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by Al Maxey

Issue #825 -- July 26, 2021
In the matter of drink, the only result
of a century of "temperance" agitation
has been a slight increase in hypocrisy.

George Orwell [1903-1950]

The One Beer Apostate
Is Drinking a Single Beer a Sin?

Let me begin this article with a personal statement: I don't drink beer. When I was overseas in the military, I did indeed drink a beer now and then with my buddies. I never liked the taste or smell, however. So, drinking beer has never been a temptation for me. I don't like it, so I don't drink it. Do I think drinking a beer is a sin? No, I do not. But becoming drunk on beer (or any other alcoholic beverage) is clearly forbidden by God time and again in the Scriptures. Nowhere does God forbid His people from drinking a beverage that contains alcohol. Indeed, there are passages in the Bible where such is encouraged. Like anything else provided by our God for us to enjoy, however, we can take a good thing way too far, and it is this the Lord condemns. One is not a "glutton" by eating a single slice of cake. Consuming the entire cake all at once is another matter. It's the same with regard to what we drink. Responsible eating and drinking is not sinful. It is when food and drink take control of us and overpower us that we have a problem. Jesus said, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ĎHere is a glutton and a drunkardí" (Luke 7:34, NIV). Jesus saw nothing wrong with eating and drinking and enjoying Himself, and He did not hesitate to do so, even though the rigid religionists of His day were quick to assume the very worst about Him, characterizing Him as a drunkard and a glutton. Did Jesus consume beverages that contained alcohol? Yes, He did. Did Jesus abuse such drinks? No, He did not (even though His critics thought otherwise).

Like the judgmental Pharisees of old, there are those today who are quick to condemn their fellow disciples for what they eat and drink, and who seek to regulate that which they consume. Yet, the apostle Paul makes it clear that "the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). "Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink" (Colossians 2:16). Seventeen years ago I published a study on the question, "May a Christian drink wine?" You can read this study in Reflections #134. Several years later I narrowed the focus of this question somewhat in an article titled "Leaders and Libations: May Shepherds and Servants Consume Alcoholic Beverages?" (Reflections #563). Yes, the Lord requires His people to live responsibly and wisely, but He nowhere forbids our enjoyment of those things which some choose to abuse. The consuming of food and drink can result in gluttony and drunkenness, this is true, but this fact does not forever forbid their use by those disciples of Christ who, like Him, enjoy food and drink in a responsible manner.

Nevertheless, there are those persons within the church who seem to feel "called by God" to dictate to their fellow disciples the parameters of what they can and/or can't eat and drink (and other matters as well). Paul wrote, "Why do you submit yourselves to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch'?!" (Colossians 2:20-21). This is nothing more than "the commandments and teachings of men: self-made religion and self-abasement," continues Paul, and such legalism "is of no value" in the development of spiritual character (vs. 22-23). Those about whom Paul spoke still exist. Such persons still seek to condemn their fellow believers on matters of food and drink. I came across a perfect example of this just the other day. It was an article titled, "Is it a Sin for a Christian to Drink a Beer at Home?" (Please go and read this article; it is only one page long). It was written by a man named Garland M. Robinson. That name sounded familiar; where had I seen it before? Then it struck me. Just a few weeks back I had seen another article by this same man (on a different topic), and I had done a review of that article in Reflections #822 ("'Thank You, Lord, for the Harp': Response to a Misguided Minister's Chart"). This minister from the Leoni Church of Christ in Woodbury, Tennessee was at it again!

Let me just say, before I get into this brother's article, that I have no problem with those who have chosen not to drink any beverage that contains alcohol. I have had, and still have, some very dear friends who hold to this conviction very strongly. I admire them for not violating or compromising their beliefs. We have sweet fellowship together, even though we differ dramatically on a few "issues." One reason we enjoy this fellowship is because neither of us seeks to bind (to enforce as law) our belief and practice upon the other. That is the key to our unity. We love one another enough to respect the other's conviction, even though we do not share that conviction. That is precisely what Paul spoke of in Romans 14. I do not condemn this person, nor do I consider him to be sinning. We simply differ, and that's okay! It is when one side demands that the other side submit to their personal conviction, and when they condemn them to hell if they don't, that we cross the line! My argument isn't with another's differing view, it is with the attitude that all who differ with that view are apostates headed for hell. It is that which I will challenge every time I see it; so it is this which I challenge in Garland's article.

At the end of his article, we find this statement by Garland: "The Lord will never say, 'well done, thou good and faithful servant' to those who drink. You will never see a dedicated child of God drink." Wow! I guess that leaves Jesus out!! Paul urged Timothy to drink wine, so I guess we'll not be seeing either of them in heaven! How sad. Garland has stated two absolutes here, and that is a dangerous thing to do. To declare that something will NEVER happen is recklessly bold, especially when it's a mere human declaring what God will or will not do. Such self-elevation is the epitome of arrogance! Now, if God Himself has declared this somewhere, then that is okay. If He has, though, I have yet to find it. Perhaps Garland could provide that clear declaration for us! Until that evidence appears (and don't hold your breath), it might be in one's best interest to refrain from asserting such absolutes. It's above our paygrade!

What God has clearly asserted is that He disapproves of drunkenness. It is not the responsible drinking of beverages that contain alcohol that He condemns ... He nowhere in either the OT or NT writings has done this (if he has, please provide that passage); it is the abuse of such drinks that God characterizes as SIN. Yet, Garland goes farther than our Father on this matter, declaring a single drink of beer is SIN. He wrote, "It is sin even to take the first drink." In other words, one's first "sip of suds" constitutes soul-damning sin! His "reasoning" here is interesting: "The Greek word 'drunk' in Ephesians 5:18 'signifies to make drunk, or to grow drunk' (Vineís, p. 341). It involves the process of becoming drunk. Therefore, when one takes that first drink, he is one drink drunk and each successive drink makes him even more drunk. Being drunk comes long before one canít walk straight." So, Garland, am I a glutton after my first bite of a chocolate cake? If the entirety of the process itself, including every step of that process, is what constitutes SIN, then am I sinning every time I shove a fork of food into my mouth? If not, why not? If I stop after only five bites of cake, am I still guilty of the sin of gluttony? If I drink only one swallow of a glass of wine with a meal, and eat only one bite of my dessert afterward, am I both a glutton and a winebibber? Well, Garland seems to think so, for according to his teaching I'm "one drink drunk" and one bite gluttonous.

I concur with Garland Robinson that we, as ambassadors of God's grace and followers of His Son, need to be good examples to those around us, especially the ones with whom we have some influence, and that we must avoid becoming stumbling blocks to them. But is a glass of wine with a meal or a beer with a burger at a cookout an example of godless abandon? Garland seems to think so, and he even believes the worldly-minded agree with him, for he wrote, "People of the world know that Christians cannot drink the 'devilís brew' and meet with righteous approval." I think Garland is wrong. Might our actions be, instead, an example of responsible moderation in a world obsessed with excesses? Yes, crazy uncle Ned might drink himself into a stupor and fall into the campfire, but our own restraint may be a "sermon" of a better way to enjoy the food and drink with which we have been blessed by God. Total abstinence with regard to some things may have its place in our striving to be godly, but so also does responsible moderation. The former would be especially true with those things God has specifically forbidden, whereas the latter would seem to apply more to those areas where He has permitted us to use our best judgment. God has not declared the drinking of alcoholic beverages to be a soul-damning sin; in fact, there are many places in Scripture where He has encouraged us to enjoy these beverages. He most certainly has declared the abuse of these drinks to be sinful in His sight, and He has rightfully cautioned us against such excesses.

Even with respect to elders in the church and their use of strong drink (1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:7), Paul does not command abstinence, but rather temperance. Paul states that these individuals are not to be "paroinos." This a Greek noun made up of two separate words: the preposition "para," which means "beside, alongside," and the noun "oinos," which is the word for "wine." Combined they mean: "one who sits long at his wine; given to wine; drunken; with the secondary sense: quarrelsome over wine; hence, brawling, abusive" [Dr. Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 490]. "Drunken; hence, quarrelsome, insolent, overbearing" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 310]. "Quarrelsome over wine" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 4, p. 112]. This, of course, helps explain the choice of the word "brawler" in the ASV, since this Greek term, in addition to referring to drunkenness, speaks of the poor behavior often associated with intoxication. The verb form of this word, meaning "'to behave ill at wine, to treat with drunken violence,' is found in Xenophon, Aeschines, Aristophanes, and Aristotle" [Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies, e-Sword]. This Greek term is used only these two times in all the NT writings, but is "common in classical Greek in the sense of 'quarrelsome over wine'" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21, Timothy, p. 51]. "The word impliedly condemns both cause and effect. Not only drunkenness, but the noisy and quarrelsome temper which is generated by wine-bibbing" [ibid, p. 58]. "Aristotle's use of this and related words suggests that it meant 'tipsy' or 'rowdy.' It is a sad commentary on the culture of that day that such a warning would have to be given concerning church overseers" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 365].

Dr. Marvin Vincent, in his classic "Word Studies," notes that "total abstinence is not enjoined" by this Greek term [e-Sword], but instead it means that a spiritual shepherd must not be the type of person who "sits long at his wine" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2, pt. 3, p. 56]. Like Vincent, Wuest also states "this injunction does not teach total abstinence in the case of intoxicating liquors, but rather temperance" [ibid]. The great commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) concurs: "Seasonable and moderate use of this, as of the other good creatures of God, is not unlawful. But excess therein is shameful in all" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Dr. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) also agrees (as do almost all biblical scholars): "It cannot be inferred, from the use of the word here, that wine was absolutely and entirely prohibited; for the word does not properly express that idea" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword].

Garland has made the same error in understanding that some make with regard to the saying, "Money is the root of all evil." As most of you immediately noticed, that's not really what the text says, even though we have heard over and over that this is what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 6:10. Instead, Paul stated that it is the love of money, and one's craving for it, that has caused many to come to ruin. Similarly, it is not the alcoholic beverage itself, or even drinking some of it, that is the problem for some, but rather their attitude toward it and their abuse of it. To say that one is "one drink drunk" is an absurdity, just as ridiculous as suggesting one is a gluttonous pig because he took a single bite of cake. If this is the type of "logic" and "reasoning" we present as the basis for our positions, then our message will be reduced, in the estimation of those around us, to little more than the pathetic ramblings of religious fanatics. I pray Garland, and those like him, will give this some serious consideration, for Truth deserves better than what it's receiving at their hands!


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Colorado:

Al, that was a good article you wrote ("Dogs and Lies in Church: The Inconsistency of Dogma" - Reflections #824). Yes, legalism has ruined many relationships with both men and God.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I would like to order your books (Four Books by Al Maxey), and also the following audio CDs of your adult classes: An In-Depth Study of Revelation ... The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny ... Encouragement for the End Times: A Study of 1st & 2nd Peter ... An In-Depth Study of 1st Corinthians: Christian Counsel for a Confused, Conflicted Church ... From Law to Liberty: Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ. My check for these materials is enclosed. Thank you so much, and may God bless you and your family, my friend!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Al, greetings from Oklahoma. I have a pamphlet you wrote titled "Reflections on the Holy Spirit." I wanted to order copies of it but can't find it on your web site. I was wanting to share it with the brothers and sisters at ----- Church of Christ. How may I obtain copies of this pamphlet or permission to reproduce it? Thank you.

From a Reader in Canada:

I really liked the way you ended your article "Dogs and Lies in Church." You wrote, "The Family of God consists of a wide variety of people with a host of differing preferences, perceptions, and practices. We will never be perfectly uniform in all these areas (and we don't need to be), but we CAN be united as One Body by virtue of our common bond: faith in and love for Jesus Christ! 'Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace' (Ephesians 4:1-3). 'Put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity, and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body' (Colossians 3:14-15)." Indeed, Al, if we love our neighbor as ourselves, we reflect the nature of our God and Father before all. As Jesus said, if you love one another, people will know you are My disciples. Our God and Father has given us His words of encouragement to be able to do just that! Amazing Grace!!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Lord have mercy! It is hard to believe some of the outlandish positions taken in order to justify legalism. If these folks could just stand back for a bit and analyze the situation!! Keep stomping out ignorance, brother!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

We, like the Pharisees, keep making rules for ourselves that we canít follow and laws we find convenient to ignore. It seems we just canít keep from trying to be smarter than God!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dear Al, I've enjoyed reading your messages for a long time! I come from an independent church background that was just like the Church of Christ, only we had a piano. We just knew that we and the Church of Christ were the ONLY ones going to Heaven (although the Church of Christ people would have been surprised to see us there!). We presently attend a charismatic church here in Las Cruces, but still have family who are members of the Church of Christ. All the silly divisions in the Body of Christ do nothing to bring us closer to Jesus, whether it be non-denominational, Catholic, or any number of denominations. The sooner Christians learn to look at Jesus only, the quicker the church will become a positive movement in the world. Thank you, Al, for your studies and messages. I feel you are getting through to more people than you even realize!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, your last article reminded me of a story from the Church of Christ where my father was an elder. A few years ago, two elders from a small rural church about 10 miles away showed up to a Sunday evening service. The young preacher recognized them from the church where he grew up, and he told my dad who they were. After the service, my dad introduced himself to them and asked politely, "So, what brings you to our service tonight?" A perfect opportunity for some elder-to-elder small talk. But instead, thinking he didn't know who they were, they lied and said they were from another state and just in town visiting. He didn't call them out on it but walked away really confused. Turns out they were secretly scouting the young preacher, seeking to steal him away. By the end of the week, they offered him a nice pay raise and the use of a church-owned home, so he accepted their offer. I guess "lying in church" is just fine as long as you're "doing the Lord's work" by trying to covertly buy a preacher out from under another congregation. This moral flexibility in the name of churchiosity is one of the reasons I burned out on the Church of Christ denomination. The last straw for me was when I discovered a preacher was using the church's name and credit (because he couldn't use his own) to buy his kids a computer for Christmas on 90 days same as cash. Then, when I presented the documentation to the elders, he lied to them. Once they found out he lied to them, and it was completely documented, they proceeded to do what any godly, self-respecting eldership would do: they buried it. Oh well, as a certain athletic apparel company says, "We must protect this house." Thanks for bringing this issue to light, Al. Keep up the good work!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

In 1978, I had the opportunity to go to Singapore, and I was invited to speak on Sunday morning. The brethren did not have air-conditioning, so the windows and doors were open. While speaking, a cow (sacred to Hindus) came to the door, walked about halfway in, and then stopped. It stood there for a few minutes, didn't like my sermon apparently, and turned and walked back into the street. At least I gave that cow an opportunity to hear some of God's Word!! (LOL). Several years ago, I had a written debate with a brother/editor who thought it was sinful for the church to eat a meal in the church building (a fellowship meal). However, in our discussion he admitted that it was okay if several members met at the building to work on the building or grounds, and each bring a sack lunch and eat together in the building. He also believed it was scriptural for him and the secretary to bring a sack lunch and eat in the church office. Our fellowship meals, though, were sinful because they were without biblical authority. His examples were authorized because they were not assembled as the church to worship. I think God shakes His head at such argumentation. But, so goes the world, and we spin our tales with each revolution!

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