The Alcohol Question
NCW 14, December 1994
Q. As I understand the position of the New Covenant Church, you argue that Christians should not drink alcohol because they are now a Royal Priesthood (1 Pet.2:5), and since the Levitical Priesthood was forbidden alcohol, so also should the Christian Priesthood of all believers. You also say that even if there was no direct Priesthood ban we ought to abstain in order to set a good example and so as not to lay temptation before, say, former alcoholics, for whom a single glass of wine might make them fall back into alcoholism. You also say that wine may be drunk for purely medicinal purposes, as Paul recommended Timothy (who has stomach problems) (1 Tim.5:23) if no other medical course of action is possible. You also claim to be Christian Rechabites who set such a good example in the Old Covenant and who obtained divine commendation through the prophet Jeremiah (Jer.35). We know that the scriptures repeatedly say that alcohol is dangerous because it leads to violent behaviour, disorder, etc. (e.g. Prov.20:1; 31:5). I think almost every Christian would agree that drinking to excess is forbidden in the Scriptures. But can you point to any scripture which actually says that drinking in moderation is bad or unspiritual?
Yes. Paul writes to the Ephesians: "Do not get drunk on wine...instead, be filled with the Spirit" (Eph.5:18, NIV). The Greek present tense is here used to indicate that the filling of the Spirit is not a "once-for all" experience, like one's initial rebirth in Christ, but something we must continually do. It is contrasted with drinking and getting drunk. Paul is saying: "Don't fill yourself with alcohol -- fill yourself with the Holy Spirit." The two are mutually exclusive. You cannot be full of alcohol and be full of the Holy Spirit. What is the opposite of full? Empty! To be full of the Spirit is to be "empty" of alcohol, in other words, teetotal!
We learn many interesting things about the spiritual life from this passage, in fact. For one, we understand that we can drink a little alcohol and still enjoy a measure of the Spirit, but not the fullness. A little alcohol may not lead to debauchery (v.18) but it will certainly work against the Spirit.
We also learn that there are different degrees of the spiritual life. It is not just a question of having, or not having, the Spirit -- it is a question of having the Spirit 100%, 90%, 20%, or not at all. The fact that the Spirit is contrasted with a powerful fluid that alters our state of conscience is no accident, for the Holy Spirit similarly alters our state of consciousness in proportion to the amount we possess.
From this we learn that the Holy Spirit is not only a Person (the third Person of the Godhead) but also a power or an influence that in some way can be compared to a liquid. As alcohol brings "joy" to the fleshy or carnal man, so the Holy Spirit brings joy to the spiritual man. Paul, throughout his letters, insists that the flesh and the spirit are incompatible -- not partially, but totally. He tells us to crucify the natural man (lower nature) in Christ and to take upon ourselves the spiritual man (higher nature).
Alcohol is therefore seen to be a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. Is it any wonder that almost all religions use it to induce altered states of consciousness in people? But true Christians need no such stimulants for they possess that which satisfies every need, the veritable presence of God through His Spirit.
Alcohol is a drug like nicotine in tobacco, caffeine in tea and coffee, heroin, cocaine, and other stimulant chemicals. Statistics show that it is responsible for much of the crime that infests our cities. It breaks up marriages and homes, is responsible for homicides, and many other maladies. It is the choice stimulant of the wicked and immoral. The body regards it as a toxin (poison). Excess destroys the liver. Common sense alone should tell us that it should be avoided. Poisonous snakes are usually harmless if handled correctly, but why take the risk in the first place? Is alcohol actually necessary for a joyful and satisfying life? The answer is NO, just as tea and coffee were not "needful" before they became popular, just as tobacco was not "needful", and a host of other stimulants. The desire for alcohol, even in moderation, is a desire stemming from the natural man, not the spiritual. So why should a Christian flirt with temptation?
Paul wisely tells us to avoid even a hint of immorality (Eph.5:3), so why not take the same approach to harmful substances like alcohol? I do not condemn unbelievers for drinking alcohol in moderation -- that is none of my business, so long as their drinking does not harm anyone or is not antisocial. But I don't keep alcohol in my house, either for myself or for unbelieving friends who do drink, for such would "hint" at something which does not, in fact, occur in my home.
One final point: those Christians who justify drinking in moderation are of two types: the first quote Paul to Timothy but ignore the fact that alcohol consumption was only recommended for medicinal reasons -- they drink purely for pleasure; and the second say that the law has been done away with so Christians are free to do what they want to (see our many articles on the Law in rebuttal of this heretical doctrine). In the light of what the scriptures say overall, they are without excuse.
For further in formation, see Is Alcohol Consumption a Sin?
This page was created on 24 April 1998
Last updated on 24 April 1998
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