Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pastors and Alcohol

Questions: Should Pastors Drink Alcohol?:  

This question has seemed to come up quite a bit lately. People want to know if there is a standard for Pastoral leadership within the church that would include abstinence from alcohol. It is not my intention to look at the first miracle of Jesus in turning water into wine, and build a case for the water to wine ratio or anything like that. Also I am not attempting to look at every angle of this matter.  I simply want to take a practical look at the subject and give a perspective on it. I am also not saying that every person has to agree with my perspective, but I am hopeful that it may encourage someone in pastoral ministry to think about the decisions they make and how it could potentially affect others. With that preface lets consider what the Word of God says on the issue. 

Drunkenness: There is absolutely no doubt that Bible forbids drunkenness. For information read the following passages just to name a few.(Isa.5:11, Prov.23:20, Rom.13:13, Gal.5:19, Eph.5:18)  My question is how do you know if your actually inebriated and crossed the line?   I love what I heard Pastor Greg Laurie say one time, "you'll never have to be concerned about falling into the sin of drunkenness if you never have a drink."  Why take the chance?

In the Old Testament you find that there were those who would take a Nazarite vow. During the  time of their vow they would refrain from wine according to Numbers 6. Also we find the priests refraining from wine in ministering in Leviticus 10:9. When they were ministering in the tabernacle  the Lord did not want their judgment to be clouded in any way.  In fact the prophet Amos rebuked the nation when he said, "I raised up some of your sons as prophets, and some of your young men as Nazarites. Is it not so O you children of Israel, says the Lord? But you gave the Nazarites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets saying, "Do not prophesy." Amos 2:11-12. How tragic that these young men had a calling upon their lives and yet they were encouraged to drink wine and it hindered them in their calling to prophecy. 

In the New Testament some of the debate over pastoral liberties has come from the meaning of the Apostle Paul's reference in 1 Timothy 3 where he lists the qualifications for a Bishop (overseer, elder, pastor). Paul writes that a man should be blameless or above reproach in the way that he lives his life. Then Paul states in 1 Timothy 3:3 a bishop is not to be given to wine. When you look up the original greek it is the word paroinos. As you examine the word you then could read various scholars and commentators on the subject splitting the grammatical hairs of what it means and does not mean. But the question is then raised, "Was Paul saying we should abstain completely, or was he saying a pastor has liberty as long as he is not given over to it?" Again, I am not one to debate the finer points of the greek language, but rather share why I believe it could be a danger and a hinderance to the pastors ministry, and thus why I choose personally to refrain from the consumption of alcohol. 

The Old Life: To me when I think of alcohol, it represents the old life before I knew Jesus. Whether that was one drink or multiple ones. When I came to Jesus that is not when I started drinking, that is when I put it away. The reason is because it was representative of the old man, or who I used to be. Why would I want to go back? I don't. 

The Observation of Devastation: In all of the years that I have been pastoring I can tell you that I have never once seen anything good come from alcohol. But I have seen violence, divorce, loss, devastation, drug abuse, abortions, unwed mothers, tragic accidents, death, all as the result of alcohol. A recent survey I read stated that 1 out of 7 people who drink become alcoholics. At some point it started with one drink, which led to the next. Most people that I have counseled with, who are given over to alcohol never thought they would end up where they are at. They never expected when they took that first drink it would lead to a divorce, child support, rehab, D.U.I.'s and more. 
Let me ask you, "Would you keep a dog in your house that severely bit 1 out of 7 people that came into your house?"  Did you know that 1700 college students die every year because of over drinking? I am certain that most of them thought they could handle it. 1700 college students is the equivalent to 4 full jumbo jets of people, and they all die. It kind of puts it into perspective.

The Potential to Stumble Others: I realize, as a Pastor, that the calling I have has a great amount of influence within peoples lives. That responsibility is something that I take very seriously, and seek to walk in the fear of the Lord over how I live my life before my God and before people. For example, "If I were a social drinker, and say 7 people decided to follow my example and 1 of the 7 becomes a alcoholic and end their life in total destruction, is that a risk I am willing to take?!. NO WAY! Also I find it troubling today that the phrase that is being used so often to justify, even for pastors, is the phrase, "in the privacy of your own home." As long as its in the "privacy of your own home" its okay. But how far do I carry that reasoning? What else could potentially fall under that category? Also I realize First of all, that its not my home, its Jesus' home. Furthermore being a father I have always considered my children within our home. Forget for the moment I am a pastor, I am also a husband and father. I don't want to go down the road of justifying what I do at home, verses what I do when I'm outside the home. I know me, I could easily do that….

Not Legalism but Wisdom: There are undoubtedly people that are on the other side of this discussion who may even go so far to call me the "weaker brother, or the legalist". That is something I am willing to live with. As I personally weigh out the consequences of a decision, "for me" it is clear, that I don't want alcohol, and a lot of other things, to be apart of my life and ministry. Furthermore at "Calvary Chapel in SJC" I encourage all our young men in leadership who have a desire to be pastors to take that same stand.  I even encourage our congregation in the same way, that although they may have the liberty, to be very careful that the liberty does not become a cloak for sin. Its a little leaven that will  potentially spoil the whole lump. Or worse yet that we would stumble someone with our liberty, whether in the privacy of your own home, or the public outside your home.

Galatians 5:13 For you brethren have been called to liberty, only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.