Friday, December 04, 2009

James MacDonald - Wise Up About Alcohol - Part 4

Today I will continue to interact with Pastor James MacDonald's sermon called "Wise Up About Alcohol" (here and here). Here is his fifth reason for his belief that total abstinence is the wisest choice for all believers.

5. Because Alcohol Is Addictive

Yes, and so is sex, eating, exercise, and a whole host of other things. Just because alcohol (or anything else) may be addictive for one Christian, doesn’t mean that alcohol should be abstained from for all believers. Should we abstain from sex because it has even more addictive power than alcohol?

I wish he would have made this distinction: Alcohol MAY be addictive. Many Christians, myself included, drink alcohol and don’t feel any slavish addiction to it. To make a definitive statement that alcohol IS addictive would give a power to the substance of alcohol that is doesn’t inherently possess.

This is the phrase from his message that disturbed me the most:
(Said in very passionate tones):

“I can’t imagine for the life of me why a follower of Jesus Christ, a blood purchased son or daughter of the living God, would involve themselves with something that is reeking the havoc in our society that it is!! I don’t understand it.”
I can’t imagine for the life of my how a pastor who is the shepherd of thousands of people would make a statement like this. It would be like me getting up in front of my church and saying “I can’t for the life of me understand why a follower of Jesus Christ would ever send their kids to public school!”

This may be my strong personal conviction, but sending kids to home school or public school is an extra-biblical issue that should NOT divide our churches. As their shepherd, I should seek to uphold the unity of the body and not make strong statements like this that will only divide my people on a matter that should never be divided upon.

Pastor MacDonald says at the end of his message that he isn’t making a law here for his people, but he does essentially say in his statement above, “You may be a Christian and drink but I don’t get you! You are weird to me!” This is not a very loving statement for his people and it grieves me deeply. When you have that much power and influence over your people and make statements like this that have zero Biblical foundation the detrimental fallout is potentially huge.

How much better would it be to say, “I know that this issue of alcohol is potentially divisive among Christians today. As your shepherd, it is my conviction that I will personally abstain, but I want you to know that we will not be divided at this church over abstinence from or participation in the consumption of alcohol. Even though I choose not to, as a Christian, you have the freedom to drink alcohol in such a way that does not promote drunkenness and if you choose to do so I will not pass judgment upon you.” How much more unifying, biblical, and helpful would that we for his people?

Jerry Bridges is very helpful on this topic. If you have not read his book, Transforming Grace, you should. It is one of the most helpful, easy to read, books on the Christian life that you could ever find. He has a very helpful chapter that deals with these matters and I could do no better than to quote him at length.
...legalism insists on conformity to manmade religious rules and requirements, which are often unspoken but are nevertheless very real. To use a more common expression, it requires conformity to the “do’s and don’ts” of our particular Christian circle. We force this legalism on other or allow others to force it on us. It is conformity to how other people think we should live instead of how the Bible tells us to live. More often than not, these rules have no valid biblical basis. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, we have tried to “help” God by adding our manmade rules to His commands (p. 120).
These manmade rules are what Bridges calls, “fences”. Fences are not all bad. For us personally, they can be quite helpful at times but we need to be cautious with our fences. Bridges writes:
For all of us, it may be good to have some fences, but we have to work at keeping them as just that - fences, helpful to us but not necessarily applicable to others. We also have to work at guarding our freedom from other people’s fences.

Some of the fences in our respective Christian circles have been around a long time. No one quite knows their origin, but by now they are “embedded in concrete.” Although it may cause conflict if you violate one, you must guard your freedom. To paraphrase Paul, “Stand firm in your freedom, and don’t let anyone bring you into bondage with their fences.”

I’m not suggesting you jump over fences just to thumb your nose at the people who hold to them so dearly. We are to “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19). Use discretion in embracing or rejecting a particular fence. But don’t let others coerce you with manmade rules. And ask God to help you see if you are subtly coercing or judging others with your own fences (p. 124).
Bridges’ quote here gets to the heart of my problem with Pastor MacDonald’s message. Bridges writes:
As Christians we can’t seem to accept the clear biblical teaching in Romans 14 that God allows equally godly people to have differing opinions on certain matters. We universalize what we think is God’s particular leading in our lives and apply it to everyone else.

When we think like that we are, so to speak, “putting God in a box.” We are insisting that He must surely lead everyone as we believe He has led us. We refuse to allow God the freedom to deal with each of us as individuals. When we think like that, we are legalists.

We must not seek to bind the consciences of other believers with the private convictions that arise out of our personal walk with God. Even if you believe God has led you in developing those convictions, you still must not elevate them to the level of spiritual principles for everyone else to follow (p. 126).
This is why I can’t believe that Pastor MacDonald would stand up in front of thousands of Christians and say what he said above. When your spiritual leader says something like this in reference to an extra-biblical matter I can’t see how it can possibly be helpful for the Body. Will it not drive a wedge between those in his church with differing convictions on alcohol? He has not served his people well in this way. We should not be dividing our people over this issue. Pastors (and all believers), be wary of how you communicate your views on extra-biblical matters.


Greg Mazunik said...

Preach, son. Preach.

Kel said...

As the child of a (still) recovering drug addict, it saddens me beyond words to see you so glibly compare eating/exercise addiction to chemical/drug addiction. The level of immaturity and ignorance in that comparison is sad at best, sinful at worst.

Shame on you. I hope someone, older and wiser, will help you see your error.

You may rightfully disagree with J.MacDonald on alcohol. But, as a minister, your naivety to addiction is appalling.

barak said...

is confused legalism and sobriety, better or worse than 'freedom' and potential addiction?

Vitamin Z said...


Sorry to hear that your Father was an addict. I'm sure that was (or still is) a horrible experience for you. I am not seeking to be glib, but rather trying to make the point that alcohol has not inherent addictive power in it. The power is only given to it by the individual.

Not sure why you think I am naive on addition. Perhaps I am. If you want to educate me, I am all ears.

But I can assume this. There will be certain paid for a child (like you) if a father is addicted to eating, gains three hundred pounds at the age of 40 and has a heart attack and dies. Addiction to eating can be lethal. It's probably more serious than you give credit to. I am not saying they are the same in our culture. Obviously they are not, but it's still bad.

My only point is that lots of things are addictive and just the fact that someone might be addicted to something (heroin and the like obviously excluded) doesn't make it wrong, especially if God has not said it's wrong. In fact he has not said it's wrong at all, he has said it is good! Psalm 104.


Not sure what you mean. Please elaborate.


barak said...

just curios of your and others opinion.

is it better to be a confused legalist(in regards to alcohol) and live in sobriety, or live in 'freedom' and play russian roulette with addiction

of course you can hypothetically explain both sides away, but this is an either/or

Matthew Birch said...

Z, have you ever had the thought to just forsake this one freedom for the sake of weak and unsure believers. It is such a controversial topic for some wouldn't it just make since to put this off for the sake of Christ. Especially being a Pastor who receives a stricter judgement (James 3:1). I know the stricter judgement has to do with teaching false doctrine but you could apply it to all things in this life. Im not saying alcohol is wrong scripture doesn't teach that but maybe it would be wise for Teachers/Pastors not to drink just for the sake of the gospel as we follow you as you follow Christ. I feel if Paul was willing to forsake something as small as meat (sacrificed to idols) as to not be a hinderance to his message why can't we do the same.

Just some thoughts.


Anonymous said...

You took more time on an alcohol sermon to prove the Pastor wrong than you have ever done on your buddy Mark Driscoll's sermons. Where he talks about graphic sexual acts and destroys Song of Solomon completely. We can finally see where your priorities are. It's more important to defend your freedoms then to defend Gods Word.

Bob Hayton said...


Thanks for this series, it is important. It's sad when so many argue so forcefully for a position that is extraBiblical. Where the Bible is silent, we feel we need to speak and erect really tall fences.

I grew up in an environment that was completely teetotalist on this issue. I couldn't fathom the thought of drinking alcohol. And really had no desire for it, after I had begun taking steps away from the strict legalism of my past.

Through a study of Scripture on the topic, I came to a startling conclusion. First, I was treating alcohol as if it were a wicked substance, whereas God praised it as a good gift to man (Ps. 104:14-15). Second, to claim that it was wiser to abstain was to actually go beyond Scripture's teaching. If it really was wiser to abstain, then wouldn't God have told us to abstain? Third, that since I couldn't in good conscience say it was wrong to drink period, if I hoped to not set my children up for a fall, I should model a wise, prudent and moderate use of alcohol in front of them.

So I actually started learning how to drink, and along the way it has added a joyful dimension to my life. I've never been "drunk", and rarely drink more than 2 drinks at a sitting (as in maybe 2 times ever).

Anyway, I just wanted to add my testimony here for the benefit of others. A few posts I've done on the topic may interest some of you:

Wine to Gladden the Heart of Man: Thoughts on God's Good Gift of Wine

Welch's Grape Juice, Worldly Wisdom and Wine

You can also peruse other articles I've written on the topic here.

Blessings to you,

Bob Hayton

Anonymous said...


your hermeneutic says wine gladdening the heart is equated to all alcohol?

Could I take shots(in moderation) of bourbon to the glory of God?

You stated "God praised it[alcohol] as good."

That's quite the unique interpretation.

Bob Hayton said...


Did you actually go and read my posts? The Scriptural evidence truly is compelling.

There is a direct connection between wine and joy in the Bible. And of course there is in life too, wine goes with feasting and feasting with joy. In fact the term for banquet house is literally drinking house in Hebrew....

Rather than repeat what I've written elsewhere, let me refer you to a forum comment I made that spells out why I believe a connection can be made between wine - joy - and alochol being praised. Here's the link.

Please read that before dismissing my position as novel. The novel position is that of the temperance movement which is only a couple hundred years old.

In Christ,


Francis said...


Do you support the legal, moderate use of medical marijuana?
I heart it 'gladdens the heart'!


Vitamin Z said...


Since it is not legal, then no I don't support it. Have you ever read John Frame on that issue? Interesting take.


Francis said...


Medical marijuana is legal 13 states (in NM with a 6 oz. possession limit) under their individual regulations.
The 'its not legal, I don't support it' line won't work. So where do you stand?


D.J. Williams said...

For those saying that wine and alcohol can't be interchanged scripturally, take a look at what Deuteronomy 14 says about "strong drink." If it's so unwise, then why on earth would God tell his people they can drink it in worship to him?

Z - Keep on keepin' on.

Vitamin Z said...


Not totally sure where I stand. I have not thought about that one very much. Let's say it was legal. Do you think this would fall under the category of "disputable matters"?


Vitamin Z said...


Wow. I just saw this. Might be helpful in the discussion.

Francis said...


JP's response is surprising. The list of caveats and "what ifs" is certainly slippery. The cannabinoid(THC) causing the 'high' has been isolated into capsule form, so you could get the high/pain relief without the smoking.
But, marijuana is God made/God given. There is no explicit biblical prohibition. And it certainly "gladdens" the heart(and appetite!).
However, I would personally never tempt an addictive, known carcinogen to the cry of liberty or 'disputability'.


P.S. I didn't intend this as a trap question.

amy Romero said...

I agree 100%, Z. Alcohol may be problematic for a lot of people...just as sex can be. This doesn't mean it's forbidden by all Christians. The bible clearly does not forbid us from fact there are, as people here wisely site, many biblical references which point toward the responsible use of it.

finally, if alcohol is not for any believer in Christ, why on earth (haha) would Jesus turn water into wine?

as for MEDICAL marijuana...I'm all for it. I'm even on the fence about regular marijuana being legal.

see, Z? we DO agree on something!

Anonymous said...


Deut. 14 is speaking of the once a year tithe. Is your literalist interpretation willing to stick to the once a year strong drink?
14:21 forbids boiling a young goat in its mothers milk, are you willing to forbid that?

Lev. 10:9 is also pretty strict regarding specific abstaining.

Wise up young fella.

Bob Hayton said...


A once-a-year drink? Really?

Deut. 14 says for your once-a-year tithe, go ahead and drink strong drink in worship. The principle we get from this is that strong drink is permissible to drink, and it doesn't hinder worship. Strong drink is also connected to joy.

When you see Deut. 14 in light of numerous other passages, you understand that the Bible's permitting/encouraging the moderate use of wine is to be understood as a permitting/encouraging of moderate use of alcoholic wine (and other alcoholic drinks).

Anonymous said...


From your writings, you seem to think wine/strong drink/alcohol are synonymous in the Bible. But, obviously that's not the case. There is a clear distinction throughout. (see Deut. 14, wine OR strong drink) It doesn't look like we're going to convince you otherwise.

Bob Hayton said...


No, I don't equate wine/strong drink. And I don't think you've read me carefully.

Strong Drink is almost universally agreed by all to be alcoholic. Wine is debated by some to be non-alcoholic (i.e. juice only). The fact Scripture approves of the moderate enjoyment of strong drink (Deut. 14), then it clearly approves of alcohol. This guides how we think of the passages that speak of wine. The wine there could be alcoholic.

The fact that wine particularly is praised for "cheering the heart" actually argues for it's being understood to be alcoholic in nature. In fact a euphemism for drunkenness in Scripture is "his heart was made merry with wine". So the very description connected to a drunken abuse of wine, is used in God's commendation of wine. I conclude from this that the spirit-uplifting, heart-cheering quality of wine is a good gift from God. If you have any experience drinking, you would know that far before wine robs you of your senses, it can calm you and uplift your spirit. That effect is fine and a gift from God (just as Coffee wakes us, and other substances affect us other ways -- medicine, for instance). But even so, abusing that effect and losing control of yourself as one does when they "get drunk" is forbidden by God.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification Bob.

Why do you so one-sidedly(Old Test. only) interpret the alcohol issue? The NT doesn't forbid alcohol, but certainly doesn't praise it like you seem to think the OT does.

Thanks in advance.

Bob Hayton said...


I don't believe we should pit the OT against the NT. I'm not trying to do that. I just think the references to wine in the OT are more abundant and clearer than his references to it in the NT. In the NT we can assume the OT view of the substance prevails. We don't find the substance demonized, we don't find abstinence commanded. We find drunkenness condemned. It all fits.

Too often, people use a few passages to frame the alcohol/wine debate. But they don't look at the whole picture of what the Bible says about alcohol. When you see that whole picture it fits together seamlessly.


Bob Hayton

Anonymous said...

can't argue with "I just think"

oh well

Dan said...

What's curious here is that MacDonald's fourth point contradicts his first one. If alcohol is addictive then were are talking about a process that affects brain chemistry. It is, in other words a physical process that harms the body - something that one might otherwise call a disease. In point one though he says it isn't a disease.

Anonymous said...

What if there is no such thing as addiction as a recent Macleans article suggests:

Paul Wilkinson said...

I wonder if somewhere in the comments on the exegesis of Proverbs and other passages, if another concern is being lost.

There is a certain demeanor, a certain tenor to James MacD's preaching that may be inducing the defensiveness of people who listen to his daily radio program.

You have to keep in mind that many of the broadcasts are repeats of sermons from earlier years; but even so there is a kind of reckless style of sermonizing where the passion sometimes runs roughshod over textual details, and where many issues are too often painted in black and white.

That said, I do find myself returning to Walk in the Word, as I think there is a need for people to confront their sin, as James so often reminds us. But then I find myself getting frustrated with his style, and needing to take a week or two off.

I suspect Zach, that you find yourself living in the tension of a similar ambivalence.