Monday, July 9, 2012

The Christian and Alcohol

Alcohol (and the consumption thereof) is a major point of division amongst Evangelical Christians.

Over the past few years, as I have deliberated about alcohol (and the consumption thereof), and as I have talked with Christian peers, I have noticed an interesting trend. Specifically, those raised in “Christian” families tend to express their “freedom in Christ” and their desire to “redeem” alcohol, whereas those raised in secular families seem to be more wary (of course, no specific quantitative study was completed for verification – rather, this is simply a general observation).

For instance, my parents and I disagree on alcohol (and the consumption thereof).

My parents, raised in what I will simply term “non-Evangelical families,” had the difficult task of not only working out their own salvation, but also pointing our family to King Jesus. Part of this task included the decision to be completely abstinent from alcohol (as opposed to their pre-conversion lifestyles); therefore, we did not have alcohol in our home, nor have I ever seen my parents consume alcohol. To be sure, I owe much to my parents for praying, struggling, guiding, and disciplining me throughout my upbringing. And yet, as I enter adulthood, as I attempt to “make my faith my own,” I have come to disagree with them on this point of Christian praxis.

Several years ago, my family was sitting around a campfire and the topic of alcohol came up. Sparing you the details, my mother indicated that the main problem with Christians consuming alcohol is that you do not want to be liable for causing a brother or sister in Christ to stumble.

I have heard this argument before. I am sure you have too.

In fact, this argument left me so uneasy that I decided to write my seminary capstone paper around this issue.

My conclusion?

Paul’s point in Romans 14 – 15 is that if you are less scrupulous you ought not persuade your more scrupulous brother into doing something outside of his faith context. Conversely, if you are more scrupulous you ought not judge the less scrupulous for being such.

In other words, if you believe you can drink alcohol to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31), please do not attempt to persuade your brother into also drinking alcohol if it is outside of his faith context. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom 14:23). Conversely, if drinking alcohol makes you operate outside of your faith context, then simply do not drink alcohol. However, remember that it is not your place to scornfully judge your brother (not least his Christian status) for the freedom he experiences. God is our judge, and we will all give an account before him (Rom 14:4, 12).

With that said, a few ruminations on alcohol:

First, alcohol (i.e., the substance) is not sinful.

Second, I am convinced that drinking alcohol is also not sinful. For clarity’s sake, “drinking” alcohol is quite different than being “drunk” on alcohol. This is a distinction that needs to be made.

Therefore, what can be sinful is the heart attitude behind this action (or inaction).

In short, do not persuade when you should not, and do not judge when you should not.

P.S. If you are interested in reading my paper in full, you can email me at to request a copy.

P.S.S. Preston Sprinkle has a couple of interesting blog posts about alcohol.


  1. Agreed! As one who takes the same view as yourself, I would add one thing, which you may have mentioned in your paper. If you know a fellow believer has a problem with alcohol and others consuming it, don't drink in front of them out of respect. It's a pretty simple concept I'd say. Good post Dan!

    1. I agree...I think you make great points. I was not raised in a Christian home, so when I got saved my senior year, it was important to abstain from it as I began trying to point my family towards Christ. I experienced what alcohol does to me and it was not something I felt I should be doing and it is something I will always abstain from...just from personal conviction. However, if someone chooses to consume, but not get drunk, that is their choice and we have no place to judge. This (family situation growing up) is what I have been saying all along...and although you said there was no study, I think that is exactly the reason why some Christians feel it is okay and others do not.

    2. I agree that you can abstain from your freedom for the sake of the more scrupulous individual, but I don't think that is within the purview of this text. As a general rule of thumb, though, I don't think it would hurt :)

  2. I have struggled with the idea of being liable for my brother or sister to stumble as well. One reason I struggle with this idea is because I don’t feel like I should have to cater to the lack of freedom another Christian experiences. It is to say, “I am free in Christ, but I am bound by my brother.” Whenever I say something like this I know I need to be careful about “what I think” compared to “what God says.” Is that really what this text means? Should I be perpetually worried about whether or not some other believer experiences the same amount of freedom as I do? I agree when you say Christians shouldn’t try to persuade someone into doing something outside of their faith context. But unless I missed it, I did not hear you answer the most pressing question on my mind. Does this mean I shouldn’t drink, dance, listen to secular music, watch a movie, read a non-Christian author, or do (whatever issue) in front of them? Is displaying my freedom in Christ (in whatever issue) in front of them sinful?

    1. The question was answered subtly. Based on this text, sin is committed when operating outside of the faith context. So for the less scrupulous, you are not necessarily sinning by drinking alcohol in front of a more scrupulous individual, but you are sinning (and leading the more scrupulous individual to destruction) by your persuasion that they are being too scrupulous. As Ryan stated above, it might be best to simply abstain to honor their convictions, all the while recognizing that it is ultimately up to them to operate within their own faith context. In other words, don't persuade them to embrace the same freedoms you have and you are not going to lead them to destruction. Conversely, for the more scrupulous individual, if it is outside of your faith context to partake in drinking alcohol, dancing, or listening to secular music then you should certainly abstain, but it is not the place of the more scrupulous individual to "judge" the less scrupulous individual regarding their freedom.

  3. I agree with your comments and conclusions. I think this begs the question: "What does it mean to be drunk?" Is drunkenness simply an altered state of mind? Is it a loss of one's faculties? Is it the sinful actions produced by an altered state of mind? Or is it some combination of these or perhaps something different? I'm a huge advocate for knowing one's own limits and utilizing wisdom and one's surrounding community in order to navigate each situation. I'm also very interested in what other implications this would have on one's own view of and use of other mind altering drugs for a Christian. If there can be a "good" use of alcohol, then is it possible to allow room for a "good" use of drugs (marijuana, ecstacy, etc.)? If so, what sort of criteria do we use to evaluate which drugs are "fine" and why they are so? Hope this sparks some conversation. I know I have some opinions on this matter, but I'm on my phone and this is taking entirely way too long to type.

    1. I vaguely remember that conversation we had (specifically as it relates to other recreational drugs). Good subject to dwell on! Good to hear from you!