thoughts on liberty: an email from my dad

I want to share here “some thoughts” that my dad sent around as an email a year or two ago, and then again recently. In this essay, he answers the question, “Why don’t you drink?”

I’m posting this here for three reasons:

First, his intro, which explores the idea of Christian liberties and how we are to handle such things, is really, really good, and can be applied to so many areas of our lives as we sort out such issues.

Second, his thoughts on the actual topic, drinking, are insightful and I think should be pondered as this particular liberty is addressed.

Thirdly, I’m posting this because my dad is worth emulating. I can’t say enough about not only his integrity, character, and ongoing (and always-growing) passion for the Lord, but also his consistent lifestyle of true discipleship and laying his life down for his brother.

When I encounter a “gray” area of Christianity, a liberty which I may or may not partake of, I should do two things: Look for someone I can follow as I follow Christ (part of “getting wisdom”, which we are urged over and over to do in Proverbs, is simply following in the footsteps of the wise), and also, ask what’s best for my brother.

Dear Family—

I’ve taken some time to write out my answer to the question, “Why I Don’t Drink.” Please understand
that I’m not trying to answer the question, “Is It Wrong for a Christian to Drink?” Those are two entirely different questions. In answering the question, I trace my thinking back to a time when I examined the issue of drinking from the standpoint of positive purpose and negative impact, NOT from the standpoint of biblical license or prohibition. Just because something is “allowed” does not mean it’s good or that it should be encouraged.

Consider these examples:

Christians are “allowed” to sow sparingly; yet I provoke myself and others to sow abundantly.

Christians are “allowed” to be absent from the gathering of believers for worship, prayer, and instruction; we do not hold to the Roman Catholic doctrine of “holy days of obligation” (those specified days where failure to participate in the Eucharistic celebration is a mortal sin, a sin so serious that without the absolution of a priest, even the practicing Roman Catholic risks the fires of hell); yet I provoke myself and others to forego the ‘liberty of absence’ and instead embrace the ‘slavery of commitment.’

Why? In a single word, the answer is Purpose. I am not living aimlessly; I have a clear, compelling
purpose for living:

Phil 1.21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Ac 11:23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.

Ac 26:16 ‘But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.

2Ti 3:10 But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance…

1Co 9:26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.

Below I have listed out, as best as I could catalog them, the reasons I don’t drink. I think it’s important to note that while no single reason may be a “slam-dunk”, taken together, these thoughts have guided me to the position I’ve held for many years. In some ways this is like the argument for the existence of God: as we examine that issue, we may find that no one argument is by itself conclusive, but the consistent indications of the existence of God in a variety of contexts (Design, First Cause, Conscience, etc.) leads us to a solid conclusion.

The Reasons I Don’t Drink

1. I don’t need to drink; my life is fine without alcoholic beverages.

2. My identity is secure without alcohol. I don’t need to derive any sense of identity or maturity from imbibing ‘adult beverages’ – I don’t need to drink in order to feel ‘grown-up’.

3. 100% of the people who don’t drink remain sober; I want to be one of them. I say and do enough stupid things already; I really can’t afford to add alcohol to the mix.

4. In our cultural context, there is a recognizable uneasiness regarding drinking; whether or not there should be uneasiness doesn’t matter; the simple fact is that there IS uneasiness about it. (NOTE: This uneasiness is not without precedent. There is an obvious link between drinking and both drunkenness and alcoholism, neither of which are very good.) And while I’m convinced that my drinking or my not drinking would probably have little or no impact on most people, I’m also convinced that at least a few people would be negatively affected by my drinking. Who? Some of the unbelievers, some of the believers, some of the former and current alcoholics, and most of all, some of those I am trying to raise up and stir up in the Lord. My call is not to prove to the world that Christians have the liberty to drink; they do, and I would champion that liberty in the face of any and all religionists who might attempt to steal it away. But my call is to edify, to stir myself and others to love and good works in the Lord, not to engage in every lawful activity simply because it’s lawful. And if I, by exercising my liberty to imbibe, compromise my position to edify, I’ve forfeited something extremely precious.

5. While there may be some great examples out there that I am not aware of, I have yet to see a movement of Christians who have maintained both a lifestyle of drinking AND a passionate commitment to Christ in a multi-generational context. By that I mean that both they AND succeeding generations are intense in their passion and pursuit of the Lord Jesus. The believers I know who have practiced a lifestyle of drinking have generally struggled with their own passion for the Lord or have seen one or more of their children struggling (often with alcohol or substance abuse). So if someone says to me, “I drink and I’m still a good Christian; I still feel close to the Lord”, I’m entirely unimpressed. What will impress me is the Christian drinker who is able to say, “I’ve been drinking for a lifetime; I’m active and passionate in the things of God. I never get drunk, and my children are all drinkers and they have embraced a lifestyle of drinking and passionate discipleship as well.”

6. People who drink do so for a variety of reasons, but a common reason (although they won’t necessarily admit it) is that it feels good. I know, I know; some will swear all day long that it’s the “taste” and not the feeling; I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. This points to a bit of a dilemma: How much can you drink, and how “good” can you feel, before you’ve had too much and you’re feeling “too good”? Or to put it another way, when exactly do you become “drunk”? Is there a definable blood alcohol level that is the “line” you shouldn’t cross? The point is this: you don’t suddenly “become drunk”; you are moving toward “drunk” as soon as you have your first drink. Most of the Christian drinkers I have spoken to have admitted that they have, in fact, crossed “the line” at some point in their drinking, that they had a little too much and were feeling a little “tipsy”. (Few will admit that they were actually “drunk — but how many drunks ever admit to it?!!!) So, here’s a question: if “buzzed driving” is “drunk driving” (as the Ad Council and the NHTSA say), does that mean that “buzzed Christian drinking” is “drunk Christian drinking”? Now, I’m pretty sure that very few believers who are drinking will end up so “under the influence” that they dance on the coffee table with a lampshade on their head. But I’m also pretty sure that a good number of believers who drink are going to be “feeling good” by the end of the night, and it won’t be entirely the Holy Spirit that’s making them happy. So my question is this: Is that something I want to encourage and multiply? Is that something I want to reproduce in my own life and the lives of others? Hardly.

7. I have bigger fish to fry than proving you can drink and still be a Christian. I’ll let someone else be the spokesman for that cause; someone else can experiment with their kids and with those they are called to impact for Christ. I am more concerned with stirring myself, my children and those around me to fervent worship, fellowship, study, prayer, & evangelism.

Having said all that, I don’t think drinking alcohol is sin. I have no condemnation in my heart for the
person who drinks. I simply know that I have been forced to think through the issue of drinking and to
consider the ramifications of it. And having done that, I’ve decided that although I have complete freedom to drink, I choose to abstain…

Most of the time! When Louissa, Mom and I were in Vienna in 2007, we stayed with a local couple
we contacted through a bed and breakfast directory. It turned out that on our second day with them
they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. They were absolutely thrilled to share this special
occasion with new friends from America! They set a lovely table, complete with eggs, bacon, juice, fruit, and…champagne! And do you know what? There was no way that I was going to turn down the bubbly. They were too excited!. And I had absolutely no concerns about my sanctification. Actually, my biggest concern was knowing that even a few sips of the champagne would give me a terrible headache for the remainder of the day – which it did! – but I concluded that it was worth it in order to participate in this couple’s joyful celebration.