Abstinence, Moderation and Tolerance

If you are new here, you might want to run through these previous posts: Drinking with Jesus, and Akin on Alcohol. This should be my last post on the alcohol issue for a while. This is simply not an issue for our church or family. In both we have those who abstain and those who enjoy in moderation and there is no drama. But before I move on I wanted to speak to the issues of abstinence and wisdom.

In and of itself, abstinence is not a virtue. In fact, this is something the Bible makes plain.

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer." 1 Tim 4:1-5

"If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." Colossians 2:20-23

When one abstains for the wrong reasons, and seeks to bind the consciences of others, abstinence is both unbiblical and counterproductive to edification. Both passages quoted above warn against the danger of asceticism, proto-gnosticism, and their accompanying rejection of God's gifts (marriage and food). Abstaining from such things in order to merit the favor of God, purify ourselves before him, and attain personal holiness is sin. But this does not mean that abstinence is always a bad policy. In fact, I believe wisdom allows for abstinence.

Abstinence from lawful things can be good when it is done for the right reasons. In Scripture we have the temporal Nazirite vow, which in some cases could become a lifelong practice. We have the example of the Rechabites who abstained from wine and a few other things as well. Paul says there is a time to abstain from sexual relations with our spouses. He encourages some to abstain from eating meat sacrificed to an idol for the sake of the weaker brother who may be encouraged to go against his own conscience when eating with those who understand their liberty. Of course the one who cannot eat such meat with a clear conscience should abstain. Abstinence is the wise choice for many people. We just need to be honest - abstinence (especially from alcohol) was not the norm, it was the exception, in Scripture and the history of the church. Moderation was the norm.

Moderation is good because it recognizes wine to be the gift of God, a blessing to his people that makes their hearts glad. Moderation is always a good example because it tells the world that we are a slave to nothing and to no one but Jesus Christ. It says that there is a way to enjoy God's gifts without abusing them. It demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit (self-control) in a way that abstinence does not. Moderation is the wise choice for many people.

In the end we have two excellent examples for both those who abstain, and those who enjoy alcohol in moderation; John the Baptist and Jesus.

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children. Luke 7:33-35

This is extremely important. There were means of abstaining from alcohol in the first century. John the Baptist did not drink wine. He was a teetotaler. Jesus could have abstained, but he chose not to. He was aware of John the Baptist's practice, but did not follow his example. Though he was aware of the problem of drunkennes in his culture he chose to drink openly with his disciples.

So what is the wise thing to do? In light of all of the biblical evidence, I believe full wisdom, 100 Proof wisdom, allows for abstinence and moderation and calls for tolerance among all.