Saturday, December 05, 2009

James MacDonald - Wise Up About Alcohol - Part 5

Before I post my final response to Pastor MacDonald’s message on alcohol I wanted to make a few clarifying comments:

1. I like James MacDonald. I think he is a great Bible teacher and has been greatly gifted by God as a leader of God’s people. I think he is profoundly mistaken in reference to the topic of alcohol, but I celebrate his overall ministry and pray that the Lord would continue to sustain it.

2. I don’t think that everyone should drink alcohol. Usually in these types of discussions people assume one of two things or both. 1) That I think everyone should participate in the consumption of alcohol or 2) that I am diminishing the horrific effects of drunkenness in our society. Both are false in reference to my view. I want to fully acknowledge that you are certainly free not to drink alcohol and I know full well the damage that is done by those who abuse it.

3. I don’t feel the need to flaunt my Christian liberty. If you firmly believe that, for you, alcohol is sinful to consume, I would abstain out of love if you were to come over to my house for a meal. But if you believe that you can’t be a Christian and drink alcohol, then I would certainly seek to teach you otherwise and probably openly drink in your presence. The Gospel is NOT Jesus plus teetotalism. Consider what D.A. Carson writes in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World:
Paul refuses to circumcise Titus, even when it was demanded by many in the Jerusalem crowd, not because it didn’t matter to them, but because it mattered so much that if he acquiesced, he would have been giving the impression that faith in Jesus is not enough for salvation: one has to become a Jew first, before one can become a Christian. That would jeopardize the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus.

To create a contemporary analogy: If I’m called to preach the gospel among a lot of people who are cultural teetotalers, I’ll give up alcohol for the sake of the gospel. But if they start saying, “You cannot be a Christian and drink alcohol,” I’ll reply, “Pass the port” or “I’ll think I’ll have a glass of Beaujolais with my meal.” Paul is flexible and therefore prepared to circumcise Timothy when the exclusive sufficiency of Christ is not at stake and when a little cultural accommodation will advance the gospel; he is rigidly inflexible and therefore refuses to circumcise Titus when people are saying that Gentiles must be circumcised and become Jews to accept the Jewish Messiah.
4. How many times in the Gospels did Jesus and his disciples offend religious people? If you are a person who is offended by all consumption of alcohol by fellow Christians, are you also offended when you read in the Bible that Jesus turned water into wine, drank wine at the Last Supper, and that he clearly spent much time with those who consumed alcohol (Luke 7:34)?

5. When Paul talks about these types of amoral matters in Romans 14, he writes that we should not pass judgment on one another. Love should reign. We should respect the varying opinions of others, because that is what they are: opinions. What you are convinced of about alcohol is your business and I will not look down on you for your view. Consider verses 1-4:
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
Unfortunately, some folks in the comment sections of these posts have done the exact opposite of what the verses above require.

6. This is not all about alcohol per se. I would be writing the same series of posts if Pastor MacDonald got up in front of his people and said "Christians should never send their kids to public school! I can't understand how any Christian parent would do such a thing. It's simply not a wise choice." And our kids don't go to public school, by the way. If the issue was Christians and yoga, or Christians and eschatology, or Christians and rated R movies. You get the point.


Kel said...

There are so many other trivial, simple, safe things (i.e. type of worship music, clothes, etc.) to blog against, that are completely safe.

Why do you feel the need to publicly vindicate alcohol, something known to have dangerous consequences? Pastor MacDonald never said drinking was a sin. He just doesn't get it, its weird to him. Wouldn't Rom. 14 tell you to love him for that? No one ever ended up dead or in rehab for abstaining. Shouldn't you see the wisdom in that?

Just seems like there are safer (aka wiser) battles to fight?

Reading over your previous posts, you exceedingly mention issues of freedom over issues of danger in regards to alcohol. Will we be getting a five part series on the dangers of alcohol?

I've been to rehab centers were men began drinking after approval from their pastors. I hope you'd never found you're self guilty of their lack of wisdom.

Matthew Birch said...
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Vitamin Z said...


I appreciate your passion but I would humbly like to ask you to reconsider your position.

I am concerned less with MacDonald's view on his personal consumption or lack there of of alcohol and much more concerned that a pastor of thousands (or even tens) would stand up in front of his people and do the exact opposite of what is required in Rom. 14:1-4 concerning what the Bible presents as amoral. Man made rules are a very serious matter in our churches and should not go unchecked.

Again, I have no problem with his personal view, but I do have a problem with him trumpeting that to all of his people as the only wise way. Clearly Jesus disagrees with him. That seems to be a big problem in my view. What do you do with Jesus and his disciples?

I have given many other series on this blog. If you would like to see my posts on adoption you can use the link below:

Your last comment sounds a bit like a scare tactic to me, but if not, please reconsider the logic.

Unless the pastor of which you speak was advocating drunkenness, then that pastor would not be held responsible. To you use the line of thinking that you present with another issue would go something like this: Say I preached at my church on the issue of sex within the boundaries of marriage. I told everyone they were free to enjoy their spouse. Let's say that someone came to me afterward and told me that as a result of my preaching they became addicted to porn and it was my fault? Huh?!?

Speaking of something in its right boundaries has very little to do with what sinful people choose to do about it from there. Talking about right boundaries in sex has nothing to do with leading people to porn and talking about right boundaries with alcohol has very little to do with someone becoming an alcoholic.

To be honest I have friends who are former alcoholics who say that the most helpful thing for them to see is Christians drinking in a way that is responsible and not out of control. Just like a healthy married sex life might be the best thing for someone who used to be addicted to porn.

Vitamin Z said...


I'll try when I have time. Leaving for a basketball game with my boy!


Matthew Birch said...

Have fun!

Dave said...

After reading all that the bible says about wine as a sign of blessing and a gift of God's grace. And weighing that with the fact that Jesus turned water into wine as His inaugural miracle to begin His ministry, and then commanded it's use in the Lord's Supper. I'm compelled by the evidence of Scripture that wine (which absolutely contained alcohol in Jesus day. Why else would the Pharisees accuse Jesus of drunkenness, or why would the bible warn against drunkenness if the "fruit of the vine" was only grape juice?) is a gift to be enjoyed within set boundaries.

We cannot allow our emotions, fears or experience's to determine the truths of Scripture. To argue that abstaining from a gift God has given us to enjoy, on the grounds that it is "weird" and "unwise" is a very bad hermeneutic. We must also be careful not to invent sins.

I would much rather teach my children how to enjoy the good things God has given us ( Wine, food, work, money, marriage, etc..) within the boundaries God has set up for those things. It would be Scripturally unwise for me to teach my children complete abstinence of any one of God's gifts simply because the unbelieving world abuses them.

Brian said...


Thanks for addressing this issue with biblical balance, wisdom, and kindness.

Your comments comparing alcohol to sex and drunkenness to porn seem right on to me. People need not more rules and cautions in addition to Scripture, but transformed hearts that know how to accept God's good gifts without idolizing and abusing them.

I, too, wish MacDonald (and others) would be more careful with their rhetoric.


Francis said...


Where are you on legal marijuana? Its God given, thus good, right?


Kel said...

As a pastor, and being "judged by a greater strictness", do you think a simple, hypothetical 'follow the logic' line is going to free you from all responsibility?

You signed up for not retreating to "follow the logic" when agreed to put on "the cloth", right?

Dave said...


Wine is clearly expressed in Scripture as a good gift and a blessing from the Lord that is to be enjoyed. Jesus also commanded it's use in the Lord's Supper. And without a doubt, Scripture also clearly expresses the proper boundaries in which we are to enjoy wine.

Scripture (that I'm aware of) does not single out or address the use of marijuana as a blessing given to man, nor does it command it's use, in the way Wine is describe.

Marijuana use (or anything else not explicitly referred to in Scripture as a gift) must be weighed by using other clear biblical principles.

Why are you using Marijuana? To get "drunk"? To relieve pain? To be "cool"? To spice up your cooking? Does the way you are using Marijuana bring you enjoyment and at the same time glorify God? Am I violating any biblical principles in the way I'm using this plant? Am I breaking any local laws in the townships that I live in?

More questions can be asked, but depending on you situation, and your motives behind using this plant, the answer for marijuana use is more complicated than the clear witness of Scripture regarding wine.


Anonymous said...

The church I was led to pastor is slowly recovering from its legalism and fundamentalism ingrained in them by previous leadership. They are content with this, and I can't understand if THEY, of all people, are, why no one else should be (very short post):

Matthew Birch said...

Dave, Does scripture really "COMMAND" us to use wine?

So believers who don't drink wine are disobeying a commandment.

Maybe it was the 11th commandment in Exodus and it was just left out of my Bible.

In all seriousness I have nothing against drinking responsibly but you might be taking it a little to far.

Matthew Birch said...

Z and Dave, your thoughts please. Before you read the following understand first that I DON'T THINK DRINKING IS A SIN the Bible say's it's ok so I say it's ok but is it necessary.

What would you both say to the putting off alcohol for the sake of the gospel and weak believers. It is such a hot topic that offends so many so why not set aside a freedom so that your life may not get in the way of the gospel that you preach. Paul said he would set aside meat if it got in the way of the effectiveness of the gospel he also didn't take payment for his work for the Lord even though it was allowed. Both meat and being payed for preaching are good things (not sins but freedoms) but he set them aside for the sake of the cross. It really comes down to what is more important to you doing what you want because you are free to do so or sacrificing something you may enjoy for the sake of the many weak believers who think it may be wrong.

Is drinking worth it?

Matthew Birch said...
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Dave said...


I say that Christ commanded the use of wine in the Lord's Supper because that is the element He used at the last supper. He commanded us to follow His example : "This do in remembrance of Me". We do not have the liberty or authority to change any element of any sacrament. I suggest that following Jesus example is a matter of obedience.

(We also have a witness from church history because it has always used wine. It's written into our creeds and confessions.)

This is the context in which I believe we are commanded to use wine.

Matthew also asks: "What would you both say to the putting off alcohol for the sake of the gospel and weak believers....."

Absolutely! I would always want to keep in mind the weakness of others. I may have to give up my liberty to enjoy a glass of wine or a New York Strip, or a good movie for the good of the company I am keeping. It certainly depends on each situation. Although these situations may arise, this does not require that I practice complete abstinence.

Yet, I understand the concerns of people wanting to voice certain objections to the use of alcohol. I understand some of James MacDonald's intentions. It's driven in part by fear, modern cultural influences, and a healthy concern for other people.

One question to ask yourself is this: Does Jesus share his concerns? After all, Jesus made nearly 200 gallons of wine in order to keep a party going. He enjoyed drinking wine with sinners. The sin of drunkenness in Jesus time was just as bad as it is in our time (human nature hasn't changed much in 2000 years). I'm suggesting that Jesus may have shared some of the concerns people share today over the abuse of God's good gifts. But His solution to those abuses does not seem to be "total abstinence" or a fear based reaction. Instead, Jesus pointed "sinners" to Himself as the answer.


Rafael said...

Matthew - all good points. If you'll notice through these threads, any questioning of the wisdom of alcohol use is 'adding' something to the gospel, or being a 'legalist'.

the young reformed LOVE their alcohol!

Vitamin Z said...


Not sure what you were getting at with your last comment.


I don't think you are legalist, unless you say that you can't drink alcohol and be a Christian at the same time. Again, what do you do with Jesus' behavior? Would you be willing to address that?


I'll probably address this a bit more in my post tomorrow. I appreciated Dave's response and would also add, why should we stop with alcohol? We would list any number of extra-biblical issues that other Christians could get offended by. Again, I'm not convince that what Paul is talking about in Romans 14 is that of making other Christians angry by my behavior. Seems that Jesus made a lot of religious people angry by his behavior. But in reference to offending other believers, where do we stop? Should I stop using the internet because some Christians think it is only used for evil? Should I stop sending my kids to public school (I don't) because some think of it as child abuse? Should I stop going to the Mall because some people equate it with materialism? Should I stop eating meat because some Christians think it promotes animal cruelty?

Certainly I need to be sensitive with my behavior and how it is being perceived, but I don't think we should be paralyzed in all our decisions that are extra-biblical by constantly wondering if some other Gospel believing Christian is going to be offended.

Again, more on this in tomorrow's final post (if I can get it done that is).


Vitamin Z said...


Just to be clear... If you want to question the wisdom of responsible consumption of alcohol, that is fine. I won't take issue with it if that is your stance, but I will take issue with you trying to place that on other people. Seems like Romans 14 exhorts us to "keep it to ourselves" on these extra-biblical matters.


Matthew Birch said...

Thanks Dave and Z.

Dave I would have to argue that the "do this in remembrance of me/communion" is the command not the exact elements.

Z, I would say that there is way more controversy over alcohol than say shopping and your other examples and if you can't see the difference then Im not doing a good enough job explaining my thoughts, I guess this topic is over my head. What Im saying makes sense to me but I guess to me and me alone. I do see your passion for your freedom though.

I hope you had a fun time watching basketball with your son yesterday.


Alando Franklin said...

The issue that is being avoided seems to be, what do you do with Jesus? Kel, Matthew, Rafael take Z out of the equation. It is easy to draw certain conclusion because you are differing with him and Dave.

Just deal with jesus because HE did not advocate total abstinence and apparently drunkeness was an issue during His earthly ministry.

So, direct your arguments to Jesus. Thanks, I appreciate it.

Waiting to see how you would respond to Him.