The Bible and Alcohol: Part One

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The following is re-post from my old Transplant Ministries Blog. Many people have requested that I re-post it even though the website is down. So I decided to dig it up and give it a place on the internet that people can use as a reference if they want.  

Recently, John MacArthur, a man whom I have great respect for released a blog titled “Beer, Bohemianism, and True Christian Liberty” aimed at the “Young, Restless and Reformed” (YRR) warning them about being associated with alcohol or using it in their church services. It pretty much caused the blogosphere to collapse on itself. As for myself, I wasn’t even aware of the blog until several people alerted me to it.

I would not fit into the category of Young Restless and Reformed, I am not charismatic, not a fan of anyone having tattoos, I despise MMA, and can’t stand trying to appeal to the world to grow our churches. Most importantly I was forced to give up my hip, trendy and relevant YRR badge as soon as I open air preached in public. However, based on my tweets, statuses and Facebook messages of the past addressing the issue of alcohol and the church I have become the “go to guy” within my small social network community when people have a question in regards to Christians and alcohol, whether I want to be characterized by that or not.

Being lazy and not wanting to take the time to really do an elaborate post on the subject I made the mistake of making a pretty sharp tweet calling MacArthur’s post “horrific” and refuting the tweet by saying “Jesus drank wine, your argument is invalid.”

I am not sure if “horrific” was the best use of words for an elder. Not to mention the response was lazy. It didn’t help that I then tried to avoid a long blog post by making a reductio ad absurdum of his post by replacing every reference to alcohol or beer with “Krispy Kreme and Potlucks.” Although very effective at demonstrating the absurdity of his presupposition if alcohol is not a sin, it didn’t really leave a proper explanation of my position and it’s relation to the Gospel.

What followed was a series of tweets, Facebook debates, phone calls and e-mails that left me exhausted and doing far more work defending the position then if I had taken the time to respond rightly.

I decided to take a break from the social media sphere for a while, not as way to avoid the conversation, but mainly to inspect my own heart and attitude towards brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree on this issue.

But with that being said, and with some encouragement from my friends who believe the centrality of this issue is not being addressed by either side. I felt I needed to respond in more detail. There is no easy way to discuss this issue and as I write this I have no idea how long this post will be. But let’s sit back, and first and foremost clarify some things.

I do still stand by my argument. Alcohol is a symbol of our freedom from sin as demonstrated by Christ.

In MacArthur’s post he said:

“Contrary to the current mythology, abstinence is no sin—least of all for someone devoted to ministry (Leviticus 10:9; Proverbs 31:4; Luke 1:15). It is, of course, a sin to give one’s mind over to the influence of alcohol or to bedrock one’s reputation with deliberate symbols of debauchery.” (GTY.org)

If MacArthur believes that alcohol is not a sin, then why define it as a symbol of debauchery? Is that the image of alcohol that God gives us in Scripture? Does John MacArthur take this same stance towards sex?

John MacArthur is a very wise man, one who knows the Bible far better than me, and because of his amazing knowledge of Scripture he is forced to say that drinking alcohol is not a sin. However, as the quote above proves he believes drinking is no sin, while creating a system that presupposes that it is a sin.

This presupposition that alcohol is sinful forces MacArthur to literally water down Jesus’ first miracle. In a previous discussion on alcohol posted on YouTube, MacArthur says that:

“You’d have to drink an awful large volume of that diluted, fermented wine to become drunk. In the ancient world, the dilution of wine was distinguished from strong drink which was not diluted and that did lead to drunkenness. Having said that; Jesus creating wine, and I assume that he did, was fresh, brand new, unfermented, the best grape juice, the purest that anyone had ever tasted.”  – John MacArthur “Why Would Jesus Create Wine” (YouTube Video)

It’s interesting to note, that in this video John MacArthur references strong drink as the drink that leads to drunkenness, but ignores the fact that God commands Israel to partake in strong drink, the Hebrew word is “shekar”, in Deuteronomy 14:26

Because of our prohibition traditions, we are so afraid to simply state that Jesus drank alcoholic beverages with self control. Not only that; pastors can’t even discuss the topic without being labeled as an alcoholic or a lover of beer. As in this very blog, MacArthur warns pastors that:

“It is puerile and irresponsible for any pastor to encourage the recreational use of intoxicants—especially in church-sponsored activities.”

Is a wedding a Church activity? Is worship described in Deuteronomy 14:26 a Church activity? What about communion? According to MacArthur’s alcohol worldview, we must completely ignore alcohol, even eliminating it from a pastors discussion.

Lets be very clear on some things. First, discussing the topic of alcohol and the Scriptures does not make one a wino and it doesn’t even mean that the person who is pro-alcohol has made alcohol an idol. For some reason, those who oppose Christians drinking like to attack the content of ones character and ministry rather then addressing the issue from Scripture. I recently had a guy tell me that because of my few tweets and statuses expressing my position on alcohol, “I have ceased to make the main thing the main thing.”

This is quite simply untrue and any such accusation would have to be applied to John MacArthur for making these very blog posts on alcohol, as well as Jesus Christ himself who was called by his own words “a glutton and a drunkard” because of his association with those who eat and drink  (not to mention a certain miracle he performed.)

Just because one speaks and teaches on secondary issues does not discredit one from having a passion for the Gospel. The Gospel is not just a proclamation. The Gospel without application is no Gospel at all. Just a story. The Gospel without “works in keeping with repentance” is as James said…dead. I know us reformers don’t like to talk about Gospel and works in the same breath, but bare with me. I am not speaking of pre-regeneration works. I am speaking of the application of the Gospel on a believers life after he has been saved. Sanctification.

How does the Gospel change my view of my sin, my evangelism, my marriage, the raising of my kids and my career? This is the sanctifying work of the Gospel. In other words how does the Gospel (which is spiritual) affect my life (that which is physical). If the Gospel has no effect on the temporal realm then how can we expect to use Scripture to teach against abortion, homosexual marriage or abusive husbands?

More importantly in this instance, how does the Gospel application change a persons view of alcohol?

Before we can answer this, we must first understand the worlds view of alcohol.

There is no question that the world loves alcohol. They abuse it. They use it outside of it’s God-given restraints, for their own selfish ends. They devour it to such a degree that they ruin their lives and the lives of others over it. Wrecking families and harming children.

But the same is true for sex.

The world loves sex. They abuse it. They use it outside of it’s God-given restraints, for their own selfish ends. They abuse it to such a degree that they ruin their lives and the lives of others over it. Wrecking families and harming children.

Both sex and alcohol are gifts from God and make no mistake about it the world doesn’t abuse these things simply because their fun to abuse or enjoyable. They abuse these gifts of God, because they hate with the most venomous of disdain the one who gave these gifts to them and this is their chance to shake a fist at their creator and gift giver.

As we see with homosexuality and their perversion of sex, it’s not enough for the world to simply abuse God’s gifts. They need to redefine it. They need their abuse of the gift to influence the culture. It’s no longer enough to simply be a homosexual, homosexuals need to have special rights and everyone has to agree and support them or else. If they can redefine marriage, then they can remove God from it, reshape the cultures worldview and harden their conscience ever so slightly.

This is why we as Christians cannot allow the wickedness of the world to define our view of alcohol. They have no right. They have no authority, but most of all any definition we allow the world to give will be a blasphemy against God in an all out attempt to suppress his truth.

The same reason we do not allow the world to define “marriage” is the exact same reason we do not allow the world to define the proper use of alcohol. For Christians to not speak up on the proper use of God’s gift on alcohol is just as much a sin as Christians who seek to allow the Government to define marriage.

We don’t need their definitions. Their definitions are blasphemous, and slander God and his Word which has already defined these issues for us.

Brothers and sisters whom I love, this is the truth I speak to you. My passion to defend alcohol is not rooted in my love of drunkenness, but my hatred of it. It’s not rooted in my apathy to the Gospel but my devotion to the Gospel. It is not rooted in my desire to be like the world, but my desire to transform the world for the Glory of Christ.

I want nothing more than for the church to take back the alcohol industry for the Glory to God that the world might look to the Bride of Christ for proper instruction on how to regulate His gifts.

This my friends is the dividing line. This is the difference.

Even though men hate God, God shows kindness by giving alcohol as a wonderful gift (Is 55:1), used to make glad the heart of men (Ps 104:14, 15), already approved by God for our use (Ecc 9:7), both in corporate worship (Deut 14:26), in fellowship and celebrations (John 2), to be a sign of God’s blessings (Is 25:6), which Jesus used as an instituter of the covenant demonstrating his blood that would save his people from his sins (Luke 22:20)

Jesus Christ, when he was with his disciples took that glass of wine and said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

Drunkard, this wine which so enslaved you is now a picture of your freedom in Christ.

What grace.

Contrast that glorious picture, with Phil Johnson on the radio, and Grace To You’s blog where alcohol was referred to by Christians as “a symbol of debauchery” a “controlled substance” and an agent of “bondage” not being a symbol or “purity” or “restraint.”

To reduce alcohol, a symbol of Christ and his work, to anything less may not result in using alcohol for debauchery, but it can be just an equally sinful display as it can lead to Gospel-less legalistic moralism.

No matter how much the world tries to tarnish gifts from God we cannot allow them to for the sake of His name and the Gospel. We must not let the world define terms and we must not accept the definitions they give.

I said in the beginning of this post, that I do not bear the title of Young Restless and Reformed because I despise trying to make church conform to the culture. I stand by that. However those who would stand with me in opposition to worldly worship are equally as guilty of making the church conform to the ideas of the world when they create laws in opposition to a Biblical worldview of alcohol, and in favor of the weaker brothers still pagan worldview. When you let the world define theology for the Church, you allow the Church to become worldly.

So perhaps your saying to yourself “But what about those genuine weaker brothers who struggle with drunkenness, how can we intertwine drinking alcohol publicly, in corporate worship and fellowship and not trample over their consciences?”

These my friends are valid questions! Debates worth having as we seek answers that can only be found within the pages of Scripture, and cannot be found within the perversions of the world.

…and now that you know that alcohol, when properly defined, is first and foremost a Gift from God, a symbol of the covenant, that gladden the heart of men, I would be more than happy to explain how Scripture reconciles the two…tomorrow.

Read Part Two Here

A Call to End Christian Prohibition

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