Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jesus on Tap

I had a delightful phone conversation with an old friend the past weekend. During the course of our discussion, my friend turned us to addressing whether or not Christians should drink alcohol. My friend is by no means a teetotaler, but he is becoming increasingly troubled by the "restless and Reformed" types, especially among the leadership of the churches where their ilk are dominant, who brazenly flaunt their liberty by drinking alcohol and letting everyone know THEY ARE drinking alcohol.

In the church circles where my friend currently runs within the Bible-belt south, he sees such expressions of liberty as being unwise. It causes more harm than good and it raises the question of why a minister would want to unnecessarily threaten the impact of his ministry just to defend his liberty to drink wine. In my friends words, "is the freedom to drink alcohol a hill a pastor really wants to die on?" I couldn't agree more.

Our discussion took me back almost three years to a commentary I wrote addressing this very issue in relation to smoking and drinking. It was in response to another post I wrote responding sarcastically to an article Steve Camp wrote at his blog berating a deacon who told some folks to not smoke on the church grounds. I no longer read any of Camp's stuff, but I thought my comments were appropriate for my friend to review. When I found the link for my buddy, I also thought I would re-post it here, slightly edited, for newer readers I have gathered since 2007.

Originally posted September, 2007

A handful of inquirers have asked me about my post I did last week about drinking in church parking lots.

Just so that I am clear: I don't advocate the drinking of alcohol in church parking lots.

I was hoping people would click over to Steve Camp's post on smoking in church parking lots and then return back to me and note the clever, humorous twist I took disagreeing with his criticisms.

But alas, a few folks were lost in translation, so let's recap.

Steve wrote a post charging a church greeter with legalism who had scolded some youthful church members for smoking in the church parking lot. Steve went on to explain that real ministry is down and dirty and involves the lives of sinners who smoke. Thus, he concluded it was wrong for this greeter person to tell these church youth to stop smoking in the parking lot.

I believe Steve is over-reacting and wrongfully charging this greeter with legalism. I believe it is inappropriately tacky for youthful church members, or any church member for that matter, to be puffing on cigarettes in the church parking lot in between Sunday school and the morning service, and a greeter who asks them to stop is not acting legalistically.

I agree with Steve, and many of the posters in the combox, that smoking in and of itself is not sinful. A Christian has liberty to smoke cigars, cigarettes, and pipes if he so chooses. He just shouldn't do it out in the parking lot where people are driving up and coming into the church. My wife pointed out, as did Daniel, that a married couple has the liberty to "make-out" in their car in between Sunday school and the morning service, but I hope we all agree that "making-out" is inappropriate behavior in church parking lots on a Sunday morning, even if you are married and may have tinted windows.

So, to illustrate my disagreement with Steve, I basically took his exact same article and replaced the word "smoking" with "drinking." I am sure Steve, being a firm Reformer, believes a Christian has the liberty to drink alcohol just like he has the liberty to smoke cigarettes. The prohibition against alcohol in scripture is becoming drunk, not drinking in moderation.

However, I imagine Steve, as well as any other right minded Christian, wouldn't want a group of youthful, 21 years old Christians cracking open their Buds out in the church parking lot in between Sunday school and the morning service. Sure they are at liberty to drink. They're just having one beer, right? Or a glass of Australian Shiraz if they happen to be attending one of those high class Presbyterian churches.

Never the less, in spite of their liberty to drink, I hope Christians, even Steve, would recognize the lack of propriety with drinking in the church parking lot on Sunday morning. A greeter would certainly be right to confront them and ask them to stop.

Now, this discussion has raised some thoughts in my mind I wish to share if you all will indulge me.

First, smoking is not a sin. Yes, smoking doesn't have the greatest of health benefits, but neither does eating fried apple pies, KFC, potato pancakes, and Slim Jims. Those Bible-belt fundamentalists who tend to yap about smoking being sinful and cite medical journal statistics to justify their stance against Christians smoking are usually the first ones to belly up to an "all-you-can-eat" buffet at a Chinese restaurant or at Cracker Barrel for a time of "fellowship" after church on Sunday.

I could only hope these dear brethren would learn to utilize a biblically informed toleration for other Christians who are at liberty to exercise their freedom in Christ to smoke their cigarettes or drink their Jim Beam, rather than judge everyone through their narrow personal preference standards.

Yet, telling a person not to smoke on church property because the pastors think it is inappropriate is not to the same as legalistically accusing someone of sinful vice.

Second, on the other hand, I must confess I am becoming increasingly annoyed with restless young Reformers who believe they are free to flaunt their liberty and boast openly of their smoking and drinking. I sort of sympathize with them because many of them are like me and were either raised or saved in a legalistic church who instilled in them misguided ascetic values as a governing code for personal conduct.

Somewhere along their Christian walk these young Christians are awakened to the glories of the doctrines of Grace and the principles of the Reformation. Eventually, over time, the restless young Reformer comes to rightly see the foolishness of those ascetic values and their eyes are opened to the truth those values are really preference convictions at best and are for the most part no way grounded in scripture. In response, they over-react in the opposite direction by imbibing wine, beer, and cigars and become boorish with their new found freedom in Christ.

I have witnessed this countless of times. In fact, there is a nationally known radio Bible teacher who broadcasts from an inn that boards white horses. Back in the early 90s, before it went national, this radio program aired live on Sunday nights from a station here in LA. When the host and his crew weren't bashing John MacArthur and Master's Seminary for their dispensational views, they would be boasting openly of their liberty to drink and smoke and mockingly criticize those evangelicals who think such activities are sinful. Even though I agree with them in principle, their attitude was, and still is, obnoxious.

Sadly, I see this obnoxiousness displayed in the attitudes of many Reformed brethren on the blogs. Even though you may have a more mature biblical perspective on drinking and smoking, you guys need to recognize there are many who do not agree with you and you should not be a jerk toward their weak conscience. Paul could not be any clearer that a Christian with liberty can be just as "legalistic" as the Christian with the weak conscience. See Romans 14-15 and Galatians 5:13-15.

As I close this up, I was directed by a reader to the Journey Church where they have a weekly Bible study held in a bar. See article here.

The ministry is called Bottleworks, and its purpose is to have theological discussions in the local pubs like in the olden days back in the 1500s. The person who sent me the links asked me what I thought about their outreach. All I can say is I feel a bit ambivalent. I want to know what their end game is. In other words, what is it they wish to accomplish having a theological round table outreach in a bar? My experience has been that what ever it is you use to draw crowds is what you will have to continue doing in order to keep the crowds. Do we want folks to formulate their fellowship around drinking in a bar once they are saved? I don't think that is necessarily a good thing.

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Blogger Kim said...

Drinking and smoking aren't sin issues, no. But they are wisdom issues in many ways.

It isn't wise to smoke because it destroys the body. Drinking, done by a fool can wreak havoc.

My daughter just spent the first two weeks at her secular university. She's seeing the folly of drink up close and personal, right down to having her roommate get loaded and then reprimanded by the police for underage drinking.

2:28 PM, September 17, 2007  
Blogger ThirstyDavid said...

I'm glad you posted this. The comparison to frolicking in the parking lot with your wife is appropriate. I agree with you more now.

4:54 PM, September 17, 2007  
Blogger Fred Butler said...


You're exactly right. Hence the reason why it is ever more important for those Christians who partake in drinking and smoking to exercise their freedom with caution and concern.


5:53 PM, September 17, 2007  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

Fred I got in a debate with another Christian about him wearing a red hat that had a neo-nazi type Iron Cross on it. The point being made to this person was that he should be careful wearing that hat around non-christians. I don't think he's a neo-nazi, but I would caution him wearing that hat around people who don't know him. Then he got upset and refused to remove his hat. I think that has to do with your second point on young reformers flaunting their freedom in Christ.

I don't see anything wrong with anyone drinking alcohol. Yet, I don't like to drink any alcohol myself. Isn't that the way Christ taught us as passed down by from Christ to Paul in the epistles?

7:20 PM, September 17, 2007  
Blogger Mike-e said...

Fred, sometimes your witty genius leads my feeble, naive mind in the wrong direction of which you intended. As this happens quite a bit, I think i'm starting to figure you out ;-)

But anyways, I really appreciate this blog. I appreciate it because I needed some straightening out in this area. I think some people get so "anti-legalistic" that they themselves become legalistic in their criticisms of the legalists, if that make sense. Keep up what your doing Fred and continue pointing these things out b/c folk like me can't always see things as clearly as you do.

7:32 PM, September 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Butler,
My dad (http://canjamerican.blogspot.com/) is one of your regular readers, and sent me the link to this post. Here, you've referenced what I've begun to call "the legalism of freedom." Not only are young Reformers flaunting their liberty, but they are insinuating by their actions and words that those who choose not to are somehow less spiritual. It's an article I've been trying to write for months, and haven't found the right words, so thank you for taking young Reformers to task for their boorish behavior.
Miss Sarah McKillop
A Young Reformer

6:20 AM, September 19, 2007  
Blogger Sir Aaron said...

There are liberties and there are also good manners. I have the liberty to burp out loud but I don't because it's rude.

And when dealing with somebody with weaker faith, one must try to free them gently over time as they mature. Throwing your liberty in their face only serves to cause schisms.

I drink occasionally and will never lie or act embarrassed about my liberty. However, I don't need to drink and therefore, if it offends (or tempts) somebody I will not drink in front of them. It's Scriptural and it's good etiquette.

7:48 PM, October 26, 2010  
Blogger Rupert said...

Much as I'm atheist I believe that if you are attending a religious function or ceremony (which is why you would be in the church parking lot) the consumption of alcohol would be somewhat 'disrespectful'.

12:19 AM, October 27, 2010  
Blogger Impacted Wisdom Truth said...

As is the case with so many things, it seems the essential issue is moderation. Drinking too much is immoderate, judging others for exercising their liberty is immoderate, and flaunting one's liberty is immoderate.

Finding the right balance can be problematic, but it is essential to do so.

1:20 AM, October 27, 2010  
Blogger DJP said...

"The thing" can probably be seen in dear sister Kim's comment, where she says "drinking," then talks about drunkenness. I've heard that a good bit. To the minds of many, they're one in the same: why drink if not to get drunk?

I bet that's the source of a lot of heat between good folks. Sister A and Brother B both keep saying "drinking," but Sister's thinking "drunkenness," and Brother's thinking, well, "drinking."

So the person who enjoys the occasional glass or two of this or can or two of that, but never gets drunk, (A) is not and (B) is the person being discussed.


10:29 AM, October 27, 2010  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

What is considered drunk? I think if I had one glass of wine I might become close to being drunk. It seems like a gamble. I know if I had a 12oz glass of beer I would close to being drunk. I don't drink but if I had any wine it would have to be very little.

11:07 PM, October 28, 2010  

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