Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Permitted. But Profitable? Christians and Drinking

I'm surprised to see how many Christians I know who proudly tell the world that they are drinkers. Don't get me wrong. It doesn't make me think less of them (not that it matters what I think). I'm not a legalist.

I was watching the news tonight when I heard this statistic:

"A new government report finding nearly 1/3 of American adults have abused alcohol or suffered from alcoholism at some point. And most of them never received treatment."

Fox News July 2, 2007 11:34 pm. This is a direct quote.

This report is yet another reminder for those of us who want to make a positive impact with our lives about the incredible insanity that so many Christians seem to believe: that alcohol is harmless. 1/3 of all adult Americans! Think about that.

Let me be clear. A Christ-follower is free to drink! Even though the Bible strongly warns of alcohol abuse (e.g. Proverbs 20:1, 23:29-35) and clearly describes being drunk as sin (e.g. Ephesians 5:18), there is no biblical prohibition against drinking in moderation (even Jesus drank wine). It’s really not about whether drinking is inherently evil. It’s not. It’s about whether it is BEST. As we have seen in 1 Corinthians, it might be permissible, but is it beneficial?

As we saw, Paul was clear that if you do anything that violates your conscience or causes someone to stumble you are committing a wrong.

And there are other reasons:

Alcoholic beverages are different today. Distillation was not invented until the Middle Ages. Before distillation, alcohol content in drinks was lower, and additionally, was usually diluted with water. A guy from Harvard Law School (Jeffrey A. Munsie) who wrote A Brief History of the International Regulation of Wine Production makes the point and quotes Pliny the Elder’s (23-79 AD) Natural History in which Pliny talked much about wine.

“Pliny noted that seawater could be added ‘to enliven the wine’s smoothness,’ snow could be added to cool the wine, or that spices and herbs could be added to mask the fact that the wine had turned to vinegar. In fact, drinking wine straight was considered to be barbaric. Wine was usually heavily diluted with water, which served the dual purpose of allowing it to be more thirst quenching and allowing the alcohol to make the water safer to drink.”

You can read it here: http://leda.law.harvard.edu/leda/data/310/Munsie.rtf.

There are lots of references that attest to the fact that the whole Greco-Roman world had this practice during ancient times. Palestine was completely Hellenized and practiced the same custom. This is why Peter, after the Holy Spirit baptized the church resulting in their preaching to visitors to Jerusalem in languages other than their own, could say, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!” (Acts 2:15). Everyone understood that it took a lot of wine and a pretty long time to be “under the influence.”

In addition, we have many other safe drink choices, unlike people in biblical times who had basically three choices: water (that had to be boiled to purify), milk (that spoiled in hours) and wine that was purified and stayed so due to the God-given gift of fermentation.

There is a real possibility of addiction. That’s what I was struck with again when I heard this new study (above). “But I can handle it without becoming addicted or getting drunk” some say. What about those who read you are a drinker on your MySpace page? If you drink, why can’t they? Especially when the whole world seems to glamorize drinking, making abstainers (like me) seem like out-of-touch puritans (most of whom drank temperately, by the way). This possibility of leading others astray is a big deal in a world where 1/3 of all Americans admit alcohol abuse/addiction.

If I’m a Christian and I drink, it impedes my ability to point out a SERIOUS social problem. If, like me, you have seen lives destroyed and people killed because of alcohol, you can’t deny the problem. Sorry, I choose to take a stand. Call me “no fun.” You’re right. I don’t think it’s fun to tell a mom that her child has died due to a drinking driver. I don’t think it’s fun to hold a sobbing woman whose husband abused her and his kids and lost his job over a drink. It’s not fun to see a loved-one ruin their lives because they’re an alcoholic. I’ve experienced all that and much more. Want more Facts?
• The economic cost of alcohol and drug abuse estimated at $246 Billion annually. Out of that number, alcohol abuse accounts for 60% while all other drug abuses combined for only 40%. (National Institute Health)
• An average of one alcohol related motor vehicle fatality happens every 33 minutes in the US. (US Department of Transportation)
• 11 Million children grow up with at least 1 alcoholic parent.
• Having as few as 2 drinks a day if you are pregnant can cause fetal alcohol syndrome—in which the newborn has multiple severe handicaps.
• Alcohol contributes to 205,000 deaths each year.
• Life expectancy for an alcoholic is reduced by at least a decade.
• Alcohol is connected to one-half of homicides and one-third of suicides.
• One out of twelve marriages come apart over drinking.
• Not to mention liver disease, contributions to spousal abuse and child abuse, and I could go on…

I’ve got to mention one more. If you live in the “Bible belt” there is a real potential harm to a Christian’s witness if you choose to drink. Sorry. It’s true. Even lost southerners link drinking with not living for Christ. Ask around.

So, should a Christian drink? Yeah, you’re free. But, you see, it’s not so easy to just justify it. It’s not just about your liberty. It is about God’s glory.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1Cor. 10:31)

What am I missing?