Abstinence is our way of separating ourselves from worldly desires — it allows us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, love our brothers, and serve God without boundaries.
The current constitutional and bylaws expectation for JRM members, especially church leaders, remains quite clear: everyone is expected to refrain from using “mood-altering substances,” including alcohol in any form.
Alcohol in the Bible
There is a bit of a conflict whether the Bible allows or warns us about alcohol consumption.
John 2:1-11 The fact that the Bible clearly describes how Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana, makes it difficult to conclude that Jesus was an abstainer, however, it is also unwise to point to these incidents to justify alcohol drinking.
On one hand, wine is considered a gift from God to make a man’s heart glad (Psalm 104:15). Israel was a land rich in corn and wine and when the time of worship comes, the people are to present first fruits of their harvest to God, or tithes, in the form of grain, wine and oil (Numbers 18:12).
On the other hand, the Scriptures repeatedly warn us against the dangers of alcohol in all forms. (Proverbs 23:29-35)
Alcohol does not only dull our moral restraints, but also causes our weaker brothers to stumble.
Take for example the story of Noah who planted a vineyard after the flood and became drunk one day. In his intoxicated state, he lay down on his tent naked. (Genesis 9:21) This is an example of a direct effect of alcohol to the drinker — dulling the moral restraints of man.
Then Ham, son of Noah, saw the nakedness of his father and told his brothers about it while laughing. This shows that the effects of alcohol can also be indirect. It does not only harm the person drinking, but also the people around him, especially those weak in spirit.
How Should We Then Live?
Moral indifference is becoming rampant in today’s culture. Judeo-Christian values are mostly ignored by the society and the church is neglected. Yet, we, the true followers of Christ, persevere to protect and preserve the very society that ignores us. In the midst of banality, violence, indifference, narcissism, and selfishness we carry a message of hope and reconciliation.
Hence, our stand on drinking alcohol is rooted deeply in the effects of its consumption and abuse to the society that we vow to protect.
JRM members must continue to be at the forefront of assisting people with substance addictions (i.e., alcoholics, drug addicts, etc) to find hope and deliverance through the gospel message and the loving care of the people of God.
The Law and Grace Tension
When the Bible talks of ‘Law’ it pertains to the set of standard God gave to Moses, beginning with the Ten Commandments. God’s Law basically incorporates His requirements to become a holy person and included three categories: civil, ceremonial and moral laws.
The offering of produce (wine from grapevine, for example) after a harvest and consumption of provisions God provided are just a few of these laws.
However, it should be noted that not all principles / laws carry equal weight. Some law of lower order may undermine principles of higher order. For example, it is easy to justify drinking by saying God has provided us with wine as a provision of life, but consumption of alcohol has also the potential to destroy one’s life and that of others.
If alcohol can put the life of many people at risk, then we should deeply consider whether drinking it is worth the risk. Also, God provided us with a lot of provisions, replacing wine with other harmless yet equally filling produce is the best way to go.
When Jesus was asked for His choice of the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus replied,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your should and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-40; cf. Mark 12:30-31; See also the “law of Christ” in John 13:34; Galatians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 9:21)
Abstinence is a form of following God’s second most important Law: loving our neighbours as we love ourselves.
Grace has been offered to humanity; it is potentially available to any one who care to access it by obeying the gospel of God. Salvation is not guaranteed by just following laws and principles, rather it may potentially come after following the said laws through the grace of God.
Considering Our Societal Situation
Is there any reason why we should expect a different standard in our present times than in the life and times of Jesus?
Yes. Any laws, regulations, guidelines and principles implemented by the church must always be discerned and appropriated to a particular time and place in history. This means that historical, cultural and social context must be always put into consideration.
Our times is different from Bible times. Today, not only is the abuse of alcohol a significant issue in our society, we also know much more about its negative effects that were not known in Bible times.
Millions of people get addicted to alcohol, ruining not only their lives, but also the lives of their families and the people around them. As followers of Christ, we must provide help to the addicted and make a stand against the consumption of alcohol.
It is now easier to abuse alcohol as it is readily available to everybody; saying no to alcohol is a way to break this pattern.
The Principle of Sacrificial Love: Love Limits Liberty
It’s already been noted previously in this paper that wine is a blessing of God as it is a produce of the grapevine which He provided as one of the provisions of life.
The question that we want to answer is whether it is right to drink alcohol when we now know its effects not only on the drinker, but also the impact it may have on others.
It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. (Romans 14:21)
Alcohol is a substance that diminishes human cognitive, emotional, and physical abilities. It’s also a medical fact that alcohol has addictive qualities; many people succumb to its destructive tendencies.
Some people are more susceptible to the addictive nature of alcohol more than others. This is because genetic make up which make them more likely to fall prey to the destructive power of alcohol.
The effects of alcohol can indeed be acceptable when it’s taken in moderation, but as children of God, this is where we choose to make the sacrifice, we follow the principle of “redemptive love”: we choose generosity over stinginess, choose to give our time to help others over selfishness and, in this case, the JRM church encourages us to choose abstinence over moderation.
We make such choice for the sake of those who’ve been addicted to alcohol, so we can help them; for the sake of the youth, so we can be their role model; and for those who take alcohol in moderation, so we can help them before their drinking progresses to addiction.
Our choice of abstinence is not because we want to be different in an alcohol-saturated society, rather because we want to follow Christ. We are filled with the Spirit of love, and we are motivated by our deep love for others.
Conclusion: For the sake of others, do not drink
Alcohol is a mind-altering drug. Even with just a minimal intake of alcohol can affect one’s cognitive capacity. This is why there’s almost zero tolerance when it comes to drinking and driving. A little amount of alcohol in the body can significantly reduce mental alertness and slow physical reactions. Our decision-making abilities is also compromised and our moral judgement is dulled.
It is apparent that alcohol can hinder us from performing our duty to God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength.
One of the results of drinking, even in moderation, is influencing others to drink too, especially those people who look up to us as role models. And if the drinking leads them to a harmful path, then we are responsible for that. And this contradicts the second greatest commandment, which is to love our brothers as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
JRM maintains its position that all church members, especially those who are in the leader’s position, are highly encouraged to abstain from alcohol. We have offered two primary reasons: first, because we live in a society where alcohol consumption destroys a lot lives and families. Abstinence is a way of protecting ourselves and others from the inherent dangers associated with the consumption of alcohol. Second, choosing abstinence over moderation is a way of limiting our liberty, a sacrifice for the greater good.
As leaders we are expected to sacrifice some of our liberties, for the good of others. We are called by God to make sacrifices for the sake of others, and abstinence is a sacrifice done out of love.
For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:33)