Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christians and Alcohol

Table of Contents  
 Since coming to college, I have been bombarded with alcohol. Not from invitations to parties, or my “secular” friends who drink daily, but from the Christians around me who seem intent on making sure that I can support their convictions. Throughout high school this was certainly something discussed in church and youth group, but never to the extent that I needed to constantly defend my position. When a non-Christian asks me why I don’t drink, they are fine with a simple reason. But when the question is from a Christian, they continually press. It’s as if they want to know what scripture I rely upon, what experiences I’ve had, and ultimately, whether or not they can trust me to hold to my convictions when temptation comes.
I don’t know if it comes from personal experience or if it’s just a stigma in the church, but it seems that college students who drink alcohol, or even allow the possibility for it, are viewed as “immature Christians.” I don’t rant about this because I feel condemned or judged, but rather because I want to expose some of the fallacies Christians use to either justify or condemn alcohol use, and then offer my personal opinion on the subject. But first, I want to say that when it comes to the topic of Christians and alcohol, the first and often only sin committed is that of condemning another person based on their convictions.
First, I want to address some of the justifications I have heard from Christians regarding alcohol use. The most common is referencing Jesus turning water into wine to which they say, “If Jesus drank alcohol (and even made alcohol for others to drink) without sinning then so can I.” While this may be true, it totally removes all context from the situation, and breaks down to the argument, “If it happened in the Bible, then it must be OK.” However, a simple reading of almost any Old Testament story would prove just how false this argument is.
The other common fallacy I hear is that wine is praised multiple times in scripture. In fact, the praise of God and of his coming kingdom often includes references to wine (Psalm 104:14-15 and Ecclesiastes 9:7 among others). While this is true, the issue of alcohol is not about whether or not alcohol is good, but about what negative effects it can have. I liken this debate to one that in my experience the church has so far avoided: food. Only a fool would say food is a bad thing, but our society’s widespread, over-consumption of it certainly is. Similarly, alcohol consumption is not a bad thing, but the circumstances surrounding it and amount consumed can make it deadly.
Ultimately, those who argue that alcohol consumption by Christians is alright, tend to have weaker arguments. This causes me to ask the question: Is that because they have nothing to defend? Now I want to look at the arguments against any and all alcohol consumption. These arguments tend to be more personal in their attack and their reasoning.
By far, the most prevalent reason I hear that people don’t drink is because they have seen the negative effects in their lives. Whether it is a parent, relative, friend, or spouse, they have been forced to come face to face with the reality that alcohol has the ability to destroy relationships and families, end lives, and cause second-hand destruction so violent, that it leaves the victims loathing even the thought that someone else would indulge in this addictive lifestyle. While this argument certainly contains truth, it is situationaly exclusive, not allowing the victim to look at alcohol any other way. While I won’t ask anyone who has experienced alcohol-related trauma to change their convictions, I think it is important to understand that when a conviction comes from personal experience, it may be difficult for others to agree with.
Regarding the debate among Christians in general, I think far more grace needs to be displayed on both sides. For Christians who view alcohol as an OK or good thing, do not try to convince others to deny their convictions. For Christians who feel alcohol should be avoided, do not condemn or try to “reason with” those who feel differently. Ultimately, we need to understand that our convictions are formed by God and attacking someone because they are on the “wrong side” of the debate is never beneficial.

          Obviously this can be said about almost every disagreement in the church. Whether it be baptism, worship styles, gender roles, or a host of other conviction-based debates, it’s important to remember that we should encourage one another to be more like Christ, rather than more like us. With that said, I want to share my personal conviction about alcohol use.

         For me, it has rarely been a question of whether or not I should drink because my dad never drank. I realize how weak of an argument that is when I am faced with temptation, but it is also representative of how much I respect my dad and how important parental influence can be. Growing up I always wanted to be just like my dad and the fact that he never drank alcohol has had a lasting impression on me. Since my childhood however, I have developed a much more solidified position on alcohol.
The central force in guiding me towards my position on alcohol has been my experience with its negative effects. I have witnessed my friends’ fathers abandon them, relationships wrecked by them, and have watched numerous friends end up arrested because of alcohol. While I’m sure the majority of these issues were primarily caused by immaturity rather than alcohol, the fact that it is addicting, readily available, and a socially acceptable way to deal with life’s problems has lead me to want nothing to do with it. Similar to the way I avoid other addicting behaviors, I have had to recognize that I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation.
When I look at the many struggles I’ve had in the past, whether it be impulsive lying or pornography, I can’t deny that when faced with a choice between being responsible or being selfish, I try to grab as much as I can as fast as I can. I know that if there is even a chance that this could ruin my relationships with my parents, siblings, future wife or family, then I want absolutely nothing to do with it.

One final thought. When I think about whether Christians should or shouldn’t drink alcohol, I am reminded of Colossians 2:16-23 when Paul instructs us to not condemn or judge other Christians based on “proper” behavior. And as he says in verse 23, “Such regulations...lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Having strict rules governing how I should behave or think doesn’t make me a Christian. Trusting the fact that Christ died for someone who rarely does the “right” thing and who always concerns himself with what other people think is what allows me to turn to Him when I am weak.

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