Abstinence from Alcohol a Matter of Self-Denial
First, let it be said that our church’s rule on total abstinence from alcohol does not force anyone’s conscience to participate in what is contrary to the will of God. To insist that all participate in drinking alcohol would be ‘forcing’ people to act against conscience. Our church’s policy does the very opposite. Our church requires a voluntary self-denial to abstain from alcohol for the good of the church and of society.
Does the church have the right to call its membership to this standard?
This is an important question because there is a strong movement that argues for the Christian’s liberty in any matter that is not related to salvation.
In answer to this there are many good arguments for the church's right to rule on a matter that is not imperative to salvation, or on things that are extra Biblical.
For example, creeds are themselves extra Biblical. They are interpretations of Scripture with settled positions on theological doctrines and controversies. These are considered acceptable and essential in all reformed churches.
How can Protestant bodies that claim Sola Scriptura justify such bold action?
The answer is given in the Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. 1:6: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture . . .” however “ there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church common to human actions and societies which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”
We see this at work in the Jerusalem council made up of apostles and elders who made decrees about meats offered to idols, eating of blood and things strangled (Acts 15:29). These were dietary restrictions practiced by Jews, which Gentile converts to Christianity were also to obey (Acts 16:4). These decrees were made as a concession to the conscience of others.
God commended those who refrained from alcohol!
• The Nazarites Numbers 6.
• The Rechabites Jer. 35
• John the Baptist touched neither wine nor strong drink. John 1:35.
• Timothy was advised to take a little wine for his stomach's sake - medicinal use. This would indicate that he did not take wine on a regular basis.
The Principle of Self-Denial
We have seen the self-denial principle at work in Acts 15 in the circumcision debate which took place in Jerusalem.
In agreement with that earlier practice, Paul the apostle taught that the strong Christian is to deny himself in consideration of the weaker brother (Rom. 14:7, 13–17, 21).
The weak person here is the one who cannot exercise freedom, or is unaware of his freedom, to eat certain meats because of their association with idol worship. He sees the pollution of idolatry in every piece of meat and in the use of the wine. Therefore, he feels convicted of wrong doing by participating in it and is offended when his brothers and sisters dare eat or drink of it.
The apostle points out the responsibility of those who believe they may exercise their right to eat and drink. They are to abstain due to the offence their eating will cause to the weaker saint and the harm it will do to the life of the church.
A Christian’s personal sense of liberty in this matter must not be exercised while others are offended. We may become guilty of wounding a “weak conscience” and thereby offend Christ (1Cor. 8:11-12).
Paul the apostle declared his personal commitment to this need for self-denial while the occasion of offence remained in the world (1Cor 8:13). There is still tension today among Christians over alcohol consumption as we witness its harm within society and its harm to the individual Christian’s testimony. Thus there is still the need for this commitment in the world.
In his letter to the Corinthians (1Cor. 10:31–33) Paul the apostle saw the need to be sensitive to another person’s conscience. As he exhorted all his readers in his letter to the Corinthians, this applies to all Christians.
His reasons are solidly laid out:
• We may be evil spoken of. 1Cor. 10:30
• We should do all to the glory of God. V31
• Christians need to think of the whole church when they practice things that may offend. V 32
• The salvation and welfare of souls is much more important than personal liberty to enjoy what could be rationalized as legitimate.
Is the use of alcohol acceptable practice for a Christian?
There are many warning passages in the Bible.
Noah’s drunkenness was due to his wine drinking. Genesis 9 This led to fornication and a curse on the house of Canaan.
Lot’s drunkenness led to incest with his daughters. Genesis 19.
God’s warning to Aaron: Lev_10:9 Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations:
This came after the sudden slaying of Aaron’s sons, Dathan and Abiram, when they offered strange fire before the Lord. They must have been under the influence of such drink when they sinned against the Lord.
Nabal the fool was drunken when David approached him and his drinking cost him his life. 1Samuel 25.
God warns us to avoid wine and strong drink in the book of Proverbs
Pro_20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
Pro_21:17 He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.
Pro_23:30 They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.
Pro_23:31 Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.
Pro_31:4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:
This proverb shows that leaders ought to abstain from the influence of alcohol.
Pro_31:6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.
Drunkenness is Sinful
Eph. 5:18 “Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit.”
Drunkenness may not be tolerated
The elder (Titus 1:7) and the deacon (1Tim. 3:8) is to control his drinking of wine. ‘Not given to much wine.”
Why do those who drink alcohol cause offence?
Albert Barnes commenting on Paul’s statement, “Nor to drink wine” (Romans 14:21) wrote: “Wine was a common drink among the Jews, and usually esteemed lawful. But the Nazarites were not allowed to drink it (Num_6:3), and the Rechabites (Jer. 35) drank no wine, and it is possible that some of the early converts regarded it as unlawful for Christians to drink it. Wine was moreover used in libations in pagan worship, and perhaps the Jewish converts might be scrupulous about its use from this cause.
The caution here shows us what should be done “now” in regard to the use of wine. It may not be possible to prove that wine is absolutely unlawful, but still many friends of “temperance” regard it as such, and are grieved at its use. They esteem the habit of using it as tending to intemperance, and as encouraging those who cannot afford expensive liquors. Besides, the wines which are now used are different from those which were common among the ancients. That was the pure juice of the grape. That which is now in common use is mingled with alcohol, and with other intoxicating ingredients. Little or none of the wine which comes to this country is pure. And in this state of the case, does not the command of the apostle here require the friends of temperance to abstain even from the use of wine?”
We will not end the controversy over the use of alcohol and the liberty some believe they may exercise. Much of the controversy surrounds whether the wine spoken of in the Bible was always alcoholic or if it was the pure juice of the grape. Much has been written about it and much has been debated, still Christians are divided over the matter.
As a church we believe that it is right to exercise self-denial on this matter while the controversy continues and while there is such carnage through the abuse of alcohol in so many countries around the world. This is not a cultural issue. It is not an academic issue solely, but a love issue for our brethren and the many who have suffered, or may yet fall into the curse that alcohol so often holds over homes and families.
A "no regret" policy. When we stand before the Lord, we will have no regrets for taking an abstinence position. We may wish the church had been free to do more to stem the debauchery that alcohol has brought upon this fallen world. A world where sinners resort to the false hopes of wine and strong drink rather than the gospel for satisfaction in Christ. Let us enjoy the Lord’s grace to the full, while we deny ourselves what destroys so many souls around us.