Christians And Alcohol

Judges 13:4, “Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing.

I was an alcoholic. I spent about 5 years of my life completely enslaved to the habit. From the age of 16 to 21 I spent my days in a drunken daze. While most of my friends limited their alcohol consumption to a few Friday nights out of the year, I drank from the time I woke up until the time I passed out. To be both honest and transparent I spent much of my time “blacked-out.” I was physically moving around but I had no consciousness of my actions. In fact, to this day I have almost no memories of that time. It’s a complete blank when I try to recall that season of my life. Old high school friends ask me, “Do you remember that time when we…?” Honestly? I don’t. It’s mostly gone. The few parts I do remember are not pleasant. I remember being arrested. I remember sitting in jail. I remember hurting people both physically and verbally. Forget pleasant memories. That period of my life is more like a nightmare. Fortunately, on April 24, 1988 Christ poured out His grace upon me. In the same 24 hour period I experienced both forgiveness and deliverance. Never spent a day in rehab. Quit cold turkey. And never went back. Over 20 years of sobriety now.

In addition to my own personal struggles, I also spent over 15 years working as a missionary and pastor in the ghetto (Minneapolis and Miami). I have counseled and worked with countless individuals and families whose lives have been destroyed by alcohol abuse. There is not time for me to list all of the unbelievable tragedies that people I know have inflicted upon one another because of drunkenness. I have listened to far too many heartbroken people, dried far too many tears, and attended far too many funerals that arose from someone’s personal decisions regarding alcohol. I never once heard a story where alcohol was a positive thing.

Now, I will be the first to admit that my past experiences certainly influence my position on alcohol. I also understand that we live in a time when traditional views regarding faith and alcohol are rapidly changing. From my earliest days in the faith it was preached that alcohol was taboo (along with movie theaters, makeup, and cards). It was evil. It was wrong. It was sin. There simply was no tolerance for any other position. If you brought up John 2, you were either labeled a heretic or you were given the “party line” that what the Bible really meant to say was grape juice. That was before. Now we find ourselves at a real crossroads in the church. More and more pastors are moving to the other side of the fence with regard to the issue of alcohol. Few embrace or excuse drunkenness but the numbers who both drink and advocate the use of alcohol continues to grow. (No, I cannot give you statistics. I am speaking from my own experience as a pastor for over 20 years.)

I find it interesting that people can always give you a reason for why they “want” to drink. But in all my 44 years of living I have yet to hear one convincing reason for why someone “needs” to drink. Far too often we forget that as Christians we do not live in isolation. My life not only intersects with others but it is also connected to others. My actions have consequences. Not just for myself but for others as well. We have grown increasingly lazy over the years as it relates to our sense of responsibility and obligation towards both other believers and the world as whole. When we make choices we need to remember that our decisions our like waves in a pond. They may start with us but in time they have influence far beyond the initial point of impact.

It is worth noting that Samson’s mother was given a prohibition concerning alcohol. Yes, I understand that he was a Nazarite from the womb. OT law was very clear and specific regarding the rules of conduct for a Nazarite vow. One of them involved abstinence. Samson was not supposed to drink wine or strong drink. In this case, because of the obvious and literal connection between the mother and her unborn child the rule extended in its application to include the wife of Manoah. But note what she did. She obeyed. No arguing about what she wanted. She willingly laid down her rights in obedience to God and out of love for another (her unborn son). What she might or might not have wanted was secondary. Not self but God and others was her concern. That was the basis for her choice.

Speaking for myself, that is the same basis for my choice regarding alcohol. I don’t drink alcohol. Period. For me, I can’t find enough support in the Bible to make me feel confident about the use of alcohol. (Sure, the Bible doesn’t say you can’t drink beer but neither does it say you can’t eat your lawnmower. Just because something isn’t prohibited doesn’t mean it is the wisest option.) Furthermore, having seen its potential for damage I don’t want to be a stumbling block for others. I have lived with alcohol and I have lived without it. The first life was filled with regret. The second? None. Take a lesson from the mother of Samson. The choice that is made in obedience to God and concern for others will always be right. Especially when it concerns our faith and alcohol.