Counterfeit Virtue


“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (NKJV) Luke 7:34

Some good logical thoughts concerning alcohol from Andre Rook’s blog, and comments from me at the end:

Alcohol is synonymous with sin for many. Still for others it is considered an act of Christian love to perpetually abstain from alcohol, to provide a good Christian witness to others. My beef with the latter view (the former being easily dismissed on account of Scripture, and also condemned in the heresy of Manicheism) is that it creates a counterfeit virtue for the Christian.

The erroneous logic is as follows: 1. Alcohol itself is not inherently bad. 2. Perpetual abstinence from “stumbling” consumables is commanded from Scripture for reason of providing a good Christian witness. 3. Therefore, perpetual abstinence from alcohol is not bad; it is in fact a virtue.

My claim is that perpetual abstinence from alcohol is not good, and Scripture by no means condones this false conviction; it is in fact a counterfeit virtue.

Starting from the first premise: alcohol is not inherently bad. The positive of this negative statement is that alcohol is inherently good. Alcohol, being a creation of our Lord, is intrinsically good. Unlike the Manichees who understood evil to be tangible, Jesus states that “it is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man” (Matt. 15:11). Evil is not tangible; evil is spiritual. This the Bible makes this absolutely clear (Gen. 1:11-12, Matt. 15:11, Romans 14:14, 1 Tim. 4:3).

The second premise is where things have gotten hairy in many modern churches; this is where my disagreement lies. In Kenneth L. Gentry Jr.’s book, “God Gave Wine,” he devotes an entire chapter to the exegesis of Romans 14. In that chapter, Paul is speaking to the Romans about the doctrine of Christian liberty. There were a few things that stuck out to me in this chapter. One such point is the term “stumbling block” that many Christians like to throw around. What does this cryptic saying mean? What constitutes as a “stumbling block?” Gentry defines the Greek word used here: proskomma. As it turns out, this Greek word does not simply mean something that causes someone to feel uncomfortable or irritated. The meaning is much stronger than that. Proskomma in the Greek refers to something that causes someone to fall into sin against God. Notice the word “cause.” If the effect of my cause is rebellion against the Lord, then I should not do what is in question. On how many occasions is moderate alcohol consumption a cause for sin? Let us answer the question with care, for our Savior Himself consumed alcohol in public, around the society’s lowest, most likely some of which may have been tempted with the sin of drunkenness.

The fact is that Christ did not cause anyone to sin. “Cause” implies intent. If it is my intent to cause someone to fall into sin, then I have sinned; I am responsible. We cannot cause someone to sin if it is not our intent to do so. If our intent is not to make others sin and simply enjoy God’s goodness and providence, then the responsibility literally does not lie with us for the sin they may commit as the result of our lawful activity. We cannot unknowingly cause someone to sin, according to the very nature and definition of the word proskomma.

So how, then, should we approach alcohol? In the same way we approach everything else. With sobriety of mind and spirit, and with praise for our Lord on our lips. He is good, and all that he has created is good. Alcohol abstention is, in fact, nothing more than a counterfeit virtue, a “virtue” that Christ Himself did not practice.

It is dangerous business indeed to try and be holier than Christ; that was the Pharisee’s fatal game. Let us give thanks to our Maker for the good things he has given to us to enjoy; let us praise Him by enjoying alcohol as He meant for it to be enjoyed. Cheers!

As C. S. Lewis has pointed out to us, Satan only has the materials that God created to tempt us with. Sin is an inappropriate use of good things—including other people. Everything has its place, and many things can be quite deadly if they are out of place. Internal bleeding or a punctured bowel are perfect examples. Greasy fried chicken is a blessing in moderation. Fried chicken grease from kids’ fingers on a new leather lounge is not. Farming, mining, fishing and foresting are good. All of these in the extreme are bad. In all cases, we are called to use the created order justly, in love, and with wisdom.

Just as bread is a symbol of priestly obedience (just follows the baking rules), wine is a symbol of wisdom. It is for someone who knows the rules and doesn’t need them enforced. It is self-government.

In the toolbox of Creation, alcohol is a powersaw. [1] To be used wisely, not to be toyed with. As a picture of the Covenant cup, it brings both blessings and curses depending upon obedience. We experience the “shalom” of the kingdom, ruling over our enemies as Solomon, or we stagger and fall prey to those same enemies, as the kings eventually did. Jesus drank wine as a king, and He also drank the cup of Covenant curses at the Father’s hand.

The view on alcohol at the church we attend is that it is inherently bad. I can’t argue with the tragedies it has caused in many lives and families, experienced firsthand by many friends and acquaintances. For sure, those who cannot handle it should abstain—this was the sin of Adam. [2] But is prohibition a wise decree—or is it a refusal to accept the role of government of the kingdom Christ has purchased and delegated to us? Even after his failure, the Lord called Adam to judge rightly.

Reaching a maturity in judgment is always messy. [3] So a prohibition of alcohol is the same as a ban on farming, mining, fishing and foresting. It is a refusal to grow up and enter into glory, and to deal with the risks this always involves. This was the sin of the Pharisees, who preferred the security of legal minutiae to the living, flexible, mature wisdom of one who was greater than Solomon. [4]

[1] See Boisterous with Wine, Deconstituted Ingredients, and Power Tools.
[2] See Touch Not, Taste Not, Handle Not.
[3] See A Priesthood of All Believers Can be Messy – 1.
[3] See the lengthy quote from James B. Jordan’s From Bread to Wine in May His Days Be Few.

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