Children are blessings!” and that Christians must view them as precious gifts to be accepted with gratitude, and yet some of those same people see no inconsistency with refusing God’s gift of wine, and advising others to refuse it as well? How are those two convictions compatible? Is God’s word our rule of faith and life, or is it merely a good reference to cite to bolster our positions when God’s word happens to align with our personal convictions?

Another person wrote to me that while its true that alcohol can be enjoyed without going past our limits and crossing over into drunkenness, he believed that the problem with this is that every drinker must at least once go beyond those limits in order to learn them. This is of course is also wrong. An obvious example is Jesus, who never exceeded nor tested his personal limits. I also know brothers in Christ that drink in small amounts and have never “tested their limits.” There is no rule that says you have to figure out what your limit is. And though limits do vary from person to person, they are generally about the same depending upon body weight.

And if you were one of the rare people that had a disfunctional liver, and one beer sent you reeling, finding this out on your first beer would no more be a sin than to have an allergic reaction to eating honey. And those that try to say that people should avoid alcohol in case they “might be alcoholics” are off the mark as well. I don’t agree with this, anymore than I think that people should avoid getting married in case they might be “sex addicts.” Every single person is a “potential addict”, and no temptation will seize the “potential addict” that is not common to man, and God has promised a way of escape. Modern psychology has done great damage to our way of thinking, with its ideas of non-responsibility and other unbiblical ideas such as “once an addict, always an addict.” Any blaming of one’s genetics for sin, beyond our common depravity, is a flight from responsibility.

An addiction is not a latent creature that lurks inside of someone just waiting for a substance to activate it. It’s a sinful pattern of behavior that usually involves repeated over-indulgence and self-inflicted bondage. When I became “addicted” to cigarettes, for instance, it was because I smoked, and smoked, and smoked, and smoked. I chained myself with this pattern. I did not simply take a puff and “BAM!” become addicted. And now that I no longer smoke cigarettes, I have no problem being around people that are smoking. I don’t have to live in fear that I’ll slip back into bondage. Granted, some substances are more physically addictive than others. For instance, the substance secreted into your brain during sexual intercourse is more highly addictive than cocaine. This is why sinful “sexual addiction”, often involving immorality, homosexuality, pornography, and self-gratfication - is so difficult to break. But I wouldn’t advise everyone to abstain from marriage simply because they “might be an addict.” Rather, we follow the guidelines of God’s word, and not live our lives in fear of some potential “addiction.”

Finally, I want to address the idea that we should abstain from drinking alcohol so that we don’t “cause our brother to stumble.” The idea is that there might be a former alcoholic out there who now feels convicted that he shouldn’t drink any alcohol, and if he sees us drinking it might tempt him and cause him to sin against his own conscience. Again, there’s a complete lack of consistency from those who make this argument. If we were to try to be consistent with not causing anyone to stumble, what about the gluttons? I would say that this is as prevalent a problem as drunkenness, and every bit as sinful. Yet nobody abstains from going to restaurants or the grocery store, in case a gluttonous brother sees them and stumbles. If you have a former glutton in your church, do you cancel all the fellowship meals and just use pretend bread during the Lord’s supper? The idea is ridiculuous.

How about people (like our family) that don’t think its right to eat unclean foods? Does anyone worry about causing these weaker brothers to stumble when they have a pig roast or a church-wide ham dinner?

Or how about those people (again, like our family) that don’t celebrate Christmas? I have never heard of anyone abstaining Christmas because they were worried that they might cause us to stumble. Indeed, I wouldn’t ask anyone to do that. Its just plain wrong to insist that other people live by your own personal convictions. Yet if the teetotalers were consistent, we’d all be required to abide by everyone else’s conscience in order to avoid causing them to stumble. Just think of what a legalistic nightmare this would result in. No drinking, no smoking, no doughnuts, no coffee, no TV, no fictional books - in fact, no computers either.

If you apply it to other areas, I really don’t think that the principle is practiced in the way teetotalers suggest except in the area of drinking and maybe smoking. Is it truly a matter of scriptural principles, or just a concession to the anti-alcohol crowd? (Please note, it is a general question, I’m not questioning the integrity of everyone that believes in abstaining so as not to offend.)

Legalistic thinking is something that we are all prone to. Our fallen flesh opposes God’s law and seeks to exalt man’s law. Modern antinomians have rejected God’s law, and made up their own. That was what God rebuked the Pharisees for. Not once did he fault them for seeking to obey God’s laws. God faulted them for making the law of God void through their own tradition. Modern Pharisees say, “Oh yes, I know that the Bible ALLOWS us to partake of alcohol, but I want to follow a higher standard.” When you get down to it, legalism, instead of seeking the holiness of God, seeks to be holier than God.

23 Comments »

170

Comment by Kevin

12/22/2004 @ 2:00 pm

Well said,bro. You hit the nail on the head when you brought up the inconsistency of legalism.
Perhaps for an encore you could consider the signifigence of the purpose of drinking wine. After all what does “make the heart glad” mean?
Just wondering…

172

Comment by Dean May.

12/24/2004 @ 12:28 am

When you get down to it, legalism, instead of seeking the holiness of God, seeks to be holier than God.

Did you get this quote from me? ;-) It is one of my all time favorite sayings. The principle goes back to the garden, when Eve declared that God said they couldn’t “touch” the fruit, effectively establishing a “higher” standard of righteousness than even God Himself had imposed.

173

Comment by Chad

12/27/2004 @ 1:50 pm

Kevin, that’s a funny point. Isn’t it ironic that people can sing about the joy and “gladness” that Jesus gives us, but then refuse his offer of wine, which maketh glad the heart of God and man? How very gnostic that is, eh?

209

Comment by Mrs. Austin

1/3/2005 @ 10:58 pm

What allegory? :wink:

316

Comment by Trawlerman

1/22/2005 @ 7:47 am

Hello.

I found your blog via a comment that you made on my friend Scott’s blog.

One of my favorite things written on the subject of Christians and alcohol is a long ago blog post by Jay Horne, brother of Mark Horne. I don’t know either one of them at all, but I respect Mark Horne and stop by his blog now and then. Jay Horne hosts the Biblical Horizons site and the Theologia site. There’s good stuff all over the place there.

Anyhow, here’s the alcohol post I like:
Disclaimers and Jesus

322

Comment by Chad

1/22/2005 @ 2:23 pm

Trawlerman,

Thanks for the link, that was a good article by Jay. I’ve enjoyed some of Jordan’s materials too over the years.

Comment by Celticlassie

7/29/2005 @ 7:50 am

I followed your link from www.christianexodus.org and I agree completely! What a refreshing look at our Lord’s Supper. Thank you, and please come back soon.

Comment by Jim

12/3/2005 @ 11:39 am

Your article is excellent. I have only one objection — your assumption that John and Julie Austin are teetotalers. Using them as an example for why you need “to address a few teetotaler misconceptions” was a poor choice. John and Julie don’t have a hangup with drinking. They have a hangup with drunkenness, and particularly drunkenness within the church. They also have a hangup with their children being offered tobacco and liquor. I too have the same hangup. That doesn’t make me a teetotaler either.

Please read the Austin’s article at http://parentingwithpurpose.net/index.php?template=view_articles&recno=174 and perhaps you’ll better understand their concerns over the abuse by some pastors of our Christian liberties.

It’s no great secret that the Austins are former members of St. Peter Presbyterian Church in Mendota, Virginia, pastored by R.C. Sproul, Jr. and Laurence Windham in Bristol, Virginia. It’s also no great secret that St. Peter Presbyterian Church has a reputation for exercising Christian liberty to an ungodly extreme.

Sunday morning sermons have been known to include, “We’re Presbyterians, so we smoke and we drink.” The problem for many former St. Peter members, as well as many current St. Peter members who are too scared to leave for fear that they will be shunned and “turned over to the devil,” as have been the Austins, is the degree to which the smoking (and for some men, dipping — R.C. dipped for many years and actively encouraged others to dip, as well, including underage boys) and drinking take place. It’s excessive to the point of offending even many of the smokers and drinkers.

Pastor appreciation month (October) is a custom in St. Peter which consistently includes giving St. Peter pastors bottles of Scotch and boxes of cigars. The offense for some is that these tokens of appreciation are always given in a very public way, in the church foyer, after a formal announcement is made, immediately before the Sunday morning service, and always in front of visiting families and guests. Many have been offended by this, but hey, “We’re Presbyterians, so we smoke and we drink.” If you don’t like it, go find yourself a teetotaling Baptist church.

R.C. Sproul, Jr. has been critical of those who have visited St. Peter Presbyterian Church and complained of church members whose only alleged sin is that they “drink in moderation” (Double, Bubble, Toil and Stumble at http://highlands.gospelcom.net/journals/hsc/2005_10_01_archive.html ).

R.C. Sproul, Jr. is in the habit of taking liberties, not only with his own Christian liberty, but also taking liberties with what others have supposedly said (more often than not, what R.C. claims someone said, and what they actually said, couldn’t be more further removed). The complaints have never been about “drinking in moderation.” The complaints are about excessive drinking, if not drunkenness, and then flaunting it and making fun of those who are justly offended by conduct that Scripture clearly condemns.

We know first-hand that there is a serious drinking problem at St. Peter and that Pastor R.C. Sproul, Jr. actively encourages it. Our own children have been repeatedly offered liquor (not just wine), including lemonade and punch spiked heavily with pure grain alcohol. No one has ever first checked with me and asked if it was OK for them to serve my children liquor. They just serve it up with gusto. It would seem that, by R.C.’s definition, as long as you haven’t blacked out, you’re “drinking in moderation.”

Liquor and beer kegs are standard issue at St. Peter parties, or as they are termed, “celebrations.” At one such event in Mendota, the driveway was blocked off and one had to take quite a hike up the hill to reach the festivities. When I inquired why this procedure was implemented, particularly given that it was such a great inconvenience for pregnant mothers and families with toddlers and infants, I was told by the home owner hosting the event, “We blocked it off to keep the cops from coming up here and seeing the kids drinking.”

St. Peter Presbyterian Church is widely viewed in the Tri-Cities area as a cult, especially by the Presbyterian churches in the Tri-Cities, and R.C. Sproul, Jr. is widely viewed as a cult leader. The drinking problem is just the tip of the iceburg in why so many view the St. Peter church as a cult.

Comment by Mrs. Austin

12/5/2005 @ 7:44 am

Thank you Jim for coming to our defense, however Mr. Degenhart was completely unaware of our situation at the time of this post. He has since written us a very kind e-mail, and we do not view what he wrote as a personal attack on us. In fact we have recently linked to his blog on : Happy Jesus Bowl Sunday, in an article I wrote regarding Christmas.
Blessings, Mrs. Austin

Comment by Jim

12/5/2005 @ 11:52 am

Dear Mrs. (and Mr.) Austin,

Thanks for the clarification. I was already confident that Mr. Degenhart had no ill intent against you in posting his article. However I wanted to also make sure that no one else might have misunderstood it either.

I want to let you know that not everyone at St. Peter Presbyterian Church is in agreement with R.C. Sproul, Jr.’s order to shun you and your family. Frankly I think it’s evil and there’s no way to support it biblically. It breaks my heart to see the way your family has been treated. I hope it can be stopped once and for all.

I’ve had to wonder if my family might be next in line to be shunned. We’re trying to figure out a way of getting out ourselves, but after seeing what the church has done to you it’s got us worried that we may never get out.

It just doesn’t make sense to us why we can’t leave St. Peter Presbyterian Church and become members of another Bible-believing church, if that’s what we want. We’ve been members of several different churches, including some Presbyterian churches. I’ve never seen anything like this before where they make it so easy to join, but next to impossible to leave. They don’t tell you this either, before you join.

One man in a recent St. Peter head of household meeting in which you folks were the topic of discussion said, “So is this church just like the Hotel California, ‘You can check out any time you want but you can never leave’?” I could tell the elders were none too pleased with his question. But he was right. St. Peter Presbyterian Church is just like the Hotel California.

Thanks for the wonderful articles on your web site. I really appreciate the fact that you’ve been so incredibly gracious about what you’ve said. I don’t think I could be so forgiving about it if R.C. did to me what he’s done to you folks. You’re a living testimony of the grace of Christ Jesus.

Comment by Chad

12/5/2005 @ 8:18 pm

Jim, I appreciate your comments. I also hope you’re using an alias!

As I told the Austin’s, I was definitely “sobered” by their story. Reading about their experiences at the church outings, I completely agree with their total disgust for what was going on.

Hearing from other St. Peter members has made my opening comments about drinking the Kool-Aid quite ironic, unfortunately.

I do agree with Jim that it is a good idea to make it clear that the Austin’s are not teetotalers. Mrs. Austin’s original article You Must Drink! is humorous, and knowing the background really put a new light on my reading of it.

Comment by Joshua

12/9/2005 @ 5:52 pm

Jim:

Don’t you smoke and drink rather often? Just so you know I have been at ALL the head of household meetings at St. Peter and no such “Hotel California” remark was ever made in publice. I do recall a particular person saying just that in a letter to the Session of St. Peter. It is a shame to slander, and to be a coward by doing so under an alias.

Pro Rege:

Joshua

Comment by Backtobasics

12/10/2005 @ 8:24 pm

Jim, this may be a silly question, but never having been to St. Peters, why is it hard to get out? I’ve never heard of a church where the dissatisfied couldn’t simply leave and join some other church.

Comment by Anonymous

12/12/2005 @ 12:01 pm

:oops:

Comment by Jim

12/12/2005 @ 1:50 pm

Joshua,

After the way the Austins were treated, I’ve got good cause for my “cowardice.” Anyone who has ever spoken against R.C. Sproul, Jr. and his comrades has been threatened with discipline, and we all now know what “discipline” really means — the “Austin treatment.”

Your comments about smoking and drinking are a straw man. My opening statement announced the fact that I’m not a teetotaler. What exactly is your point, Joshua? Is that because I consume alcohol I have no right to condemn abuse of Christian liberties? Because I drink do I have no right to condemn the practice of St. Peter members offering alcohol to my children? Are you even capable of thinking cogent thoughts for yourself anymore Joshua, or has all the St. Peter indoctrination eliminated that possibility?

It’s interesting that you would accuse me of slander over the “Hotel California” statement which, even if you could prove that statement was never said (aside from myself, there are multiple witnesses that say it did happen) is completely irrelevant to the issues I have raised here.

If you have something intelligent you’d like to say, we’re waiting. . .

Comment by Jim

12/12/2005 @ 1:56 pm

Backtobasics,

It’s difficult getting out of St. Peter Presbyterian Church because it’s not a real Presbyterian church. It’s a lot more like a cult, say the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonies, etc. If you try and leave without first getting the “permission” of R.C. Sproul, Jr. and his the Session, you’ll be threatened with excommunication and being turned over to the devil.

As the John Austin family discovered, you’ll also be shunned by all your former friends, and anyone who tries to circumvent the order the shun will be threatened with “discipline” too.

St. Peter is “Presbyterian” in name only.

Comment by Chad

12/12/2005 @ 8:05 pm

OK - I’m going to call a halt to the discussions of the St. Peter church in this thread.

Some pertinent documentation of the referenced affairs can be found here.

Thankfully the RPCGA has intervened on behalf of the Austin family. I’m hopeful that this means that any families that would like to leave can do so without being shunned or intimidated. As I’m sure the Austin’s would testify, anyone with legitimate complaints or concerns should not hesitate to take them to the proper channels, including the Westminster Presbytery if necessary. I believe in this case that the RPCGA has demonstrated how the Presbyterian form of government is supposed to work.

Comment by Scott Holtzman

12/16/2005 @ 12:37 am

:smile: I’d perfer to take the ostrich approach on this one and remain with the thought it is ‘about coffee’ that wonderous brew ~ opiate of the masses (some have said, but I descent, as I have a bias) Some suggest that my weaker brethren might drink decaf, but how ‘low’ we sink to submit to the prattling peculiar few who would by their own avoidance of indulgence in the widely accepted standard bear our conscious harm in suggesting we submit to the abhorrent practice of ‘bovine abortion’ in our removal of milk from such a grand substance – or have I in legal license taken liberty with the Word in which I communicate another standard and in turn have misunderstood as I have thought to understood?

Oh, I’m sorry, we were talking about coffee…Got Milk? :mrgreen:

Comment by Tony

12/29/2005 @ 2:29 pm

Let’s be careful with the comparison of the gift of wine with the gift of children. We are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. In addition, children are part of spiritual warfare - they are like arrows in the hands of a warrior. We have them to raise them to be faithful servants of the most High God - to take dominion. I know of now command to drink wine, other than communion. I would agree that there is a problem with the grape juice instead of wine in that situation. I do also read a number of warnings against strong drink and the potential it has to control a person. Let us be faithful to the pattern of scripture in Communion (we could say the same about Baptism, my paedo-baptist brothers) and leave the consumption of alcohol outside that setting as a matter of choice and conscience. If anyone can show me where I am commanded to drink wine in that setting, please do.

Comment by Chad

12/31/2005 @ 8:33 am

Tony, I don’t disagree that there are big differences between the blessing of wine and the blessing of children. But they are both blessings from God. I agree that not everyone, however, MUST DRINK! I tried to say this when I wrote:

This is not to say that every one MUST drink in order to set an example! That would be looking at the issue from an individualistic, baptistic perspective. Rather, the church as a whole should set a godly example in its enjoyment of God’s blessings, rather than promoting stricter standards than God, which will produce immature Christians.

That might not be as clear as it could be. In personal practice, I generally take care not to impose upon the convictions of abstainers. Its just common courtesy that if you know someone doesn’t like something, you don’t make it a point to serve it when they visit. I appreciate it when I am invited to someone’s home and they don’t serve pig, and I make it a point to try to find out what my guests would prefer to be served so as to accomodate their preferences. If I know they don’t drink beer, I won’t have any while they are visiting.

As far as baptism, that is another topic but I assure you that I believe that I am being faithful to the pattern of scripture by baptising my children, because I recognize them as those with whom God has made a great covenant, and I wish to acknowledge this by giving them the sign and seal of that covenant, as I believe God has always commanded his people to do.

Comment by Will

1/9/2006 @ 9:44 pm

I advise all to find a Christian church that claims to be founded by Christ and not a man or Martin Luther. See Matthew 16:18 and think about that. (The church existed before, during and after the Reformation. Martin Luther did not restart the church. Christ has to be the founder of the Christian church. . . If Sproul has founded a church, then it is not Christian. It would be Sproulian.)

I am a Christian and a teetotaler. I do not think it makes me holier than God to abstain from alcohol. My decision to abstain from alcohol has more to do with the fact that one does not need alcohol for a good time, to worship God, to witness to others effectively for Christ, to fellowship with other Christians, and well, it sure is a costly beverage in this day and age. I also think it’s evolved into a downright silly social crutch.

Fine if you want to imbibe - I cannot and ought not judge you. And do not feel that you must defend your theological convictions in this lengthy manner. It just reads very judgmental and defensive in tone against those who are your Christian brethern who do not consume alcohol. Perhaps you are the one stepping into a legalistic battle by making such an issue of it.

Comment by M. Bris

1/12/2006 @ 11:32 pm

It seems to me that your problem with “teetotalers” is exactly your problem. Again another holier than thou self proclaimed expert telling others how wrong they are for not agreeing with their point of view. I choose not to drink. I have friends that drink and I don’t have a problem with their choice. But I am not wrong or legalistic for not drinking. You make it sound like I am a sinner for not drinking wine or having a beer every night after work. Your arguments are weak at best and you constantly compare apple to oranges. Thanks for your weak attempt at justifying your drinking problem.

Comment by Chad

1/13/2006 @ 5:13 am

M Bris,

I have no problem with teetotalers, only with teetotaler arguments against drinking. It is not legalistic to abstain, it is legalistic to condemn those that drink - which is what you did when you said “Thanks for your weak attempt at justifying your drinking problem.”

Do you know me? Why do you think I have a drinking problem? Do you actually have any points to make, or did you just want to insult me?

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