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The use of alcohol among conservative Evangelicals has been in the news lately. Famous pastor confessed to abusing it as way of handling stress. Missiologist, Ed Stetzer, has observed that this new openness might come with an increase in similar issues. (Click Link) We were once a “full abstinence people.” But recently, younger Evangelicals are moving away from the stances held by our predecessors.
I am regularly asked my position on this subject. Our school has a strict policy and it is enforced across the board. When our younger students come in contact with this policy they are full of questions. Their questions generally revolve around issues of morality – is it wrong to drink alcohol? Is it a sin? Is it a matter of wisdom or conscience?
I could answer the question in a number of ways, but honestly, I don’t feel a need to engage in exegetical exercises about what Jesus turned water into, or what Paul told Timothy to drink for his stomach. Frankly, I find those discussions unhelpful.
Instead of engaging the topic on those levels, I usually tell a story. Very early in my missionary career I had a friend from a closed, Islamic country. We spent hours talking about religion, the gospel, and how a to be right with God. In the course of our discussions he once argued that his country was not oppressive of Christians. “We have religious freedom,” he said. I knew Christians were persecuted and missionary activity was illegal in his country so I asked what he meant by that. He said, “In our country, we allow Christians to drink alcohol and defile themselves.” In other words, he saw Islam as a more moral, and therefore more Godward religion, than Christianity, and the use of alcohol was his proof-text.
At that moment it hit me. This issue could be a matter of eternal importance. He would never believe that a man who drank alcohol could be speaking the word of God.
My answer to anyone who asks about alcohol consumption is not about morality. My concern and my convictions run much deeper. For me, alcohol consumption is about the mission. God’s mission to make disciples of all nations. As Christians, we need to learn to ask ourselves the right questions. Our primary questions should not be, is this [whatever ‘this’ is] “right or wrong.” Rather, we should ask, “does this advance or hinder God’s mission?” I think we should be consumed by the final marching orders of our King – make disciples of all nations – and I know that alcohol consumption can be a hindrance to this mandate.
NOW THAT I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION
This post is actually about more than alcohol. Sure, if you are fuming right now about your scotch or beer, you have a real problem and need to do something about it. However, for the rest of you who are bobbing your head like a doll on a hot dashboard, I have you right where I want you.
You have just agreed that the mission of God should determine lifestyle choices. There is no question that Christians are free in Christ, but you have just agreed that, for the Christian, the mission of God, not selective morality, should be our driving force.
SO – let’s think about other things.
Your time – is your investment of the hours in your day contributing to God’s mission or is it a distraction for you or others.
Your money – What does your use, or misuse, of money and “things” do to accomplish the mission? Are you leveraging your finances to advance God’s kingdom or your own?
Your Family – are you raising your kids and leading your home as a Great Commission stewardship, or are you chasing the American dream and living in fear of complete obedience.
Your job, your reputation, your experiences – Get the message?
The Apostle Paul wrote: “You were called to be free, brothers; only do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.” (Galatians 5:13
Scott Hildreth is the director of the Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies. He frequently speaks on issues of missions, spiritual formation, missiology, and theology. Scott also contributes to SEBTS faculty blog www.betweenthetimes.com