Las Cruces, New Mexico
Christians agree that drunkenness is sinful. Paul lists it as one of the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:21). Here it is clearly indicated that the impenitent drunkard "shall not inherit the kingdom of God." The same apostle also declares that a local congregation is not to extend to nor maintain its fellowship with a drunkard. "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such an one no not to eat" (1 Cor. 5:11). Therefore if, in facing the problem of the drinking of alcoholic beverages, the extent of it was drunkenness, then the solution is plainly set before us. There is more to the matter, however, than just drunkenness.
In the United States today, over sixty-five million persons above the age of twenty years use alcoholic beverages. Seven million of these are "problem drinkers" and three million are addicted to alcohol. One million are chronic alcoholics. Easily grasped is the idea that drinking is a problem which faces everyone of us – even those who are "tee-totalers." Another aspect of the problem arises when we realize that the annual cost of America's liquor bill is nearly $10,000,000,000. That is more money than all the people and institutions in our country spend in a year's pursuit of educational and benevolent purposes.
Perhaps someone reading this has wrestled or is wrestling with this problem in a very personal way. The habit of drink has fastened itself upon you and you struggle to control the situation. Let it be understood now that the purpose in these remarks is not to cry "shame on you." We face a problem here that involves all of us directly or indirectly, and therefore, I have no choice but to deal with that problem carefully and directly.
In some ways, it is hard to receive a fair hearing on the matter of drink. This is true because of the extreme thinking that prevails about the problem. Some feel that to discuss- drinking is infringing upon their personal liberties. Thus, because of these pre-conceived prejudices, and the obvious fact that the liquor industry-is "big business," it becomes difficult to lead a group of people into such a frame of mind that the problem can be approached in a realistic fashion.
Drinking Is A Very Real Problem
Is it possible that any of us live so far removed from the world about us that we see no real danger? Do we feel that some excitable preachers are crying "Wolf!" when there is no wolf?
We cannot blink our eyes at the well-documented fact that drinking and, as a result, drunkenness is on the increase in this nation. The Yale School of Alcohol Studies leaves no doubt at this point. Alcoholics are increasing at the rate of fifty thousand a year. Problem drinkers (those who need a "bracer" two or three times during the course of a day) are growing at the rate of two hundred thousand a year. Not even the most fanatical supporter of a man's right to drink can ignore the simple fact that, out of the million people killed in highway accidents, one-quarter of these died where liquor was directly involved. This figure does not include the number who were injured or maimed; nor can we translate the heartache and the heartbreak into numerals. Between one-fourth and three-fourths of the divorces obtained in this country have listed drinking as either the primary cause or a contributing factor.
When we view television, we receive the distorted impression that drinking is always pleasant, beneficial and good. When we open many of our major magazines, we immediately become acquainted when "men of distinction" wearing roses in their lapels. The impression is left that success and efficiency in business, the professions, and in personal relationships goes hand-in-hand with drinking. You are bound to succeed, provided you drink the right thing at the right time! This is another false impression.
The nature of the problem is impressed upon us by a survey conducted among college students. Two facts stand out: (1) Of those who drink, four out of five men and two out of three women began to do so before they entered college. This indicated that drinking originated in high school age groups. (2) The incidence of drinking among these students increased with each year that they spent in college. Thus, the habit of drinking is one that begins with young people. Any way you look at it, drinking (not just drunkenness) is a problem. In fact, it appears to be several different kinds of problems rolled into one. This is another reason why it is hard to get a fair hearing on the subject of beverage alcohol today. Will anyone deny that drinking is not a health problem? Can we say that the problem has no economic aspects? Is it not also a matter that concerns our law enforcement agencies? Yet, many will deny that drinking is a moral, religious problem! That simply means that some are saying: "It is my business if, when, where, and how much I drink." Exactly at this point issue must be taken.
Alcohol is a naracotic that removes inhibitions. By releasing these inhibitions drinking makes for social ease and pleasure. Alcohol impairs reason, will, self-control, judgment, physical skill and endurance. Drink is used primarily for psychological effects as a means of escaping unpleasant reality. Are we to believe tha" beverage which does these things is not a maker of problems in human life? Shall we accept the idea that a thing which produces these results in our lives is not the concern of a Christian and of the church? Let us consider, briefly, these ideas, and see a few of the religious implications that are involved in them.
The Releasing of Inhibitions
Just what does this mean? An inhibition is an internally imposed curb on action; that curb is usually conscience, or it may be fear or dread produced by past experience. Some inhibitions bring shyness, cowardice, or other "unsocial" reactions. True, these need to be removed, or,at least to be managed if not removed. Other inhibitions are called "social control" and grow out of our environment, training and ideals. Thus, they constitute our standard of judgment and of values. But drinking removes or lowers all inhibitions both good and bad! The same power that can conquer shyness can also numb the conscience and encourage the breaking down of morality. It is entirely vain to argue that this is not a matter of concern to the church and to every Christian. If this is not a religious problem, there are none!
Drinking impairs reason, will, self-control, judgment, physical skill and endurance. What remains of a man when these qualities have been removed? The extent of the removal of these qualities depends upon the amounts of liquor which are consumed. But even "light" or moderate drinking can cause a man to be unfit for exacting physical and mental work. It is well known that much of the absenteeism in industry is due to the consumption of alcohol. It has been demonstrated by actual tests that drinking a cocktail or two makes it necessary for the driver to have six more feet to stop a car than he would need before drinking or without drinking. Men may say, "It is my business when I drink," but if the child whose life is saved by that six feet is yours or mine, it becomes our business!
Alcohol is used as a means of escape from unpleasant realities. But such an escape from reality is temporary and can be achieved again only by another drink or by more drinking. Christian principles, when believed and followed in our lives, will enable us to face the realities of living and solve them permanently by the doing of God's will. Dodging the facts of life is not a solution to them; nor does dodging remove the realities that are with us.
The Case For Total Abstinence
Some questions have been discussed for centuries. There is often a revival of interest in them. They need to be studied anew and often. Such is the question denoted by the heading of this section. This question should be studied in a manner as free from prejudice as possible. One should give due emphasis to "intellectual honesty." He should not be swayed by popular opinion. What does the Bible teach?
Did First Century Christians Have The Right To Drink Moderately?
Those who take a dim view of "total abstinence" have one thing in common-they all try to construct a case from the New Testament showing that moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages was permitted in the first century. Almost without exception they use 1 Tim.5:23; Titus 2:3; and John 2:1-12. These, and some other passages, use the word "wine" in such a way as to indicate that Christians, on occasion, did drink it. They assume this was intoxicating wine. On this basis they try to construct a case of the Christian's moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages with divine approval. They fail in their assumption that all wine was of alcoholic content. Was it?
The word wine (Greek, oinos) was a general word used to translate more specific Hebrew words. Sometimes it did mean wine of the intoxicating variety, but not always. Isa. 65:8: "Wine is found in the cluster." There the word refers to the juice of grapes while they are still on the vine! Josephus (Antiquities, Bk. 2, Ch. 5, Sec. 2) tells of three clusters of grapes hanging from a vine, "and that he squeezed them into a cup which the king held in his hand; and when he had strained the wine, he gave it to the king to drink." These are but two of numerous recorded historical uses of the word "wine" when it could not possibly refer to an intoxicant.
Furthermore, the wine with alcoholic content was not strong except in cases of "mixed wine." Yeast, found in the hulls of the grapes, causes the fermentation of grape juice. When the alcohol content gets to approximately 14%, the alcohol kills the yeast and the process of fermentation stops. Many times the process is stopped early so that the alcohol content is far less than the maximum 14%. Canon Farrar says, "The simple wines of antiquity were incomparably less deadly than the stupefying and ardent beverages of our western nations. The wines of antiquity were more like sirups; many of them were not intoxicant; many more intoxicant in a small degree; and all of them as a rule, taken only when largely diluted with water. They contained, even diluted, but 4 or 5 per cent of alcohol."
Some writers assume that there was no way of preserving the juice of the grape without fermentation in the first century. However, various ancient writers give different methods for so doing. The new Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary says, "Means for preserving grape juice were well known: Cato, De Agri Cultura, CXX has this recipe: `If you wish to have must (grape-juice) all year, put grapejuice in an amphora and seal the cork with pitch; sink it in a fishpond. After 30 days take it out. It will be grape-juice for a whole year."'
Thus, it is an unwarranted assumption to declare that all wines in New Testament days were alcoholic.
The Problem Of Social Drinking
In our society today, social drinking constitutes a very real problem. Functions are attended where alcohol is served; business relationships often involve drinking; thus, many people have come to feel that drinking is a complement to good business and to social contacts. It is here that the importance of example and of Christian influence must necessarily enter the picture. Like it or not, accept it or not, face it or not, we are responsible for the influence we exert on others. Paul faced this question of influence in Rom. 14. The individual may say, "I can drink, and control my drinking." This may be very true. How about someone else who is weak, or young in faith or young in years, who may conclude from your example that drinking is good and, while you can control yourself, he cannot and goes into drunkenness? Will the influence of social drinking actually lead men to obey Christ? Sincerely, do you feel that the influence and the example are good for the young people? What will be-what is-the influence of the social drinker in the church of our Lord? Are those who continually engage in social drinking viewed by the world and by the church as among the most devoted, consecrated members of the body of Christ? Will they-should they-be chosen to serve as elders, deacons, or teachers for the instruction of the young people? These are questions that each one must answer from the depths of his heart before God. And the question of the influence of social drinking upon the children in a family cannot be lightly considered. A parent may never develop into an excessive or dangerous drinker but how about the children? They may grow up thinking that to drink is the way of culture, the way of refinement, and a part of a normal happy life; but will those children in their lives be just moderate drinkers? Young people are more vulnerable to the temptations of drink by the very nature of their immature development than the average adult. What example shall we set before them about the use of beverage alcohol? The church must face the responsibility that is here, as well as in other areas of life, and warn against the dangers of drinking.
Let us realize that no heavy drinker or drunkard-no alcoholic-ever deliberately started drinking to become that. Are not those today enslaved by alcohol the very people who began with the intention of reaping only the "benefits" of this narcotic? Are not they the very people who reasoned what liquor used in moderation could do for them forgetting at the same time what drinking would also do to them? You may be a potential alcoholic, though you have never taken that first drink. You may be a moderate drinker today who could become an alcoholic tomorrow. You cannot know where the use of alcoholic beverages may ultimately lead you; therefore the danger is a stark, terrible reality. Yet every one of us – and the young people can here heed especially – must face the possibility of what drink can do as they ask the question, "Shall I drink?"
It has been our intention to point out that drunkenness is sinful. There are dangers connected with drinking. The influence of social drinking is not good. Drinking alcohol is dangerous to the body and society as well as being sinful. We pray that each of us when confronted by the problem of drinking will determine by the help of God to chart that course which will not bring reproach upon the body of Christ, ourselves, and our families.