By the time I was pastoring my first church at 22 years old in 1999, I was requiring all of our church members and leadership to fast once a week (I fasted 3 days each week), pray for three hours a day (5am-8am), not watch any secular tv or listen to any secular music, and believe only the KJV was the Word of God.
I’m So Holy Nobody Likes Me
During my time of strict legalism I was the angriest and meanest person I’d ever been. People hated being around me when I got into my “holier than though” rebuke sessions. The staff who worked with me were deeply hurt and broken but I couldn’t even see it because I was so “self-righteous.”
One day I even stopped my best friend from preaching in the middle of his sermon at my church because I felt his message was too “watered down.” Afterwards, he spoke to my staff and found out that everyone was walking in fear of me and they were quickly losing their passion for ministry. Because of my legalism and lack of compassion I was choking out their love for God and ministry.
Sure there were great success stories in the ministry and powerful testimonies that I hid behind and justified myself with. However, the underlying feeling of those who were closest to me was,”If being holy is being like Joe- than I don’t want it.” Thus, after many rebukes from great friends and godly leaders God broke through my hard religious heart and brought me to deep repentance.
The repentance and heart change wasn’t just a one time thing, but an on going transformation. The highlight was me washing the feet of my staff and leadership with water and the tears from my eyes. As God began to change my heart, He also began to prepare me to merge our church plant in New Orleans with another pastor and begin to work in Chicago.
It’s a New Season
By the time I had moved to Chicago and was ready to start our new church, God had set me free from following many of my man made rules. I was able to watch movies and not feel like a sinner, I allowed people in our church to have dancing in their weddings (I even tried to dance with my wife), I stopped forcing everyone to fast all throughout the week, and actually said it was okay to celebrate Christmas!
Plus, during the first three years of our new church plant I was able to take online courses and earn a Master’s Degree in Religious Education from Liberty Seminary. At this time I began to realize that the 16th century reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin had dealt with the very same things in regards to man made rules with the Roman Catholic Church. I was amazed to see the Word of God in such a fresh and freeing way. Here are just a few of the nuggets I began to pick up in my in-depth studies of the Scriptures:
- The Bible is the Only Infallible Rule of Faith and Conduct: Meaning, all sins and blessings must come from Holy Scripture- not man’s opinions, 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
- The Bible Is Clear About Sins: When it comes to the things God hates there is absolutely no confusion, specifically the “sin lists” of Paul in his epistles are so clear that everyone is without excuse, Galatians 5:17-21.
- What the Bible Doesn’t Call a Sin is a Matter of Conscience and Christian Liberty: Such things as makeup, Bible translations, sports, dress codes, tattoos, music styles, playing cards, celebrating holidays, watching TV, playing video games, and the like are to be decided by the believer in fellowship with God’s Spirit, confirmed by his conscience in the Word of God, and lived out in fellowship with other saints, Romans 14:1-23.
What the Bible Says About Alcohol
The last major “religious law” I was confronted with about three years ago, was “Does the Bible Call Alcohol a Sin?” And what better place to look for the answer than with Jesus in John 2 concerning the substance of the wine made at the wedding. The real question was, “Did Jesus’ wine have alcohol in it?”
If yes, than it only makes sense that Christians can drink alcohol too. However, if Jesus didn’t drink alcohol than maybe we shouldn’t either. As I began to study the commentaries and the Bible dictionaries it became abundantly clear, not only did Jesus’ wine have alcohol, but He made 180 gallons of it to give people at a wedding party!
Here is just a short list of commentaries and Bible dictionaries that confirm the simple fact that the wine of Jesus’ day had alcohol and was enough to bring intoxication if not drunk in moderation.
Note: I not only found commentaries to show that the wine contained alcohol, but I still haven’t been able to find any scholarly commentaries/dictionaries that deny it!
Easton’s Bible Dictionary, under, “wine.”
Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary, “wine.”
ESV Study Bible, John 2:3.
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “alcohol.”
Expositor’s Bible Commentary, under John 2:6-7.
Holman’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “wine.”
But it didn’t stop there- once I realized that Jesus was making and drinking wine, I began to search the Scriptures and study church history and what I found literally blew me away. Please consider the following verses that speak positive of alcohol in the Bible:
- Deuteronomy 14:26, “Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.”
- Psalm 104:15, “… wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.”
- Proverbs 3:10, “… then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
- Isaiah 25:6, “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine– the best of meats and the finest of wines.”
As I studied the Bible further concerning alcohol I began to realize that drinking alcohol had already been an issue resolved by Paul in Romans 14 where he treated it the same as keeping Jewish holidays and abstaining from meat. In Romans 14 Paul says things like, “don’t pass judgment on disputable matters [referring to food and drink],” “who are you to judge another man’s servant (in regards to non-sin issues),” “stop passing judgment on one another (regarding whether or not Christians should keep Jewish holidays),” and lastly, “the Kingdom of God is not in eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost [to answer all the “grey areas” at once].”
Lastly, while doing a series on the book of Colossians in September 2012 I felt the Spirit of God strongly convict me with these powerful words, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day,” Colossians 2:16. Therefore, it couldn’t be more clear- we as Christians are not to judge people by what they eat or drink!
Church History and Alcohol
Surprisingly, alcohol is not even a major issue in church history for the first 1800 years and especially not in Judaism. The passover had wine, thus, so did the communion and hence it has remained in many churches today. One can easily see in the Corinthian church the use of alcoholic wine with communion because they were over indulging and getting drunk with it, 1 Corinthians 11:20-22! John Wesley, the famous preacher of holiness, brewed his own beer. Plus, he even recommended his preachers to drink a good ale’ after their long days of circuit preaching to relax and refresh. John Calvin received over 200 gallons of wine for his preaching duties each year.
Even the pious Puritans loved to drink in moderation and when they come to America they brought more beer than water with them to the new world and established breweries everywhere they went.Therefore, whether it was Jesus, the preachers in the early church, or the first American revivalists- drinking in moderation wasn’t an issue. Alcohol only became an issue when some misguided Christians in the 1800’s tried to fix the problem of drunkenness by starting the temperance movement in the US. However, the temperance movement was both totally unknown to the Bible and church history. And in the end, it made for a terrible policy and was rightfully done away with.
As a result, good Christians in many denominations have always both affirmed and practiced moderation in US church history- the Reformed churches, Presbyterian churches, and the Anglican church are just to name a few. Thus, the practice of alcohol consumption may not be for everyone, however, it should be every mature believer’s right to choose.
For more info on the history of alcohol in the church and the US temperance movement, click here.
Metro Praise International’s Policy Concerning Alcohol
The following policy was accepted on Oct. 9, 2012 by unanimous vote by those present in the MPI apostolic board meeting.
Our Basic Belief Regarding Alcohol:
MPI church holds the traditional and most widely accepted scholastic view that the “wine” mentioned in both the Old Testament (Hebrew, “yayin”) and the New Testament (Greek, “oinos”) was a fermented drink consumed in moderation. Also, other terms for alcoholic beverages such as “strong drink” and “new wine” found mostly in the OT we’re acceptable for God’s holy people and thus, shouldn’t be forbidden in the church age, Deuteronomy 14:26, Psalm 104:15, & Proverbs 3:10.
Therefore, MPI church believes the position of “moderation” regarding alcohol is the most consistent position from both the Old and New Covenants. Also, we believe the practice of moderation is the best way to explain the consumption of alcohol concerning God’s people in the totality of Holy Scripture, specifically concerning Jesus and the New Testament disciples, John 2:1-11 & Colossians 2:16.
MPI church defines “moderation” as, “being within reasonable limits; not excessive or extreme.” And, we define the sin of “drunkenness” mentioned in the Bible as being, “intoxicated with alcoholic liquor to the point of impairment of physical and mental faculties.”
Our Recommend Practice Concerning Alcohol:
1-DO NOT JUDGE
Paul states to the people of Colossae in Colossians 2:16, “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink,” therefore, MPI church believes Scripturally as both leaders and fellow disciples we shouldn’t judge another Christian based on whether they drink alcohol or abstain.
2-DRINK, BUT DON’T GET DRUNK
Jesus, being God in the flesh, drank alcohol and was even slandered as being a “drunkard,” however, this didn’t stop Him from consuming alcohol in moderation or force Him to preach abstinence, Matthew 11:19. Therefore, MPI church, like Jesus, doesn’t teach abstinence, but rather condemns all forms of drunkenness (a) public and private drunkenness, (b) drunken parties, (c) underage drinking, and (d) wicked actions that are associated with the sin of drunkenness- such as vulgarity, violence, perversion, and the like, 1 Peter 4:3 & Galatians 5:21.
3-ALWAYS CONSIDER THE WEAKER BROTHER
MPI church believes along with the Apostle Paul in Romans 14 that though it is both acceptable and holy to eat non-kosher food and drink wine, the one practicing their freedom shouldn’t cause the “weaker brother to stumble.” Therefore, MPI believes alcohol shouldn’t be treated any different than eating non-Jewish food, thus, the one with freedom must consider the weaker brothers/sisters that may be present. And as a result, not allow their freedom to make the weaker stumble.
4-ACT IN LOVE
MPI believes for there to be both “freedom to drink” and “absence not to drink” both the weak and strong in faith must (a) communicate their feelings in regards to alcohol being drank in their presence, and (b) act in love, without passing judgment or forcing their freedom on another; “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” Romans 14:17. Resource for further study on our position see entry, “Alcohol, Drinking of” in the “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology,” by Walter Elwell. Click here for the free online version.
Short Explanations to the Most Common Objections Found in Proverbs
1 // Proverbs 20:1,
“Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”
Comment: The key phrase here is “led astray,” thus it is not speaking about the moderation point of view, but rather those who are “led astray” in drunkenness.
Application: Don’t be “led astray” from the path of righteous by your use of alcohol.
2 // Proverbs 23:20-21 & 29-35,
20 Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, 21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. 29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? 30 Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. 31 Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! 32 In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.
33 Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. 34 You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. 35 “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?”
Comment: The keys phrases in these two passages are, “drink too much wine,” and “those who linger over wine,” thus, the only way a person can feel the effects of verses 32-35 is if they over drink.
Application: Don’t drink too much and become drunk, poor, see strange things, have bloodshot eyes, think people are hitting you, and utter strange things. Therefore, if you can’t drink in moderation- don’t drink at all. Also, note verses 32-35 serve as a great standard to what “being drunk” is from a biblical perspective.
3 // Proverbs 30:4-7,
4 “It is not for kings, O Lemuel–not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, 5 lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. 6 Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; 7 let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
Comment: The key phrase is “lest they drink and forget what the law decrees,” this command is similar to the law given to priests not to drink while they were serving in the temple- thus a king shouldn’t drink while he is in the seat of judgment (i.e., “at work”). However, both kings and priests drank while not on duty, King David- 2 Samuel 16:11 & Priests-Deuteronomy 18:3-4.
Application: Don’t drink at work or while you’re making important decisions.
Summary of Proverb’s Warnings of Drunkenness
- If these Proverbs were intending to teach total “abstinence” then they stand in direct contradiction to the other clear passages also found in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes by the same author Solomon- not to mention all the positive metaphors of wine in the Song of Solomon. Thus, the only way to harmonize the passage’s “positives and negatives” is to see the “key phrases” and notice that they are all referring to either, (a) drunkenness or (b) inappropriate times of drinking.
- Therefore, if these Proverbs we’re teaching absence then no one listened- including Jesus! For Jesus and the disciples drank wine. Paul, nor any other New Testament author, ever used these Proverbs to warn against drinking alcohol in general, they simply taught “don’t be drunk with wine.
- The Jewish Passover was and is still served with alcohol (four glasses of wine) along with all the other feast days. Thus, Jewish believers viewed alcohol in view of the whole council of the Scriptures, click here to see the usage of undiluted wine during the Passover.
Verses in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes Noting the Positives of Alcohol
- New Wine is a Blessing, Not a Curse // Proverbs 3:10, “… then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
- Wisdom Calls People To Have a Drink of Wine // Proverbs 9:5-6, “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding.”
- Drink Wine with a Joyful Heart // Ecclesiastes 9:7, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.”
Paul and the Weaker Brother
Many Christians can affirm that alcohol itself is not sinful and that it is allowed in moderation. However, their major concern comes from the belief of alcohol being a “stumbling block” for the weaker brother. Most use the passage found in 1 Corinthians 8:13, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble,” and also in 1 Cor. 8:9 “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Of course, for many this is the biggest issue… whether to be a “loving/safe abstainer” or a “loving/safe moderator.” This kind of discussion among Christians can go on for days because it gets into people’s personal feelings. However, even though Paul wrote the verses above he still was a meat eater. At the same time, he humbly chose not to eat meat in the presence of those who were grieved by it. So the bottom line for Paul was to be a “loving/safe meat eater.”
In turn, we teach our people to always be aware of their circumstances and environment in all their freedoms because the idea of “stumbling” can also be said of “movies, women wearing pants, secular music, wearing bathing suits at the beach, watching boxing, and the like…” As a result, the default position of Paul wasn’t to simply just do whatever everyone was personally convicted by, but rather to give proper teaching.
So on the one hand we should be sensitive of the specific people we may be with when we are enjoying our freedoms in Christ… one the other hand, we should also teach them not to judge us on the non-biblical matters of their conscience. So the point isn’t for all of us to stop eating meat, but for those who are offended by it to “grow up” spiritually and no longer be “weak in faith.” For Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians 8:8, “But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” Hence, the reason why Christians are meat eaters- Paul’s proper teaching on meat won out! The proper teaching eventually set the weak in faith free from their stumbling. The same should be done in all areas of weakness- especially with alcohol. The weaker are not to twist Scripture to take the away the biblical freedom of the strong, but rather the weak are to be transformed in their understanding and agree with the strong in faith (whether they personally drink or not).
Therefore, the “loving/safe abstainer” needs to also read Colossians 2:16 (another letter from Paul) for the “full picture” of Paul’s doctrine on matters of conscience. He boldly writes, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”
Comparison to Marijuana
Some Christians are concerned that if someone supports moderate alcohol use that they may be led to affirm the use of marijuana or other drugs for recreational uses. I believe the main differences between marijuana (and any use of recreational drugs) are the following:
- God never blessed “marijuana” or any drug for recreational use with His people (only for medicinal purposes), whereas alcohol, like at the wedding in Cana, alcohol can be seen as a recreational substance.
- Marijuana and drugs are told to be avoided in Galatians 5:20, “sorcery/witchcraft,” the original Greek word is, “????????? pharmakeia; from ????????? pharmakeuo (to administer drugs); the use of medicine, drugs or spells.”
- Alcohol can be consumed without getting “drunk” whereas marijuana and other drugs are used for the specific recreational purpose of getting “high.”
- The human body produces naturally about 3g of ethanol (alcohol) per day, thus, it is natural to the body and has positive affects in moderation, whereas, THC (active ingredient in weed) is not natural to the body and harmful in any dose. Reference here.
The “Wine was Different Back Then” Argument
- SOLA SCRIPTURA | The Bible, not outside historical books, is the sole guide for morals and behavior. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “16 All Scripture is God- breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” So the real question isn’t what do some history books say about wine and alcohol but rather what does the Word of God teach.
- WINE & STRONG DRINK ARE BLESSED | The Bible never makes a difference between “strong wine” and “watered down wine.” Plus, “watered down” wine is actually seen as a curse in the Old Testament in Isaiah 1:22, “Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water,” before Greek culture influenced Jewish wine making. Though the Old Testament teaches there is a difference between wine (yayin) and strong drink (shekar) however, both are blessed by God! Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 14:26, “Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine (yayin) or other fermented drink (shekar), or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.” As a result, it doesn’t matter what biblical word is used for alcohol or the specific fermenting process (proof) because God blesses both.
- FIRST MENTION | The first time the Bible mentions wine (yayin) it had the qualities to make Noah drunk. Genesis 9:21, “When he drank some of its wine (yayin), he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.” Therefore, unless the Bible corrects or reintrepts the word wine (yayin), which it doesn’t, then it should be clearly understood to be the very same thing that was mentioned at first.
- SOLIDARITY | God Himself declared that at His feast He would have aged wine. Isaiah 25:6, “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine– the best of meats and the finest of wines.” Thus, it is clear that the kind of wine blessed and drank in the Bible was fermented.
- TOO MUCH | If the supposed “strong wine” was to be totally avoided then why does the Bible teach to not “indulge in much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8) or to be “addicted to much wine” (Titus 2:3) and that “they have had too much wine” Acts 2:13? Either biblical wine could make you drunk like Noah or it was pretty much harmless… it cannot be both. Therefore, the warning of “too much” shows that it was potent enough to make one drunk if they were not careful.
- OTHER POINTS | (a) The vast amount of biblical scholars all agree that the wine God’s people drank could make them drunk thus moderation was always the biblical stance (See the two scholary articles linked below), (b) Jewish people recorded in their Talmudic writings that though there were many ways to make wine and other alcoholic drinks they all could be enjoyed based on God’s blessings- not their proof (See point #3 in Scholarly Resources for the Jewish stance), and (c) There is not one single reference in all the Bible for all people to totally abstain from alcohol. The Bible simply warns of drunkenness and abuse.
Consequently, this fallacious argument for watered down and weak wine falls flat. The one making the point contradicts the plain reading of the Bible for supposed history, hidden word meanings, and man’s wisdom. However, the Bible without man’s help remains very adequate to inform and make its own moral stand, especially in regards to alcohol. The stand is clear for all to read, “alcohol is a blessing for Christians to use” but a curse to all those who “misuse it.” Ecclesiastes 9:7, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.” For more information regarding the “quality” of wine used in the Bible I would recommend reading the following:
- Dr. Gentry’s word study on “wine” and “strong drink” in the biblical texts found here.
- The “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology,” by Walter Elwell (click here for the free online version) on the kind of wine drank in Bible times.
Scholarly Resources in Defense of Biblical Moderation
- Argument from Sound Biblical Exegesis in the “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology”: Very detailed explanation from the Evangelical community regarding moderation and drinking of alcohol directly from the Scriptures, click here.
- Argument from “Sola Scriptura” by Dr. Daniel Wallace: A deeply informative article from New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary on alcohol and the Bible, click here.
- Argument from Judaism, How the Jewish People of the Past and Present View Alcohol: Five citations from a scholarly Jewish website with Rabbis on how they view alcohol in general- (1) summary article & (2) informative video, (3) wine at passover, (4) why Jews don’t practice abstinence and (5) how Jewish people actually believe drinking alcohol is sometimes a command.
- Argument from Biblical Culture and Word Study by Dr. Kenneth Gentry: Great scholarly article in which the Hebrew/Greek words for wine are detailed, along with the most accurate descriptions of the quality of wine and Biblical “strong drink,” click here.
- Argument from Church History and Romans 14 by Pastor Mark Driscoll: Great sermon on moderation and Christian liberty from Reformed Pastor Mark Driscoll in Seattle, click here.
- Argument from US Church History: Great website outlines the Puritans and early Pilgrams view of alcohol, click here to read.
- Scholarly Debate: Read this pdf of the best debate between scholars I could find online. Dr. Kenneth Gentry, Jr author of, “God Gave Wine,” debates Dr. Stephen M. Reynolds author of, “Alcohol and The Bible.” Click here to download pdf.
Medical Resources in Defense of Biblical Moderation
- MSNBC Health Journal: Article reporting on a study of over 1 million people that shows an 18% reduced risk of death for moderate drinkers, click here.
- Medical News Today (MNT): Article sites many of the studies that prove the benefits of moderate drinking mentioned in the Bible. For example, the Bible states in Psalm 104:15, “wine makes the heart glad,” and medical studies show a moderate amount of alcohol each day can prevent heart desease, click here to read.
- Live Strong: A very practical article from Live Strong Magazine about the benefits of moderation, click here to read.
- JAMA Breast Cancer Research: Concerning the recent study for women having a higher risk in breast cancer with moderation please consider the following: (a) The study basically recommends “women at risk for breast cancer (already predisposed by genetics) should refrain from more than 3 drinks per week,” and (b) To not lose the benefits of alcohol helping with heart desease if you are not at risk for breast cancer. To watch a summary by the Doctor who conducted the research, click here.
- The Mayo Clinic: This article outlines the positive effects of moderation as well as giving the much needed warnings to drunkenness, click here to read.
Safety Measures to Drinking Responsibly and in Righteousness
- Never drink alcohol in the US if you’re under 21.
- If you have a history of alcoholism and drunkenness, avoid alcohol altogether because the benefits are not worth the risk of relapse.
- Don’t drink alcohol if your conscience is grieved.
- Don’t drink around others who are grieved in their conscience.
- When drinking, aim to not drink more than one serving of alcohol per hour- 12oz beer, 5oz wine, or 1.5oz of strong drink, click here for moderation chart.
- Don’t drink in places where people are committing sins of drunkenness, (a) underage drinking, (b) perversion, (c) violence, (d) drinking games to get drunk, (e) loud vulgarity, and (e) mocking God- i.e., “frat parties,” “strip clubs,” “wild clubs,” or “Mardi Gras.”
- Both men and women shouldn’t drink more than what is healthy for their body per day AND per week. Moderation for women is defined as 3 servings or less a day AND no more than 7 drinks per week and for men 4 servings or less per day AND no more than 14 drinks per week, click here for more info from the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol And Abuse).
- If you currently have a drinking problem, (a) call out to God for help, (b) repent of the sin of drunkenness, (c) look for a good church to help you, and (d) join a Christian recovery program with accountability.
“To be sure, Christian liberty permits one to abstain or to partake in moderation, but total abstainers are not justified in holding up their practice as the more biblical, virtuous, or spiritual of the two,” R.V. Pierard, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.