When I say “drinking”, I’m talking about imbibing alcohol. I don’t drink. I make no apologies for this fact. In my opinion, based on Scripture and my life experience, drinking alcoholic beverages serves no good purpose. In fact, it can cause irreparable damage to you physically, mentally and socially.
I am not alone in this position. Many people make the choice to not drink. One New Years day, Denie and I were watching CNN’s annual New Year show from Times Square. It is always co-hosted by Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin. Kathy is a well-known comedian and it was her comments during the show that struck me. Anderson Cooper suggested they toast the New Year together and Kathy replied, “I don’t drink.” Anderson said, “really?” Kathy answered, “I never have, and I never will.” “You mean not even a New Year’s toast?” “NO!”
Why is it that this opinion is viewed as ultra-legalistic, out of touch or narrow minded? Could it be that when you don’t drink alcohol and others do, you make them uncomfortable? However, their discomfort is not your fault. You should never feel obligated to drink. This is especially true for young people who succumb to peer pressure and “I dare you”. Being a “teetotaler” does not make you antisocial. It does not brand you as some religious fanatic. There are lots of non-religious people who do not drink for a variety of reasons.
I am a Christian. I am a pastor. And I don’t drink at all for a lot of reasons, which I want to clarify. I’ll give them in point form below with a brief explanation.
1. My experience.
Remember, I said I am a pastor. This means I work with people. My calling in life is to lead people into a deepening relationship with God. So I talk to people and listen to people and get involved with people’s problems. I can say from experience that many problems people share with me involve substance abuse or dependence upon some substance. By far the largest part of that substance abuse is alcohol.
2. Effects mentally.
Alcohol makes you dumb. You may feel smart, but actually it dumbs you down. You think less clearly. You respond slower. Your judgment is clouded. Your decisions are not as clear. Your awareness is diminished. Alcohol affects your vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. It literally alters the function of your brain. Alcohol puts you at your worst and not at your best. (Alcohol’s effects on the brain)
3. Effects relationally.
Alcohol causes relationship problems for most people. Things said while under the influence cannot be taken back. You may think unkind things- and most people do, but alcohol diminishes the ability to self-regulate. Things are said that cannot be retrieved. Alcohol changes your behavior. Some people just lay down and fall asleep, but others become violent. Even small amounts of alcohol can affect the way you behave, and while under the influence, you could hurt the relationships that are important to you. (Alcohol’s effects on relationships)
4. Effects on health.
You can’t find a doctor who will encourage you to drink. Why is that? Let me tell you what alcohol does to your body.
*Alcohol used over a long period of time can cause your heart muscles to stretch, irregular heart beat, strokes, and hypertension.
*Over time, the liver becomes “fatty” and both liver fibrosis and liver cirrhosis may develop.
*Your pancreas may become inflamed.
*You may develop cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver or breast. These diseases can all be connected to regular alcohol consumption.
*Many birth defects such as fetal alcohol syndrome are caused by alcohol consumption of the mother during pregnancy.
*Drinking alcohol can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease.
*Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink.
*Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
But isn’t a glass of wine good for the heart?? So they say. However, upon careful consideration of the research, the jury is still out on this one. The cons of alcohol consumption may in the end outweigh the pros, so much so the American Health organization says if you don’t already drink, then don’t start for health reasons. There is not enough evidence that it helps anything. A glass of grape juice can give you the same benefits of a glass of red wine. (Alcohol’s effects on the body)
5. Addictive effect.
This is without question the most deadly part of drinking. Alcohol is a drug. It becomes the drug of choice to relax, to begin conversations, to deal with stress. Studies show that in the higher percentage of the population, drinking increases with age. This is not due to the aging factor, but rather the addictive characteristic of alcohol. Adam Barry, assistant professor and researcher in the College of Health and Human Performance at Florida University, writes that studies have established that long term drug abuse almost always had its beginning with alcohol. (Alcohol is addictive)
6. Social effects.
Do you know why so much social activity revolves around a glass? Because unless we are drugged enough to relax, we don’t really interact with others well. Unfortunately, this can be a “crutch”, helping you to socially interact in ways you actually should not. I know far too many people who have had affairs, committed adultery, made bad business deals, or succumbed to seduction simply because of a few glasses of wine. These were not evil, morally bankrupt people. These were some good people I know who just had a little too much wine. And then the only thing left was regret.
I’d like to turn to the approach of the Scriptures on drinking alcohol. The Bible does not actually say, “You should not drink.” Nowhere are those words written. Yet this principle is implied. Many Scriptures state very clearly that drunkenness is wrong and sinful. (Scripture also condemns gluttony as strongly as it does drunkenness, so don’t get all righteous here!) It is clear in Scripture that wine is called “a mocker.” This means it makes a fool out of people. Whoever is not aware of this is called a fool.
The higher Christian value in this discussion is a relational one: the effect your drinking has on others. If you are a Jesus follower, your highest responsibility is to love Jesus. Then- to love your neighbor as your self. This command is found 8 times in the New Testament. (Matt 19:19, 22:39, Jam 2:8, Gal 5:14 etc.) The Apostle Paul took this so far as to say that if your behavior is offensive to anyone, particularly another person in the body of Christ, (Romans 14:15-16) you should not do that. You are responsible for what others think about your lifestyle and actions. This is not to suggest that you live your life to please everyone around you. That would be impossible. You live your life to please God first and then you recognize your influence on others. There is a responsibility for us to live without reproach of any kind as much as we can.
One of the reasons I don’t drink at all is because I take my responsibility as a leader and a Christian very seriously.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario: someone sees PD having a drink. It may be a one-time thing or a celebratory toast, but the observer only sees one thing. “PD is drinking.” The progression is this: “PD is drinking. Therefore, he must approve of drinking alcohol. He thinks it’s okay. So then, it’s okay if I drink because PD does it.”
This observer does not know the context of my drinking alcohol. He doesn’t know my personal rules or my values. All he sees is what I am doing, and because I am his pastor and leader, he follows what I do because I have influence on him.
What if this person has had a problem with substance abuse in the past, and regresses into that mess because of my behavior?
What if he starts telling people, “Our pastor drinks alcohol, so I’m sure it’s okay…”?
What if a young believer stumbles at my “liberty” and begins a downward road into backsliding or addiction?
Do I have to live my life by others standards? To a certain extent, yes. I personally am responsible for the spiritual well-being of a lot of people, and sometimes my behavior has to adapt to a lifestyle that has less license and liberty simply because I do not want other possibly younger Jesus followers to be wrongly influenced and hurt by things I do.
So I have come to a conclusion.
I am a rational person. I am an open-minded person. I am not judgmental of others who drink alcohol, and I don’t require them to live by my personal standard. But when I weigh the benefits against the negatives, I cannot find a good enough reason to drink alcohol.
Does drinking alcohol send you to hell? Not necessarily. But it might. What if the influence of alcohol causes you to sin? You might indeed end up on a road that twists and turns and culminates in hell for what you did while drunk or under the influence of alcohol even a little bit.
For me personally, I would not feel any guilt over a drink. The question is this: with what I know and what I’ve seen, the people I’ve talked to, the broken hearts, the lost jobs, the wrecked marriages… many related to alcohol… I ask myself, “Why on earth would I want to drink?”
It’s not necessary. It’s not food. It’s not good nutrition. It’s not something your body needs. And it just might affect me, my family, and my church negatively.
So why would I do it?
That’s why I don’t. I just don’t.