The Danger of the Adamant Teetotaler!

Several days ago, a friend on Facebook asked me how to deal with a fellow Christian who was proclaiming that any and all drinking of alcoholic beverages was a sin. There are still pockets of Christians who believe alcoholic drinks are sinful and never to be touched by Christians. It may seem harmless, but those who hold to these views and force them on others are more of a danger to the gospel than an aid.

My friend wanted to know how to deal with such people, so I will deal with that first, and then show why such views are so dangerous to the gospel.

The best way to deal with such people is to use Scripture. First, start with Jesus Christ and His first miracle. The teetotaler will say, and some have tried this with me, that what Jesus did was turn water into grape juice. There are two problems with this argument. The first is that the text says that He turned the water into wine. The very text attests to this reality because the host of the wedding makes the statement that they have saved the best for last. It was the custom to bring out the best wine first, then after their senses were dulled from the alcoholic properties in the wine, they would bring out the bad stuff. But with Christ, it was just the opposite.

Secondly, a little bit of history helps on this argument. Grape juice was not a reality until the late 1800s when a man named Welch figured out how to pasteurize wine. Other wise, the grape juice does one of two things: it either ferments into wine, or turns to vinegar. But buying grape juice at the local market was not a reality.

Third, Jesus instituted the use of wine in communion. Some have tried to make the case that it was “new wine” that he used, thinking that new wine is non-alcoholic wine, but this fails as well, for two reasons. The first is that the disciples were accused of drinking too much “new wine” on the Day of Pentecost. If it was non-alcoholic, why accuse them of such? Secondly, the only option those at the Passover have is to use wine, since Passover is always in the spring and the grapes will not come to fruition until late summer. Using grape juice was not an option, then, nor should it be now. Jesus didn’t institute this sacrament with grape juice, but with wine. He ordained it for us for His own glory.

Fourth, we know that Jesus drank wine and His enemies accused Him of being a glutton and a winebibber.

Luke 7:33-35 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  But wisdom is justified by all her children.”

So by Christ’s own admission, He drank. This is where the real danger of saying that drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin comes into play. If drinking wine is a sin because it has alcohol in it, then we have no Savior. Christ drank wine, as was the custom of the day. To declare this a sin means we don’t have someone who is sinless to die on the cross on our behalf, hence, no gospel.

This is why the claim that alcoholic beverages as sinful is so… sinful in and of itself. It declares something sinful that the Bible, nor Jesus, never declare.

Yes, I recognize that in the first 5 chapters of Isaiah, the prophet declares woe’s of condemnation upon those seeking after strong drink. But he does not do so because of the strong drink. He does so because of their idolatry of the strong drink. This is what they live for, instead of living for the LORD. The sin is not the alcoholic beverages, but idolizing those beverages. We can turn anything into idolatry and woe to us when we do.

A further point on Isaiah: in Isaiah 55 he declares that we should come and buy wine without money, buy drink without paying for it, in giving us a description of heaven. So in the earlier part of his book, he was condemning the drunkards who pursue strong drink, and in the latter part, declaring wine to be a part of the blessing of heaven itself.

The reality of wine being a blessing is one of the reasons it was Christ’s first miracle. He was showing His approval of weddings and the blessedness of wine at such occasions.

There are other passages to be used in showing the blessedness of wine, and the fact that it is not a sin to drink it. I hope that I have made that clear.

Yet, we are not done. We cannot be because we must show the teetotaler that his proclamation is more dangerous than if he were to drink down an entire case of wine. Why do I say that? For two reasons.

First, in declaring that drinking alcohol as sinful, we have declared something that is actually doable from a righteousness standard. During my seminary days, I had to sign a statement saying I would not drink alcohol. I managed to go the entire six years with only drinking one beer. Not bad, huh?

The problem is that by not drinking, someone can falsely believe that they have a righteousness of their own. We have no righteousness at all, and we are completely dependent upon Christ for His righteousness!

At my first church, I had a woman tell me that she had never had a drink in her life. I asked her if she was proud of that fact, and she said she was. Does anyone see a problem with this? The absence of alcoholic beverages did not lead her back to Christ with grateful praise, but caused her heart to swell with pride. Pride is something that God hates, because we have no right to be prideful or boastful except in the gospel.

Finally, the real problem with what the teetotaler is doing is that he is distracting Christians from true sin. Sin is any want of conformity or transgression of the Law of God. By declaring something sinful that is not sinful, and focusing on such nonsense, we fail to see what true sin is.

Actual Sin

We discover what is truly sinful by looking to the moral Law, known as the Ten Commandments. Here, I will list just the first four along with the ways we break these commandments as given in the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith. This will help us see our true sinfulness, instead of the false sin that some propagate. The purpose is not to point the finger, but to show that we all need to cling to the cross of Christ and quit boasting in refraining from our own picadillos of sin.

1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

The sins forbidden in the first commandment are, atheism, in denying or not having a God;[469] idolatry, in having or worshipping more gods than one, or any with or instead of the true God;[470] the not having and avouching him for God, and our God;[471] the omission or neglect of anything due to him, required in this commandment;[472] ignorance,[473] forgetfulness,[474] misapprehensions,[475] false opinions,[476] unworthy and wicked thoughts of him;[477] bold and curious searching into his secrets;[478] all profaneness,[479] hatred of God;[480] self-love,[481] self-seeking,[482] and all other inordinate and immoderate setting of our mind, will, or affections upon other things, and taking them off from him in whole or in part;[483] vain credulity,[484] unbelief,[485]heresy,[486] misbelief,[487] distrust,[488] despair,[489] incorrigibleness,[490] and insensibleness under judgments,[491] hardness of heart,[492] pride,[493] presumption,[494] carnal security,[495] tempting of God;[496] using unlawful means,[497] and trusting in lawful means;[498] carnal delights and joys;[499] corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal;[500] lukewarmness,[501] and deadness in the things of God;[502] estranging ourselves, and apostatizing from God;[503] praying, or giving any religious worship, to saints, angels, or any other creatures;[504] all compacts and consulting with the devil,[505] and hearkening to his suggestions;[506] making men the lords of our faith and conscience;[507] slighting and despising God and his commands;[508] resisting and grieving of his Spirit,[509] discontent and impatience at his dispensations, charging him foolishly for the evils he inflicts on us;[510] and ascribing the praise of any good we either are, have or can do, to fortune,[511] idols,[512] ourselves,[513] or any other creature.[514]

2.You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;  you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising,[529] counselling,[530] commanding,[531] using,[532] and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself;[533] tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever;[534] all worshipping of it,[535] or God in it or by it;[536] the making of any representation of feigned deities,[537] and all worship of them, or service belonging to them,[538] all superstitious devices,[539] corrupting the worship of God,[540] adding to it, or taking from it,[541] whether invented and taken up of ourselves,[542] or received by tradition from others,[543] though under the title of antiquity,[544] custom,[545] devotion,[546] good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever;[547] simony;[548] sacrilege;[549] all neglect,[550] contempt,[551] hindering,[552] and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.

3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required;[579] and the abuse of it in an ignorant,[580] vain,[581] irreverent, profane,[582] superstitious[583] or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes,[584]ordinances,[585] or works,[586] by blasphemy,[587] perjury;[588] all sinful cursings,[589] oaths,[590] vows,[591] and lots;[592] violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful;[593] and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful;[594] murmuring and quarrelling at,[595]curious prying into,[596] and misapplying of God’s decrees[597] and providences;[598] misinterpreting,[599] misapplying,[600] or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it;[601] to profane jests,[602] curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines;[603] abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms,[604] or sinful lusts and practices;[605] the maligning,[606] scorning,[607] reviling,[608] or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways;[609] making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends;[610] being ashamed of it,[611] or a shame to it, by unconformable,[612] unwise,[613] unfruitful,[614] and offensive walking,[615] or backsliding from it.

4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

The sins forbidden in the fourth commandment are, all omissions of the duties required,[630] all careless, negligent, and unprofitable performing of them, and being weary of them;[631] all profaning the day by idleness, and doing that which is in itself sinful;[632]and by all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.

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11 thoughts on “The Danger of the Adamant Teetotaler!

  1. Marilyn Niccum

    I am a teetotaler and I know that drinking alcoholic beverages is not sending anyone to hell. It is unbelief in the Lord Jesus Christ and not accepting his gift of salvation and redemption through His death on the Cross as our substitute. This is a subject I usually stay away from, but as a Christian I think more of what drinking alcoholic beverages does for our witness to an unbeliever. How would it look or affect our witness to have a sudsy glass of beer on the pulpit to moisten the mouth, while preaching? Not meant to hurt anyone disagreeing with me, just offering my thoughts.

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    1. Hi Marilyn,
      Thanks for commenting. I understand what you are saying and know of a pastor who actually drank a beer from the pulpit. However, I feel that is a disgrace to the pulpit and our call as pastors.

      What concerns me more is the way people abuse actual listed sins than those that are not listed. How many Christians are willing to stay home on the LORD’s Day from the restaurant in order to honor God in keeping that commandment? When we go to a restaurant, we are making our servants work on the LORD’s day. If we were to stay home, and I mean all Christians, the restaurants would close and the laborers would be free to attend church as well. Not that they would, but they would have that freedom. AS it is, too many have to work on the LORD’s day so that we can eat out. To me, this is far more serious than the issue of drinking alcoholic beverages, because the non-believer knows enough to know that we are to keep the LORD’s day holy.

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  2. Marilyn Niccum

    Lots of people have problems with and from drinking, lots of people have problems with and from eating, so I think probably the most important message to us all is how wonderful the Grace of God, which was paid with such an extremely high price and how thankful we should be! All glory to our Holy God!

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  3. One of my favorite passages of Scripture on the subject is in Proverbs (you know, a book of wisdom). Right after forbidding kings to drink, it says, “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” (Prov 31:6-7) I’ve always enjoyed floating that one past the people who are pounding the table against any alcohol at all.

    I know that the Word says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18), so drunkenness is a problem, but the command not to be drunk versus their command not to drink at all sounds a lot like Eve’s problem. God commanded them not to eat of the tree. Eve added “or to touch it.” (Gen 3:3) We often build fences not commanded by God around clear sins certainly commanded by God and feel like we’re being “more spiritual” or “more godly” for imposing laws He never did to prevent us from transgressing laws He did impose. That’s a common mistake … and we see how that approach worked out for Eve.

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  4. Marilyn Niccum

    Thanks for commenting. I understand what you are saying and know of a pastor who actually drank a beer from the pulpit. However, I feel that is a disgrace to the pulpit and our call as pastors. ” (copied from above.) I think you hit upon my feelings in this statement. Why does it make you feel that way?
    Then, regarding Stan’s comment, how much of the time do we imagine alcoholic beverages are used for the medicinal purposes? Another question in my mind, why do Christians drink? To fit in, to influence someone? I can’t quote the scripture off the top of my head, but did Paul not say something like, things that are lawful but not expedient? I am not intending to make a doctrine out of this issue, it is just my defense for believing that drinking is one of many things that Christians can live without.

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    1. Hi Marilyn,

      We drink because we see it as a blessing from the LORD. He gave us wine, as a blessing. Just because some, with sinful** hearts, turn it into a curse does not mean we should refrain from it. We also do so for the gospel. We are not Christians because we don’t drink or do drink. WE are Christians because we have trusted in Christ for our salvation. Again, my concern for what we do and don’t do depends more on the moral law than cultural conformity (even the sub-culture of Evangelicalism). I think it’s more important that we keep the Ten Commandments, which He has given us to keep, not for righteousness (that can only be had in Christ), but out of obedience to God. We would make more of a statement if we sought ways to honor God with what He had given us, than what He has not given us.

      **I recognize that we all have sinful hearts. This is why we look to God’s word on how we live. You have made the decision that you should not drink. That is your conviction and I have no problem with it. My main concern is when those who have the same conviction, try to turn it into Law for the rest of us. It would be the same as me saying, “You don’t really believe in the gospel or you would drink wine with me.” I’m not saying that, but you get the idea. I guess what I’m trying to say is: Let the Law be the definition of sin, and let liberty rule us in other areas where the Spirit leads. Hope that helps.

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    2. Just another thought, and I know you are not saying this. But some of the teetotalers arguments for not drinking is because they have seen the abuse of it in abundance. Their premise is that since some abuse it, all should do without it. I once asked a pastor who believed this if the same should be true for sexual relationships between man and wife. If some abuse the gift of sex, and abstinence is the answer because some abuse it, then should we not all abstain? He refused to answer me.

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  5. Marilyn Niccum

    Just replying again in fun, not being argumentative at all, but I believe God told us to be fruitful and multiply. Don’t remember being encouraged to drink, other than that a “little” wine is good for the stomach. Not a good comparison in my view, to link to sex. 🙂 If I agreed with you on everything, I would have to call you a god. 🙂

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    1. Actually, Jesus did command the drinking of wine, and acknowledged His previous and future consumption of it as well.
      ~~~
      Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:27-29
      ~~~
      I appreciate the tone of this discussion. Grace, among the brethren, is glorifying to our LORD!

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