I will confess at the outset of this post that I am a bit angry as I write these words. A short while ago I read a blog post that made my blood boil. The post, Alcohol, Liberty and Legalism was written by Justin Taylor who works at Crossway and is quite a prolific blogger. This post came on the heels of another blog post by Taylor a day earlier that had to do with the Guinness Brewing Company. That particular post elicited a number of comments about the matter of the consumption of alcohol and the Christian. With the post Alcohol, Liberty and Legalism, Taylor seeks to diffuse some of the negative comments attached to the earlier post by putting forth the position that, while he does not advocate alcohol consumption, he believes the matter to be a question of Christian liberty. In other words, the position that Taylor advocates is the position that an individual Christian is free to choose whether or not he or she will consume intoxicating alcoholic beverages.
This whole question of the consumption of alcohol is a part of a much larger issue that I see in certain Reformed/Calvinistic circles that I have been planning to write about for some time now. There are those who either refer to themselves or who are referred to by others with the label “New Calvinists” or “New Calvinism.” While I wholeheartedly embrace the Biblical truths that are put forth by the five points of Calvinism, I have some problems with those in the so-called “New Calvinist” camp. For instance, I have noticed a propensity among this new breed of Calvinist for the use of foul and vulgar language, the sort of speech that Ephesians 5.4 says Christians are to avoid. Somehow, these men [and women?] find this sort of speech to be uplifting and edifying and so some of them bring the foulest of words in the pulpit with them. I know that they think that they are being provocative or cool, but they are just being plain sinful. There are also those in this camp who go in for body piercing, tattoos, smoking and the consumption of beverage alcohol. At some point, I want to address all of these issue, but for the time being, I just want to make some remarks that are related to the alcohol issue.
Let me begin by offering a caveat of sorts. First of all, I do not drink alcohol in any form. I do not drink it; I do not serve it; I will not allow it to be served in my home. I do not promote its consumption in any way. Second, I went to live with my grandmother when I was eleven years old. Until that time I lived with my parents and my two siblings. I never saw my mother drink, but my father was a drunkard. I know that the politically correct term is alcoholic, but I prefer the Biblically correct term: he was a drunkard. In fact, he died in 1994 at the age of 60 from Cirrhosis of the liver which was caused by his drinking. He literally drank himself to death. He committed slow suicide. As a result of what I saw and lived through as a youngster, I absolutely despise beverage alcohol. I have no doubt that will come across in this post, although I really do endeavor to be as objective as possible.
In the blog post referred to above, Justin Taylor defends the consumption of beverage alcohol by declaring that it is a part of God’s creation. Let’s think about that statement for a moment. There can be no doubt whatsoever, that God did in fact create all of the so-called naturally occurring ingredients that go into the making of beverage alcohol. He created the various fruits and grains that are manipulated by man to make alcoholic beverages. Taylor’s position, then, is that since God created these things that man makes into a drink, then that drink is a good thing ["it is still part of God's good creation" - to use his own words]. I wonder just how far Taylor would take this line of reasoning. God created the marijuana plant; God created the poppy plant; God create the coca plant. Would Taylor then conclude that since these plants are all a part of God’s good creation, we are free to smoke marijuana or shoot heroin into our veins or snort cocaine up our nostrils? I cannot imagine for a moment that he would take such a position. But if he is going to do so with alcohol, then why not with these others? The logically consistent position would be to view all of these things in the same way. Since I am sure that Taylor would not advocate the use of marijuana, heroin, or cocaine in the way that he does advocate the use of beverage alcohol, he holds to a very inconsistent position.
Taylor also brings up the matter of Jesus’ consumption of alcohol and declares that Jesus drank enough that He was accused of being a drunkard. The text that he references is Matthew 11.19. Here is the text of that passage and its parallel in Luke 7.34.
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” [Matthew 11:19 NAS]
“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!’ [Luke 7:34 NAS]
Neither of those passages say that Jesus drank to an excess any more than they say that He ate to an excess. They do say, however, that during the time of His incarnation, He did the normal things of life such as eating and drinking and His enemies viewed His use of those very ordinary matters of life as opportunities to attack and slander Him. Those verses say nothing whatsoever about the amount that Jesus drank or the amount that He ate. Taylor’s use of this passage is terrible misleading. I find it very interesting that Taylor fails to mention the fact that the New Testament does not contain a single verse that speaks of Jesus drinking “wine” except for those verses which all speak of the sour wine [mixture of wine and vinegar] that Jesus was given on the cross [Matthew 27.34, 48; Mark 15.23, 36; Luke 23.36; John 19.29, 30]. Such a drink was meant to be an anesthesia.
Let me also point out that the Greek word translated as wine is not found in any of the New Testament passages that deal with the Lord’s Supper. I bring this up because there are those who ridicule other Christians who do not serve wine at the Lord’s Supper.
I am also struck by the fact that Taylor does not bring Proverbs 23.31-35 into his discussion of the consumption of alcohol. Is he like many others who simply pretend as though that passage does not even exist? Proverbs 23.31-35 says:
Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly; 32 At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. 33 Your eyes will see strange things, And your mind will utter perverse things. 34 And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. 35 “They struck me, but I did not become ill; They beat me, but I did not know it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink.” [Proverbs 23:31-35]
The reference in that passage to the wine being red and sparkling in the cup has to do with the fermentation process. We are being told by the Lord in that passage that we are not to even look upon such a drink, much less consume it. That passage is a part of God-breathed [2 Timothy 3.16] Scripture. As such, it is both true and authoritative. I fail to see where it is not binding upon Christians. I fail to see where we free to simply ignore what God says here.
The Word of God makes it very, very clear that Christians are to be Godly and holy people.
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:48]
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:14-16]
God tells us to flee from sin. His Word says we are to strive against sin. We are to grow to be like Christ. What I would like to know is this: how does the consumption of beverage alcohol move us along in the sanctification process? How does drinking alcohol contribute to holiness?
Alcohol is such a terrible stumbling block and if professing Christians consume it and encourage others to so, they are guilty of laying stumbling blocks before others.
One fear that I have in this whole issue of the consumption of alcohol is the fear that some have confused the matter of liberty with the matter of license. The words that they use to promote Christian liberty are really words used to justify license. This is most unfortunate and does great damage to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In far too many instances already, local churches bear far more resemblance to the world than to Christ and if there is this continued promotion of alcohol, the situation will only worsen. Local churches will become so much like the world that one will not be able to distinguish between the two. I am certain that this is already happening. What a sad and shameful situation.
I am filled with grief each time I hear of professing Christians supporting the consumption of beverage alcohol. To promote, encourage or advocate the consumption of intoxicating alcoholic beverages is to promote, encourage, or advocate that which God does not promote, encourage, or advocate. You are not going to be holy as He is holy with that bottle of beer in your hand.