Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Freedom in Christ; or, yes, it's okay to have a cold one

Over at the Reformed Pub someone posted a link to this article on a website for a church called Crossroads Christian Church.  The article asks the question, "can a Christian drink alcohol?"  Now, in the interest of fairness, I am going to get all the sarcasm out of me right now: The short answer, is yes.  The long answer, is yeeeeeeeeees.  Also, in the interests of full disclosure, this post (like others) is written with a stein of beer next to me; in this case, St. Arnold's Summer Pilsner.  Highly recommended for that "I've just finished mowing the lawn" time of day.

Okay, silliness aside, I'd like to provide a response to their claims.  Now, if I was a member of this church I would be under their authority and would have no interest in stirring up trouble.  However, my church does not make any such claims and I do have an interest in promoting the full truth of Scripture over and above man's traditions.
On Monday night, news broke that Olympic gold medalist snowboarder, Shaun White, had been charged with vandalism and public intoxication. On my Facebook wall, I posted the following comment: “This just in . . . and the gold medal for character enhancement, once again, goes to alcohol.”
I see this quite a bit in writings by Christians promoting abstinence from alcohol: no longer is man's sin at the center of his depravity, but an inanimate substance that by itself does nothing.  It's not that Shaun White acted like a fool, it's that alcohol destroyed his brain and removed his ability to think for himself.  Let's be clear: Shaun White didn't do anything that was not in his heart already.  Alcohol may have lowered the gate, but what roared out into the night was Shaun White Uncensored and Unfiltered.
For years, well-meaning, sincere Christians have debated the subject of drinking. Let me be clear by saying there isn’t a single verse in the Bible that says a Christian cannot have a drink; although the Bible clearly warns about the destructive and addictive nature of alcohol (Proverbs 20:1; 21:17; 23:29-35; Ephesians 5:18) and is very clear that drunkenness is always wrong (Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Peter 4:3; Habakkuk 2:15; 1 Corinthians 5:11).
The Bible is also clear that mature Christians should avoid causing others to stumble by drinking (Romans 14:21), and that leaders ought to avoid drinking alcohol (Proverbs 31:4-7) and cannot be given to drunkenness (1 Timothy 3:3, 8 Titus 1:7.)
 The "destructive nature of alcohol" is not simply about alcohol; the Bible warns over and over and over again about the sinfulness of idolatry: putting anything as preeminent in our lives above God.  And yes, for many people alcohol becomes that idol; a man who knows this is wise to avoid it.  But what about for the Christian for whom something the average person might consider innocuous or even good is an idol?  We've appended "-aholic" to words like "work" to demonstrate how someone is allowing an overriding desire to rule their lives in a similar (and similarly destructive) fashion, but no one calls for Christians to give up work.  The fear of alcohol as more dangerous or inherently evil does not benefit the believer who doesn't struggle with the idol of alcoholism, but has another issue in its place, nor does it honor the Scripture which also uses wine as a picture of blessing, commands for wine to be used in Jewish offerings to God and as a reward of obedience, and so forth.

And of course, I haven't even gotten into issues like Jesus turning water into wine. The idea that we can derive some kind of support for the last century and a half or so of American temperance from Scripture just make no sense.  But it's not my desire to play "dueling prooftexts," but to point to one undeniable truth: alcohol, and the methods by which we come by it, were established by God on purpose and for our benefit.  The author of this piece apparently believes the opposite:
I have yet to hear from anyone who drinks how alcohol enhances anything or blesses anyone. Max Lucado said, “One thing for sure, I have never heard anyone say, ‘A beer makes me feel more Christlike . . . Fact of the matter is this: People don’t associate beer with Christian behavior.”1 I’ve yet to see how it improves someone’s testimony or makes anyone a more effective witness for Christ. Quite the contrary, like Shaun White mentioned above, or Richard Roberts, Oral Roberts’ son, who was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma, driving under the influence, the result doesn’t enhance your testimony. Rather, it takes away from what testimony you had.
Then hear from me, now.  Some of the most inspiring and moving moments of conversation with my brothers have come over beer.  I have been blessed by going up to the Ginger Man in Dallas with two godly men who desired to raise a glass to the King, and watched as one turned to an Indian couple next to them, engaged them in conversation, and bore witness to them of what Christ had done for him.  They never once said "Well, that's nice and all...but you're drinking!  How can you say you love Jesus when you're drinking alcohol?"  It's irrelevant, and the argument has no grounds to stand on.  Once again, alcohol did not create anything in these men that was not there to begin with:
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”--Matthew 15:10-20
Let's continue, to what I consider the real crux of the problem with this article:
Recently, a friend of mine, former mega-church Pastor, John Caldwell, wrote an article in Christian Standard magazine called To Drink or Not to Drink? Here’s the link to his article. John’s article explained why he has personally abstained from drinking alcohol and dealt with the bigger issue of the contemporary church becoming more and more like the world.
Not surprisingly, a number of people responded to John’s article and some called him to task for taking such a strong stand against drinking. In response to the responses, my good friend, Ken Idleman, former President of Ozark Christian College and now Pastor of Crossroads Christian Church in Evansville, IN, wrote these words, which are among the very best I’ve ever read on this issue. I asked Ken for his permission to share them here.
“Okay, I am conscience bound to weigh in on this one…. For a minute, forget about making a definitive case for or against ‘drinking’ from the Bible. Here’s the truth from logic and real life. No one starts out to be an alcoholic. Everyone begins with a defensive attitude saying, ‘I’m just a social drinker and there is nothing wrong with it!’ no one says, ‘It is my ambition that someday I want to lose my job, my health, my self-respect, my marriage and my family. Someday I want to be dependent on alcohol to get through my day.’ yet, this is the destination at which several millions of people have arrived. Why do you suppose that is? It is because alcohol is promoted and elevated as a normal/sophisticated activity in life…. It is also expensive, addictive and enslaving. People get hooked by America’s number one legal drug. And just like all illegal drugs, alcohol finds it way into the body, the bloodstream and the brain of the user/abuser.
 The bolded part in particular is troubling to me, if this church is also preaching on any level the truth of man's depravity and inherent sinfulness.  Man absolutely starts out intending to be, if not an alcoholic, then a rebel sinner of some kind.  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"  We have taken alcoholism out as some kind of uber-sin, but I would like to ask the pastors of this church a question: how many people in your church have families falling apart because the husband is obsessed with his job, to the detriment of his marriage and his children?  How many have women obsessed with, say, the desire to have and raise children, beyond the actual desire to be content and obedient to God's will for their lives?  How many kids in your congregation wile away hour after hour wasted in the great god Entertainment?  "Well, none of those things kill people!" is the common response.  On the contrary, a man who dies enthralled with any god other than the one true God is just as dead.  But we don't tell our people to quit their jobs, to avoid having children, to reject all forms of entertainment.  I would argue that you could say all this and a good deal more about one of the most destructive forces and addictions in our culture today: sex.  But we would certainly say that sex is something created by God, for His glory, and is properly enjoyed within the bounds He established for it. 

Scripture calls us to worship God in all things; the joy we find in the world is not for its own sake, but rather is to point to the Author of that joy.  God has established the boundaries for all things, and in all things we are supposed to worship Him.  Happiness and pleasure in this world is bittersweet in a way; because it is wonderful, it is fleeting, yet it also is a taste of the eternal joy of being in Christ's presence.  When anything--including alcohol--becomes central, when we try to take something intended to give only a shadow of true joy and instead make it ultimate, we are worshiping an idol and not the true God.  On this, I think there would be no disagreement.  Where there is going to be disagreement is on this idea that alcohol is this cursed thing, irredeemable, serving no good purpose.  American evangelicalism with its roots in the traditions of the temperance movement of the late 1800s/early 1900s, has found a hobgoblin in "the bottle," but I reject that claim, and raise my glass to the Creator of the grape and grain and hops and the fermentation process and the true King of all things.

Cheers! and Amen!

Beer. Bacon. Battlestar Galactica