Are Christians Hypocrites Regarding Alcohol and Other Disputable Issues?



Dear Roger,

I always understood that the Bible tells us to not be drunk, but it doesn't explicitly say not to drink or that drinking alcohol is a sin, is that right? Can you help me speak clearly if the statement “Christians are such hypocrites when they drink” comes up?

Brett

Dear Brett,

The short answer is, you’re right!

There are numerous instances of people drinking alcohol in Scripture. Wine was consumed at meals as a normal part of daily life. Therefore, Christians who drink alcohol are not hypocrites.

However, there is specific instruction for Christians in Ephesians 5:18, which states, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” Throughout Scripture, many passages describe drunkenness that leads to sin, destruction, and broken lives.

Simply, “Don’t get drunk” makes sense because we as followers of Christ need control over our minds and bodies to honor Him.

However, there is a much larger issue behind your question. Christians are constantly criticized for being “hypocrites,” or saying one thing and doing another. In other words, as followers of Christ, do we have to give up all of our rights because someone might think what we are doing is a sin?

Let’s go back to the beginning.

Christian relationships were in upheaval in first-century pagan culture. The Roman Christians were having difficulty deciding which activities were acceptable and which were not. Remember, they didn’t have the full canon of Scripture at that time.

Eating meat that had been offered to idols was a problem. First-century Christians had been saved out of both paganism and idol worship, and some wanted to avoid all contact with that old life. They deeply struggled with the idea of any contact with idolatry.

In Romans 14, the Apostle Paul’s advice was that since they were free in Christ, it was all right to go ahead and eat! Sadly, many who struggled with Paul’s solution were being hurt by those who were eating freely.

Others were arguing about whether or not Gentiles had to be circumcised before they could become Christians.

Unfortunately, “disputable” issues like these still divide Christians.

Here are a just a few examples:

Drinking alcohol; smoking; dancing; swimming attire; modesty; movies; music; video games; holidays; tattoos; body piercings; bodily augmentations or upgrades; worshiping styles; homeschooling; hymns or worship songs...I could go on and on.

It's time to stop arguing over things that don’t really matter. The only results are broken relationships and division in the Body of Christ.

Fortunately, Paul continues his advice to the Romans, giving us clear-cut guidelines on how to handle disputable matters so that we maintain fellowship in love and harmony with each other. He declared,

I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. – Romans 14:14-17

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. – Romans 15:1

How Do We Decide What to Do In Disputable Areas?

There are two extremes: Legalism and Libertinism.

Legalism makes a list of rules. Don’t drink; don’t play cards, don’t dance, don’t go to movies, don’t wear shorts, don’t celebrate Halloween; read the Bible at least 30 minutes a day; and on and on. Legalism expects everyone to live up to their list.

Don’t miss this: legalists are ministers of condemnation.

I recall a story about a man in Georgia who wanted to get a liquor license for his restaurant. He was making his case to the county commissioners, by carefully pointing out that Jesus drank wine when He was here on earth.

One of the commissioners, a Baptist deacon, answered in an angry voice, “I know Jesus did, and that still embarrasses me.”

Legalists have never internalized their Christianity; it’s only on the outside, governing what they say and do. They don’t know what it’s like to walk in the Spirit, because they aren’t living a Spirit-filled life.

On the other hand, Libertinism says, “Since I’m free in Christ, I’m free to do whatever I want. I don’t have to worry about my behavior because God has promised to forgive all my sins. Thank God for grace.”

Libertines never internalized their Christianity either. They live by their own desires and never know what it’s really like to walk in the Spirit, because they aren’t living a Spirit-filled life.

These two viewpoints are extremes.

When we choose to trust Jesus Christ as our Savior and turn our lives over to Him, our Christianity becomes internal. We have the Holy Spirit, who serves often as our “conscience,” to help guide our decisions;

But the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. – John 14:26

Where Do You Stand in the Dispute? 

Because we live in a sinful, broken world, where our understanding of God and His truth is clouded, we will come across these disputable matters again and again. Paul lays out four different categories that we fall into when we encounter a dispute:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not. The man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. – Romans 14:1-6

Category 1: I’m not free to do what you’re doing, and I am struggling that you think you can.

Early in my church ministry, we were concluding our successful building fundraiser with a huge churchwide banquet. The chairman and vice-chairman and their wives arrived early. Julie and I came shortly thereafter to discover all four of them drinking cocktails.

I was scandalized! Some of our best church leaders and financial supporters were drinking alcohol!

Growing up, I was raised to believe that drinking alcohol was a sin, and it really upset me that they were “sinning” as our other parishioners were entering the banquet hall.

Later, I realized that that the Bible said it is okay for Christians to drink. They felt free to engage. I simply wasn’t free to drink, and boy, did I struggle when they did!

Category 2: I’m not free to do what you’re doing, but it’s okay with me if you are.

I grew up in a church with a pastor who sometimes preached his personal convictions as biblical truth. He made it quite clear that good Christians didn’t dance, drink alcohol, smoke, or ride “murdersickles.”

Julie’s pastor had no such qualms. She grew up dancing, while I sat on the sidelines.

I couldn’t dance. I wasn’t free. But Julie could, and she danced a lot!

One day, after about 25 years of marriage, I closed all the curtains and asked Julie to teach me to dance. That evening I realized just how much I’d  I had missed.

As far as dancing was concerned, I wish I’d had a different pastor.

Category 3: I’m free to do what you do, but it is a struggle for me.

A number of years ago, Julie and I were about to take communion at a Christian church in the Ukraine. We both had personal convictions never to drink alcohol—and we never had. Then as honored guests, Julie and I were offered the first drink.

I whispered to Julie, “What shall we do?”

“Drink it,” she said.

This was not how we did it in the local Baptist church where I grew up. At communion time everyone was given their own little individual cup, and we always used grape juice.

I had vowed never to let alcohol pass my lips. That was a personal conviction from childhood. But we couldn’t offend our hosts. So, I sipped the wine and passed the cup to Julie. I knew that I was free to drink, even though it was a struggle for me.

At least my first taste of wine came in church. By the way, it tasted awful.

Category 4: I’m free to do what you do, and I’m comfortable with you doing it.

I love my fireman son-in-law, Ricky. Ricky’s direct ancestors came to America from Italy. Wine was a staple at every meal. Ricky grew up on beer and pizza. A little alcohol was no big issue to him.

He and I spent a lot of time together playing golf.

One day, after we finished playing, I asked, “Ricky, would you like a beer with your pizza?” I had no problem consuming a little sip as we ate. I was finally free, and I had no problem with Ricky’s actions.

“Would you like one, Dad?”

“No,” I said, “I’ll just have a Coke.” I still think alcohol tastes awful.

Please notice that you may be in different categories in different areas. You may be a one about tattoos and a four when it comes to worship styles. I worked through all four categories when it comes to drinking alcohol. Part of that comes as you mature in your faith…our ultimate goal is to be free in Christ!

What Should You DO regarding the Dispute?

Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 also includes three key principles about how we should live and interact with others when it comes to disputable matters. Read this key passage one more time:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not. The man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. – Romans 14:1-6

Principle 1: I’m free to do what I want, but I won’t, because others might stumble.

Strong Christians eat the meat (tattoos, rock music, dance, piercings, and “murdersickles”) without any pangs of conscience.

Weak Christians can’t do that. They’re not ready to walk in freedom yet;

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. – 1 Corinthians 8:9

If some unbeliever invited to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever you put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,�� do not eat it, both for the conscience of the man who told you and for the other man’s conscience. – 1 Corinthians 10:27-30

I remember Mrs. Green, who was a member of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Penelope, Texas, where I pastored during college.

One Sunday morning, I wore a light green shirt with my new green suit. On the way out of church she said to me, “You know, preachers are supposed to wear white shirts.” So, I wore white shirts until colored shirts became fashionable.

Note this: Strong and weak are not necessarily indicators of spiritual growth.

Some very young Christians may be entering into great freedom while others further along in the journey are struggling in some or more of these sensitive areas. Sometimes that has to do with their upbringing and lessons they may have learned outside of Scripture. Other times, they’ve been through trauma, struggled with addiction, or something else.

That’s why a stumbling block is any disputable activity that hinders the spiritual growth of a weaker brother or sister.

Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. – Romans 14:13

It’s our responsibility to offer up our own freedoms in love when they might cause our weaker brother to stumble.

Principle 2: I’m free, and I’ll help others find freedom so they can be free, too.

We don’t want to cause our weaker brothers and sisters to struggle, but at the same time we don’t want them to stay weak forever.

So, how can we help a weaker Christian who can’t seem to understand our liberty or enjoy theirs?

The answer is simple, but not always easy: We restrict our freedom, and then we walk alongside them as they grow. It’s also important to let them know that we restricted our liberty in order to help them become strong in their own freedom.

Principle 3: Rejoice if you have freedom in every disputable matter.

Paul finishes his teaching on the subject with a test of our own freedoms:

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:25

However, if there is an area where you still struggle, then don’t take part in that area until you’re free. Otherwise, God considers it is sin.

But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. – Romans 14:23

The point is that we are never to violate our consciences. As we sort through disputable areas, we must recognize that sometimes what is a sin to one person may not be a sin to another.

Therefore, we must carefully keep our consciences clean because, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

The Freedom Checklist

1. Constantly review your conscience to see if it is limiting your freedom by improper teaching and knowledge.

2. Carefully train your conscience according to Biblical knowledge and truth.

3. Loosen up and enjoy your freedom in Christ.

4. Join a church family that is more concerned with helping you enjoy the freedom of the Spirit-filled life than with burdening you down with all sorts of rules and regulations about disputable matters.

Well, Brett, I hope that I’ve answered your question and that you can use these principles as you sort out disputable areas with your friends and other Christians.

Love, Roger

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/photographer

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian. 

Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].

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