The Weaker Brother, Revisited . . . (I wrote this for a theological forum in which I participate)

16 May

It is not a perfect world (yet, not till Jesus gets here).  


Yesterday’s discussion of responsible use of alcohol may have introduced more questions than it answered.  


That is okay.  Discussion is good.  Communication is good.  


I do understand the point.  Those who are teetotallers are going *beyond* what God’s Word says.  It is okay to do that.  It is not okay to try to change God’s Word to correspond with our position.  


He did not spend the entire Old Testament telling people that wine gladdens the heart of man only to make wine consumption a sin in the New Testament (that would be unprecedented). 


Those of us who are teetotallers, including my pastor, often reference the bad water in ancient days and the way that a little alcohol mixed with water could have antiseptic qualities to keep people from being poisoned by bacteria in their water.  Good point, but not the reason the Bible gives for drinking wine.  God didn’t say, “Drink wine because in a couple of thousand years bacteria will be discovered in your water and you will be glad you used wine to purify it.”


We are not allowed to rewrite Scriptures according to our standards, as though God were less righteous than we are. 


On the other hand, I can see the safety of the teetotaller position.  No one has yet explained to me how a Bible study with beer will function when a recovering alcoholic joins it.  Will everyone drink soft drinks in deference to that weaker brother?


You see, Dr. James Baker, my pastor, has often said that some of our standards are stricter than they need to be, Biblically, because we understand deferring to the weaker brother.  I know his heart and I respect what he says. We do some things we don’t need to do.  We do them out of love, not fear and not legalism. 


One example of going a bit further than necessary, probably, is our dress code for serving on the platform during a service (we would not attempt to tell a visitor or a member out in the congregation how to dress, although Pastor preaches on modesty from time to time). We have to have our shoulders covered on the platform, avoiding dresses with huge gaps under the arms.  I understand that that is an issue of protecting some weaker brothers who find bare shoulders and peek-a-boo underarms to be alluring.  So we watch what we wear on the platform.  Small price to pay for keeping everybody somewhat freer of temptation.


This is not deferring to the judgmental brother, this is true deference to the weaker brother.  Abstaining from alcohol may turn out to be one such stand.  I  am okay with that if it is.  I don’t drink anyway and I would not want to be the one drawing a sister into a Bible study where she discovers she can’t control an addiction to alcohol.  


And this, my friends, may be a true Paul vs. Barnabas issue.  One where we can honestly respect the stand of someone else while honestly doing something completely different . . .




One Response to “The Weaker Brother, Revisited . . . (I wrote this for a theological forum in which I participate)”

  1. Rev. D.E. Karnes May 16, 2014 at 10:18 AM #

    Here is a point for “contemplation” I received from one of my best friends that is a professor at a well-known Christian University. This is his take on the topic and I find his points interesting to consider—————–“…… it is impossible from the Scriptures to give an absolute, trans-cultural prohibition of consuming beverages with alcoholic content in the same way that we can condemn murder or idolatry or stealing, etc. Cultural factors are very much involved in how beverages are made, how and why they are consumed, etc. A believer’s decision regarding alcoholic beverages must take these cultural factors into account as he or she applies the biblical warnings against drunkenness and alcohol abuse.

    Having said that, I believe the modern discussion is often naive and shortsighted. The argument seems to go like this: the Bible doesn’t condemn moderate use of alcoholic beverages; therefore, no Christian has the right to condemn them; therefore, it’s okay for me to use them, as long as I don’t overdo it. Such an argument betrays very little sympathy with the cultures in which the Bible was written and a blithe disregard of the culture in which we now find ourselves.

    Relative to biblical culture, I believe it is undeniable that “wine” in the Bible was grape juice that normally went through a fermentation process so that it could be stored (resulting in alcoholic content), and was then mixed with water to make a beverage. If someone wished to get drunk or “buzzed,” he could mix it with very little water (various people obviously get drunk on wine in the Bible). Normal practice, however, was to dilute the fermented juice considerably. This resulted in purified water (which was dangerous otherwise), and it gave the water a pleasant taste. With normal dilutions, however, one would have to drink an enormous amount to get drunk or even buzzed. Such diluted wine was considered one of God’s richest blessings.

    Relative to modern culture, I believe a very different context suggests itself. We have pure water; we can store unfermented juices (the process for storing grape juice that was not fermented was invented in the late 19th century); and we have dozens of beverage choices. In the meantime, an alcohol industry has developed (beginning in the Middle Ages when processes for distilling strong liquors were invented) that has been the bane of modern society. There is no alcoholic beverage on the market today that is not designed to provide a buzz; such beverages clearly are not available for merely health or taste purposes. In other words, I believe comparing modern alcoholic beverages with biblical wine is highly misleading.

    Leaving testimony factors aside for a moment, if a Christian wished to buy a beer or a wine cooler or a bottle of wine and then mix every ounce of it with 20 or more ounces of water, I suppose he would then have a parallel situation. The resulting beverage would no doubt be acceptable. I don’t think that is what most of these Christians are planning to do.

    Now, this argument is an attempt to refute the normal argument for drinking. It takes a slightly different tack to come up with a biblical argument against drinking. I would argue that any substance that has the effect of altering my mental state with the potential of controlling my behavior is antithetical to the requirement that I be controlled by the Spirit at all times. That’s why a fermented drink must be diluted so that it no longer has the potential of affecting my thinking and behavior before I can safely drink it.”

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