Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wrestling With: Alcohol & Liberty

Used to be I was a teetotaller.  Alcohol was bad.  I knew how it affected people, how it enslaved people, how it buried itself deep into the hearts of the weak and addicted and never let go.  In my eyes, having a drink of alcohol was having a one-way ticket to hell.  This extended up through my first year or two of college, my Formative Years, as I like to call them.  These were the years when I decided to "work out my own salvation" (Philippians 2:12) and dig into my faith.

What I found was shocking.  Jesus died to give us freedom from this world, from sin, from shame, from the Law of Moses, and from every thing that binds us down.  Jesus, who had the ultimate freedom of being God, gave up all of His freedoms and became Man.  Not only that, but He completely emptied His Godhood (Philippians 2:7) and became the most humble man to have ever lived.  If Jesus had any freedoms, He gave them up so that sin would be conquered when He rose from the grave.  And He did all of that for you and me.

Paul wrote extensively on this freedom that Jesus died for.  In both the first letter to the Corinthians and in the letter to the Romans, he addressed the issue of eating food and consuming drinks offered to idols (see 1 Cor. 10:23-33 and Romans 14).  These two chapters are still relevant today, especially in regards to a Christians freedom to indulge in alcohol.  Complicating the issue is that Jesus' very first miracle was turning water into wine (John 2:1-12), and that wine was declared "good."  If the Son was there in the beginning and all of creation was made through Him, then I imagine that the wine made at the wedding was indeed very good.  Another complication is God commanding the Israelites in Deuteronomy 14 about their agricultural tithes, especially verses 24-27:

[24] And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, [25] then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses [26] and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. [27] And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.  (Deuteronomy 14:24-27 ESV--emphasis mine)

Some translations refer to "strong drink" as "beer," as this is likely what is meant.  So here we have plenty of verses pointing to the fact that alcohol isn't implicitly bad, and in fact, Paul says that "all things are lawful" there in 1 Corinthians.  He goes on to point out that one should not offend someone by refusing the wine or the food or whatever, as this could damage the witness.

To my knowledge, the only negatives concerning alcohol in the Scriptures all revolve around one thing: drunkenness.  Drunkenness is mentioned specifically as a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), which is constantly against the desires of the Spirit.  There are also several Proverbs concerning drunkenness, none of which are positive (see Proverbs 23, for example).

How am I to interpret this?  I have to say, when my bible study leader opened this can of worms as a college freshman, I was completely against him.  I just didn't get how anyone could be so silly.  But once I read the scriptures for myself and thought through them, it was obvious to see the truth.  Nevertheless, just because I could agree that alcohol in and of itself was not sinful, I refrained from drinking.

All of that changed when my best friend struck a deal with me.  He had been drinking for a while (illegally), and I had just turned 21.  He said that he would go to church with me if I would go have a drink with him.  I thought of Jesus hanging out with the prostitutes, tax collectors, and other ruffians.  These were the people He ministered to (in addition to the poor and needy).  I said sure, and he went to church with me for the next few months.  Seemed like a fair trade.  He heard the gospel of Jesus.

My one drink had no real affect on me.  Over the next few years, I may have drank a handful of times.  To me, alcohol was just a waste of money, a luxury I couldn't afford.  Still, the fact that I was a Christian and that I would drink was a witnessing tool that I could use.  Never once did I drink too much, never once have I been drunk, and never will I.  One must be self-aware and spiritually mature in order to imbibe, I decided, and I am blessed enough to be both, though neither were easy to attain.

And then last year I was voted to become a deacon of my current church body.  One of the questions asked during my trials pertained to alcohol.  I based my answers all on scripture.  I was thence trounced and assaulted for my immaturity and ultimately denied the position*.  That shook my faith more than a bit.  I've been in church my entire life and to be told that my faith was immature and weak was a punch to the gut.  I spent the last year reading and studying even more so than normal, and you know what, my opinions haven't changed much at all.  If I'm reading my bible correctly, then everything I've mentioned above is still true in my heart.

I was asked last Sunday again about becoming a deacon.  I accepted, and now I'm preparing myself for another interrogation.  Even though my biblical understanding has not changed, I can say that I no longer am a drinker, either.  Not even on occasion.  Why?  And how did I come to this conclusion?

  • We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)
  • For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Galatians 5:13-14)
  • Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  (Romans 14:13)

I think about how Jesus lived, about what motivated Him.  He loved people unconditionally.  He was a servant.  He denied Himself in all, ultimately giving His life away.  He commanded us to love and serve and take up our own crosses.  If Jesus was willing and did give up his freedoms, then I can give up one for a people I love, too.  Because even though I think I am in control, I cannot control what other people perceive, and I don't want to inadvertently cause anyone to stumble.  I must be above reproach.  I also don't want my daughter to be exposed to it, and putting alcohol out of my house (save for cooking bourbon, which is simply delicious in a chocolate pecan pie) is just a step in the right direction.  Am I really losing anything by refusing myself?  No, and I fully believe that in Heaven that I will get to enjoy the wines of the Father's vineyards.  Until then, or at least until the Spirit reveals something differently in the Word and in my heart, I am relinquishing this liberty of my own volition.  To God alone be the glory.

*To be fair, this wasn't the only issue, though this was the biggest.  The other one concerned tithing, which again, I gave my understanding of biblical answers and principles.  This issue has changed slightly since last year.


keisha said...

I am proud to be your wife. You work hard and do well as spiritual leader of our family. I love you. I appreciate you.

Alex Hagerman said...

John 13:35

I'm praying for you friend, I think what your saying is spot on and something we all struggle with, but could lay down more of. Hope all is well.

Soli Deo Gloria

leslie said...

I'm glad you have found some blessings in the earlier struggle with the interviews and after. I wish you well in this up-and-coming opportunity.

~L (omphaloskepsis)

Carl V. said...

I pray that things go well with your "interrogation" this time.

I personally think that the idea of declaring drinking wrong on the face of it is actually the "immature" view. But what I think lies deeper is the why's of drinking and the whens and wheres. I've certainly made some dumb decisions in my life when I drank, mostly as an underage drinker which is a sin in my opinion. But as an adult my wife and I drink wine occasionally and I'll have a good dark beer once in awhile. I see nothing sinful about it UNLESS I chose to get carried away and drive, for example, or if I end up in a place where alcohol and promiscuity are the norms...like the local bar on a Friday or Saturday night.

The biggest issue with this is, in my opinion, something you already mentioned and that is the stumbling block issue. I think there are a lot of things that are "okay" to do as a Christian and yet some of those things could cause issues in the faith of other believers or could hinder a witness to non-believers who have strict ideas about things. I don't think we should walk in fear or legalism, but when it is something like this, which ultimately doesn't matter, maybe it is better to lay it down in sacrifice if it is a witness to another.

I certainly wouldn't hesitate too much to give up drinking wine if I felt God was leading me that way for a specific purpose. I don't think it is a sin in and of itself, but I wouldn't be stubborn about flaunting my belief that it isn't a sin only to cause harm to another.

Diz said...

Dearest Logan and the Lovely Keisha,

Thirty years ago I was faced with this Christian issue, and you have figured it out at your age. Why was I such a late bloomer? If you read about deacons, elders, and leaders, you are held to a higher standard of behavior. So, even though you know that you will not be hindered in prayer after one glass of wine, it would be a stumbling block to the weaker Christians. But, remember, Bonhoeffer's (I think it was him) story? He was stuck in the middle of no where, and a group of blue-collar workers fixed his van, and gave him a beer? God told him he had to drink it, lest he offend them. And it made him feel funny. I agree with you, it's high in calories, most Christians drink MORE than one glass to get the buzz (but say "a" glass of wine), and I'd rather have a chocolate mousse.

Further, having raised children with this belief, the adult ones truly, if ever, only have one drink. So, your children will adopt the behavior modeled for them, which saves them a whole lot of borrowed trouble.

The only family tradition our family engages in, is the toast at the wedding, which is about two fingers of champagne.

You won't be missing out on anything of value. But, you may catch some flack from the family - though I sense that you can easily handle that. My family now stocks Perrier for me at family functions.

PS: I HAVE A JOB INTERVIEW! What's happening on your end - I'm still praying for you and your family?

logankstewart said...

@Keisha: Thank you. I'm glad for your love and wifing and mothering.

@Alex: Gracias, friend. Thanks for the prayers.

@L: It took some work, but blessings were found. Thanks for the well wishes.

@Carl: Indeed. It's all about knowing your peers and your setting and who you are going to be around. In the privacy of one's home is different to a bar, for instance. Nevertheless, I can't ascribe to that freedom, either.

@Diz: Not wanting to cause someone offense is very true, especially outside of the American borders. I think we often can do more harm by refusing, where we can be perceived as judgmental or holier-than-thou, when dealing with many. Again, knowing your peers and company is extremely important. And congrats on the interview! I'll be praying for you. When is it? As for me, I'm just playing the applying and waiting game...

David Wagner said...

Yeah, it's a tricky one all right. I'm a little surprised that someone would call your faith "weak" because of an admittedly secondary issue... is it safe to assume they feel that alcohol is always to be avoided? I certainly do not advocate drunkenness at any time, but once in a while, a nice, cold Sam Adams goes well with a big plate of tacos... just sayin'...

I guess it's one of those personal issues, that we each need to resolve between ourselves and God. That's probably why there are passages that can be used to support both sides. I think God puts things like that in there to see what's in our hearts, and which side we want to lean toward.

But that could open another conversational can o' worms, so I'll leave that be. Bottom line, your strength is obvious to me, at least from a few thousand miles away. I pray whatever you decide to do, God will continue to bless.

Jonboy said...

Fascinating post Logan. Really couldn't have said it better myself.

logankstewart said...

@Dave: I was a little surprised, too. Thanks, friend.

@Jonathan: Thank you! Hope you're doing well now.