PART 1 Abstain? Moderation?
PART 1 ABSTAIN? Moderation?
What does the Bible have to say about alcoholic consumption?
Is a Christian allowed to drink alcohol, albeit in moderation?
When I mentioned to some of my fellow believers that I would be doing a study on this topic, they thought for what purpose. Why would you waste your time on this? I don’t believe doing a study on any biblical topic is a waste of time. Why, because we as believers need to know the “why” behind what we are being taught from the pulpit.
You might disagree and respond by saying something like, who are we to know what to believe, we didn’t go to Bible school. Let the pastor teach what he wants, and as far as we go, just believe and obey. With all due respect, I don’t believe that the assembly should just agree with everything that is being taught. I believe that we should study these topics on our own and make up our own minds according to the Word and the leading and guiding of the Spirit. By believing everything we hear from the pulpit could lead to an abuse of power by those in authority who might believe that everything they say is from God. Before you know it, things have gotten so out of whack that they can’t be questioned on anything. I don’t believe this is how the interaction between those in authority and those who are not is to work.
As this study unfolds one major issue will be unveiled, and that is, how is this topic being presented? You might respond by saying, what are you talking about? Here is what I mean. Some churchgoers probably don’t have any idea what the scriptural basis is for a view that their church espouses. And if they do, they are probably not aware that there are two ways to formulate a view on any biblical topic. Did you know that there are two ways to formulate a view on any biblical topic? Explain to me what you mean, you might ask.
One view is called non-dispensationalism. This view will choose a verse or verses on any biblical topic from the Old Testament, and these will form the basis for the perspective on this topic. In other words, when verses are looked at from the New Testament they will be interpreted according to the verse or verses that were selected from the Old Testament.
A second view is called dispensationalism. This view says that God addresses various topics as they would relate to a particular group of people within a certain period of time. For instance, the manner in which God dealt with the Jews in certain matters is different from the way he would address the same issue relating to New Testament believers.
This study will provide for you what the perspective on this topic of drinking alcohol would be if it was taught dispensationally and also if it was taught non-dispensationally.
Some of the questions that we will attempt to answer are:
Is a Christian obligated to follow the Mosaic Law’s instructions concerning alcoholic regulations?
Are those in church leadership, church members of the New Testament church allowed to drink alcohol, albeit in moderation?
If a fellow believer is involved with habitual drunkenness, how should this be addressed?
Before we proceed, I would like to tell you a story. In the early years of my Christian walk, I was involved with a church that had a worldwide ministry. There were not only many affiliate branch ministries located throughout the USA, but there were also many missionary teams stationed around the world. At this time, I was working on staff in a Christian day school for an affiliate branch ministry that was located in New England. One of the doctrines, which was espoused, was that a Christian should not drink alcohol for any reason. I never quite understood where this view came from although it seemed that whenever it was brought forth as a reminder to abstain, a verse would be taken from the Old Testament in order to justify the prohibition.
One evening after worship service, the head pastor and the assistant pastors went out to dinner. Apparently, some of the church members got together and decided they would also go out to dinner at the same restaurant. When they arrived, a hostess guided them to a table. While on their way, they passed by the pastors who were eating and uh hum drinking alcohol. The church members didn’t say anything about the alcohol, but simply said hello and went on their way.
On the following day, it seemed like everyone who was a member of this branch ministry found out about this incident. When I heard about it from many sources, I had to admit I was quite surprised. On the one hand, the members including myself were told that alcohol consumption was off-limits and on the other hand those who are presenting this prohibition didn’t abide by it.
As time went on, I understood that the president of the ministry whose headquarters was located in a different state was a non-dispensationalist. Another thing that I realized was that if you were the pastor of an affiliate branch ministry, you were expected to teach on doctrinal views that lined up with the president’s view even if your own perspective on a topic differed. I have heard of many stories where a pastor from a branch ministry had a different view on a biblical topic and decided to teach as such from the pulpit. Soon, word would get back to the president of the ministry and this usually resulted in some kind of conversation to occur with this pastor either by phone or in-person in regard to this change of view. In some cases, depending on the doctrine in question, a pastor might be asked to leave the ministry if he didn’t change his perspective.
Hopefully, when this study is over, you will have a better idea as to why some churches believe that drinking should be prohibited and why some churches believe that their members can drink, albeit in moderation. In the chapter, which follows, we will take a more in-depth look at how to recognize whether a pastor is teaching on a biblical topic from a dispensational or non-dispensational approach.
THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO FORMULATE A VIEWPOINT ON ANY DOCTRINAL TOPIC
Before we attempt to read about these two views, we are going to take a look at a very important concept, that of dispensations. Let’s define it and take a look at where it is found in Scripture.
Dispensations: A dispensation is a period of human history defined in terms of divine revelation.1 The doctrine of dispensations is the vehicle by which believers living at a specific time can orient to God’s will, plan, and purpose for their lives.2 We’ll draw attention to two important words from Acts 1:6-7.
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
The background of these verses is that just before Christ ascended into heaven His disciples asked Him about when He would restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus responded by saying it was not for them to know the times or the seasons. The word times is from the Koine Greek chronous and it refers to time as a succession of events, one following the other in chronological order.3 The other word is seasons which is from the Greek word kairous, which denotes an era, a system, or order of chronology.4 This noun is frequently used for the organization of historical events in their dispensational categories.5 So, there you have it. The word dispensation comes from the word seasons.
This idea states that time is divided into eras or dispensations. A dispensation is a period of time in which God relates to human beings in different ways under different biblical covenants.
A dispensationalist believes that human history is divided into seven dispensations.
- The Age of the Gentiles: A period of time from Adam and Eve to the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt under Moses.
- The Age of Israel: From the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt under Moses to the birth of Jesus Christ.
- The Age of the Hypostatic Union: From the birth of Christ to the day of Pentecost.
- The Church Age: From the day of Pentecost to the rapture of the church.
- The Age of Tribulation: From the rapture of the church to Christ’s Second Coming (return to earth).
- The Millennial Age: From Christ’s return to earth to the end of His 1000-year reign.
- The Eternal State: Eternity.
According to the dispensationalist, the view on any biblical topic is to be derived from the Scriptures that relate to that particular period of time.
Some examples of a dispensational view on various biblical topics are as follows.
Example 1: Tithing (a mandate to give a tenth of; a way to give of one’s sustenance).
During the Age of Israel tithing and free will offerings were the protocol for giving under the institution of the Mosaic Law. However, during the Church Age, the age in which we currently live, tithing is no longer the protocol for giving. Giving is based on a believer’s free will while operating under the leading, guiding, and prompting of the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 9:7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
Example 2: Addressing sin which is committed by those in leadership.
During the Age of Israel, King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed. God dealt with David personally by sending the prophet Nathan to disclose to him the consequences for his sins. Under the Mosaic Law, the penalty was the same for committing adultery or murder, which was death. David was responsible to God alone concerning the addressing and consequences for his sins.
Psalms 51:4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest
During the Church Age, let’s say a person in leadership (e.g., apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor-teacher) has committed adultery against a fellow believer, then Matthew18:15-17 should be followed.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
The witness (eye or ear) to the sin of someone in leadership should approach him/her alone in order to address the matter. If an admission of guilt was made, then the issue is resolved. If the person in leadership refuses to admit guilt, then the person that originally met with him/her, should go back and meet with him/her again, this time bringing another eye or ear witness, if any others, with them. If there are no others, then the matter cannot be pursued any further. However, if the admission of guilt was made, then the issue has been resolved. If the person in leadership still refuses to admit guilt, then the issue should be brought before those of the church who have been assigned to handle these kinds of issues. If it’s been determined that the person in leadership has committed such sin and still refuses to admit guilt, then he/she is to be removed from the assembly indefinitely. If on the other hand, he/she does admit guilt, then a church censure could be imposed that would set forth the amount of time he/she is to be removed from participating in any aspect of the assembly.
1 Timothy 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses
Principles, policies, traditions, or particular emphasis continue to be promulgated or promoted throughout history. In other words, under this approach, those in leadership can use any verse of Scripture as the basis to formulate a view on any biblical topic. Whatever view is derived should serve as the basis for interpreting any of the other verses in the New Testament that pertain to the same topic.
Some examples of a non-dispensational view on various topics are as follows.
Example 1: Tithing as instituted during the Age of Israel.
The non-dispensationalist would say that this type of giving is still operative today. After the tithe is presented, the believer may follow this up by giving a free-will offering. Any verse which relates to giving financially in the New Testament will be interpreted as referring to tithing unless it’s specified otherwise.
Example 2: Addressing sin which is committed by those in leadership.
Addressing someone in leadership, who has committed an egregious sin, is to be looked at in light of how God dealt with David, the king of Israel. David said unto the Lord, Against thee and thee only have I sinned… in Psalms 51:4. Any of the verses that are contained in the New Testament epistles that relate to the issue of addressing the sin of someone in leadership are also to be interpreted according to how God dealt with those, who were in the leadership positions of the Old Testament. When someone in leadership (e.g., apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers) commits a sin, such as adultery, he/she is only accountable to God and God alone.
The verses that follow in this study will be looked at from both a dispensational and non-dispensational perspective. However, the Scriptures will be grouped in a dispensational manner.
There are four dispensations from which we will examine the Scriptures concerning this topic:
- The Age of the Gentiles.
- The Age of Israel.
- The Age of the Hypostatic Union.
- The Church Age.
For a non-dispensationalist, the sections that are grouped dispensationally should not interfere in his/her approach in finding a scriptural basis for their convictions. At the end of each dispensational section, I will provide a summary. Along with this will be included a brief outlook of the topic at hand from the perspective of a dispensationalist and a non-dispensationalist as to how each of them would view the subject based on the Scriptures used pertaining to the topic.
THE AGE OF THE GENTILES FROM THE CREATION OF ADAM AND EVE TO THE EXODUS
This period of time encompasses the creation of man and the fall of man. Evil ran rampant after the fall. God decided to destroy all of the inhabitants of the human race by means of a flood, except for a God-fearing man named Noah and his family. Following the flood, the human race repopulated and was of one language. God confused mankind’s language at the Tower of Babel, effectively separating the human race into groups.
God called a man named Abram, a Gentile, to be the father of the Jewish race. He had a son named Isaac, who had a son named Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons, who were the founders of the 12 tribes of Israel. At some point in time, Jacob and his family lived in the land of Canaan when a great famine arose. One of Jacob’s sons named Joseph, who Jacob thought had died years earlier, became food commissioner of Pharaoh in Egypt. When Jacob and his sons came before him for food sustenance Joseph recognized them and made himself known.
Eventually, his family left Canaan and dwelt in Egypt. As the years passed, a new Pharaoh ruled over the land and the Jews became his slaves. This captivity lasted for 430 years. God determined that it was time to free his people from this bondage, so He raised up a man named Moses to bring them out from their captivity.
A non-dispensationalist will look at the instances, in which drinking alcohol was mentioned throughout the Bible, and will choose those ideas that support the perpetuation of the practice of abstinence.
A dispensationalist will look at the instances, in which drinking alcohol was mentioned, and will confine the conditions of this practice to the dispensation at hand. If abstinence is suggested, then fine. If abstinence is not suggested, then fine.
We are now going to look at two Scripture sections from the Age of the Gentiles and try to determine whether they could be used to approve of a Christian drinking alcohol or not.
Excessive drinking can bring about family disgrace.
A. NOAH … WAS DRUNKEN
Genesis 9:22-25 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
Noah planted a vineyard and kept on drinking the wine in his tent until he became inebriated. He was apparently naked (with no garment on). One of his sons named Ham became aware of his state. Some commentators allege that before he let his brothers know about their father’s condition that possibly a sexual encounter took place which was unbeknownst to the father at that time. So, once he left the tent and told his two brothers of their father’s state, they decided to grab a garment and walk toward their father while walking backward so as not to see him, and forthwith covered his nakedness.
When Noah eventually sobered up, he became aware that something inordinate had taken place sexually between him and his son Ham. Because of such he said Cursed be Canaan.
As we can easily deduce that by continually drinking, and thus becoming drunk, Noah put himself in a place of opportunity for someone else to take advantage of him. Likewise, drunkenness can put any one of us in a place, where others can take advantage of us with the possible consequences of being subjected to sexual perversion, physical abuse, or even death.
This incident is not conveying to us that drinking alcohol is forbidden but rather continual partaking of it, as in this case, can result in family disgrace, and a curse on the ancestors of Canaan, who was the son of Ham.
Was wine somehow involved with Isaac’s blessing upon his son Jacob?
B. GOD GIVE THEE … PLENTY OF CORN AND WINE
Suggested Reading: Genesis 27:1-45
Genesis 27:28-29 Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.
Isaac, the son of Abraham, had two sons, one named Esau and the other named Jacob. It was customary for the father to pronounce a blessing on the eldest son before he died. What is a blessing? A blessing consisted of prayers and predictions relating to the covenant promises which he received from the Lord.
Esau, a hunter, being the eldest son was asked by his father to go out and bring him back some venison meat so that he might eat of this savory dish before he pronounced a blessing upon him. However, his brother Isaac and his mother being privy of this event that was to come devised a plan to trick Isaac so that he would pronounce the blessing on Jacob the younger son instead of Esau the elder. The plan worked. Jacob was tricked into pronouncing a blessing on his younger son.
Are there any specifics of what this particular blessing consisted of?
This blessing was a pronouncement that God would give Jacob these benefits.
- The night dew on the ground on hot summer nights for supplying moisture for the plants.
- Rich, fertile, productive lands.
- Plenty of different varieties of grain and wine.
- That other peoples and nations would obey and serve him.
The one thing that I wanted you to notice was the blessing for wine. It appears that wine or the vine that produced grapes, which is turned into wine, wasn’t prohibited as a beverage to drink.
So, with these scriptural sections in mind, how would the dispensationalist and the non-dispensationalist use them to support their view on alcohol consumption? Before this is presented, let’s take a look at a brief summary.
A Brief Summary
- By continually drinking, and thus becoming drunk, Noah put himself in a place of opportunity for someone else to take advantage of him. Drunkenness puts us in a confused state of mind, where others can take advantage of us with the possible consequences of sexual perversion, physical abuse, or even physical death. Taking a drink is not forbidden in these passages, but continually taking a drink is discouraged as in this case it resulted in family disgrace and a curse on the ancestors of Canaan, Ham’s son. Genesis 9:20-27
- Isaac, being tricked by his wife and younger son, pronounced a blessing on his youngest son, Jacob before he died. This blessing was a pronouncement that God would give Jacob the night dew on the ground on hot summer nights for supplying moisture for the plants; rich, fertile, productive lands; plenty of different varieties of grain and wine, and obedience and servitude from other peoples and nations. The production of wine and by inference its consumption was mentioned as a part of this blessing. Genesis 27:1-45
What might be the dispensationalist’s perspective as to whether these scriptural sections would support or not the consumption of alcohol by a New Testament saint?
If your leader/Bible teacher is a dispensationalist, he/she would not use any of the ideas from these scriptural sections concerning the biblical topic of alcohol consumption as a basis for supporting or not supporting this practice in the Church Age (dispensation), which is the age in which we currently live. Why not? Because they would claim that the idea as to whether an individual or a group of people are allowed to drink alcohol should only be determined according to the dispensation at hand. He/she would admit, however, that excessive use of drinking alcohol could cause a person to be subjected to abuse by others. They might also mention that the production and consumption of wine were not prohibited in this age. Believers in God or unbelievers had the free choice to decide whether to drink and how much.
What might be the non-dispensationalist’s perspective as to whether these scriptural sections would support or not the consumption of alcohol by a New Testament saint?
If your leader/Bible teacher is a non-dispensationalist, he/she might deduce and thus profess that drinking alcohol in excess distorts a person’s perception of their surroundings with the result being that it could possibly serve as an opening for inappropriate sexual engagements and other forms of abuse. Therefore, in order to avoid these things from happening they would teach that a Christian should abstain from drinking alcohol. They might even be against drinking in moderation as they believe that this could be the gateway for the possibility of an excessive amount of consumption to take place in the future.
As you can see, the verses that are used to support a biblical topic along with as to whether the teacher is a dispensationalist or non-dispensationalist will determine the doctrinal perspective about the subject that is presented to the congregation from the pulpit. The next dispensation in which this topic will be looked at again is called the Age of the Jews. Let’s find out what their perception was about this involvement.
1R.B. Thieme Jr., The Divine Outline of History (Houston, Texas: Berachah Tapes and Publications, 1989).
2R.B. Thieme Jr.
3R.B. Thieme Jr.
4R.B. Thieme Jr.
5R.B. Thieme Jr.
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