Yes, my title is unnecessarily controversial (and overstated), but that means more people will read what I think is a somewhat important issue. So let’s get onto the meat of things.
“It’s a Not-Sin”
“It’s not necessarily a sin to drink, but it’s really unwise and dangerous and nobody should actually do it.”
You probably haven’t heard that exact statement, but the sentiment is really common among evangelical Christians. A great number would deny that drinking alcohol is truly a sin in itself (though getting drunk is), but still consider as though it kind of basically is anyway.
This path, I believe, is not wise.
To address this, I will first give the arguments for this a proper switching as they deserve, and then go on to summarize why I think otherwise.
“Drinking easily leads to drunkenness and trouble”
We agree that drunkenness is sinful (Eph. 5:18). Nonetheless, this does not rule out light drinking. As a parallel, eating quite often lends itself to gluttony. Have you ever heard of Golden Corral? Like drunkenness, gluttony is mentioned in Scripture as sin, has harmful physical effects, and can seriously damage people’s lives. Obesity is, according to many people, a growing problem in America. Both eating and drinking can hurt people very seriously in excess, but that do not make them bad in themselves. Indeed, nearly anything can be bad in excess.
This being said, people who know they will not drink for long before succumbing to the effects of alcohol are best to strictly limit themselves, or abstain altogether. It is good to be cautious and prudent in these matters.
“Although Jesus drank ‘wine,’ the wine is His day wasn’t very (or perhaps at all) alcoholic”
I have heard this from numerous Christians, and it is simply false. The evidence is severely lacking. This was a time when the Romans would speak of wine which can hold a flame, where Jewish weddings would serve poor wine after everyone was drunk from the good wine, and when water was often too dirty to drink without alcohol mixed in. Jesus was accused of being a drunkard, which would make no sense if He never drank anything with substantial alcohol content. Basically, this whole idea is bogus. For more on why this is the case, I refer you to Bible.org’s post on this.
“Alcohol is addictive”
This does not affect all people, or even most people, normally. Hundreds of millions of people drink regularly or occasionally without being addicted. Also, if things which can be addictive should be avoided so strongly, I suggest removing the Internet, television, sex, and The Legend of Zelda from society.
“Drinking can cause other believers to stumble”
Firstly, there is a lot of confusion of what it means to cause someone to stumble. It does not mean to offend them or confuse them. It means to lead them to sin, especially by violating their own conscience. Paul used the term mostly when discussing “weaker brothers” who thought of certain things as sinful when they were not really. To cause a believer to stumble by drinking would be this: to lead someone who is convicted that drinking is all sinful to drink anyway and disregard conscience by your example or persuasion. This is not usually what people mean when they argue that drinking causes others to stumble.
Moreover, we must recognize that these “weaker brothers” are not expected to stay weak, but to mature. They are supposed to grow up and finally take hold of their liberty in Christ.
“Being seen drinking can hurt your witness”
I dislike arguments that are all about appearances, but this one doesn’t quite hold up, anyway. The majority of people in the world recognize that drinking alcohol without getting drunk or crazy is a normal part of like, something that millions of people can and do engage in every day. If they see you drinking, their thoughts aren’t going to be, “Wow, that guy is a Christian but is really immoral. Hypocrite.” At worst, they’re likely to think, “Hey, aren’t Christians not allowed to drink alcohol?” Of course, addressing this question would then provide an opportunity to fix that misconception and promote a Biblical worldview of the goodness of creation and freedom in Christ.
“The Bible warns strongly against drinking”
This is the only argument that I think has any strength, but even it falters. The strongest (and one of the few) passage in Scripture which speaks ill of alcohol is probably Proverbs 23:25-29. I shall quote it here:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has conflicts? Who has complaints?
Who has wounds for no reason?
Who has red eyes?
Those who linger over wine,
those who go looking for mixed wine.
Don’t gaze at wine because it is red,
when it gleams in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a snake
and stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and you will say absurd things.
You’ll be like someone sleeping out at sea
or lying down on the top of a ship’s mast.
“They struck me, but I feel no pain!
They beat me, but I didn’t know it!
When will I wake up?
I’ll look for another drink.”
I feel as though this should not be too much of a stretch to say that this warns against alcoholism, not drinking alcohol in general. “Those who linger over wine, those who go looking for mixed wine” sounds like alcoholics. People who wake up with bruises they don’t remember and then go straight for more alcohol are drunkards, not people who drink responsibly.
“Drinking is just conforming to the world”
This is a funny one, because people who use it rarely explain why makes drinking alcohol into any more of a conformity issue than, say, stuffing yourself at Golden Corral or watching Breaking Bad (or, less controversially, Once Upon a Time). Obviously, as part of the same general society, we will do certain things in common with unbelievers. The question is whether God has revealed that we should be different on a particular point, which the Scripture does not support for teetotaling.
God Saw that It Was Good
Having addressed briefly the main arguments against drinking alcohol for believers, I would like to summarize my case for why drinking is perfectly acceptable. Basically, alcohol is a product of creation which is God’s gift. Like blackberries, sunsets, and puppies, it is part of a good creation and given for our enjoyment. This is a historically Christian view on the subject. In fact, prior to American history, drinking was never a serious question in the Church. Even now, basically Baptists, Pentecostals, and a couple other evangelical groups are the only places where drinking gets much of a bad rap. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox, and even more groups use wine for Communion. Jesus and the Apostles even used wine for Communion! All of this tradition has been based on the belief that wine, like a good burger, is a gift of God in creation.
The more pressing issue, though, and the one for which I named this post, is pseudo-legalism. Instead of, like the legalist, imposing strict rules which Christians must follow, we often still don’t trust people to live in the freedom of the Gospel, and so create our own not-rules based on “okay, good, better, and best.” This is not good, and is a dangerous practice whereby people fall into the trap of judgmentalism and real legalism. So be careful. Don’t create a new law by giving 1000 reasons not to do X, Y, and Z. And finally, here are some concluding Scriptures:
You may spend the money on anything you want: cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or anything you desire. You are to feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice with your family.
He causes grass to grow for the livestock
and provides crops for man to cultivate,
producing food from the earth,
wine that makes man’s heart glad—
making his face shine with oil—
and bread that sustains man’s heart.
How lovely and beautiful they will be!
Grain will make the young men flourish,
and new wine, the young women.
For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.
1 Timothy 4:4
Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
1 Timothy 5:23