Alcohol- Why Not?

By James E. Copple

Alcohol has become a “hot topic” in circles of faith – the absolutes about alcohol consumption that kept us sheltered in the moralistic teachings of our ancestors are all but gone or at least ridiculed, and young people ask, “why not?” Therefore, the issues and consequences of alcohol use are surfacing in strange places, like Christian college campuses; at young-adult retreats; and with an increase in Celebrate Recovery chapters, in local congregations. Campus administrators are finally admitting we may have a problem.

Alcohol advertising has a rapt, receptive audience in the millennial generation with its multimedia promises of excitement, sophistication, fun and glamour. The biblical messages about alcohol consumption are confusing at best, and the few passages that assert abstinence are often misquoted and taken out of context. Therefore, I no longer anchor arguments for or against abstinence by proof-texting scripture to support my cultural biases. Rather, I challenge the faith community to evaluate our relationship to alcohol in the context of living out the life and love of Jesus. That evaluation is personal and demands some accountability, but it is an accountability tied to our views of mercy and justice.

Force yourself to think about the following issues:

A question of justice:  The alcohol industry and the “human person”

Corporations are specific types of entities with peculiar views of the “human person.” We, the people, are a little more than a profit-driven marketing demographic, our humanity reduced to mere “consumer” and bound to corporate efforts to produce a successful brand.  Offsetting the costs of doing business is an inherent and insidious part of strategy which, in the case of alcohol, means enabling dependency; abuse of human relationships; and stratification in society. The church has historically sought to care for human relationships, the poor and the local community, so our mission as disciples must include confronting these efforts to reduce our humanity.

Advertising and the student

Corporate marketing strategies shamelessly target young people and college students for the purpose of creating replacement drinkers. Advertising is a powerful tool that affects how individuals, groups and even communities make decisions, and it has substantial influence on societal perceptions and behavior around alcohol. To make informed, healthy decisions, we must recognize the latest alcohol advertising strategies and increase alcohol-related knowledge and awareness.

Alcohol use and abuse

Each of us has had some experience with the devastating effects of alcohol- and substance-abuse and the significant, destructive challenges for individuals, families and communities, including our faith communities. We need to be aware of alcohol’s effects and learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of dependence and abuse.

Alcoholism is a disease

Dependence isn’t just a behavioral issue and must be viewed as a disease. The research is clear and shows the brain is altered and can be permanently damaged if alcohol is consumed at consistent or persistent levels. Neuroscientists have identified permanent effects of teen drinking on brain development and have confirmed that alcohol consumption retards brain growth. Further, alcohol addiction is a major contributor to heart and liver disease and a leading cause of cancer. Every alcoholic begins his or her relationship with alcohol believing he or she can handle it.

The issues around alcohol consumption are complex. Alcohol isn’t inherently evil, but one must ask if the associated social injustices and social evils can be ignored. Yes, you can be a follower of Jesus and drink. However, does a follower contribute to injustices created by an industry determined to create a steady stream of consumption and consumers? Does the follower of Jesus tolerate a disproportionate number of retail alcohol outlets in communities of poverty?  Does the follower turn a blind-eye to realities that show 80 percent of domestic-abuse and violence is a result of alcohol consumption?  Does the follower of Jesus ignore more than $185 billion in workplace productivity and absenteeism lost to alcohol use and abuse?

The questions about a relationship to alcohol are endless. If you choose to drink, and you choose to claim a relationship to Jesus Christ, then address alcohol’s relationship to the preponderance of cultural and systemic injustices found in disease, poverty and abuse.

Understanding our relationship to alcohol is challenging. For many of us, it’s cultivated by the past and experience with parents, friends and in our communities. We see the public face of alcohol in the homeless veteran sleeping on our streets. We see it in the emergency room, where a victim of an alcohol-related traffic accident fights for life. And we see it in the face of a spouse or a child recently beaten by a drunken husband or father.

These are the relationships that don’t make the glossy pages of magazine advertising; the snappy, 30-second television spot or viral YouTube campaign; or the allure portrayed in movies. The glamour suddenly disappears. Alcohol use – why not? If you are honest with yourself and the gospel you claim to live, then find an answer that is anchored in living a life of mercy and justice.>

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25 comments on “Alcohol- Why Not?

  1. Jesse C Middendorf says:

    Excellent commentary! I applaud your approach. I have reminded our people often that the best explanation regarding our traditional stance on alcohol consumption is based on our having begun as a social protest movement. Our position regarding alcohol had little to do with proof texting scriptural passages than in our deep conviction that we were called by scripture to address the systemic evils perpetrated on society by the avarice and greed of the advertisers and distributors of the products that destroy individuals, homes, communities, and if allowed to run unchecked, nations.

    Let’s get back to a reasoned response to substance abuse bars not on isolated texts, but on the whole of the Biblical witness revealed in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the Kingdom that has come. That kingdom asks us to live the alternative lifestyle demonstrated by Jesus!

  2. Harold Parry says:

    Great blog Jim. I shared it.

  3. Zach says:

    This is idiotic. You could say the same about every corporation. Do you go to McDonald? They contribute to all the obesity in the US and beyond. Eating excessively is killing more people than alcohol. I say we ban all the obese pastors. You can proof text all you want but Jesus made water into wine (and the party was finishing so you know they were all drunk. He actually made the people more drunk!)

  4. Diane Briggs says:

    Well reasoned, and well written…May God multiply its impact on individuals and the culture within and without the community of faith.

  5. You could make the same true argument for many aspects of life, sex, money, risk taking, guns, etc. God lets us take risks and make serious mistakes. If the author is trying to raise awareness of abuse and danger of alcohol well done. I believe like sex God made it to be enjoyed by those in control. For some its catastrophic. Does God give us grace to overcome and control? I say yes. Are we responsible for peoples poor choices no.

  6. W. Gary Narron says:

    I really appreciate the article and the wisdom advanced. As a pastor educated in the Nazarene educational system, I don’t reply on proof texting. We formulate doctrine with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral tool (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience).

    For those who contested this article and think they can handle/manage the disease, poverty, and abuse related affects, then good for you. I ask, however, how do you know your own children (or other children) will be able to manage these aspects when they grow up? Have you considered your impact on those younger and so impressionable?

  7. Chip D. says:

    Typically anything that needs this much debate, discussion and justification is not usually a good thing. Paul tells us we have liberty and we can do things but those things are not necessarily beneficial, so my question is this: How does your drinking and debating about it further the Kingdom of God?

  8. It’s an important discussion and I appreciate you opening it up, but… I’d say your points against drinking (as a Christian), are week. And I was rooting for you! Bottom line is, we need to walk by the Spirit not in the flesh. A drink can be as calming after a long day as a foot rub or bubble bath, or it can be toxic and represent a bondage we cannot break free from. It is for the believer to surrender all our fleshly desires to Christ and allow Him to guide us. Thanks for your thoughts and your boldness to breach this important timely topic.

  9. Don Kauffman says:

    Thank you, Jim. While one cannot proof-text Scripture to support tea-totaling, not becoming drunk is another matter. I don’t know that anyone plans to ruin his or her life or the life of others by becoming an alcoholic, but it sometimes happens. “Responsible drinking” gone awry has nightmarish results. Responsible people must not ignore the sociological effects of alcohol consumption.

  10. Kevin Lum says:

    While this is a laudable argument — I think it misses the forrest for the trees. The bigger issue is teaching and modeling moderation. The stance of seeing alcohol as a social evil is admirable, but mandating abstinence isn’t. Too many of my friends from Nazarene institutions have unhealthy relationships with alcohol, because it becomes an all or nothing relationship. Furthermore, it pushes alcohol consumption below the surface, which is unhealthy. Almost every Nazarene I know under the age of 35 drinks. Let’s stop making arguments to support a relic of the prohibition era and begin having honest conversations about moderation.

    • Brad Bloomer says:

      Well said Kevin!

    • Todd Wilkes says:

      I ask this is a holy walk with God all or nothing? Why are people so against prohibition so called? Maybe that was Adams battle. It was never about the relic of prohibition… We are Nazarene birthed out of revival. We were birthed with a different message. A message of holiness and purity rooted in Christ. WE ARE DIFFERENT and Unique. Why must we always be with the moderation and tolerance movement? Why must we change? Why must we bow to a different view? If Phineas had decided moderation was a better model maybe we would still be Methodist… Please do not take this as I condemn drinking as I am not speaking to that, but rather the issuse of why we must waver on it as a denom. There is literally a church on every corner when our views that made us who we are as a people dont match the culture-why must we change-if you must drink go there. If it doesnt matter then it shouldnt matter…

      As a footnote before one would accuse me of being a stuck in the mud nazarene of old. I was born in 1973 and raised Southern Baptist in a large church. I struggled a large part of my life 30y with sin although saved. And when God freed me of that I could find no way or vocabulary to express that. Praise be to God that the Nazarene Church was there with there clear message to give me that place and fullfill my call. I do not see prohibition as a relic in our church but rather a result of the true holiness message lived out…

  11. Jesus drank alcohol.

    Maybe we don’t need a new law, but rather to teach people to be formed by the Spirit. Alcohol isn’t responsible for any of the evils you enumerate above. Rather, we can blame pride, envy, greed, sloth, wrath, lust and gluttony – in other words, people.

    The answer isn’t legalism. It’s formation.

  12. What a well written article that gives so many thoughtful points without being ugly or judgmental. I

  13. Dulan Elder says:

    The Nazarenes had this one right from the beginning and a shame they moved away from it. I always knew this prohibition was really about living a holy life not because scripture prohibited it.

    With my children, who tell me it is almost impossible to find even a professing Christian their age who does not drink, I have always gone through the exercise of listing all the pros and cons of drinking. The pros list is very short (you can be cool, you feel mellow and relaxed for an interval before you start getting rude and maybe in moderation it is god for your heart) and the cons list never ends as you can go through the lives ruined and wasted by alcohol–beaten wives and children, careers lost, highway deaths–examples of which we are all only too aware.

    I have a vivid memory of going with my wife to a seminar on drug-proofing your children (this not at a Nazarene church, I will say) and hearing testimonials about children of the leaders and parents present whose lives were shambles from drugs and alcohol interrupted by the leaders and parents tittering and giggling like teenagers thinking back on times they had been drunk.

    None of my kids drink and they get ridiculed at their churches. Take away the spiritual aspect and I think drinking is stupid standing on its own. The ads do not show ruined lives, people puking, people saying unspeakably rude things to each other. Go hang out sober with these folks sometimes while they are partying and then give an honest assessment of what a grand time they really are having.

    Because it was lumped into some legalistic rules which did not make sense and was preached against poorly at times does not mean they were incorrect to preach against it. Never given credit for being right about tobacco way ahead of their time. But, then, no one ever smoked a carton of cigarettes and got on the highway the wrong direction and killed a family.

  14. Anon says:

    Interesting post. Consumption of alcohol is certainly a social issue, and so many large alcohol companies perpetuate many social injustices. But I want to ask, is not our ethic of eating a social issue? And are not so many large food conglomerates perpetuating social injustices?

    And if we’re not going to support alcohol companies, how do we reconcile that Anheuser Busch donated over $200,000 to Republican candidates and over $100,000 to Democrat candidates in 2014 alone?! If it’s not just about consuming alcohol, but not perpetuating the social evils committed by the alcohol industry, how then can we vote?

    The biggest problem I see with this line of argument is that it uses justice as a means to perpetuate the Nazarene stance. Justice isn’t the thing, it a means of perpetuating the thing (our Nazarene stance). Were justice our aim, alcohol wouldn’t be the thing we hang our hat on, not at all! We would care more about the injustices perpetuated by corporate america and those they support (congress), we’d care more about abstaining from the NFL because of domestic abuse and sex trafficking (but what about our huge church parties in early February?), we’d stop eating meat because our food industry perpetuates slavery here in the states!

    If we’re going to cry justice, we have GOT to stop our inconsistencies regarding it. It appears that we don’t care about justice but when it comes to alcohol consumption… There are greater justice issues than alcohol consumption.

    This argument falls on deaf ears because we don’t actually care about justice and this argument makes us appear as inconsistent and hypocritical.

  15. Thanks for your thoughts.
    My answer is two-part
    1. I think you have the best argument our church has to alcohol- it destroys people, families and communities, so we don’t support it. There are other things that hurt people, families and communities, but we have to do what we can. As Andy Stanley said, you can’t do everything- but you can do something. We may be in the minority, but we are praying and fighting for lives Jesus died for.
    2. Individually- 1 of 10 who drink will become an alcoholic. Knowing what alcoholism does to individuals, families and communities, it’s safe to compare that to a 10 chamber revolver with 1 bullet in it. If you come from a family with alcohol issues, add 2 more bullets. If you have a genetic predisposition (like my Native american heritage), add 2-3 more. If you already show addictive responses with lesser things (anger, overweight, sugar, media, video games, internet), add 2-3 more bullets. So now you’re up to 6-8 bullets. Do you really want to play Russian roulette with that?

  16. Ben Snowbarger says:

    It’s this exact legalistic “all or nothing” approach that is driving people away from the Nazarene Church. Moderation is a subject that is taboo in so called “holiness” circles over the years.
    Before the church starts preaching about alcohol, how about preaching about all the fat and obese pastors that preach behind our pulpits on Sunday’s. Obesity kills thousands more than alcohol ever day. The church culture of potucks and food indulgences is why we have an obesity epidemic in the church today. The last thing I need is a fat pastor or a fat parishioner telling me how bad alcohol is for my system.
    I enjoy a casual drink from time to time. I enjoy alcohol and use it in moderation. I don’t see any sin or damage to my witness as a Christian. But when was the last time we heard a sermon on gluttony?
    And what about the hypocrisy of the religious right constantly supporting Republican candidates who cater to the big corporate culture such as Anhueser Busch and Monsanto? Will we hear a sermon on that?

  17. Dulan Elder says:

    I do not have a problem with sermons on gluttony and making fat pastors feel convicted about the temple they are providing God at present, but that message inundates us from the government and secular media already. It is a highly ineffective message, it seems, but not from lack of effort. Do we really need sermons on that topic to make anyone aware of the issue? And, of course, a not insignificant number of the obese are that way from a significant contribution from the empty calories of alcohol.

    Where is the voice against alcohol? I am afraid you could have attended a Nazarene church for 25 years, during the church growth phase, and never have heard a sermon against alcohol. I think this applies to other churches traditionally opposed to drinking.
    We have lost so many good Baptist jokes. Why have our churches ceded this territory?

    We need reasoned sermons on alcohol, not the “Because we say so” sermons of our youth where they condemned circuses and reading the newspaper on Sunday and some bleached hair and buckles on shoes. I am in no position to say the Bible forbids the use of alcohol in moderation. My hero, C.S. Lewis, drank. But our churches have a duty, I think, to preach on the potential evils and certainly the dangers of alcohol. Certainly many folks who characterize themselves as moderate drinkers are deluding themselves.

    Pregnant women are not to drink. The likelihood of becoming alcoholic is significantly higher the earlier before age 21 a person starts drinking, so how better to protect your teenagers from drinking early than to not drink while they are in those vulnerable ages. And if you need to do that why drink at all. Read today in a Men’s Health article that alcohol compromises our immune systems. As noted already in this discussion there are the dangers of alcoholism, lost careers and families, abused wives and children, along with negligent homicides and senseless deaths of bright young kids I see living in a university town.

    We must then ask ourselves what are the downsides of abstinence? Being different and making the drinkers really nervous and being teased/ridiculed? Is there a spiritual problem with any of that? It seems to me that the greatest allure of drinking is to conform by getting on the same level as the world. Is abstinence not a valid, prudent choice and something to at least be respected by the drinking Christian, if not admired.

  18. John Bell says:

    God bless those that understand “addiction”. As a former drug addict, I know all too well the effects of this horrible disease! I must just say however, it wasn’t until I understood the “behavior” associated with this, that to no end, would I have ever addressed my problem. I live today with the consequences of my behavior, first and foremost. Its difficult to accept this at times. God has His plan. I will diligently continue to try and help those that want to break free of this horrible disease by just being myself and trying to live as Jesus Christ instructs me by the Holy Spirit. I do have a very long way to go to be accepted by any church doctrine or orthodox. I don’t fit the “a” typical church. I am judged harshly and not welcomed at most. Jesus may be my Savior today, but thank God Almighty for Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery. You never judged me! And that, I think, speaks louder than any Religion!
    John Bell

  19. Rev. D.F. Gary says:

    Though, there are 3 Hebrew words in the OT – that are also found expounded upon in the NT (especially through the use of the Septuagint) – that address from a Biblical standpoint on what types of alcohol (and, non-alcohol) the child of God should/must avoid, I truly appreciate the use of reason in this world we live in today…in the Church world…a world that is often filled with ambiguities. This is where Wesley’s Quadrilateral comes in handy…

  20. Ben Snowbarger says:

    Since why does alcohol hit a bigger nerve with Nazarene’s than food? And what are the hebrew words for fat and obese preachers? What about food addictions? Food kills more people exponentially every year than alcohol. But I never hear the COTN preaching about being fat and why that is a poor witness to others.
    Keep on having your potlucks and dinner on the grounds. I’ll enjoy my adult beverage from time to time and thank God that I’m not under a legalistic bondage like some in the church community. Thankfully, I left the COTN years ago after a life of preachers making me feel guilty of going to movies, women wearing makeup, drinking, and jewelry. We couldn’t even go to a dance in high school. Wonder what the hebrew words are for all that?

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