Thursday, February 14, 2008

Alcohol and Ethics: what both sides need to know

There has been a debate among some evangelicals, particularly Baptist, as to whether Christians are morally obligated not to drink alcohol or if drinking alcohol is morally permissible. In this post I plan not to argue for a particular position on this issue, but rather hope to be neutral. This is not because I do not have a position that I hold. I in fact do. I hope to present some points that will further the discussion. This will by no means be exhaustive.

First, I want to consider a point made by the pro-choice position (for lack of better word). This position usually argues that the scripture never speaks against the use of alcohol . Thus they argue that we cannot bind believers to an unbiblical position of complete abstinence. I think there is truth in this position. We cannot bind believers to an ethical position that the scripture does not support. This is one of the problems that the pharisees had. Moreover this is a problem that can be manifested without reference to alcohol. For instance, a while back many Christians thought that it was wrong to play with cards. Legalism is a deceptive virus that hides under the guise of holiness.

However, I want to point out to my brothers in Christ who support the pro-choice position that Christian ethics are not just determined by what the bible explicitly says, but also by scriptural principals that are applied differently in certain contexts. For instance, the bible says "honor your father and mother." But this scriptural principal is applied in America differently from the way it will be applied in Korea. In Korea the cultural relationships of older people, especially with parents, is very different that the cultural relationships here in America. Therefore, those who are with the pro-choice position need to realize that ethics is much more complex than just simply pointing out that the scripture never says, "though shalt never drink."

Second, we shall consider the not -even -a -sip-position. Now some within this position need to realize that scripture never explicitly says "Do not drink alcohol." This will be hard for some to take, but for the sake of not looking biblically illiterate, morally arbitrary and for further discussion to reach agreement this needs to be readily admitted. Another problem for some people that hold this position is they tend not to show that they have thought through this position with much clarity or with much critical thinking. I had a professor in my philosophy department point out one time that a good philosopher will not only know why he disagrees with a position, but also will know the criticisms for his own position. Many who engage in the alcohol discussion do not sufficiently understand the other sides position and I think that this is more so with the not even a sip position. Another problem generated by those that hold this position is that they tend to make generalizations based on their own past experience. This causes a lot of problems for the person to think critically through a debated subject. It can help blind a person from a true belief. It does not follow that because I had experience D with A that every body will have D with A when A does not entail D.

As I pointed out in a previous paragraph; that explicit statements in scripture do not mean that scripture does not forbid a particular thing. It also must be noted the those who argue that scripture teaches against something not explicitly stated, also have the burden of proof. While it is not impossible to prove from scripture that the non-explicit rule is true, it must be readily admitted that it is not as easy to find as those rules as those in scripture that are explicitly taught.

Therefore, both sides of the debate must remember that they are to be humble and not treat the other side as if it is simply obviously wrong!

Written by Stephen Stanford


jasonk said...


Bob Stanford said...

The positions you have stated, as far as they go, are correct and I can find no fault in them.

But the matter of alcohol and the Christian is not a three-legged stool...that is, a concern of just the Lord, the Scripture and the Believer. There is a fourth leg to the stool. If you insert it, the foundation on which you stand (sit) will be much more secure.

Please add a fourth leg...another Believer. And just for kicks lets suppose that he is one of the thousands upon thousands of alcoholics that our tax dollars pay for medical treatment.

If you will add the fourth leg, the issue of who is right and wrong won't be as important because, you are still standing (sitting) firm and secure.

SS&SG said...

If I am reading your point correctly you want to note that we ought to consider other Christians in our personal choices with alcohol.
I think this is correct. Now how do you think that the moderationist will respond? I imagine that they will respond by agreeing. So then the question now becomes this: Does the fact that many Christians have problems with alcohol exclude other Christians always to abstain.
So now that I have given this question out, how will the absolute abstainer respond? He will say yes and the moderationist will respond No. So now the question becomes. What reason should I go with one or the other. So what do you say.....

Anonymous said...

Indeed a fourth leg to the chair is another believer. But not every believer is the same. We needn't respond in the same way to all believers; not all are alcoholics, not all linger over wine. But to the weak we are weak and to the strong we are strong. We must take care in whatever we do loving the brothers and putting them before our liberties.
To add another bit. There are many alcoholics,and yet it does not follow because of that that alcohol is bad or must be abstained from by all. In the same way, there are many gluttons and idolaters, but food and statues are not bad because of that. It does not follow that no one should eat because there are many gluttons, nor does it follow that no one should make images or statues because there are many idolaters. The universal rule to follow is love. The universal of abstaining is yet unestablished, at least not by the above logic.

J*Rob said...

But what happens on the Lord's Day when we meet for bread and wine? In the Bible alcohol has a fundamentally sabbatical-eschatological character, and is centrally the cup of celebration and rest. Take out this piece of the puzzle in any normative-categorical (not just temporary-personal) way and not only have you removed a central piece of the Biblical world, you've got fundamental liturgico-ecclesiological problems because you're challenging a basic part of Word-Sacrament. Ultimately, then, this leads to a Gnostic division between the Biblical world and Biblical ideas, privileging the latter and relativizing the former to cultural context. But the Gospel offers not new ideas but a new culture and new world.