One of the touchiest subjects in the pastorate can be the question about the consumption of alcohol. For some parts of the church, this might not be a big issue, but for others it is significant, especially in the Bible belt. There are many Christians in the South, for example, who believe it is a gross sin for a true Christian to drink alcohol of any sort. I have a colleague who was surreptitiously followed through a grocery store to see whether he would purchase alcohol. When he did purchase it, this person later called him out as an unfit minister in a public setting. I have another colleague who consumed alcohol but when certain people came over to his house he would take all of the alcohol out of his refrigerator and hide it in his bedroom closet. Once they left, he would return the alcohol to his refrigerator. I know of another minister who decided to quit drinking all together to avoid any type of problem even though he knew and believed that he had the liberty to consume it. So what’s a person to do?
We must first recognize that consuming alcohol is not a sin—drunkenness is a sin (e.g., Gal. 5:21). It is perfectly biblical and legitimate for a person, even a minister, to consume alcohol. On the other hand, we live in a sin-fallen world where people abuse alcohol and therefore some have chosen to abstain from it. Some abstain from it because of past problems with drunkenness. Others abstain because they don’t want the hassle, or because they are concerned about offending the weaker brother. That is, they’re worried that if an immature Christian sees them consume alcohol, they might cause this person to stumble. But what if you don’t want to give up your evening glass of wine or Schlitz Malt Liquor? What if you drink responsibly but at the same time worry about causing a stir at your church? Should you go to great lengths to hide your Schlitz in the bedroom closet?
Some people might think it’s silly to hide your beer, but I have had people in my congregation snoop around in my refrigerator. So I understand the fear. Nevertheless, I don’t think you need to go to such great lengths. My wife and I adopted a general rule when it came to alcohol and the church. We never served alcohol for church functions and we never served it to anyone we invited over from the church unless we knew that they were ok with its consumption. Moreover, we didn’t ask people whether they drank alcohol or not. We just assumed they didn’t until we discovered otherwise (e.g., if they brought a bottle of wine as a hostess gift). And no, we didn’t try to hide the beer and wine in our refrigerator either. If someone was nosy enough to snoop around in our fridge, then too bad for them. But we weren’t going to try and hide the alcohol.
My wife and I found that our general rule worked well for several reasons. First, we were completely content with exercising our Christian liberty to consume alcohol but didn’t feel the need to exercise that liberty in an insensitive way. We were happy to drink water or some other beverage when we invited a new visitor to our home. We didn’t want alcohol to become a potential stumbling block to someone we didn’t know. Second, while we didn’t want to cause anyone to stumble, neither were we convicted that we needed to hide our beer and wine. We were not intent on flaunting our liberty but neither would we be held hostage by someone who wanted to impose their private conviction to the point where they might try to snoop around the in fridge. Third, if we discovered that a couple, for example, did consume alcohol, then we might serve it on another occasion.
In the end, use wisdom and discretion. You need not hide your Schlitz but you need not flaunt it either. Remember, the kingdom of God isn’t about eating and drinking but ultimately about the body, the church, for whom Christ died, and about peace, righteousness, and joy (Rom. 14:17).