This post is not about alcohol. I will not pretend to think that I can properly answer all of the questions that arise in the context of this topic. Allow me to simply state that, if I am completely honest with the timeless witness of Scripture, I would say that I cannot find anywhere that drinking alcohol in and of itself is a sin. However, drunkenness is. And I would guess that if some believers who drink regularly were honest enough with themselves they would admit that they can sometimes drink too much or too often or for all the wrong reasons. Then there is the whole issue of when is someone drunk? Where is the line? Who is to decide?
That being said, drinking alcohol is not a sin (except for the case of underage drinking which would reveal a lack of submission to authority, lack of self-control, etc.). Those who choose to abstain from alcohol for various reasons ought to be very careful that they do not impose their personal choices on others which only tends to lend to a legalism that lacks love and a false sense of personal holiness that absolutely does not flow from that given graciously from Christ. I am fully aware that there are many incredible Christ followers who drink alcohol – some are in my church or in churches that are doing phenomenal works for the Kingdom.
Now that this has been explained, allow me to share some of my personal convictions, choices, and frustrations that stem from the whole alcohol issue. I do not drink. No exceptions. I have various reasons for this stance. First, I cannot and will not drink out of moderation. There was a short period of my life, before I knew Christ and at a fairly young age, that I drank. And I did so for all of the wrong reasons and I did it far too often. Abstaining from alcohol was a decision that I made at age eighteen and I have not wavered in my stance since. I know that I struggle to do anything in moderation – hence my struggle with gluttony and weight gain (which has been an incredible discipleship process for me over the past nine months). I know that alcoholism is alive and well in much of my family tree and I want nothing to do with it. I hope that the generations beginning with me and following me stay fast and far from the stuff and thus have the opportunity to rewrite my family legacy. It is just plain not necessary and is not worth it for me.
My other reason happens to be due to my affiliation with the Assemblies of God. As a credentialed minister with this particular denomination, I have voluntarily cooperated with their call to abstain. Emphasis must be placed with the word “voluntary.” No one made me do this. I chose the AG as my denomination. Their stance on drinking was no surprise to me. I know that most of the leadership in this Movement would say that the stance to not drink alcohol is an ethical one rather than a biblical one. One of culture. None of these arguments are too hard to swallow. Drinking is not necessary and in some cases quite destructive.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience–I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” (1 Corinthians 10:27-30, ESV).
Eating the meat that was dedicated to idols was not demonic. Paul had all right to do so. However, there were times that he chose to abstain out of respect to those who struggled. He gave up his rights to do right for others. Spiritual maturity. Leadership demands sacrifice. There are moments that we do not do what we want or what we can for the sake of another. Think of the time that he called for Timothy to be circumcised. This had nothing to do with his salvation – Paul was quite clear that circumcision was of the heart. And yet, he called Timothy to a higher standard so that he would go above and beyond in protecting his integrity and influence as a pastor in Ephesus. Talk about pain. Sacrifice for the cause. Likewise, Paul would never call entire congregations to circumcision – he went above and beyond to protect the purity of the gospel from heresy. Timothy’s issue was not about circumcision – but one of sacrifice.
It seems to me that the church has wavered between two extremes since her inception – legalism without love and liberty without accountability. Our generation has revolted, for some very good reasons, at the legalism that we have witnessed – but we have in many ways gone so far in a different direction that we have now neglected holiness – the authentic type that flows from the heart. We do have liberty. But that does not mean that we should do whatever we want whenever we want.
Allow me to be quite frank . . . my issue is not with alcohol. My issues is with the heart of my generation of leaders. I am speaking of those in our affiliation – those who have elected to be a part of a denomination that calls for voluntary cooperation and yet we instead selectively submit. That is anything but submission. I am speaking of those who drink in secret when they have agreed not to. I am speaking of those who claim that we have to drink in order to be relevant or missional. Sorry, we don’t. I can tell story after story of times that I have set with those who drank and talked with those who drank – and I did not drink – and yet I still managed to bridge the gospel with the culture. I am not saying that we avoid people or places who drink – I am just saying that we drink something else. Is that really that difficult?
I would go as far as to say this . . . if you have such a hard time with the position of the AG, why do you stay? Can’t you plant a church by yourself? Or is it that we enjoy benefiting from an affiliation but we don’t want the added baggage of accountability and humility? Is it that we take too much pride in being the black sheep? What frustrates me to no end is that the issue of alcohol in the name of relevancy has hijacked our time and energy from what is really urgent and necessary – that is how do we pastor people who will be about the mission of God in word and deed (rather than in strategy and preference)? How will we really be the church in these postmodern times? Alcohol or no alcohol is not the issue nor the answer. I am convinced that there is a silent majority of emerging leaders who, like me, have no problem whatsoever with the policy of the Assemblies of God. We just want to be people of creativity and conviction – but the squeaky wheel seems to get all of the attention.
I would say to my brothers and sisters who are frustrated with the policy – and those who have unfortunately not submitted to the position – to be very careful to examine their own hearts. I am afraid that we might be as in danger of being the hypocrites and frauds that we saw as children – those who we had complaints with in the first place (as they were legalistic – so we are libertines). After all, aren’t you guilty of not being who you said you would be?
Again, voluntary cooperation goes far beyond the issue of alcohol. We have all been guilty at one time or another in reaping the rewards of being a part of a Network without wanting to contribute ourselves. For example, our denomination asks that each church give a percentage back to their particular District in order to collectively assist with resourcing, benevolence, church planting initiatives, etc. (referred to as Shared Ministry). And yet, I know of very few churches who actually give the full percentage that is asked of them. We justify our selectiveness in many ways – we can’t begin to afford it, we give more than most give, or we believe that they are asking for too much. The funny thing is that most of us are frustrated or disappointed with those in our own churches who hold to similar issues in regards to tithing. I guess we can’t really demand more from those whom we lead when we fail to lead ourselves. In regards to the alcohol issue, to those who drink when they have agreed not to – how would you respond to leaders who claim to submitting to your authority and secretly do not? Isn’t that a form of rebellion? Can rebellion be controlled?
I pray that my words, as incomplete and imperfect as they are, would be heard and received in love. I love the church. I am proud to be Pentecostal. I believe in the history, vision, and future of this movement. I am committed. My Network and denomination are priceless to me. I want to protect her. I want to transform her from the inside-out. And I pray for our leadership in the coming days that they will have wisdom and courage – that they will know what is right and that they will do what is right. I pray for my peers that we might honestly examine what we believe and what we practice and be willing to change when necessary. I pray for a spirit of humility and understanding. I hope that the discussion brings us closer to Christ and to each other – that we might be about connecting people to the love of Christ, the life of the church, and the need of the world.