Dr. Vern Charette
Abstaining from Alcohol: Reasons I am a Teetotaler (Notes from Rewired 2019)
On April 27th, 2019 I was asked to present a "Truth Track" for the men of "Rewired" at Falls Creek. The two hour class was well attended but it is the response since that has shocked me. I have received numerous requests over the last 5 months, mainly from pastors, asking for my notes on this subject. In fact, in all the years I've been teaching, no subject has been as requested as the one I deal with in these notes. Before I share my notes and my position on alcohol with you, please know that this is my personal conviction only. This is not the official position of First Baptist Church Coweta and the view presented in these notes is strictly mine. I am sure I have members that disagree with me on it and that is fine. The reason for this is because this is a "secondary issue" and as I point out in the introduction, not a basis to "break fellowship" over. Enjoy the outline and feel free to share with others what I suppose might be becoming a "minority position" in our beloved Southern Baptist Zion. This dinosaur writes:
While most Christians affirm that drunkenness is forbidden by God, some have taken a moderation position with alcoholic beverages. I, however, am not convinced that moderation is the wisest choice. I will present several Biblical, theological and practical reasons that I have chosen to totally abstain from alcoholic beverages. Having grown up in a home with an alcoholic father and after losing my 39 year old sister to alcohol, my son, by grace will never see his dad under the influence of anything other than the Spirit of God (Ephesians 5:15-21).
THREE POSSIBLE POSITIONS ON THE USE OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES BY CHRISTIANS:
1. CHRISTIANS MAY DRINK AND GET DRUNK (Absolute Freedom)
2. CHRISTIANS MAY DRINK, BUT NOT GET DRUNK (Moderation)
3. CHRISTIANS MAY NOT DRINK (Abstinence/Teetotaler)
Even though I personally hold the Teetotaler position, let me clarify some things early:
1. Since the Biblical witness is clear on the issue of “drunkenness,” I will not be dealing with the “absolute freedom” position above. I know of no Evangelical Christians that believe the Bible validates drunkenness. Therefore, I am presenting my view in contrast with the “moderation” view only.
-In his two part series on drinking, John MacArthur, a teetotaler, cites several biblical passages that clearly state that drunkenness is a damnable sin (i.e. 1 Cor. 6:9–10 and Gal. 5:19–21).
2. For me, the issue of “moderation vs. abstinence” is classified as a “non-essential” and is no reason to “break fellowship” among Christians. Remember the words attributed to Augustine:
-“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
-Former president of SBC and current pastor of Bellevue Baptist, Steve Gaines, a teetotaler,
presented his 6 reasons in a very non-judgmental way, even occasionally employing humor.
3. My teetotaler position is not about “Christian liberty” per say, it is more about “wisdom.” I do not personally believe that in light of what the Bible says, as well as the current culture we find ourselves in, including the modern alcohol industry, the moderation position is the wisest choice.
-John Piper, a teetotaler, cites the modern cultural milieu as one of his reasons.
4. My teetotaler position, although informed by many negative experiences, is not solely based on these unique experiences alone. Had I never personally experienced the devastating effects of alcoholic abuse, I still, in light of the Scriptures, would hold to the abstinence view.
-Johnny Hunt and the late Adrian Rogers, both teetotalers, are examples of being persuade by the Biblical witness. While Johnny Hunt grew up over a bar and drank, Dr. Rogers never touched a drop in his life.
5. This weekend is about Jesus having the preeminence in our lives (Colossians 1:15–23). Is what I have the freedom to partake of, namely, beverage alcohol, something that I am willing to place under the Lordship of Christ for the sake of wisdom?
BIBLICAL, THEOLOGICAL, AND PRACTICAL REASONS I AM A TEETOTALER
1. Since I cannot exactly be certain when I have crossed the line and become “drunk,” something the Bible clearly forbids and condemns, I think it is wise for me to abstain from it altogether. We could call this the “subjective argument.”
A. Fact: It does not take much modern Alcohol to become intoxicated.
-The following chart shows how alcohol affects the brain at various levels of blood alcohol content (www.intox.com):
0.01 – 0.02 is “Sub clinical” meaning the behavior is “nearly” normal by ordinary observation.
0.03 – 0.12 is “Euphoria” meaning “mild euphoria, sociability, talkativeness, increased self-confidence, decreased inhibitions, diminution of attention, judgment, and control.” This is the “beginning of sensory-
motor impairment” and “loss of efficiency in finer performance tests.”
0.13 – 0.45 is “Excitement; Confusion; Stupor; Coma; and Death.”
B. In Oklahoma, if a person’s BAC is 0.05 – 0.079 while driving, they will receive a DWI. If a person’s BAC is over 0.08, they receive a DUI. In other words, the state considers 0.08 to be a more severe offense. Of course, there are signs everywhere that say, “Buzz driving is drunk driving.” A “BAC as low as 0.02 percent alcohol affects driving ability... (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Website).”
C. Now consider the “strength” of modern, distilled/fermented, alcohol. Keep in mind, the distillation process used today was not discovered until the 9thcentury. In short, the beverages sold and consumed today are very strong.
-The standard drink is 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine and 1.5 oz. of liquor. Beer contains 4–6% Alcohol, wine 9–11% and liquor from 15–50%.
*Wisdom calls me to abstinence in this situation
2. Since I live in the modern world and have a plethora of choices when it comes to what I drink, something that the ancients in Biblical times did not have, it is wise for me to abstain from alcoholic beverages altogether because I do not need them. We could call this the “selection argument.”
A. What were the choices of drink in the Biblical era? Isaiah 55:1–2 gives 3 choices, but I have many choices, many of which do not have to contain alcohol. They drank fluids for sustenance first and celebration second. John 2 and 4 are examples of this.
1. Savor (taste) is no reason for me to drink Alcoholic beverages.
2. Celebration is no reason for me to drink Alcoholic beverages.
3. Symbolism is no reason for me to drink Alcoholic beverages.
4. Sensation is no reason for me to drink Alcoholic beverages.
B. The ancients were allowed to use “strong drink” (shekar) as a narcotic. Proverbs 31:6 says “Give strong drink (shekar) unto him that is ready to perish, and wine (yayin) unto those that be of heavy hearts.”
1. Besides one other hypothetical verse, this is the only verse in the bible that allows for drinking “strong drink” (shekar). The consumption of shekaris universally condemned in the Bible.
2. 1 Timothy 5:23 is a NT instance where a “little” wine (oinos) is allowed to be “used” by Timothy for a medicinal reason. This is certainly no grounds for the modern consumption of alcoholic beverages.
3. We now have doctors that can prescribe or administer a drug in instances of severe pain and medical depression. I do not need an Alcoholic beverage and it would be cruel for me to prescribe it.
C. Alcoholic beverages are addictive in nature.
1. There is a reason that “alcohol is the most commonly used drug in the US.” Statistics are always questionable, but a new study published by JAMA says, “Alcoholism is on the rise” and “one in eight American adults is an alcoholic.”
2. Furthermore, “the children of alcoholics are 3–4 times more likely than others to become addicted to alcohol.”
3. 1 Corinthians 16:12 is a warning against enslaving and addictive behaviors. Even if I was not the son of an alcoholic, which I am, wisdom tells me to leave it alone. The high profile fall of Pastor Perry Noble is warning enough.
4. Over-imbibing modern alcohol is NOT the same as overeating, do not compare them.
5. If I contribute to my son becoming an alcoholic in the slightest, I am accountable. Why contribute one shred of an iota with moderate drinking?
3. Since I am not convinced, after studying the terminology of the Scripture, that modern, distilled/fermented, alcoholic beverages would be acceptable to our Lord, even in moderation, the wisest choice for me is total abstinence. We could call this the “Scriptural argument.”
A. Part of the problem with rhetorically asking, “Does the Bible explicitly say that we cannot drink wine, after all, Jesus turned the water into wine, didn’t He?” is that this assumes that the “wine” spoken of throughout the Scriptures is the same as our modern, highly alcoholic wines and distilled beers and liquors.
B. Fact: English translations often translate different Hebrew and Greek terms as “wine” regardless of whether the word means “fermented, alcoholic wine” or “nonfermented, grape juice.” Furthermore, there is a common Hebrew word (yayin) and common Greek word (oinos) that could, depending on context and usage, mean either “alcoholic” or “nonalcoholic.”
1. After studying each Hebrew and Greek term, here is a general rule—If the biblical context speaks positively, it is speaking of unfermented wine and if it speaks negatively, it is speaking of fermented wine (Fisher 90). A few examples:
Positive: Proverbs 3:9–10 (tirosh) or Timothy 5:23 (oinos)
Negative: Proverbs 20:1; 23: 29–35 (yayin) or Eph. 5:18 (oinos)
2. The Hebrew word “shekar” is, except with the two exceptions noted on page 3, universally condemned. Many translations translate it as “strong drink” or something like this. It is clear, for example, in Proverbs 23: 29–35, that God’s people are not to “look toward it.”
KEY: Everything I have read concerning the modern distillation and fermentation process along with comparing the end product, namely, the strength of the modern alcoholic drink, I have no reason to conclude anything other than the glairing fact that modern alcoholic beverages WOULD BE CONSIDERED “shekar” (strong drink).
3. So, what do I do with the so-called “Kegger at Cana” (John 2)?
(1) Jesus did turn the wine into “something” (oinos).
(2) The fact that they would give the “good wine” first was customary and had nothing to do with “drunkenness.”
(3) They were able to discern the good from the bad, indicating that the wine they were drinking was probably not fermented.
(4) Overall, it does not fit the Character of our Savior to serve “shekar” based on the prohibitions in the OT. It could have made our Savior a sinner, right?
(5) The point of the text has nothing to do the wine being fermented or not.
4. Since I am called to be a witness for Christ, as well as an example, consuming beverage alcohol may hurt my witness and cause some to stumble, the wisest and most loving thing for me to do is abstain from its use. We could call this the “Sanctified argument.”
A. A believer should seek to glorify their Lord by being a great example and witness to others. Does drinking alcoholic beverages, even in moderation, impede God’s glory and my witness?
1. The clincher for many is what the Bible says in two passages:
1) 1 Corinthians 10:31—Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
2) Romans 14:21—It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anythingby which your brother stumbles.
2. Drinking alcoholic beverages will cause others to stumble. God’s glory is at stake in this.
B. Add to this evidence that the kings and priests were forbidden to touch an alcoholic beverage, not to mention the Nazarite and I have to conclude as a New Covenant, believer priest who has been set apart by God that it would be wise for me to abstain from modern alcoholic beverages.
5. Since the alcoholic industry has deceptively been the indirect cause of so much hurt, pain and chaos in the world, I believe it is wise for me as a good steward to try to avoid feeding the industry with my money. We could call this the “Stewardship argument.”
A. Billions of lost dollars and untold unimaginable hurt have resulted from the alcohol industry. This is undeniable.
1. Copious amounts of statistics could be given here, but because of time, here is one statistic—"More than one-third of Americans report that alcohol has caused problems in their family.”
2. The Alcohol industry knows exactly what they are doing with their “false” advertising.
B. Wisdom calls out to me and I conclude that I have no desire to directly give this industry anything, even in "moderation" money. Just another reason I am a teetotaler.