Should a Christian Drink Alcoholic Beverages?
The Biblical principle of I Thessalonians 5: 17 "Abstain from all appearance of evil" as it applies to the Christian and alcohol may be summarized in the following story: A multimillionaire interviewed a number of drivers to be his personal chauffeur. He had them drive near the top of a mountain to a narrow road. There was a steep drop-off on one side, with over 500 feet of little but ozone to the bottom, a certain death if anyone went over the edge. He told the applicants he wanted to see how close they could get the limousine to the edge without dropping off. The first applicant got the right front tire within a foot of the edge and bystanders held their breath. The second came within six inches and the contest for the job seemed nearly over.
Then came the third applicant for the chauffeur's job. As he, with his prospective employer riding in the back of the limo, neared the hazardous stretch of road, he slowed down, then he stopped, and peered carefully at the narrow width of highway. Then he reached his decision, shutting off the engine and tossing the keys back to the multi-millionnaire: "This isn't safe, and I won't put you and me in harm's way by trying it. Drive it yourself if you think you must pass this way." Guess who got the job!
The goal in our search for truth about the Christian and alcoholic beverages should not be to find out "how much we can get away with." It should be to find how much we can do for our Lord to show our allegiance to Him. The same Paul who said "Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ" amd "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4: 9) said in Romans 13:12-14 "The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." (ESV). He definitely wasn't talking about "how much he could get away with." Rather he was talking about "my utmost for His highest."
Scriptural reservations about alcoholic beverages: Those who rush to judgement with 1Timothy 5:23 "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" as an excuse for "anything goes" with a bottle should read further in the Bible about God's attitude about strong drink. Before leaving the present passage, let us look at it more carefully. In the verse before, Paul reminded Timothy to "keep yourself pure." Timothy's way of life was so pure and so devoid of a desire for strong drink that he had to have an direct written apostolic command telling him to take a drink and how much to take ("a little wine") before he could bring himself to having any for his ailments. Paul wasn't declaring "open season" for drinking orgies--he was prescribing the best medicine available at the time for someone who had specific ailments. He was writing to someone who did not have the clean drinking water for daily consumption that we have every day.
Scripture is replete with cautions about alcoholic beverages. Most Bible stories about drinking and drunkenness end in sin and tragedy. Noah fell into folly after being saved through the flood because he became drunk and unable to exercise the modesty that a father should have (Genesis 9: 20-27). Belshazzar lost his kingdom during a drunkfest (Daniel chapter 5). After Herod became drunk he made a rash vow that resulted in the untimely death of John the Baptizer (Matthew 14: 1-12), though he grieved later that he had allowed himself to fall into such a low level of decision-making. Those who will be lost in Hell are described in Revelation in metaphor after metaphor of strong drink (14: 8, 10; 17: 2; 18: 3-4). Can't we learn from these examples?
How alcohol works to turn off the "judgement switch":
I interviewed a medical doctor and a policemen experienced in alcohol-related crimes at length before writing this lesson. The page http://www.neuroskills.com/brain.shtml is instructive in understanding their remarks about how alcohol works. When a person begins to drink, part of the alcohol is digested quickly through the stomach rather than waiting for digestion to occur in the intestines. The alcohol begins to affect the frontal lobe of the brain, where the nerve centers affecting judgement are located . As drinking continues, more and more of the brain tissue towards the back of the brain becomed saturated and neurological function becomes more and more impaired.
|The invasion of alcohol begins in the frontal lobe, neutralizing the judgement centers of the brain. This is why people who didn't intend to take more than one or two drinks say after the hangover that after the first drink or two, they can't remember what happened. As alcohol poisoning--the proper name for a drinking bout--continues, impairment of the brain toward the lower and anterior parts progresses until finally the brainstem (last affected) turns off the system, stopping the hand from reaching for another drink. By this narrow margin the drinker escapes fatal alcohol poisoning (hopefully; sometimes when people drink rapidly, the medulla oblangata can't stop in time).|
Because alcohol turns off the "judgement switch" in the frontal area of the brain--that's the very first thing it does--it makes the drinker helpless in exercising good judgement in deciding when he has had enough. He cannot accurately assess the status of his own intoxication, which is why bartenders rather than customers decide when a customer has had enough. He frequently misgauges the effects of alcohol upon his social abilities, thinking that he is more likable while drinking when his sober friends would tell him that he has only become more obnoxious. He will lose his ability to keep his speech pure and Godly (Eph 5:4 "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving"). He may act in ridiculous ways around women, ways that he would be embarrassed of if he were shown his behavior on a videotape later. He loses depth perception and cannot tell if he is driving too close to another vehicle.
Arkansas law, in responding to a wave of research on alcohol's effects on the brain, lowered the standard for intoxication from .10 milligrams per deciliter to .08. That's a very small amount of alcohol, corresponding to two five-ounce glasses of wine, two 1.5 ounce shots of whiskey, or two beers, acting upon a 170-pound man who has little to no history (tolerance) of drinking. The Federal Aviation Regulations, while prohibiting any drinking of alcoholic beverages in the eight hours before operating a plane, sets the standard of .04 for intoxication, attainable after one drink. It is illegal for physicians, lawyers, teachers, peace officers, fire departments, and EMTs to practice their professions at even a minimal level of intoxication. These are the standards our society sets for sobriety when it is really facing the problem of intoxication directly.
How many drinks does it take to get "drunk"? The abundance of definitions of "drunk" and "drunkenness" in contemporary times shows that man has had a hard time defining this. Even if he could define drunkenness, he is not defining what drunkeness is to God, for God's word is not dependent upon man's definitions. See 2 Peter 1: 20, 21--"knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." Even if we think that we are under .08 milligrams per deciliter Blood Alcohol Content, how can we know that God is accepting our definition?
The Federal Aviation Administration has long had an "eight hour from bottle to throttle" rule. Pilots are not to get behind the controls of any aircraft no matter how small or slow, no matter how few the passengers may be, no matter how short the flight, if they have had anything alcoholic to drink within the past eight hours (FAR 91.17). That's how much confidence the central regulatory agency of the most technologically advanced nation on earth has in alcohol once it is inside a person. Most findings about alcohol and flying are discovered by autopsy (David Frazier, The ABCS's of Safe Flying, 1981, p. 21).
The Christian cannot continue drinking until he or she is drunk. This conclusion is easy to reach. See Ephesians 5: 18-20--"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (ESV). Note not only that the scripture forbids the Christian from ever getting drunk, but it also sets a standard for the Christian's behavior that is very, very far from the laxity of the typical drinking party. We should be aiming for the highest and not the lowest standard of behavior that would glorify Christ as our Savior. Also re-visit Romans 13:12-14.
Leaders in the Lord's Church are to live above alcohol. 1Timothy 3:2 "The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach; . . .
1Ti 3:8 Deacons in like manner must be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre . . . (ASV) Tit 1:7 "For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre" (KJV). Members should strive for the moral purity of the leaders of the church, else why would the leaders be leaders?
Our God is the God who in the Old Testament said that "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20: 3). In the New Testament Christ phrased the same idea as "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these other things shall be added unto you" Matthew 6: 33. Alcohol is a tolerance drug. That is, when a person begins using it, it has a dramatic effect upon him. But soon the same amount of alcohol will not produce the same euphoric effect, so he will have to drink more. And the more he drinks, the more he becomes enslaved to drink. Truly "for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he also brought into bondage" (2 Peter 2: 19). God doesn't want followers who are slaves of other entities! He has called us to freedom (John 8: 32) and we have no business bowing down to alcohol or any other forms of slavery. ". . . We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?" Romans 6: 2.
Question: What about the medicinal benefits of wine being talked about by the medical profession? You may be referring to the article in the Annals of Internal Medicine at http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/abstract/146/1/10 . This study was done on 11,711 men (only) who had high blood pressure and were at risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack). In other words, they were already sick. One drink of approximately 5 ounces per day lowered their odds of myocardial infarction but did not lower their overall mortality rate during the 16 year study. So if you are not a male with hyptertension, the study may not apply much to you. In my interview with my doctor friend he was emphatic about the dosage: five ounces of wine, once per day. Not two. Not beer or any kind of hard liquor.
Next question: the people who are wanting liquor by the package or liquor by the drink or permits for private clubs--is serving one 5-ounce drink per evening per customer what they are wanting to do? No, they are wanting to sell not only wine but also a variety of beers and whiskeys and other kinds of hard liquors. They do it to make money--not to save old men with high blood pressure from heart attacks.
My doctor friend was emphatic and adamant: the alcohol that has any semblance to a therapeutic value is wine and wine only. Since you have already been to the Annals of Internal Medicine online, continue your search there to see what the medical profession thinks of the abuse of alcohol. They condemn it in no uncertain terms. Everything from violent crime to teen pregnancies to domestic disputes to motor homicides have been linked to alcohol abuse in the research. Other than for the specific instance already referred to, the effects of alcohol are negative and are a curse upon the medical profession. Search The Journal of the American Medical Association at http://jama.ama-assn.org/ also while you are at it. The studies that show any benefit for alcohol will be specific to wine only and for a very few people with certain very specific illnesses. The rush to publicize a benefit of any kind only shows the deceptiveness of alcohol's proponents.
Don't forget our role as examples to people outside the church:
1Pe 2:11,12 "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." The world watches us, brothers and sisters; they sometimes watch us in stealth. We won't know that we have made a compromise on something really significant until we have already made the mistake. Then after we have had the social drink or danced the erotic dance or used language unbecoming Christians, we will hear from our worldly friends, "Well, so-and-so from the Church of Christ did it, so it must be all right." Think of this before you go to the liquor store or order a cocktail at a restaurant. Are you "writing off" a clerk or waiter so far as your chance of leading him to Christ is concerned? Behave as if someone is always watching because Someone always is.
The above illustration should be sufficient to make a decision about "social drinking." Drinking alcohol in public is one of the worst examples a Christian could ever make. If you must drink a few ounces of wine each day because of a very specific illness, do it in private. Re-read Romans chapter 14 about not abusing your freedoms in Christ to the spiritual detriment of others around you who may not be as strong in the faith as you are.
Alcohol's Effects Upon the Unborn:
See the page http://www.swissinfo.org/eng/front/detail/Study_confirms_alcohol_risk_during_pregnancy.html?siteSect=105&sid=7746566&cKey=1177395854000
for further information on this topic. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome results from the drinking of expectant mothers. Effects include possible mental retardation, learning disabilities, and physical defects. Medical research has found no level of alcohol consumption that is safe for the unborn children of expectant mothers. Also see http://members.aol.com/creaconinc/fas.html for further information about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This syndrome is adding children to our class rolls of special education students and adding to the expense of educating our young. This is to say nothing of the human misery of raising and educating children with unnecessary disabilities.
Physical and Cognitive Effects of Alcohol:
This page was written by a Christian who has not had a drink in over 30 years, has never been drunk in his life, and who does not feel like he has missed out on a thing! I am truly free, set free by Jesus Christ (John 8: 36).
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