I’ve always been a “teetotaler” regarding alcohol. I was raised that way in the home of a Southern Baptist minister/professor, and I’ve never found reason to abandon abstinence (though alcoholic beverages have been pressed upon me in many settings, from the army to academia). I’ve heard and read any number of helpful biblical arguments for abstinence as well as moderation, with duly-noted word studies in Hebrew and Greek, cultural distinctions, cautionary tales, and such.
Many Christians say it’s okay to imbibe, and, indeed, the Bible doesn’t insist on abstinence, notwithstanding a number of warnings, both explicit and implicit, regarding alcohol’s danger. And, yes, there are a few passages that speak kindly of drink, or at least don’t disparage it in the narrative. But in evangelical circles, we seem to have moved beyond okay to obligatory. I even heard a chapel speaker say we were slighting God if we didn’t make use of his gift of wine.
And I recall visiting a church-plant web site, where the staff listed their favorite craft brews. Perhaps they were trying to remove barriers to evangelism, to show that they could savor Miller Time and could order red with beef as well as the next guy.
Whatever, it seems we’re awash in enthusiasm and advocacy, and it’s gotten to the point that the consumption of beverage alcohol is becoming something of a sacrament, or a third ordinance, this to commemorate one’s freedom from legalism. (If you don’t “come to the table” (or wine cellar or taproom), then you’re breaking fellowship with the universal church, performing a pharisaical micro-aggression toward congregational drinkers, who have every reason to expect a “safe place” in the church.)
That being said, let me pitch in a few reasons I’ve found to lay off the stuff. You might even pass them on to church staff at ease with an “alcohol-enhanced” lifestyle, who may even wax rhapsodic over fermentational delights:
1. HBO and Cinemax show some good stuff, but I don’t want to give money to people who traffic in so much bad stuff and do so much harm. The same goes for brewers and winemakers, not to mention distillers. When I survey the wreckage that’s come from the use of their products, I don’t want them to get a penny from me.
2. I’m afraid I might come to like it and then turn to it when I’m down—and with ruinous consequences. When I broke my wrist in a basketball game and then had extensive surgery to patch things up, I developed a taste (mercifully temporary) for Percocet and Vicodin, whose charms are considerable. With a nation tumbling into the abyss over opioids, all we need is cheerleading for another set of “oids.” The pastor who commends drink to his people is like the youth director who takes his wards base jumping. What could go wrong?
3. I don’t need it. The far-less-dangerous (and tasty) beverage options are wonderful. Yes, cokes can make you fat and coffee can make you hyper, but we don’t get DUI/MADD, cirrhosis, bar fights, rehab centers, rapes, broken homes, etc. out of Fanta and Breakfast Blend. And if you need to get your courage or conviviality out of a bottle to get on with life, the canary in the coal mine has stopped singing. Look, I’ve done a lot of somewhat dangerous things, from negotiating Chicago traffic to pick up my mom at the airport, to missionizing in Islamist territory, to reading Nietzsche, but there are important payoffs in family relations, Great Commission fruit, and apologetical prowess. But where’s the return on alcohol, the promise that outweighs the peril? Beats me.
4. I sometimes joke that I would like to invest in recovery clinics for the children of evangelical swells who normalize alcohol consumption in the home. Daddy and Mommy may have come to the drink culture later in life, having enjoyed the safety that their repressive/suppressive parents visited upon them by limiting them to milk, iced tea, Dr. Pepper, etc. But Junior (and junior Christians) may not be so lucky when the barriers of disapproval are down.
I guess it’s a faith thing, a leap taken with fear and trembling—faith that your ministry won’t implode if you abstain; faith that those you meet won’t be dashed or resentful at the spectacle of your restraint; faith that your life will somehow be manageable and rich without drink.
So let me encourage you to stir up your inner Shadrach and take a walk on the wild side, at least as far as the pervasive alcohol culture is concerned.