Issue #134 -------
July 15, 2004
Water taken in moderation
cannot hurt anybody.
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Men have long debated the intrinsic worth of wine. Does it cheer the heart, or muddle the mind? Is it invested with valuable medicinal qualities, or is it physically harmful? Is the consumption of wine approved by God, or is it sinful? As with most pursuits of men, the answer to these questions is determined by how one utilizes the object in question. Most anything we acceptably use can also be abused. Thus, it is not the object itself that is abhorrent to our God, but the misuse of it. There is nothing sinful about eating food, for example. Gluttony, however, is another matter altogether.
With regard to drinking wine, the Bible nowhere condemns moderate, responsible consumption .... indeed, it is even encouraged in some passages. The Scriptures most certainly DO condemn, however, the misuse and abuse of wine. Drunkenness is never condoned, and is always condemned. The key to acceptable or unacceptable use of wine, therefore, lies in how one drinks. The same holds true with food, and any number of other things which may in themselves be good and wholesome and beneficial, but very harmful when not used responsibly.
Some have suggested that drinking wine is always sinful, and that not a drop of this beverage should ever "pass over the lips" of a Christian man or woman. I know personally a preacher who has taught for years that anyone who takes even one drink of wine will go to hell. Such a position, however, completely fails to consider the many passages of Scripture to the contrary! Both OT and NT passages clearly convey there are positive qualities to be experienced from wine. Notice just a few:
We should also not overlook the fact that four cups of wine were employed in the Passover celebrations of the first century Jews ... celebrations which Jesus and His family observed yearly, as did the Lord and the Twelve after the beginning of His public ministry. Indeed, it was this wine Jesus used to symbolize His blood which would be shed upon the cross. We today still remember that sacrifice in our regular observance of the Lord's Supper. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor. 11:26).
Jesus obviously had no qualms about the responsible use of wine. Indeed, His first miracle was performed at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11) where He turned water to wine. Apparently His drinking of wine was public knowledge, for His opponents exaggerated the fact in their condemnation of Him. Jesus said, "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners'" (Luke 7:34). Jesus admitted He drank, but He was no drunkard. Such admission did not stop His critics, however! As critics are often wont to do, they take something good and twist it into something bad.
Misuse and Abuse of Wine
There are some brethren, in an effort to reconcile the above biblical citations with their belief that any consumption of alcohol is sinful, who boldly declare that the references to the word "wine" in the Bible simply refer to non-alcoholic grape juice. This argument is so ludicrous that it is almost laughable. Time and again Scripture speaks of those who abuse and misuse "wine," and in so doing become DRUNK. To my knowledge, one does not become intoxicated by drinking unfermented grape juice. We won't even dignify such an argument with any further analysis. Even a child could shoot holes through such an illogical attempt at justifying one's theological bias.
The Scriptures repeatedly condemn drunkenness. That is a fact! Time and again the people of God are cautioned that too much of a good thing can be extremely harmful, and that it constitutes sin! A piece of cake can make one happy .... eating the entire cake might merely make one vomit. A glass of wine might cheer the heart ... drinking the entire bottle might cause one to act a fool. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) once wrote, "Nothing more like a Fool than a drunken Man." Cassio, in Shakespeare's play Othello, said, "O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains!" The abuse of wine (or any alcoholic beverage) can be a dangerous, and even deadly, error. The Bible is filled with commands against, and examples of, the misuse and abuse of wine, of which the following are a sample:
The Matter of One's Influence
May a Christian drink wine? The biblical answer is Yes. However, a Christian may not abuse or misuse wine (or any other substance, for that matter). A Christian may drink wine, but he may not drink wine to excess. Such, by the way, would be sound advice even if it wasn't commanded in Scripture (which it is). But there is an additional consideration for Christian men and women regarding the consumption of wine --- our influence on others. If my drinking of wine would be the cause of another stumbling in his/her walk with the Lord, then my action would be harmful and sinful. Paul says, "It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles" (Rom. 14:21). After all, "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (vs. 17). "Therefore, if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died; do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil" (vs. 15-16).
Paul's conclusion was: "If food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble" (1 Cor. 8:13). Is eating meat offered to an idol a sin? No, it is not! Neither is drinking wine a sin, if one drinks responsibly. But both can become sinful if done in such a manner as to bring harm to another. Paul was not swearing off eating meat. I'm sure he ate meat offered to idols many more times during his life. But, he absolutely refused to do so in a setting that would cause offense to another. Such must be our attitude with regard to such matters as drinking wine. If I know it would offend a brother or sister in Christ, then I would be sinning against them, and thus against my Lord, if I invited them for a meal and served wine at the table. Such an action on my part would be godless and unconscionable! Would it be sinful for me to have a glass of wine in my own home when this person was not around? No, of course not! My liberty is not curtailed by their convictions, but neither must my liberty become an affront to their convictions. We must live in loving consideration of one another. "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification" (Rom. 15:2).
Drinking wine is not, in and of itself, a sinful action. Done responsibly, it can even be beneficial to some people (though certainly it is not recommended for all, especially for those with a tendency toward, or with a genetic history of, chemical dependency). Studies by doctors and researchers clearly show that there are certain medical advantages for some people, however, in a reasonable and regulated consumption of wine. Even the apostle Paul recognized some aspects of that reality, as evidenced in his advice to Timothy. Nevertheless, there are physical, psychological and spiritual dangers associated with the drinking of wine. These should be carefully and prayerfully weighed in any person's decision with regard to whether he should or shouldn't drink wine. One must especially consider the matter of influence on others, as discussed above.
Some noted biblical personalities chose to abstain from the drinking of wine, perhaps for this very reason. This was their personal choice, and they should be applauded for their conviction. Daniel, for example, "made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank" (Dan. 1:8). Instead, he ate vegetables and drank water (vs. 12). Others, like John the Baptist, chose to abstain from certain foods and from wine as part of a vow before God. "John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine" (Luke 7:33). This was also in fulfillment of the promise to his father Zacharias, "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). Again, such resolve on John's part is commendable. One should not, however, seek to impose such personal conviction upon all other disciples the world over until the end of time. As Paul so clearly declares in Romans 14, we must each stand upon our own convictions before God, and we must accept one another, even when our individual convictions differ.
There are issues much greater and far more eternally significant than eating and drinking. What fills our bellies is of far less importance than what fills our hearts! "Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do" (1 Cor. 8:8). "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another" (Rom. 14:17-19). God has given us many good things to enjoy on this beautiful earth. Let us use them wisely and responsibly, doing all to His glory and for the edification of His One Body. With this focus, and guided by His precepts and principles, we cannot help but prosper in His peace.
From an Elder/Minister in Florida:
Al, I just read Edicts of Elderships. What an excellent article, not because I agree with you, but because I believe you have touched on a subject that is not understood by many in the church today. Having served for the past six years as an elder (and also as the local evangelist) for a congregation, the subject of the "eldership" is of great interest to me. Before we selected elders, I preached a series of lessons in which I basically did a word study of the descriptive terms used to define the work of elders. At the end of the study the congregation realized that elders were not the "business managers" for the church, nor were they the ones chosen to "make the decisions" for the congregation.
As "overseers," that is what we do. We "oversee" the congregation's decisions. We conduct congregational meetings in which the members of the congregation make decisions. Our role is to assure that those decisions are scriptural. The only "private" meetings we have as elders are those meetings where a delicate problem must be discussed, or we need to study a doctrinal issue, or to discuss how we can better serve as elders. We do not control the check-book, in fact we see the monthly financial statement when the rest of the congregation sees it. One of the deacons serves as treasurer, and the deacons spend the necessary funds to do their jobs without getting approval from the elders. As "overseers" we try to lead the congregation in the right direction by sound teaching and by example. One cannot imagine what a wonderful relationship elders can have with the flock when everything is according to God's plan. How many congregational problems could be solved if elders realized they were not the "lords" over the flock. Keep up the good work.
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Al, your Reflections article on proper church oversight is, in my opinion, one of the best pieces I have read from you. I believe it speaks what has great need to be heard and taken to heart. Thank you.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Al, my brother, good work. I appreciate your thoughtful studies. Edicts of Elderships was excellently done!
From a New Reader in (Unknown):
Dear Brother, I would appreciate being added to your mailing list. I have received several of your articles from a friend, and I really have appreciated them. Thank you!
From a Minister in Texas:
Your article Edicts Of Elderships is an excellent treatment of a difficult subject. In my experience with mostly small, rural congregations, it is much better to be without elders than to have unqualified and/or unwilling elders, who never should have been put into the position to begin with. My first full-time job was with a congregation that had three new elders, two of which had been forced into serving because they had "served before." What an experience! The one who really desired to serve as an elder was an open-minded, studious man, and the other two were dyed in the wool traditionalists who knew that they had all the answers and that there was nothing more to learn. You are very fortunate to have shepherds that allow you to study and share your conclusions with others who are still searching!
From a Reader in Missouri:
Thanks, Al! I appreciate these very organized scriptures and thoughts on this subject. I believe many do not understand the role of elders in the church. It seems so many congregations are at a loss when it comes to the very balanced teachings in the Bible on this important role/service in the Body. I will copy this article (Edicts of Elderships) and keep it for future reference, as well as sharing it with others. Many good points to ponder.
From a Minister in Massachusetts:
Dear Brother Maxey, You are right in your analysis of shepherds. I hope many will read your article. It uplifted me. Some of us do change over time. I am now reaching the community with articles I write for a local magazine.
From a Minister in Hawaii:
Keep up the good work. You're the best! Maluhia La'i.
From a New Reader in Costa Rica:
I would like to subscribe to Reflections, please!
From an Elder in West Virginia:
Dear Al, Thanks for another great article. I totally agree with your interpretation of the Scriptures regarding the children of elders. I considered myself extremely blessed to have had two baptized, believing sons when I was being considered for the office of elder in our church, however many are not as fortunate, so I appreciate your teachings on the subject for their sake. My sons are young, so it may become an issue with me some day also. Please pray that it doesn't. The more I study the Bible, the more I am amazed at how we (myself included) seem to go out of our way to "make" it say something it doesn't! Thanks again.
From a Reader in Florida:
Al, your last two articles on Elders, concerning their children and their edicts, were superb! Serving in the past as an elder at two congregations, and working at others in establishing elders/leaders, these comments and questions you brought up are usually in the forefront of people's minds. It seems we spend so much time, however, on trying to get our expected leaders to fit into our predetermined mold, about which we have been indoctrinated for years, that we are losing good men to lead us in the right paths.
I've known men over the years, for example, who were unable to have children, but became foster parents, and nurtured and raised them as well as the other children from the church. They were excellent examples, and fulfilled the spirit and intent of the Scriptures; however, they were not considered for the position of elders because they did not have believing children of their own! I feel we somehow have missed a great opportunity. I believe the so-called "qualifications" of elders are really qualities, abilities, and lifestyles of Spirit-led men and their wives. Al, I really do appreciate your love and concern for the brotherhood. May God continue to bless you and give you more wisdom in helping us all cope with trying to be God's children, who can love through diversity. I know that we are not all twins or clones!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
I appreciate your article on the subject, but I have a problem. If the Eldership decrees that something must be done in a certain way, and we MUST obey, then that is not an opinion or judgment, that is a COMMANDMENT. I find it hard to accept that Elders can make commandments. In last night's Bible study class, it was stated that the Elders have commanded us to attend Wednesday night services, and we must obey. Leaving aside the fact that there are many good reasons to attend, are we not going too far to say the Elders command and we must obey? Too many of our brethren accept whatever the Elders and Preacher say without question.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, I have a few comments regarding your article Edicts of Elderships. You correctly point out that the words "...to their authority," as translated in the NIV in Heb. 13:17, are not in the original text. To that truth can be added the observation that the word "authority" is nowhere used in the NT in connection with the work and functioning of overseers - elders - shepherds. Any eldership attempting to make a binding decision on a matter of opinion or judgment, while perceiving they have authority from the Lord to do so, is acting as a "lord" per Jesus' words in Matt. 20:25. We know sin is a violation of divine law. If a member sins by violating or failing to keep a binding decision made by an eldership on a matter of opinion or judgment, then the binding decision has become a part of divine law. As a result, a church becomes accountable before God not only to His Word, but also to the "divine law" found in the Elders' Creed. No eldership, preacher - evangelist, deacon, or any disciple has God's authority to bind any subjective decision on anyone. Hebrews 13:17 should be understood in connection with Heb. 13:7. Disciples are to obey men that "spake unto you the Word of God." The work of leading or guiding does not, of necessity, require authority to bind personal judgments or opinions on followers. The context of this chapter does not imply the exercise of personal authority by leaders.
Also, I have a comment about the "member who decides to have a meal in the building anyway just to prove them wrong." He doesn't sin because of rebellion against his God-given leaders, but because he did not act in love toward his brethren. His sin was in his motive. If there had not been elders at that church to issue a decision about the matter, the member in question would still have sinned in failing to act in love toward fellow members who were conscientiously opposed to eating in the building. A great fault among Churches of Christ (and others) regarding the functioning of a local church is their failure to understand there is no ranking of members in the Body of Christ, only duties of responsibility as servants (Matt. 20:25-28; 1 Cor. 12). I really appreciate your articles!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Back in the late 80's, when I first moved to the Nashville area, I attended the Madison Church of Christ. Steve Flatt was the minister and I really liked him a lot. I remember one of his sermons dealing with the time he visited a dying member at her deathbed. He talked about how this godly woman wept and dreaded death. She was so worried about meeting our Lord because of the sins she had committed as a young lady. Brother Flatt reassured her that she was still in Christ and had the blessed assurance of eternity. After his visit, he went back to his office and cried to God, "Why have we ministers failed in the most basic teaching of the Bible: salvation and a home in heaven?!" I've heard all my life that we must follow perfectly the patterns in the Bible. If not, then God will depart from you. Yet, how can I keep them perfectly?! Have we, in trying to keep a "pattern," failed to develop a strong faith and hope in a person? Has our faith been robbed by these patternists?
Don't get me wrong, I want to obey our Father, but when I focus on my obedience, I fall into complete despair! I can't obey the "patterns" perfectly! Thus, I find myself more and more leaning on the solid wall of God's grace. When I do this, brother Al, I really enjoy my Christianity, not dread it!! Since I've been studying my Bible seriously, for twelve years now on a daily basis, I have come to see and understand things that I was never taught. I've heard it stated in our fellowship, "...he studied his way out of denominationalism." Well, I've studied myself out of some false doctrines in the Churches of Christ!! Al, I would never leave this fellowship of ours, because I love it too much! I know we're not a perfect fellowship in doctrine and practice. In fact, it is arrogant to say that we are, and to sneer at the denominations.
Al, you're one of the few that helps build my faith, not tear it down and trample it in the dust. Thank you so much! The writer of Hebrews wrote, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works." Al, you really know how to "stir" me up! Thanks so much for your efforts, brother Al!!
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