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I Love Jesus, but I Drink a Little

March 16, 2009

First let me say that I don’t watch The Ellen DeGeneres show.  Let’s just get that out of the way.  However, there is a clip of the show that has been going around the internet for a while.  It is really quite funny.  It is of Ellen calling an 80-something year old woman named Gladys and during the conversation Gladys says, “I love Jesus, but I drink a little.”  You can check it out for yourself here.  (FYI – “Gladys” is actually a Texas comedian.)

But that line “I love Jesus, but I drink a little,” brings up an interesting question.  Can you love Jesus and drink?

This past Sunday, My husband and I visited a church that chooses to abstain from alcohol (as well as social dancing).  Their reasoning is valid.  1.) They want to be “in the world not of it” (James 1:27, 1 John 2:15, James 4:4)  2) They want to avoid the appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22)  3) They want to avoid being a stumbling block to others (1 Corinthians 8:9)

I grew up in an alcohol free house (dance free too).  My father, being a pastor, believed that it was better to abstain from alcohol than to occasionally drink and  cause others to struggle with any of the above three things.

When Hubby was a youth pastor we abstained from alcohol because of the above three reasons ans well as 4.) some of our teens’ parents were alcoholics and we knew that it would bother or confuse the teens if their youth pastor drank 5.) alcohol abuse is so prevalent among teens and we wanted to help them to avoid it as much as possible, and 6.) some of the more immature teens had trouble with the “We can do it, but you can’t” part of it.

We don’t see anything inherently wrong with an occasional drink.  Nor do we see anything wrong with some social dancing (ie wedding dances=OK, dirty dancing with strangers at clubs=not OK).  And since Hubby has no longer been a youth pastor we have been enjoying the occasional drink.

But now we have a problem.  We liked the church that we visited on Sunday and could possible see ourselves attending there; however, I don’t know if I want to sign the membership agreement that would say that we could never have another drink again and that we promise to never participate in social dancing.  Abstaining out of personal conviction is one thing, but to force everyone in the church to abstain seems very legalistic and I just don’t think that I am down with that.

If we ever did engage in a ministry again, then we would probably go back to avoiding alcohol except when we are away on vacation with no chance of running into people who know us.  But I want that to be a choice that is ours to make, not a choice that is foisted upon us.

But, so far it has been hard to find a church that we could see ourselves at.  Do we forsake this church because we don’t want to give up something that ultimately doesn’t matter much anyway?  Or is the legalism the thing that we just don’t want to swallow?

I guess that I could have titled this “To Swallow Wine or To Swallow Legalism” because that sums up the difficulty that I am having.  But which am I really having a problem with?  The never being able to have alcohol again or the legalism?  I hope that it is the latter.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2009 3:24 pm

    I don’t know that it’s necessarily reasonable to impose doctrinal restrictions on people which the Bible does not. That’s one of Protestantism’s main problems Catholicism, that it has a lot of doctrine that isn’t found anywhere in scripture.

    However, I can certainly understand them trying to be in the world and not of it. I can also understand them not wanting people to partake in an activity to which people get addicted and from which it can take years to recover.

    Being that you have people from all walks of life, perhaps it is necessary to completely spell out what the church’s stance on this issue is. And there are those that cannot follow a rule that says in essence ‘you can do this, but not too much.’ But then again, the church is not going to ban cheeseburgers and Coca-Cola.

  2. March 16, 2009 3:37 pm

    That is exactly it, my “unrelevant” Hubby. Do we ban anything that could potentially be bad? Do we ban TV? Chocolate? Credit Cards? Where does it stop?

    I Corinthians 10:23-24 says “”Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”

    I guess that my thought about this is that freedom in Christ means that we are free to analyze each situation and then choose what God would have us do. I don’t think that we should be forced by the church we join to give up things that are permissible, but not beneficial or constructive. There are times that having a drink is perfectly fine; however there are also situations where having a drink would be a bad idea (for example when dining with a recovering alcoholic). A mature Christian would know the difference.

    I would say is that it is not a church’s job to forbid that which is lawful, but to teach believers to be able to tell the difference between “lawful and constructive” and “lawful and destructive”.

  3. March 16, 2009 3:41 pm

    The only problem is, it’s much easier for an organization to ban things outright than teach people to make good decisions. Heck, half the point of my blog is the fact that the church is nowhere near as concerned with cultivating and growing people as we should be.

  4. March 16, 2009 4:02 pm

    You are not afraid of disobeying Scripture; you’re afraid of legalism. And you should be. For centuries the “church” has made lists of acceptable behaviors. Scripture does not condemn drinking; it condemns drunkenness. It does not condemn speaking; it condemns lying and gossip. But when was the last time you had to sign a membership statement that said, “I’ll never lie or gossip again”? Scripture is against overeating, but how many “pastors” have you seen that are not just overweight, but obese? Churches are experts at picking and choosing which Scriptures they will follow and which they will conveniently ignore.

    Furthermore, you can be an outstanding contributor to a local church without becoming a member. So maybe you can’t vote in the next church election? That’s okay. Voting isn’t Scriptural, either!

  5. tonydye permalink
    March 16, 2009 4:31 pm

    Holiness becomes leagalism when it confronts something you want to do. The prevalent culture of “Christianity” today says, “How far can I go and be O.K.? A love relationship with God says,”How close can I get?” How far can I go–how close can I get. Do you see the difference? These are heart questions, not leagalistic confrontations.

    I guess the thing I see the most,as a pastor of 34 years, is that we do not realize the full effect of a small compromise or “soft choice.” Galations (which is a letter of freedom) chapter 5 verse 9 says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” In Christian liberty we can become entangled again in a yoke of bondage when the focus of our life and passion is upon ourselves and not on Him and on others.

    I do not drink because I want absolutely nothing to clutter the focused passion of my heart for God. I want to drink Him in (Psalms 63:1)completely, therefore, I will give no place to anything else.

    Think about how revealing your statement is:”If we ever did engage in ministry again, then we would probably go back to avoiding alcohol except when we are away on vacation with no chance of running into people who know us.” That which is not right does not change with geography or annonymity.

  6. March 16, 2009 4:33 pm

    You make a good point, Jim. It seems like in some ways, when we sign a membership commitment, we commit that we won’t commit specific sins. Sins that either society or the church find to be the most un-Christian sins of all, or the most obvious.

    However, in our fallen state, we’re bound to commit one type of sin or other daily, and most likely several, hourly! It seems like society in general, and the church specifically, are willing to allow you the grace to slowly overcome one type of sin while expecting you to have overcome other sins before you join. (Note: I’m referring to sins, not breaking the law, like murder or molestation).

    Taken a step further, this is a doctrine that isn’t restricting an activity that’s specifically defined as sinful except in the case of overdoing it.

  7. March 16, 2009 4:44 pm

    Tonydye, I don’t think that my comment “If we ever did engage in ministry again, then we would probably go back to avoiding alcohol except when we are away on vacation with no chance of running into people who know us.” reveals anything other than the acknowledgment that to be in ministry means to be in the public eye and that leaders are looked up to far more than Average Joe Church Attender. Leaders are also criticized more, emulated more and held to a far higher (and usually unfair) standard; therefore it is far easier just to avoid things that would cause you problems as a leader.

    You say “I do not drink because I want absolutely nothing to clutter the focused passion of my heart for God.” That is commendable; however for some it may be TV that clutters their heart or perhaps the Internet. That is where our freedom and responsible choices dealing with said freedom come in. It is personal responsibility that needs to be taught in churches today. Not a bunch of thou shalt nots that aren’t found in the Bible.

  8. tonydye permalink
    March 17, 2009 12:32 pm

    Thank you so much for your response. I agree that personal responsibility needs to be taught in our churches today, but not at the expense of objective truth. Truth is not subjective–that is it not what I think and believe that becomes the ultimate standard. We must agree that the Bible is God’s truth and is our standard for right and wrong.

    I am curious. How would you respond to what I have studied for 34 years? I welcome your evaluation. If the following doesn’t ring true, then maybe it’s time for me to take another look at the Bible:

    There is more Scripture condemning the use of alcoholic beverages than will be found on the subjects of lying, adultery, swearing, cheating, hypocrisy, pride, or even blasphemy.


    Please know that my heart is not to condemn. I am a nothing–a zero with the rim knocked out from around it. My heart is just broken because I deal with hundreds of adults and teenagers whose lives have been devastated by “the first drink.”

  9. March 17, 2009 4:06 pm


    I respond like this: not one of those verses condemns or even forbids alcohol. They condemn drunkenness. And several of those verses are taken out of context and/or do not apply directly to alcohol. And many of those verses talk about heart condition.

    You have brilliantly (though unintentionally) illustrated the problem that I have with legalism: Legalism focuses on one of the many results (symptoms) of a heart condition while ignoring other symptoms (gossip, slander, an angry spirit, a rebellious spirit, etc that cause far more damage with in the church), as well as ignoring the cause (our sinful nature) of the symptoms.

    With your legalistic (and slightly condescending) attitude you sought out and found scriptures to “support” your (unBiblical) “Thou Shalt Not”, while ignoring other verses that mention wine in a positive way (to name a few: Ecclesiastes 9:7, Amos 9:14, I Timothy 5:23 and Psalm 104:14-15 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man,oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.)

    Excessive drinking of alcohol does indeed create many problems (of which I have seen first hand); however alcohol is not the source of the problem it is the symptom of a far greater problem (the need that everyone human has for a Savior). Not everyone has the same symptom, but everyone has the same sinful condition.

    Many people have a problem with Internet porn. According to your rationalization, the Internet should therefore be prohibited by the church. Many people spend far too much time in front of the TV, should it too be completely banned? The public library contains books that are not fit for any Christian to read, so shall we completely avoid the library? Many people have problems with over-eating, shall everyone then go without food?

    You see, unless we deal with the actual heart condition we will always have “vices”. So I would encourage you to stop obsessing (34 years is a LONG TIME) about alcohol and start focusing on the heart condition that would allow anything to become a vice. Until the heart condition is fixed, then the alcoholic (over-eater, sex-addict etc) will never be fixed with anything other than a temporary band-aid to their problem.

    I Cor 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”

    I Cor 9:19 “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”

    Our answer is not in adding more commandments to the ten, but in living our lives to glorify God.

    I Cor 8:9 “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”

    Obviously, if I were going to be around you in real life, I would not drink around you because it is clear that this would be a stumbling block to you. But while around my friend who owns the vineyard, I would continue to taste his wonderful wine.

    In everything (other than our passion for Christ) there must be a balance. Too much of anything is a bad thing. People adopt legalistic attitudes when they are not strong enough, not mature enough, or cannot trust God enough to find the proper balance.

    And it is not the first drink that devastates, it is the unmet need for a Savior that results in successive drinking that devastates.

  10. March 17, 2009 4:36 pm

    A lot of the points given by tonydye are examples of God telling specific people not to take hard drink. If I’m to infer that we’re not to drink from that, then I’m also to infer that we’re not to marry from Paul’s situation, that we’re never supposed to cut our hair based upon Sampson’s commands, and that we’re supposed to slaughter our firstborn unless we happen to see a sheep at the table of sacrifice, based upon commands given to Abraham. The rest of your examples talk about being a drunkard. Having a drink once a week or so is a far cry from being a drunkard.

    As for Teenagers, they have no business drinking in the United States of America. It is against the law here, and we’re commanded to follow the law.

    It is honorable to want to protect brothers and sisters in Christ from alcoholism. Those with an addictive personality have no business touching drink. Those who associate with current or recovering alcoholics, same thing. Again, same applies for those who have been saved out of a life involving excessive drinking.

    However, nowhere in the Bible does God expressly forbid the consumption of alcohol across the board for all believers, except for in large or excessive quantities. Saying that alcoholic drinks are in and of themselves sin is like saying that money itself is the root of all evil.

  11. tonydye permalink
    March 17, 2009 4:59 pm

    I am sorry for the offense of my comments. I wish that you would have deleted all of them rather than just deleteing the references to holy scripture. I am also sorry for coming across as being condescending. That breaks my heart. I have helped hundreds to know Christ’s freedom over the last 34 years, not only from alcohol but from sexual addictions, broken marriages, mental and physical abuse situations, etc. Not once in the last 34 years have I ever been accused of ignoring the heart condition. It is indeed hurtful to me. I thought I was offering help but I can see that I have fallen far short of that. Once again, my apologies.

  12. March 17, 2009 5:42 pm

    I only deleted the scripture verses because I feel that they were used out of context to prove your point. I am in the process of addressing them one by one. I am on #10 and need to stop for the day.

    I too, do not mean to hurt or offend, but to explain why I believe that forbidding things that are not forbidden by scripture can do far more harm than good. Legalism can give people a false sense of security. A man can avoid alcohol for his life and still have a sinful heart condition, but think that he is OK because he avoided all the man made “thou shalt not”s.

    I do not wish to “break your heart”. I can tell that you are a very tender person who wants to help people. But let me tell you from experience that legalism is not what helps people…it can actually hurt them and push them away from Christ.

    Also please note that I am not promoting drunkenness at all. Nor am I saying that it is wrong to chose to abstain from alcohol. What I am saying is that it is wrong for a church to force its members to abstain from something that is not specifically a sin.

  13. March 17, 2009 7:01 pm

    tonydye, also, please note that I was not accusing you of ignoring heart condition. I was saying that is what legalism tends to do.

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