Category Archives: Christianity

Drinking to the Glory of God

From a relatively obscure ministry website comes this article on alcohol. Or, more appropriately, on the evils of drinking it:

I write because I am terribly concerned with the approach to alcohol by my generation of pastors, and more, the approach to alcohol by the next generation of pastors. There appears to be a growing trend of young pastors embracing the use of alcohol.

It’s worth pointing out that we already have a case of fallacious equivocation. The author of the article uses the terms “alcohol abuse” and “use of alcohol” synonymous, which is then used as evidence for total abstinence of alcohol.

During a meeting at the Southern Baptist Convention there was a question asked of Al Mohler concerning the use of alcohol. He masterfully answered the question, informing everyone in the room that in order to be a part of the faculty or a student at Southern one must agree to abstain from alcohol. But during that same meeting a pastor many younger pastors admire quipped that he enjoyed a beer occasionally. Smiles all around.

What is left out is what else Mohler said, amounting to an admission that drinking alcohol is not inherently sinful and can be done in an appropriate way. We eventually get a bit of honesty, but what we discover is concerning:

I know all the arguments: having one drink is not a sin, having a drink will not send you to Hell, Jesus drank wine, the disciples drank wine, on and on it goes. I have heard them all. But I am convinced if one does a study of the Bible from beginning to end, he will find an overwhelmingly negative view of the use of alcohol.

The fact that Jesus turned water to wine, that Jesus drank wine, that Jesus passed a cup of wine at the Last Supper, that Paul recommended wine to Timothy, and that the Old Testament is filled with drinking and merriment are arguments the author already knows. Presumably, he’s also dismissed them, although he gives no reason to motivate this.

Consider Proverb 23:29 -31: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine, those who go to taste mixed wine. So do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper.”

We return to the fallacious equivocation, but not for the last time. Here, verses are cited from Scripture that condemn drinking in excess, and then these verse are applied to drinking in any quantity. But that’s poor exegesis. The purpose of these verses is to warn against excess, lingering “too long over wine”. If it applied to any alcohol in any quantity, you’d think Jesus Himself would have avoided it instead of creating and consuming it.

I know those verses to be true. Until I was 14 years old I had an alcoholic father. Though a very intelligent and talented person my father chose to drink alcohol. I have few memories of him when he was not intoxicated. I have lots of memories of him intoxicated.

This is a tragic situation, and it may be closer to the author’s conviction than any Scriptural, logical, or historical reason. Again, however, he commits his fallacy. A man who drinks alcohol is not an alcoholic. An alcoholic, like a drug addict, is someone who abuses the substance; just as a glutton is not a person who eats food, but a person who abuses his appetites.

The author goes on to cite a lot of statistics that result alcoholism or drunk driving, but they do not contribute to the overall case for abstinence of alcohol any more than statistics on obesity contribute to an overall case for abstinence of food.

When does drunkenness start? Drunkenness is sinful. Someone says “,I wasn’t drunk, I was a little buzzed.” Well, wouldn’t we have to say when someone’s state is altered it is drunkenness? If one never drinks alcohol, he never has to worry about becoming drunk or when being drunken starts.

Not drinking alcohol certainly implies not getting drunk, but not getting drunk does not imply not drinking alcohol. That is to say, there is a large margin where one can drink alcohol and not be drunk. Alcohol produces a relaxing and calming effect pretty quickly when consumed, but no one would argue that this is “drunkenness” any more than consuming a meal is gluttony. This parallel is important, because it demonstrates a key attribute about God and His Creation – many good things can become bad things when abused, but are not inherently bad as a result. Food, drink, exercise, and sleep are all excellent in the right amounts, but awful when abused to excess.

The Bible condemns gluttony and sloth in the same way it condemns drunkenness, but the author does not therefore conclude that one should abstain food and sleep in order to avoid worrying about where the line is.

Is it worth it? If drinking escalates and drinking alcohol costs your ministry, is it worth it? If your child sees you drinking and grows up with the view it is “OK to have a beer,” but he or she goes on to be an alcoholic, is it worth it? If your child drinks at the legal age but has just a hair too much, but just enough to cause an accident and it kills him or her, is your occasional beer worth it? If one of your congregants sees you or hears of you having a beer and is turned off from the Gospel or begins drinking assuming if you do it, it must be ok and it leads him or her to alcoholism, is it worth it?

What if taking pain killers causes a person to abuse drugs? Are occasional pain killers worth it? What if driving when just a hair too tired causes an accident?  Is occasional night driving worth it?

The fact is, alcoholism is an awful, terrible thing. But alcoholism is not defined as “drinking alcohol”.

The last example just seems silly. If a Christian sees another Christian drinking a beer and is thus turned off from the Gospel, they aren’t a Christian in the first place. I have a hard time even imagining a non-Christian being pushed away from the Gospel by seeing a Christian drink a beer, but I’ve actually witnessed some being attracted to the Gospel by seeing Christians drink reasonably.

Should we be ingesting anything God says bites like a serpent and stings like a viper?

God said drunkenness bites like a serpent and stings like a viper, not alcohol. The context was drunkenness, “lingering too long over wine”. The Bible condemns drunkenness. It does not condemn alcohol.

You would think if God had meant this to apply to alcohol itself, then God taking on human nature would have refrained from drinking it, let alone creating it for his friends.

Is Jesus not enough? So many say, “I have a drink to help me relax; I need a drink to help me relax.” What happened to presenting our requests to God and allowing the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension to guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus? Now that is relaxing!

I suspect the author does things to relax that are not limited to prayer. Does he sit down after doing a lot of hard, manual labor? Does he watch a little TV or read a book after a stressful week?

Why not present his request to God and allow God’s peace to guard his heart and mind instead?

If you are not drinking for an altered state, why drink alcohol? There is not a beer on earth (or any other alcoholic beverage for that matter) that tastes better than sweet tea or your favorite soda.

The author, abstaining from all alcohol, is probably not the best suited to tell others about the taste of alcohol. Scotch, bourbon, rum, whiskey, myriad beers and wines all taste incredible, and while I have never been intoxicated (which the Bible condemns), I’ve enjoyed small amounts of each of these.

Again, I do not write this to judge or criticize any pastor or believer. I write from experience and I write from concern. I encourage you to avoid the use and promotion of alcohol and I am convinced you will never regret not drinking alcohol. In fact I have never met anyone who said I wish I had drunk more. But I have met plenty who said they wished they had never tasted the stuff. You will never regret not drinking alcohol, but if you do drink alcohol, it is almost a certainty; you will have regrets about it.

I’ve met people who have wished they could try some of the more exotic and expensive alcoholic beverages, and I’ve met very few who have regretted drinking alcohol. Most drink in reasonable amounts and do not get drunk.

I think a different, more reasonable policy is in order.

Instead of avoiding great food, avoid gluttony. Instead of avoiding sleep and rest, avoid sloth. Instead of avoiding sex with your spouse, avoid sex with anyone else. Instead of avoiding exercise, avoid obsession with fitness. Instead of avoiding entertainment, avoid being consumed with it. Instead of avoiding conflict, avoid unnecessary conflict. Instead of avoiding medicine, avoid drug addiction.

Instead of avoiding alcohol, avoid alcoholism. Drinking alcohol can be done to the glory of God. Jesus, God Himself in human flesh, not only drank the stuff, but He created it in the first place and created it miraculously again from water. God’s disciples drank it, and their disciples and churches drank it, passing a cup of wine during communion for millennia.

Finally, avoid the fallacy of equivocation. It leads to long and otherwise unnecessary rebuttals.

 

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Church Music

At a rehearsal this week for the church band – of which I am a member – there was a discussion about a few churchgoers who, having seen the new acoustic devices mounted along the walls of the sanctuary, are concerned with the volume of the band. When this information reached the ears of the various musicians that make up the band, the reaction was nearly in unison: these complainers need to stop complaining; louder music is here, it’s good, and it’s here for good.

Nearly in unison, because I dissented, although I didn’t make my opinion known. Since I had not thought through what precisely had led me to disagree, I felt it best to refrain from saying from what would have been an enjoyable thing to say: I’m the band’s lone and proud curmudgeon.

Aside from the obvious critique of “louder is better”, which is simply that such a statement is not an argument, there seems to be a deeper response available.

Beauty is objective, but our experience of it is subjective. Put into more common language, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder, if and only if the beholder is a neophyte”. Just as with good food, good art becomes easier to distinguish as one learns how to do the work of making the right distinctions. This is not a popular opinion today. In fact, the idea of purely subjective art is ubiquitous in art schools. Such art schools seem to be blinded to the contradiction of teaching a topic that is purely subjective. What can be learned if a person already possesses the fullest possible extent of understanding?

We seem to have no problem of objectivity when it comes to food. Children want McDonalds because McDonalds tastes good to their unrefined taste buds. This is not to say that McDonalds should never be consumed by adults. However, an adult should be able to tell the difference between a Big Mac with Coke and a $50 cut of steak with a $20 glass of wine.

This is not to say that good art is impossible to tell from bad art for a novice. In fact, just the opposite is true for those who study in modern art schools. As they grow in subjective nonsense, they become unable to make distinctions that are obvious to novices. If art schools taught beauty instead of ugliness, then students of such schools would be able to see beauty in ever more profound ways. Instead, it is the average person walking through an art museum on a day of free admission that is better equipped to tell the difference between beauty and ugliness. A trained artist will see an empty canvas and marvel, while a tourist will laugh. The artist will see the tourist as uncultured; the tourist will see the artist as an idiot. Neither is far off from the truth, but the culture the artist prides himself in is a dead and dying culture, and the tourist is all the better having never been inculcated with the same nonsense.

But all of this is a little off-topic. To summarize: Beauty is objective, primarily, and an understanding of beauty can be increased over time, just as an appreciation for good food can.

What does all of this have to do with a church band and loud music?

Loud music, especially with a driving beat, is the very definition of modern pop music. It’s also what most of the members of the band prefer. The volume and driving beat combine to produce a powerful reaction which seems irresistible. It leaves me bored.

In the past year, I’ve listened to more Bach than any other Christian music combined. Eine Feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) has been my favorite cantata. Yet, if any of the other members of the band were to listen to the Chorale, it would sound a bit like a cacophony. It isn’t a cacophony, but with so many independent musical forces moving together, it is a little difficult to put things into the right acoustic places. It would leave the rest of the band bored.

How could two completely different styles of music leave people bored if beauty is objective?

It takes work – lots of work – to appreciate older forms of music. It takes time to acquire the taste, and faith along the way to know that a deep appreciation is in store. Despite growing up encouraged to listen to classical music, it was a boring chore for me to listen to Bach consistently for the first time. The immediate gratification of loud, driving rhythms simply doesn’t exist in anything he wrote, but this gratification in modern popular music is like eating a McDonalds combo: it satisfies, but only barely.

I think that what is boring for the rest of the band, and for most people in the West today, is working towards seeing greater beauty in more fundamentally beautiful music. I think what is boring for me is repetitive loudness.

Perhaps thinking of things this way makes me come across as an elitist, but it isn’t intended to. Instead, my goal is to show how people – Christians who believe in a Beautiful God in particular – ought not to settle for cheap, instant gratification. It takes work to appreciate beauty if you are expecting something quickly, but that work pays off.

 

The Divorce Deluge

I overheard an unpleasant conversation recently and before I could regret having been close enough to hear it, I came to believe it might be worth thinking about. It was one of those one-sided conversations where one person says all of the nouns and verbs and adjectives while the other person merely confirms that they are still awake with occasional affirmations.

The topic of this dismal monologue was divorce, at least at heart. The guy doing all of the talking was complaining that his ex-wife demanded credentials for a babysitter he had hired to take care of his children. He jokingly suggested just how absurd it would be if his ex-wife asked for similar information about anyone he dated.

But is this really something to joke about? Divorce causes immeasurable damage to children and adults, and it never seems to lack in the ways it does so. Why should the people invited into the lives of one’s children suddenly be outside the realm of discussion just because the parents of the children are divorced? I’m not arguing that anyone is legally obliged to make any effort on this. The legal system treats sacred vows like junk mail and throws them away only when it doesn’t have enough time to shred them, so this isn’t surprising.

The well-being of children should not be compromised even further than the divorce itself by allowing total strangers to have access to children with the consent of only one of their parents, but such access is legally permitted. Any attempt to limit it is met with mockery. “It’s my life, I see who I want and hire whichever babysitter I like”. But the welfare of a child is the responsibility of both the mother and father. Why do we instinctively mock attempts to protect children as nothing more than sticking our nose in other peoples’ business?

There are no easy answers to these problems because there is no easy answer to a severed vow, especially one that has produced children who are tied as much to the vow and relationship of their parents as they are to each individual parent. For children of divorce, the rejection of one parent by the other will always be in part a rejection of the child. Our civilization seems to care so little for children that after dragging them through the hell of divorce, we still show no concern for their well-being.

Divorce, and particularly its Satanic no-fault incarnation, is just a deluge of suffering for children. Every time you think you’ve been able to list all the ways it harms children, you’ll find another waiting. When Christianity is replaced with the Worship of Self, it is no wonder that the least and poorest in spirit are crushed. Whatever children escape the horrors of abortion often find families broken by selfish, pleasure-seeking adults. It is one of those things that makes hell seem lenient.

Can Christians be Leaders?

romesenate1With the 2016 political season drawing closer, there has been a lot of talk about the role of Christianity in politics. Although that topic is deserving of its own series of posts (which I intend to write someday if I figure out how to blog consistently), it’s a related but distinct topic that is the purpose of this post.

I saw the following comments on a Facebook thread recently:

No true Christian can be a politician, we are called away from worldly government and institutions.”

 A bit later, in response for a request of Biblical evidence of such a claim, the same person said:

“John 18:36 would be an example, but more examples can be sought by actually reading the Bible. God’s Kingdom is not of this world, and every government on earth is in rebellion to God, so what place does a follower of Christ have in such a Carnal man made institution? If you think that Christians are going to defy prophecy through politics, then you are reading a different Bible.”

The author of these comments sees true Christianity as that which is disconnected from the world, which seems rather unlike Jesus’ demand to be “in the world, but not of the world”. If we are charitable, we could suppose that this author is referring only to the very specific situation of Christians in national leadership.

And yet, is this Biblical? The example the author gives of a Biblical basis for his claim is John 18:36 which reads:

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

The author sees this as a rebuke of Christians in political office, but is that what Jesus is talking about? The context is Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus “Can Christians be involved in politics?”

Just kidding. Pilate isn’t asking about Christian behavior at all. He asks Jesus what crime Jesus has committed and whether He is “King of the Jews”. His questions is about Jesus and His Person, not how Christians ought to participate in worldly government. True enough, Christ teaches that His Kingdom is “from another place”, but then Christians in government office are not establishing the Second Jerusalem.

When considered long enough, the author of the comments really doesn’t specify the scope of government office, and his argument has nothing to limit it to the national level. What about state governments? County governments? City governments? The local school board? The family? Are there no places of leadership that Christians ought to participate in?

It seems obvious that there are. Jesus commands obedience and points to His Kingdom as distinct from the world, but He never forbids His followers from doing what they can in the world that is good. He tells them to be the light and salt of the world. Why would a Christian arbitrarily limit their influence by avoiding some of the most important positions in the world?

Jesus on Divorce

ancient-jewish-wedding-customsFrom Matthew 19

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The authentically Christian view of marriage and divorce is despised as much by those who claim to follow Christ as those who do not. Consistent Biblical mandates about the headship of the husband are transformed into the husband submitting to the whims of his wife. Consistent Biblical mandates about the submission of wives to their husbands is seen as oppressive even in Christian circles. Even when the concept is accepted, there is a substitution for the extra-Biblical construct of “mutual submission”. If mutual submission, why not mutual leadership? The two are the same, and both are clunky ways of saying “Democracy”. Is that really how Jesus relates to His church?

As badly as Christians misrepresent Christian teaching about marriage, the Christian teaching and treatment of divorce is even worse. Jesus declares that divorce is never right, and remarriage after divorce except for sexual immorality is adultery. Somehow, modern Christians have got it into their heads that divorce is right in myriad circumstances. Emotional abuse and unhappiness are frequently used as excuses for divorce, despite the fact that both of those entirely subjective measures are not mentioned once in all of Scripture as a cause for divorce.

Modern Christians often have no problem with divorce and are blind to the overwhelming moral qualities of it. The rest might have a problem with something, but it isn’t divorce itself. Often, and despite not being treated as leaders in their home, husbands are blamed for the negative behavior of their wives – including divorce if it occurs. Instead of blaming the person who initiates a divorce (which is usually the wife), Christian leaders blame the husband for not doing enough. This contradicts Christ, who gives no circumstance that ever justifies divorce, and Paul, who always describes the roles of husband and wife as unconditional.

If Christians want to learn to follow God’s Will, they could certainly do worse than following his clear moral teaching on marriage and divorce. As it stands, it’s a bit of an embarrassment to be surrounded by Christian leniency toward divorce when one of the chief complaints that non-Christians have about Christianity is the hypocrisy of it’s adherents.

Don’t Judge Me

It's always wrong to judge decisions that other people make, right?

It’s always wrong to judge decisions that other people make, right?

No one says “don’t judge me” when they are proud of something they’ve done. It is never used to express modesty. You don’t hear anyone say “don’t judge me for giving all of my money to the poor”.

The phrase is used exclusively when someone feels guilty about having done something that is obviously wrong. It is almost always used in a situation where sound judgment, spoken in good faith, would be the best possible thing to ask for.

Christians of all people should know better than the use the phrase, but as in many things, many of the people who claim to be Christ’s followers resemble the world around them more than their Lord. The Bible does not unilaterally condemn judgment. The oft cited verses (Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37) that say “do not judge, or you too will be judged” are never cited in full context. Christ qualifies the statement by telling His disciples that they ought to make sure that they apply the same standard to themselves that they apply to others. He says at another time (John 7:24) to “judge with righteous judgment”.

Without the ability to judge the actions of other people, we wouldn’t be able to have a legal system. It would be impossible to enforce laws. You wouldn’t be able to avoid a known serial killer because to even call him a serial killer is an act of judgment. You wouldn’t be able to lock your doors at night lest you judge the sort of people who might try to enter your home.

Whenever you are tempted to say “don’t judge me”, it would be wiser to instead stop doing the act you don’t want judged. Chances are, if it’s worth doing, you wouldn’t be asking for people to overlook it.

Jesus and His Conditional Friendship

I had the unfortunate experience of coming across a blog post that articulated, in the most liberal terms conceivable, the concept of Jesus as a friend of sinners. I suppose the most unfortunate part of the experience was catching a whiff of the poison dripping from the words directed at Christians who find the concept of “hanging out with sinners” as they indulge in sin a little too ungodly for God.

God loves all of us individually. There’s little doubt about that from Scripture. But that doesn’t mean that God stands idly by as people do evil, deflecting truthful accusations of those evil acts as judgmental. On the contrary.

The primary aim of the blog post was to demonstrate that Jesus really is, in the most intuitive sense of the phrase, a friend of sinners. To this end, the only verse in Scripture that deals with Jesus describing who gets to be friends with Him was summarily excluded. Had it been examined, it would have destroyed the thesis that Jesus would gladly hang out with drunkards at bars, probably buying a few rounds Himself.

From the Gospel of John:

John 15:14-15 – You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

Jesus loves us unconditionally, but His standard for friendship is much higher. He requires our obedience. This is an especially important lesson given how loathe we are to obey anything but our own desires. It is no wonder that those of a more liberal persuasion would want to reduce the friendship of Christ to the least demanding form one could imagine, but that would be something entirely different than what Jesus Himself declares.

And when it comes to determining what it takes to be Jesus’ friend, I’d much rather take Jesus at His word, than the empty rhetoric of someone else.