-Varina Hart, contributing writer
I like good beer.
I never dealt with the topic of drinking until coming to Mississippi College. I grew up in a home where it was normal for my parents to have a beer or two on the back porch while we grilled out. There was a monthly “man-night” where men from the church would crowd around the fire pit in our back yard double fisting a cigar and a beer. Alcohol was not something to abuse, but to enjoy. I have never seen my dad or mom drunk, and I do not think I ever will. But when I entered the MC Bubble, I found myself fighting with flying fists over freedoms that I did not know were controversial.
So what is the issue with drinking? Is it wrong? Can a Christian drink? What about Christian heroes like C.S. Lewis and Tolkien who met at a pub, no less? Should I stop reading Hemingway because he drank?! Can you have theological conversations with a good beer in your hands? At a bar?
Well, let us talk about it.
Disclaimer: it is not possible to discuss every argument in this article; therefore, I am only going to discuss what applies to MC students, not pastors or leaders of specific ministries.
Alcohol in and of itself is not a sin. While it can be abused- and often is- alcohol is part of God’s creation that He made and called good. In Psalm 104:15 wine is given to “gladden man’s heart.” Israel’s promised land is described “as land of grain and wine” (Deuteronomy 33:28), and God gave permission for wine to be enjoyed on certain feasts (Deuteronomy 14:26). Jesus himself was no teetotaler since he made wine for a wedding (John 2) and was accused of being a drunkard (Luke 7:33-34).
On the other side, there are plenty of verses where priests are prohibited from alcohol consumption (Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3), where Proverbs warns against drunkenness (20:1; 23:29-35; 31:4-5); and where Paul calls out drunkenness as a sin of the flesh (Ephesians 5:18; Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:7).
We can at least infer that while alcohol may not be viewed as wrong, drunkenness is always wrong. But because something has the potential for abuse and sin does not mean that we should reject it inherently as sinful in and of itself. Rather, we should look to use it wisely and with discipline, enjoying God’s creation well, and being an example to others for what it looks like to take joy from God’s gifts in a manner worthy of the call. The abuse of a thing, whether that is alcohol, ice cream, social media, sex, video games, or smoking, is a sin. In the church, drunkenness, of all these, is called out repeatedly. So what do we do with this grey area of the Bible?
I still believe I can drink.
But that is my belief, and who am I to impose my conscience on another? As Sola Scriptura Christians, our hearts and minds are directed by the Word of God. For the issues that are not black and white (and few are), we cannot create a morality and impose it on others. (See Romans 14.)
The main issue with drinking is much larger than alcohol. It is legalism, a trap that Satan disguises in light so that we do not see the pitfall of darkness underneath (see 2 Corinthians 11:14). Even the Baptist and hardcore teetotaler, John Piper says, “Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one… Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.”
The larger issue of all Christianity is the sufficiency of Christ. Is Christ enough for us? Or do we need to add rules to righteousness? “For in Christ, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [neither drinking nor abstaining] counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).
What I hope you take away from this is not an answer if you should drink or not. That is something you will have to pray about, look at Scripture, and decide for yourself. But what I hope you understand is that our salvation is not from ourselves. It is all from God. We cannot abstain from enough, go to church enough, read our Bibles enough to get to heaven, to become righteous. Here is freedom. Because I believe in Christ’s death, I am free from earning my own salvation through regulations. I am not self-reliant or self-sufficient. To quote Piper again, “If we try to defend ourselves or our church with peashooter regulations, we will be defeated, even in our apparent success. The only defense is to ‘be rooted and built up in Christ and established in faith’ (Colossians 2:6); ‘Strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy’ (Colossians 1:11); ‘holding fast to the head from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together, . . . grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:19).’”