Should Bible Believing Churches Require Abstinence From Alcoholic Beverages?

Enlarged February 9, 2009 (first published March 2, 2006) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org) -   Through the years I have received letters and e-mails from pastors who are challenged by people in regard to requiring church members to abstain from alcoholic beverages.   The following is a compilation of a couple of these that I have received.   I received an e-mail from a pastor who said that he is counseling some people in his church about the issue of wine. After reading the late Bruce Lackey’s article “Did Jesus Make Alcoholic Wine?” some said they did not agree with his reasoning and would not give up drinking unless they could see that this is something that is clearly taught in Scripture.   COMPILATION OF LETTERS FROM PASTORS ABOUT REQUIRING ABSTINENCE FROM ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES   Hello, Brother Cloud:   We recently did a study on wine and I used your Way of Life Encyclopedia study which Dr. Bruce Lackey wrote.
  I must say I was quite taken back with some of the responses and questions that arose, and I’m struggling
with how to answer.   When I showed them Lev. 10:8-11, that the Old Testament priests were not allowed to drink wine, some protested that they were only prohibited to drink wine when they were doing the service in the house of God.   When I showed them the prohibition in Proverbs 31, which required that the kings not drink, some protested that this was only because they needed to have access to proper judgment at all times.   Some questioned me also as to why the Nazarite had to have an exceptional vow not to take wine (or any fruit from the vine), if the common people did not partake moderately? They argue that the very fact that the Nazarite was not allowed to drink wine indicates that ordinary Israelites not under a Nazarite vow could drink some wine.   Also it appears that God gave the Israelites permission to drink wine and even strong drink in Deut. 14:26. There are other references given that may speak of drinking wine in a positive light, such as Eccl. 10:19.   As for the warnings I gave from the Scripture, some seem to believe these references only forbid drunkenness or drinking wine in excess.    I don’t believe it is Gods will for any Christian to drink wine. I think it would disobey Bible Principles, even if God didn’t say, Thou shalt not drink wine.   My main concern is for the people to whom I am ministering. I believe this is an important issue, but I don’t think some of the people will waver on this subject unless they see it from the Scriptures.   Any help you can give us will be much appreciated.   REPLY FROM BROTHER CLOUD   I would tell the people that before he was saved Bruce Lackey (who was a pastor, Bible School Dean, and Evangelist) was a drinker and played piano in bars, and after he was saved he studied this issued very carefully and prayerfully. I knew him personally. He was one of favorite Bible teachers and he performed our wedding 29 years ago. He was truly a man of God. Even if people don’t agree with all of Bruce Lackey’s points and even if some of his points are debatable, it is obvious that many of them are clearly Scriptural. In fact, I believe personally that all of the 10 reasons he gave for why Jesus would not have made or drank alcoholic wine are right on target.   Foundationally, I would make sure that the people understand that the Bible uses the term wine generically. Sometimes it refers to alcoholic wine and sometimes merely to grape juice, the natural unfermented fruit of the wine. Just because the Bible mentions wine in a certain place does not mean it is referring to alcoholic wine. Grape juice is a wonderful drink. I love it, personally.   As for the fact that the O.T. priests were forbidden to drink only to when they were ministering in the tabernacle, that is true, but in the case of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the fulfillment of the Levitical priestly system and our great High Priest, He was ministering at all times. Thus, in fulfillment of the type, there was never a time He would have drunken alcoholic wine or strong drink.   As for the case of the kings, yes the reason they were required to abstain was so they could exercise proper judgment at all times. But that is precisely one of the reasons that we know that the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings who has inherited David’s throne, never drank alcoholic wine!   It is true that some of the Protestant Reformers drank alcoholic beverages, but they are not our authority. They also “baptized” babies and drowned Baptists!
 
It is true that there are instances in the Old Testament in which God allowed His people Israel to drink alcoholic wine, but there are many things in the O.T. that we do not practice today. I believe that Christians today should not drink alcoholic beverages for the following three reasons, among others, and I am convinced that these are universally applicable:
 
1. THE BIBLE WARNS THAT WINE AND STRONG DRINK IS A MOCKER AND DECEIVES MEN.
 
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).
 
To say that alcoholic beverages can be consumed in moderation sounds reasonable, but very few drunks have ever set out to be a drunk. It is an irrefutable fact that a man that does not drink at all will never get drunk one time and will certainly never become a drunk.
 
All of the emerging church drinkers admit that the Bible forbids drunkenness, but all of their talk about the delights of drinking, of “a Guinness” and “a round of imperial pints,” makes me wonder if they don’t sometimes get a bit tipsy at their beer confabs, not to say drunk! How inebriated does one have to be to be drunk?
 
I doubt Noah planned to get drunk and to cause so much trouble for his grandson, trouble that has abiding consequences to this day -- but wine is a mocker.
 
My maternal grandfather came from a long line of drunks, and before my godly grandmother married him she made him promise that he would never touch a drop of liquor, and that is a promise which he made. But one day he and another carpenter were working on a house and the other fellow talked my grandfather into having just a sip “to cool the tongue.” They both got roaring drunk and ended up in jail, and my granddad was a deacon in a Baptist church! He was deeply repentant and was restored and never drank another drop as far as anyone knows, but it was a powerful reminder to him that wine is a mocker.
 
Alcohol has the ability to deceive and corrupt. One can never know if he will control it or it will control him. The instruction in Proverbs 20:1 tells me that the wise man leaves it entirely alone.
 
The following is a wise statement from John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides, 1891:
 
“From observation, at an early age I became convinced that mere Temperance Societies were a failure, and that Total Abstinence, by the grace of God, was the only sure preventive as well as remedy. What was temperance in one man was drunkenness in another; and all the drunkards came, not from those who practised total abstinence, but from those who practised or tried to practise temperance. I had seen temperance men drinking wine in the presence of others who drank to excess, and never could see how they felt themselves clear of blame; and I had known Ministers and others, once strong temperance advocates, fall through this so-called moderation, and become drunkards. Therefore it has all my life appeared to me beyond dispute, in reference to intoxicants of every kind, that the only rational temperance is Total Abstinence from them as beverages, and the use of them exclusively as drugs, and then only with extreme caution, as they are deceptive and deleterious poisons of the most debasing and demoralizing kind.”
 
Consider, too, the following testimony that a reader sent to me on this subject:
 
“Brothers and sisters in Christ, I have firsthand knowledge of what drinking just one drink can do to a family.  My dad at age 15 (I am now 68) was put on a horse behind a neighbor man, rode into the nearby town and took his first drink. From that day forth he was hooked and became an almost lifelong alcoholic. The suffering that our family went/is going through is unspeakable. Dad accepted Christ at age 62, and became a teetotaler. He could not stand for his alcoholic friends to stop by and offer him a drink as they always had in the past. Because of his alcoholism and verbal abuse of my little sister, she will never recover. It has affected our family in a terribly adverse way all of the years. My sincere recommendation is NEVER TOUCH IT, for you know not what the first drink of it will do. It is sort of like the first temptation to take the first bite out of the apple in the garden. Millions of homes are broken and destroyed, souls in hell, and in torment here on earth, as a result of alcohol.”
 
Even emerging church people admit that the Bible forbids drunkenness, but can they guarantee that they and their drinking buddies will never get even a little drunk? Can they guarantee that they will not tempt someone to become an alcoholic? No, they cannot, because “wine is a mocker.”
 
2. THE BIBLE COMMANDS THE BELIEVER NOT TO GIVE OFFENSE IN ANYTHING.
 
“Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be save” (1 Cor. 10:32-33).
 
I personally quit smoking a few months after I was saved and it was not because I thought it was inherently wrong or because I was concerned about my health; it was because I knew that it could offend others. I wanted my testimony to be pure of offence so that God would use me and I would have eternal fruit. I didn’t want to be witnessing to someone and have them possibly ignore me or be distracted because they saw a pack of cigarettes in my pocket.
 
If that is true for smoking, and it is, then it is even truer for drinking alcoholic beverages. It is a fact that many unbelievers think that a believer should not drink. They have higher standards for Christians than some Christians have for themselves. Consider Utah, where even unregenerate Mormons believe it is wrong to drink alcoholic beverages! How would Mormons look upon non-Mormon Christians who drink?
 
Even the possibility that someone would be offended because of his drinking should be sufficient for the believer to put it out of his life, and that possibility is very great in modern society. Paul was willing to stop eating meat entirely in this present world if he thought someone would be offended and his testimony hurt (1 Cor. 8:13), and eating meat is a perfectly legitimate activity. How much more should a believer be willing to give up alcoholic beverages, which are highly questionable at best and have the potential in themselves to cause harm (which meat does not)!
 
3. THE BIBLE COMMANDS THE BELIEVER TO ABSTAIN FROM ALL APPEARANCE OF EVIL (1 Thess. 5:22).
 
That is a far reaching exhortation. Alcoholic beverages are a great evil and curse in modern society. Consider the automobile wrecks, the ruined health and early graves, the adulteries, the lewdness, the divorces, the neglected children, the abused wives, the waste of money, the gambling, the blasphemy, the pure foolishness. Look at the beer and liquor ads, how they invariably flaunt sensuality and irresponsibility. In January 2005 the Royal College of Physicians in England warned that Britain is suffering from an epidemic of alcohol-related problems that is fuelling violence and illness throughout the country (
The Telegraph, Jan. 3, 2005). The same epidemic is raging throughout the world.
 
If anything has the appearance of evil today, it is alcoholic beverages, and the Bible does not suggest that we abstain from all appearance of evil; it commands us to do so!
 
It is also important to understand that there is a dramatic difference between the alcoholic content of wine today and that of Bible times. The following quotes by Norman Geisler and Robert Stein are from Focus in Missions, September 1986:
 
“Many wine-drinking Christians today mistakenly assume that what the New Testament meant by wine is identical to wine used today. This, however, is false. In fact, today’s wine is by biblical definition strong drink, and hence is forbidden in the Bible. ... Even ancient pagans did not drink what some Christians drink today” (Geisler).
 
“To consume the amount of alcohol that is in two martinis today, by drinking wine containing three parts water to one part wine (the biblical ratio) a person would have to drink over twenty-two glasses” (Stein).
 
 I trust that this will help.   In Christ, Brother Cloud