By Spencer D Gear
To discuss alcohol or no-alcohol use with evangelical Christians is like opening up the topic of speaking in tongues, eternal security or millennial views. If you don’t believe me, please take a read of some of the discussion on the blog, Christian Fellowship Forum, “Request” (posts 18-72; I’m ozspen).
This is part of what the Australian government, Department of Health and Ageing, says about alcohol:
Due to the different ways that alcohol can affect people, there is no amount of alcohol that can be said to be safe for everyone. People choosing to drink must realise that there will always be some risk to their health and social well-being.
What about drinking alcohol during pregnancy? This research, “Alcohol in pregnancy: What questions should we be asking?” stated:
“If you are planning a pregnancy, are pregnant or are breastfeeding, it is safest if you do not drink alcohol at all. Drinking alcohol may cause harm to your baby. At high levels it can also harm your health. There is no evidence for a safe level of drinking in pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Either stopping or dinking less alcohol at any time during your pregnancy will reduce the risk of harm to your baby.
Benefits of stopping drinking include reduced risk of:
- alcohol crossing the placenta into your baby’s bloodstream;
- miscarriage, bleeding, premature birth and stillbirth;
- Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This can lead to learning difficulties, poor coordination, slow physical and mental development and defects of the face, heart and bones….
Breastfeeding: If you drink, breast milk will contain alcohol. This can:
- affect the development of your baby’s brain;
- affect your baby’s ability to feed;
- reduce the milk supply available to your baby (p. 65).
Other Christians who join me in opposing the use of alcohol are:
- Norman Geisler, “To drink or not to drink: A sober look at the question”. Geisler concludes his study with this advice:
To drink or not to drink? We have taken a sober look at the question. What is the answer? Just say No! Why? Because drinking alcoholic beverages is unbiblical, deadly, addictive, unhealthy, costly, a bad example, not edifying, and unnecessary. Clearly, total abstinence is the safest policy.
Why then is our society in general—and evangelical Christianity in particular—on such a self-destructive alcoholic course. Hosea gave part of the answer: ?My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge? (Hos 4:6). The rest of the answer lies is in resisting temptation. The Bible declares that no temptation (including drugs) is too strong to resist: ?No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it? (1 Cor 10: 13). Mark Twain once said of the temptation to gamble that the best toss of the dice is to toss them away.
Likewise, the best use of the beer can is to toss it into the reprocessing bin—after the contents have been poured down the drain!
- Richard Land and Barrett Duke, “The Christian and Alcohol”.
Land and Duke conclude their study with these recommendations:
In conclusion, we offer five general principles that the Christian would do well to follow when he is making a decision about alcohol use or any other activity. First, the lordship of Christ takes priority. Christians are not free to do anything they please. They belong to Christ and should make every effort to engage in behavior that honors his lordship over their lives. Paul provides the definitive expression of this principle: ?For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:20). Second, selfishness should be shunned. Selfishness is the root of all sin. It leads people to seek their own interests, even to the detriment of others. The biblical guidance is clear: ?Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor (1 Cor 10:24). Third, sacrifice is a Christian virtue. The needs of others must overrule our own exercise of freedom. Paul taught, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor 8:9). Someone might say that the weaker person is the one with the problem and that stronger Christians should not allow weaker ones to impose standards on them that God has not required. Paul does not qualify his statement, however. In fact, he exaggerates this principle of sacrifice for the weaker Christian, declaring, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor 8:13). Jesus provides the supreme example of such a sacrificial mentality. He recognized the human need for forgiveness and willingly gave up his rightful place in heaven, took on human flesh, and sacrificed his life on the cross for the sake of others. We are not saying that it is not the right of Christians to drink alcohol if they choose to do so. We are saying that Christians should not consider that their rights are more important than their responsibilities to live in such a way that their fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord are not offended.
We recognize that this is not always practicable. Christian legalism, for example, may become so demanding that it creates an unrealistic intrusion into the lives of other Christians. When this occurs, Christians should not feel bound to accommodate these expectations. For some, the issue of alcohol use is such an intrusion, but we ask how the Christian is harmed or his spiritual liberty is hindered if he abstains from drinking alcohol for the sake of his fellow believers? Alcohol consumption is not the same as some other activities legalistic Christians might expect others to give up. Alcohol is a dangerous drug which has and continues to devastate millions of people. When one refrains from drinking alcohol, he is avoiding an activity that is not only offensive to some, but that is deadly to many. This seems to us to be an appropriate application of the principle of sacrifice.
Fourth, God‘s glory should be the most important concern for Christians. With every activity, the Christian should ask whether or not God will be glorified. Paul summarized, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). We ask any Christian who chooses to drink alcohol whether God is glorified more by the one who drinks or by the one who abstains. Considering the principles we have already laid out, it seems obvious to us that God is glorified most by the Christian who abstains. There is no glory for God in the willful pursuit of pleasure that has no regard for one‘s influence or effect on others.
Finally, the Christian must remember that he will be judged for his every deed, both those that affect his own life and those that affect the lives of others. Paul counsels, “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged” (1 Cor 11:31). Whether in this life or the life to come, God will hold Christians accountable for their behavior. It does not even matter whether or not we believe we are justified to engage in certain activities. The real question is whether or not God thinks we are. Given the current problems alcohol is causing in our culture, the potential that our drinking has in influencing others to drink, and the many health problems associated with alcohol, it is inconceivable that God considers recreational or social drinking to be the best choice a committed Christian can make. Every Christian should live to hear his Lord declare, “Well done, good and faithful servant “, throughout each day of his life and ultimately on that final day of judgment which awaits us all.
We have supported these five principles with passages from one book of the Bible, Paul‘s first letter to the Christians at Corinth. It should not come as a surprise that so many principles for spiritual decision making would be found in this letter. The church at Corinth was evidently one of the most carnal and immature fellowships of Christians with whom Paul had to deal. This is unfortunate, but not unexpected. The culture in
Corinth was one of the most debased in the Roman Empire. It was so bad that the term “Corinthianized” became the word of choice throughout much of the Roman Empire to describe someone who had fallen into the darkest depths of immoral behavior. Unfortunately, some of the Christians who came out of that cultural morass brought their liberated mindset into the church in Corinth. Paul‘s extant letters to that church reveal the extent of the problem their attitudes were causing. Paul found it necessary to counsel the Christians who had escaped the immorality of their debauched culture to ?be imitators? of him (1 Cor. 4:16). He also shared many principles for faithful living with them. American Christians find themselves currently in the midst of an increasingly secular and immoral culture—a culture devastated by alcohol abuse. Today‘s Christians run the same risks that they too will become influenced by a mindset too fixed on personal pleasure and liberty. We would do well to follow Paul‘s counsel as well and apply the principles he shared with our Christian counterparts nearly 2,000 years ago.
Kenneth Gentry supports the “moderation” view in, “The Bible and the question of alcoholic beverages”. His conclusion is:
The thrust of my study is intentionally narrow. My concern is to present the biblical data regarding the general question of the morality of alcohol consumption. Though other issues might tangentially bear upon the topic, the ultimate issue in the debate should be, ?What saith the Lord?? Or to put it in contemporary parlance, we might ask, “What would Jesus do?” And we have seen that he would make wine and drink it (John 2:1–11; Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34).
In the final analysis it is quite clear that Scripture neither urges universal total abstinence nor demands absolute life-long prohibition.
Although alcoholic beverages can be, have been, and are presently abused by individuals, such need not be the case. Indeed, the biblical record frequently and clearly speaks of alcoholic beverages as good gifts from God for man’s enjoyment. Unfortunately, as is always the case among sinners, good things are often transformed into curses. This is true not only with alcohol but with food, medicine, sex, wealth, authority, and many other areas of life. In fact, gluttonous eating of food is paralleled with immoderate drinking of wine in Scripture (Deut 21:20; Prov 23:20–21; Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34), just as is the perverted use of sex (Rom 13:13; Gal 5:21; 1 Pet 4:3).
The reader should not conclude that I intend for this study to encourage drinking by those who do not presently do so. I do not. I have never and will never encourage others to drink. Whether or not an individual wants to drink is a matter of his own tastes and discretion (within biblical limits, of course).
Neither should the reader think that this study presents all that can be said on the biblical understanding of the question of alcohol use. Again, such is not the case. Space constraints prohibit an in-depth analysis of all the data of Scripture. Nevertheless, I believe that the issues presented herein capture the essence of the biblical position.
The only point I make herein is that the biblical evidence shows that God allows alcohol consumption in moderation. Too often the Bible takes the back seat to emotional, anecdotal, and social arguments against alcohol consumption. This is most unfortunate — especially when considering the matter in ecclesiastical circles for Christians must “let God be found true” (Rom 3:4).
Link between alcohol use and cancer
There is a report in The Independent (UK) newspaper, 8 April 2011, about the link between alcohol use and cancer, “Report reveals alcohol cancer link”. Part of the report reads:
One in 10 cancers in men and one in 33 in women across Western Europe are caused by drinking, according to new research.
While even small amounts increases the risk, drinking above recommended limits causes the majority of cancer cases linked to alcohol, experts said.
And even former drinkers who have now quit are still at risk of cancer, including of the oesophagus, breast, mouth and bowel.
NHS guidelines are that men should drink no more than three to four units a day while women should not go over two to three units a day.
But the new research, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found cancer risks at even lower levels.
Experts analysed data from eight European countries, including the UK, and worked out what proportion of men and women were drinking above guidelines of 24g of alcohol a day for men and 12g a day for women.
In the UK, one unit is defined as 8g of alcohol, meaning 12g is roughly a small 125ml glass of white wine (1.6 units).
In the British Medical Journal, 7 April 2011, “Alcohol attributable burden of incidence of cancer in eight European countries based on results from prospective cohort study “, these were the results and conclusions of this research:
Results If we assume causality, among men and women, 10% (95% confidence interval 7 to 13%) and 3% (1 to 5%) of the incidence of total cancer was attributable to former and current alcohol consumption in the selected European countries. For selected cancers the figures were 44% (31 to 56%) and 25% (5 to 46%) for upper aerodigestive tract, 33% (11 to 54%) and 18% (?3 to 38%) for liver, 17% (10 to 25%) and 4% (?1 to 10%) for colorectal cancer for men and women, respectively, and 5.0% (2 to 8%) for female breast cancer. A substantial part of the alcohol attributable fraction in 2008 was associated with alcohol consumption higher than the recommended upper limit: 33?037 of 178?578 alcohol related cancer cases in men and 17?470 of 397?043 alcohol related cases in women.
Conclusions In western Europe, an important proportion of cases of cancer can be attributable to alcohol consumption, especially consumption higher than the recommended upper limits. These data support current political efforts to reduce or to abstain from alcohol consumption to reduce the incidence of cancer.
An Australian study from 2009, according to ABC News [Australia], “Study bolsters alcohol-cancer link”, stated that:
The National Drug Research Institute has found more than 2,000 Australians die from alcohol-related cancers each year.
The study, conducted by researchers at Curtin University, found 1,200 men and 900 women in Australia died from alcohol-related cancer in the past year, with 200 deaths in WA.
The institute found links between alcohol consumption and cancer to be extensive, and says the numbers could increase as links to other cancers are discovered.
Currently links between alcohol and mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, breast, colon, rectal and prostate cancers have been established.
Researchers also found a woman who consumes five standard drinks a day is five times more likely to be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer than a non-drinker.
Tanya Chikritzhs from the National Drug Research Institute says the links between alcohol and cancer are extensive.
“Basically the more you drink, the more you’re at risk,” she said.
“Heavy drinkers, when it comes to let’s say rectal cancer for instance, are many times more likely to be at risk of cancer than a person who is a very light drinker.”
Professor Chikritzhs says she was surprised by the research relating to colon and rectal cancer, as the risk of death for women who drink moderately was considerably greater than men.
“For a man who drinks 2.5 standard drinks a day, the risk is about 10 per cent greater than someone who doesn’t drink. For a woman, it’s over 200 per cent greater,” she said.
The Sydney Morning Herald of 2 May 2011, in the article, “Quit drinking to cut cancer rate”, stated:
CANCER COUNCIL AUSTRALIA has revised dramatically upwards its estimate of alcohol’s contribution to new cancer cases and issued its strongest warning yet that people worried by the link should avoid drinking altogether.
New evidence implicating alcohol in the development of bowel and breast cancer meant drinking probably caused about 5.6 per cent of cancers in Australia, or nearly 6500 of the 115,000 cases expected this year, a review by the council found. This was nearly double the 3.1 per cent figure it nominated in its last assessment, in 2008.
The council’s chief executive, Ian Olver, said the updated calculations revealed breast and bowel cancer accounted for nearly two-thirds of all alcohol-related cancers, overtaking those of the mouth, throat and oesophagus.
”The public really needs to know about it because it’s a modifiable risk factor,” said Professor Olver, calling for awareness campaigns to alert people to the link. ”You might not be able to help your genes but you can make lifestyle choices.”
Professor Olver said public advice should not conflict with the National Health & Medical Research Council’s 2009 recommendation people should drink no more than two standard alcohol units daily, already half the previous safe threshold for men….
”I’m not talking about tobacco-style warnings but at the moment there’s no requirement for any health advice on alcohol packaging, and that’s wrong,” said Professor Daube, from Curtin University.
So what will now be done by governments that have this research? Remember what happened when research found the link between cigarette smoking and cancer? Will the same happen with this research link between alcohol use and cancer? I’m not holding my breath!!!
The above presents some of the evidence on which you can make a decision with your God-given discernment and conscience. For my wife and me, we have chosen to avoid the consumption of alcohol. You can read some of our reasons in: “Alcohol and the Christian“.
Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.