Pastoral Counsel, Maturity, Caution, Alcoholism, and Ten Theses: Some Further Reflections

{Note: I am sure I will be updating and editing this piece for greater clarity. I hope this discussion proves helpful. Thanks to JP & John Anselmo for your thoughts}

My topic is rather broad, which conveys my conviction that this topic deserves greater attention. This is a rather debated topic and naturally it brings with it highly emotional responses.

MacArthur’s thesis is not controversial at all in fundamentalist circles, but since MacArthur has purposely become a national (media) figure in both evangelical and reformed circles, his anti-alcohol stance naturally draws the attention from the broader Protestant community.

I am thankful for the numerous responses to our piece. It is a fact that pietism and prohibitionism still lingers in the modern evangelical scene. I say all this as a former fundamentalist who shared MacArthur’s dissent. However, as one looking back in those days I find the image offered incomplete and in need of greater clarity.

As I read through some of the comments I found myself uniquely grateful that this topic can be discussed in a civil manner. This is not always the case. On a particular website, one comment made explicit that those who deny MacAthur’s thesis are anti-christ. Fortunately, these lunatics are few and absent from this blog.

It is undeniable that much of this discussion really and truly centers around pastoral counsel and concerns. JP and John Anselmo–in the comment section–have brought a few points to my attention that should be addressed. I believe that MacArthur’s concerns stem from the heart of a pastor who has seen his share of lives destroyed by alcoholism. In this light, allow me to offer a few thoughts:

First, there is no pastor–who is faithful to his calling–who is not aware of the dangers of alcoholism. My desire with this piece is merely to continue the conversation; to offer an alternative to what appears–rather clearly–an over-reaction to an abuse. What I want to say to those who have read this piece is that I am aware of the abuse. The fact that over 600 people have read this is an indication that there is legitimate curiosity about how to approach this topic.

Second, as a Reformed pastor, I am living consistent with my tradition. Opponents of moderate consumption of alcohol should understand that the Reformation is largely at the forefront of discussions on brewing and tasting. MacArthur stands strongly against the Reformed tradition on this matter.

Third, as Christians, we should never be known as “the beer drinking ones.” I would like to offer an alternative. Christians should be known as “the feasting ones.” Christians are those brought into a new kingdom, embracing a new king, and resting in his rich provision. Feasting is a much broader concept. It includes community, joy, and thanksgiving. If we remove and divorce “beer drinking” from community, joy, and thanksgiving, then MacArthur’s concerns become more legitimate (an example of thanksgiving).

Fourth, what God has created is for God’s people to enjoy. All those things Samson was prohibited from partaking (wine and strong drink; Numbers 6 & Judge 13) were for the sake of the redeemed community (Listen to this and this). What Samson forsook as a Nazarite, he forsook it so that the people would not have to forsake. This is Christo-centric in more ways than one. The true Nazarite–because he accomplished Sabbath rest for his people–did not forsake wine (John 2). Therefore, we too should not forsake it.

Fifth, as JP observes, some addictions are greater depending on the circumstance, and thus need greater attention. Some use the argument that exposing those who are deeply rooted in alcoholism to beer can be a stumbling block. Whereas this is a legitimate concern in a non-gospel environment, in Christ the gospel re-shapes our thinking. God has not given us a spirit of fear.  Again, Paul dealt with abusers and addicts in the early church and his counsel is to avoid the abuse and embrace the proper use. Drink deeply of of the gospel first, embrace the unity and peace it manifests, then and only then drink wine. To ministers, Paul said that they should not be given to much wine. In other words, they are not to abuse this gift. Pastors set examples to the flock.

Different situations require different counsel. Some are simpler while others are more complicated. John Fraiser and I did not address this point, but we both are fully convinced together with the large testimony of Church history that only wine should be served during the celebration of the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper). In this case, we then have to consider our ultimate loyalty: do we continue the biblical tradition or do we sacrifice it for the sake of one or two who have struggles with alcoholism? The Pauline answer is very straight forward. We exhort, rebuke, come alongside, offer pastoral, medical, and trained assistance (AA and other Christian versions of it are usually available in most cities).

Sixth, education is crucial. Churches have truly failed their task in training a new generation to view what is good as good. Pastors are always more comfortable in calling parishioners to” stay away from” rather than calling them to wisdom and discernment.

Seventh, there is a true rebuke in MacArthur’s post that we–especially those of us in Reformed circles–should heed. We need not, should not push the drinking limits. Because we can does not mean we must come close to abusing it. As parents, we need to teach our children that wine is associated with community, Christianity, and the common life. We should not treat it as individual entertainment. Christians who enjoy the thrill of coming close to the edge need to repent.

Eighth, Romans 14:21 has been brought to this discussion. Paul says that we are not to drink wine if it causes a brother to be weakened (paraphrase). I caution any interpreter who takes this as an isolated text. Paul says earlier that we are not to allow what is good to be spoken as evil (14:16). Further, there is a strong Jew/Gentile first-century struggle operating in this Pauline context. As the early church began much needed to be addressed in this new united world of Jew and Gentile. Paul is offering some ground rules for this discussion. Among the many rules of engagement, Paul says in verse 14 that in Jesus nothing is unclean in itself. Thus, what we do with food and drink is at the heart of this Pauline caution.

The kingdom of God does not have eating and drinking at its foundation (vs. 17), rather righteousness (ethics), peace (rest from labors), and joy (enjoyment of one’s fruits; enjoyment of the First fruit, Christ)  at the heart of the kingdom. If one views eating and drinking as separate from this three-fold foundation, then one has caused a brother to be weakened (stumble). This is what is at the heart of verse 21, in my interpretation. If meat and drink are serving the opposite intentions of Yahweh’s vision to unite Jew and Gentile; if they are being used as self-exalting tools to elevate your status in Christ above another, then one has missed the point of God’ gifts. Much more could be said (perhaps worthy of its own separate article), but this should suffice for now.

Ninth, there is a tendency to treat one or two examples of alcoholism near to you and make their examples the necessary end result of all those who drink alcohol. In other words, it is possible that some who have been touched in some way by the abuses of beer or other strong drink accentuate the matter to absurd proportions. Christians need to be aware that there are many of us who drink communally, joyfully, and moderately while singing Psalms to the God who is gladdened by wine (Judges 9:13).

Finally, I exhort us all to pursue wisdom; the wisdom that only true kings can exercise in Christ. We need to be aware of the complexities of a messy world, while not avoiding the messiness. Treating these subjects flippantly only continues the problem. We need to give these subjects the seriousness it deserves. And for this I am thankful MacArthur has brought it to our attention.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Beer/Wine/Tobacco, Counseling/Pastoral Issues. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Pastoral Counsel, Maturity, Caution, Alcoholism, and Ten Theses: Some Further Reflections

  1. paul lambert says:

    Uri, thank you for the clarity on this subject.

  2. Peter Anselmo says:

    Pastor Brito,

    You said:
    “(AA and other Christian versions of it are usually available in most cities).”

    Are you endorsing 12 step programs? Clarification?

  3. Uri Brito says:

    Not full heartedly endorsing AA, but I think it is a legitimate option, especially if it is done under pastoral supervision and if other options are not available. My brief research in seminary reveals a high percentage of success. Of course, I would prefer taking a more Christian centered approach (Celebration), but those are not always available. Christian Recovery Resources are helpful: https://christians-in-recovery.org/civicrm/profile?reset=1&gid=3

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