Thursday, August 18, 2011

Should a Pastor Drink Alcohol?

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The idea of a pastor bringing booze into the context of ministry is believed by some to better enable the pastor to reach more people for Christ.

Some, often referred to as the "Young, Restless and Reformed" clergy, argue that "most good theological discussion has historically been done in pubs and drinking places."

But is mixing booze with ministry necessary to reach people who are in need?

By drinking alcohol does a pastor become more relevant? Will he or she have a greater impact with those searching for answers in their life?

A recent survey found that 40% of evangelical leaders said they "socially drink alcohol".

Gary Benedict, president of the Christian Missionary Alliance denomination, weighs in on the subject, as does Jeff Farmer of the Open Bible denomination, Leith Anderson, president of the nearly 40 million member National Association of Evangelicals and mega church pastor John MacArthur.

Is the evangelical church stumbling in their rush to relevance?

While the Lifeway poll found that 40%, or 2 in 5 evangelical leaders drink alcohol, they also found that 90% of clergy believe a Christian drinking alcohol could cause other believers to stumble or to be confused.

At best it may be a matter of confusion. If 9 out of 10 Christian leaders believe it may cause a Christian brother or sister to stumble if leadership drinks alcohol, why do 2 in 5 do so?

Do they not care? Are they confused about their responsibility as clergy? Have they not read Paul's teaching in regard to causing someone to stumble?

Is it a spirit of rebellion? If so, against whom or what?

Much has been said and written about a new book by Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Mich. in which Bell, a leader in the Emerging Church movement, says that ultimately God will not allow anyone to go to hell, because love will win out, thus revising accepted evangelical theology.

It seems the Emerging Church movement puts more importance on "relevance" than accuracy of biblical doctrine, responsibility and wisdom.

But what about beer and the Bible?

Gary Benedict of the Christian Missionary Alliance denomination says, "Even though there is no prohibition on the moderate drinking of alcohol consumption in Scripture, due to the many implications as an example to family and those I serve, I like Paul's words,'it is better not to' ."

Jeff Farmer, head of the Open Bible denomination says, "While we understand one cannot defend [abstinence from alcohol] biblically, we have chosen to raise the standard for leadership in our movement."

Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals said, "Alcohol and its effects have been a major challenge in American society. Just as society has dealt with it, as evidenced in the 18th and 21st amendments, so have evangelicals looked at how to appropriately instruct about alcohol."

He is typically saying nothing or "some of my friends are for it and some of my friends are against it and I'm with my friends."

The NAE was born out of, among other things, resistance to the abuse of alcohol.

However, mega church pastor and author John MacArthur is not ambivalent about the issue.

MacArthur recently wrote in his blog, "It is puerile and irresponsible for any pastor to encourage the recreational use of intoxicants---especially in church sponsored activities."

He says, "Beer-loving passion has become a prominent badge of identity" for many young pastors in the "Young, Restless and Reformed community."

MacArthur says, "Mixing booze with the ministry is often touted as a necessary means of penetrating western youth culture," while abstinence is "deemed 'sin' to be repented of."

He asks, "Does the church want to be known for these things?"

Putting it bluntly, MacArthur, who has ministered to hundreds of former alcohol addicts, called pub outreaches and the like "bad missional strategy" and a "bad testimony."

"It is wrong-headed, carnal and immature to imagine that bad-boy behavior makes a good missional strategy," he said.

MacArthur told pastors in regard to drinking alcohol, "It's not about stealing joy; it's about promoting pastoral wisdom and compassion for people. Church leaders must consider the consequences of what they approve and promote."

I agree.

What do you think?

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  1. We Christians have long been so indulged in God's love we have forgotten that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". And we demand the love from God while forgetting our love for others -- sacrifing our carnal pleasures for the good of others.

    Elk Grove, CA

  2. I am really confused by this. Moderate use of alcohol is, as you rightly say, not prohibited in Scripture. Why then do Evangelicals create a "man made" prohibition? Having a glass of wine causes someone to stumble in believing in the Gospel - the very Gospel where the Lord Himself turned water into "the best" wine? Meanwhile there is virtual silence from the Evangelical clergy about their flocks grasping control of their fertility from God by using artificial birth control and abortifacients, and engaging in sterilization and divorce and remarriage, things mentioned directly and indirectly in Scripture as offensive to Almighty God. I don't mean to sound flippant, it really does not make sense to this Catholic.

    1. I am with you my dear Catholic friend.

    2. I agree with you my dear Catholic friend. Very good reply.

  3. Hmmm. This is quite controversial. I must admit that I enjoy a glass of wine a few times a year when I'm out to dinner with a few close friends, who are also believers. On a regular basis, no, nor do I imbibe if I'm with unbelievers just for the reason stated in the article. Perhaps one day I will be lead to not even have a glass of wine twice a year!

    Of course, I'm not a Pastor or Priest, who are and should be held to far greater and higher standards as far as setting examples.

    I wonder if Jesus and the Apostles drank wine at the Cana wedding and at feast times. Apparently it was not such an issue in those days, as we're told "not to be drunk with wine, in which there is dissipation; but, be filled with the Spirit..." Eph. 5:18

    I think getting drunk is a real problem and believe that drinking to that extent is immoral and against our Christian beliefs. I totally and completely DISAGREE with the Emerging Church Movement.

  4. This was supposed to be a link to the Patty Murray story. What happened?

  5. My own church (Catholic) has a very successful program for college-age and young adults called "Theology on Tap," that meets in taverns to discuss matters of faith.

    However, alcohol has been a part of Catholic culture all along; we have no particular scruples about it. The fact that these guys' churches do have scruples about alcohol is precisely why they're using it as they are: to show how edgy and hip they can be. Christianity is quite edgy enough without these pastors inflating its appeal artificially.

    MacArthur is right: it's puerile.

  6. anon 9:47 Perhaps you did not read the John MacArthur link Gary provided. MacArthur addressed your question about Jesus turning water into wine in the linked article. I believe Gary and MacArthur are making the point of wisdom and responsibility of clergy, not necessarily congrgants.
    Yes, the clergy is often silent on the most important moral issues of our time. That's why I read this blog every day. Thanks Gary.

  7. one of the problems we have in the christian church is a societal one. it's all about me. great post gary. thanks.

  8. There's an old saying: "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."

    Those who don't see total abstinence from alcohol taught in God's Word don't want to see it, for whatever reason. My personal study of Scripture, along with many others who have studied it, find total abstinence to be a clearly taught doctrine. The evidence is really overwhelming. At least Dr. MacArthur came to the right conclusion, though his "Beer" article left a little wiggle room for allowing social drinking.

  9. Pastors should drink less alcohol and spend more time rescuing people who are lost by sharing the gospel with them instead of drinking beer with them.

  10. Great article. Thanks.

  11. The Lord asked me, in prayer and reading the Bible to stop drinking. I drank an occassional glass of wine with my dinner. The Lord spoke to me one day while i was in prayer, interceeding for Salvation for my Dad- who did really drink at the time. The Lord said basically this: "Look! You are coming in here, before My Throne, making requests for Me to help your Dad, and to help him stop drinking. The accuser of the brethren, [the devil] accuses saying 'SHE DRINKS!!!! SHE DOES THE SAME!!!!'" So The Lord asked me to stop drinking so my intercession would not be weakened. He said "Your Authority before My Throne......"
    There is also a verse in the Bible, that I am trying to find, that says drinking or rather not drinking has a mark of maturity. And with the lives I have seen destroyed for heavy alcohol, I do not see how a little bit of 'poison' makes sence..... why take a little of something potentially destructive.
    Finally my mother used to say: "Don't drink alone and don't drink when you are down and out. Alcohol is a depressant." A college roommate I had was a 4.0 Electrical engineering student, she was brilliant, and would drink a glass with dinner to 'unwind'. This was her first apartment. Two quarters later I noticed the one glass was turning into 2-3 and the one box of wine was turning into more than 1-2 a week. I confronted her[lovingly], sharing with her what my mother had told me. She tried to dismiss me. [she was a church goer.] when I had her look at the slow increase in amount her mouth dropped open with realization. "I starts small. Stop it while it is small." She made a few phone calls and threw the box of wine, in the refridgerator, out immediately. I didn't see another box.
    Lastly. [i should be a preacher lol] Phycologically drinking, or using drinking to cope takes the edge off of a persons productivity over time and I have seen this cause people to miss the windows of opportunity, and life transitions..... I read an article recently that said drugs, such as antidepressants, may not allow a person to FACE LOSS, GRIEVE adequately, WORK THROUGH ISSUES AND FACE LIFE CHANGES IN A WAY THAT ALLOWS THEM TO MOVE ON IN THEIR LIFE. I have seen this. Problems they had before they drank are still there and are never really dealt with by finding solutions. Decisions are not made and indecision sets a non-course for what could otherwise be a very fruitful life lived with no regret.

    No. Please do not bring alcohol into the pulpit. Teach people to BE OVERCOMERS.

    1. So is a glass of wine with dinner the same as a drinking problem that needs to be stopped lest harm to self or others is the result? How many of us on a jury would say that a glass of wine occasionally is a drinking problem, or the same thing as a drinking problem?

      Are we not called to judge righteous judgments?

      Now I'm sure it depend on how large a glass of wine, but if it's an amount that doesn't affect one's judgment or impair one in any way, what's the difference? If it's just enough to loosen up the blood vessels a bit it's healthy.

      If a person drinks just a bit occasionally for that health benefit, and also notices a bit of relaxation, does this mean he "uses" alcohol in a bad way?
      I don't think so.

      A pastor might be called upon at any time for ministry. I don't believe he should ever need to drink more than a small glass of wine or something similar. If you feel it affect you in any way other than a bit of relaxation, it's more than you need, seems to me, and is likely too much.

      We don't want our judgment impaired in any way at any time. That should be basic. I don't believe one needs to drink that amount to get real health benefit from just a little, but if the Lord wants someone to not drink at all, then that is the thing for them to do, but that doesn't mean it applies to everyone else.

  12. Obviously this is silly - scripture talks about the use of alcohol as a very natural experience - I won't bore you the obvious texts you already know - but add one that you may not - Deut 14:26 and thou shalt bestow the money for whatsoever thy soul desireth, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul asketh of thee; and thou shalt eat there before Jehovah thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou and thy household.

    It is obvious that this silly notion of not drinking (or whatever else soul asketh of thee) is of a Phariseeical phoney religious spirit.

    On the other hand, if you drink "to be relevant" that is also silly. However, I don't think that is why the vast majority of disciples drink - the notion that they do is a red herring.

    Scriputure is clear - all things are lawful, we will not be brought under the power of any. There is nothing better than a high quality Northwest micro-brew under various circumstances including a good workout. Anyone who raises up scripture to support prohibition is not raising up scripture but their own personal religious predilection - shame on you for doing so!.

    Enjoying God's best in Seattle

  13. I agree with your post. Too many believers are caving in on the issue of drugs and alcohol.

    The Bible directly speaks against alcohol. Proverbs 20:1 calls it a mocker and raging. Proverbs 23 describes alcoholic wine in detail and says don’t even look at it.

    1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 as well as other passages tell us to be sober. The word for sober (GK - nepho) literally means “wineless.” Pastors are told to be “wineless” as well as not to even be around wine.

    In addition, biblical principles condemn wine and other recreational drugs.

    If that is not enough, common sense should tell everyone, and especially pastors, to have nothing to do with alcohol.
    David R. Brumbelow

  14. One other comment, if I may, on Deuteronomy 14:26. Moderate drinkers seem to ignore plain Scriptures that speak directly against alcohol, while glorying in this obscure verse that only mentions wine and similar drink (shekar, also translated strong drink) in passing.

    Many authorities theorize that shekar always means an alcoholic drink. But significant authorities disagree; they believe, like wine, shekar could refer either to an alcoholic, or a nonalcoholic drink made from fruit other than grapes.

    The NKJV translates shekar here as “similar drink.”

    “It is tolerably clear that the general words ‘wine [yayin; oinos]’ and ‘strong drink [shekar]’ do not necessarily imply fermented liquors, the former signifying only a production of the vine, the latter the produce of other fruits than the grape.” -Dr. Lyman Abbott, A Dictionary of Religious Knowledge,

    Shekar - “Sweet drink (what satiates or intoxicates).” -Dr. Robert Young, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, Eerdmans, 1970.

    “Not only the word yayin, but also shekar can refer to grape juice as well as to wine (cf. Deuteronomy 29:6; Numbers 28:7; Exodus 29:40).” -Dr. Robert P. Teachout in his doctoral dissertation on The Use of Wine in the Old Testament, 1979, Dallas Theological Seminary.

    It is also interesting that we get our English words sugar, saccharine, cider from the Hebrew word shekar. These words allude to a root meaning of sweet, rather than alcoholic. Also, cider can mean alcoholic, or nonalcoholic apple juice, just like the original word shekar.
    David R. Brumbelow

  15. Thank you David, that was very informative.

    Craig in Lacey

  16. I am a pastor of a very conservative bible believing denomination and I enjoy beer and wine. They are not abused, rather they are received with thanks and glory to God.

    People make terrible Holy Spirits in other people's lives. I know the scripture and all the teachings both pro and con on alcohol.

    John the Baptist didn't drink and he was criticized, Jesus drank and was criticized. I don't care what so called big name Christian leaders say. I care only what the scriptures say and how in grace the Holy Spirit works my life.

    Don't go beyond what is written in the scripture. Treat alcohol with the grace that God gives concerning it. There are millions of pastors, missionaries, and christian workers that drink alcohol.

    Leave that between them and God. That is what the bible does.It is time to get real and away from the vestiges of the so called "prohibition era".

  17. I wonder if God had certain prohibitionists view of alcohol in mind when he said the following,

    Deuteronomy 14:24-26 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it, or if the place is too far from you, which Jehovah your God shall choose to set His name there, when Jehovah your God has blessed you, (25) then you shall turn it into silver and bind up the silver in your hand, and shall go to the place which Jehovah your God shall choose. (26) And you shall pay that silver for whatever your soul desires, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul desires. And you shall eat there before Jehovah your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household

    God knew what was coming in the future with the creation of the "Church" and the "New Covenant". Why din't God just apply the wisdom of the prohibitionists instead of leaving it to personal faith and conscience?

    God tells us if we have faith to do a thing to have it to ourselves. We certainly aren't to offend or stumble anyone buy causing them to do something with us that is against their own conscience.

    If we aren't to do anything that offends someone then women shouldn't cut their hair, no one should wear jewelry, and we should all throw away our tv's because there are Christians who are offended by these things.

    Let's get real, the only people who are offended by Christians drinking at a meal or having a romantic glass of wine with their spouse are Christian prohibitionists. Lost people don't mind Christians drinking they just mind the hypocrits who speak against it but do it themselves. Certainly in other countries, drinking is a zero issue when it comes to offense.

    There are hundreds of thousands of teens killed in car accidents so lets change the driving requirement to 21. Movies are impacting our country in a negative way so lets outlaw movies for Christians. Materialism and fashion have penetrated the church so lets create fashion police to declare to all Christians how they should dress. Multitudes die from complications of being over weight. Thousands of Christians have eating disorders. Lets not deal with the problem, lets just make rules and declare that the only good and spiritual Christians out there are the ones who keep the rules that so called Christian spokespeople have established for us less anointed and lesser wise. God forbid that should walk in our own conscience before God. That is just too scriptural.

    Lets just apply the "rational" against any use of alcohol to all the Christian issues out there that deal with conscience. It can be done but I can tell you now to what it will lead.

    Get past the past. People aren't going to stop drinking unless God Himself puts it on their hearts by His Word and Spirit. If God doesn't put it on their hearts and they can drink in faith to the glory of God then so be it it.

    There is a whole generation out there that will not buckle to prejudiced non biblical approaches to life issues. Lets allow God to be God and not judge one another on this issue.

    1. What about the scripture on causing someone else to stumble?

  18. Joshua Pitka-- Ontario10:32 PM, February 02, 2013

    I agree with you my dear Catholic friend. Very good reply.

  19. Joseph P. Sydney, Aust.11:21 AM, June 12, 2013

    Drinking alcohol is not totally bad if you drink in moderation. Regarding Christian leaders drinking alcohol that will give negative impact to their believers, does not make sense to me because there is no such thing as perfect person only God. Catholics does not forbid drinking alcohol, even in the Bible God did not mention to forbid drinking alcohol. Only in the Christian community they had their ideal way of teaching scriptures according to their beliefs. Respecting one another belief is the best thing to do. If charge with DUI, they can ask help from DUI lawyer.

  20. If a Christian -- especially one in leadership -- participates in drinking as some sort of "badge of honor", I would reject the practice of social drinking for that one based on the fact that he is possibly promoting his identity outside the Gospel. My point is this: I would agree with MacArthur if the stated purpose of drinking for a believer is to "win the alcohol-drinking lost." That is a transparently absurd reason to drink. Many believers drink (my wife and I among them) without even the slightest thought of what a lost person thinks of it. Neither of us has ever been drunk. Yes, the believer who imbibes must exercise sensitivity in certain cases (Romans 14); however, when was the last time you heard a sermon about not serving an overly large, fat-filled meal to a grossly overweight glutton? Many believers who shout loudest about the dangers of alcohol are out of control eaters and it's hard to hide that fact based on their clearly observable size. On the other hand, normal people don't count how many drinks another person has. Drunkenness, however, is an entirely different matter and we would have reason to doubt the veracity of the Christianity of any who would excuse drunkenness based on the notion of Christian liberty.

  21. Sometimes I wonder which is worse, having occasionally drank too much, suffered the consequences and learned from it, or to go into legalism and never learn the lesson.

    Best to do nothing that causes another to stumble.
    I suppose it depends on what the consequences to the over drinking were. Some of that can take lives or cause serious injury to self or others. But if there were no serious consequences, and one learned from the lesson to not overdrink, to not drink enough for it to affect either his motor skills or his judgment, what about the consequences of legalism which is also a cause of stumbling?

  22. I know of people's lives that were changed because a group of young Christians went into lots of places, even bars and nightclubs to reach the hurting and lost, and people did come out of those places.

    These were on a one or two drink limit. That's something they put on themselves, and by two drinks, that doesn't mean two right away, or two together, or one right after another, and people knew they were not drunk.

    So were there problems associated with doing this? Yes, occasionally there were a few who were not ready to act responsibly and went over their limit, but it was very rare. The benefit far outweighed any disadvantages to drinking a bit.

    It depends on where people are at. Some people were not ready for it. The big majority were.

    Yes, I believe the Lord did sent those people into the bars and the nightclubs sometimes, though it wasn't something they always did. The bars didn't have bars for them. These people were free, truly free. Jesus freed them. They did not abuse alcohol.


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