The Demon Drink

As I said in my testimonyearlier, I gave up drinking alcohol (in the early summer of 1980). Once I joined the Anglican Church (in 1984), the only way to partake of Holy Communion was to consume wine. I gave myself a 'dispensation to drink', but only on those occasions, working on the assumption that God would protect me from myself, and my predilection for going out and getting roaring drunk.

All was well for many, many years until October 2012, when we went, as a family, to Rome for a holiday to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. We stayed in a 'Religious House' (run by the 'Ressurectionists' - a mainly Polish order), and one of the first questions asked over lunch on our first day there was why I didn't drink alcohol. As the week wore on, I began to rethink my position on alcohol. I wrote a few notes on my iPad, which formed the basis for my discussion (both 'internal', and with friends).

The tentative question I asked myself was whether I might start drinking moderate quantities of alcohol again? And so I took a wander through 'The Maker's Instructions' (as the bible is referred tosometimes), to see whether I could shed any light on the matter, and wrote more notes on my iPad. The first thing I wondered was whether there was any evidence that wine was 'unclean' along with other 'foodstuffs':

He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Acts 10:10-15

…Presumably there's nothing wrong with wine either then!

As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. Romans 14:14

I wasn't sure how I felt about this. I don't think it's unclean (see above), but I wasn't sure it was the right thing for me . And I'd hate to be guilty of causing someone else with a problem with alcohol to fail:

Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. Romans 14:20

And I thought that maybe it's good to show that one doesn't need alcohol to enjoy life. And alcohol undoubtedly causes such huge problems in our society. But maybe drinking sensibly is just as good an example?

Lastly...

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. 1 Timothy 5:23 (NIV)

I don't have problems with my stomach, and am not often ill these days, so the 'medicinal excuse' is hardly valid.

But...

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler;
 whoever is led astray by them is not wise. Proverbs 20:1 (NIV)

I realised that if I did start drinking again, I would have to be very careful, so as not to fall into evil ways again. Very 'tongue in cheek' I asked whether thirty-three years 'penance' was enough? I know God has forgiven me, even for those times, and I have forgiven myself. The Pentecostal Church disapproves, most strongly of drink... But then, they can be more legalistic (and 'Old Covenant') in their outlook than the Pharisees. And I haven't attended a Pentecostal church since we were married - I appear, albeit somewhat reluctantly, and with misgivings about some of the 'politics' and the structure/hierarchy, to have become an Anglican in the 29 years between then and now. And Anglicans do drink!

What of the witness though? That one can have a good time sans alcohol? Does that matter? Or was I just tempted, because of its easy availability at the religious house - large carafes of wine, white and red, on the table at every meal (well, every meal except breakfast - even Polish monks don’t seem to drink at breakfast!)?

And it wasn’t as if alcohol never passed my lips - at that time we were celebrating Holy Communion once a fortnight. But would drinking in between times degrade whatever symbolism there was in that? I decided that probably only mattered in my head - I didn't think anyone outside my head was even aware of that ‘symbolism’.

And then there was the ‘crunch’ question - could I handle the temptation (to drink too much!) given the warnings of Proverbs, and my past? I realised that I almost certainly could - I have changed a lot since those early days, thanks be to God.

What of the witness of abstinence? I'm not a Pentecostal these days - and don't agree with their legalistic prohibition and extreme disapproval of anything 'fun' - of which the ban on alcohol is only a tiny part - how 'Old Covenant' can one get? Christ has fulfilled the requirements of the law for us, so the thinking of the Old Covenant should no longer hold sway over us. He has set us free! But not 'free' to be 'hide-bound' by a fresh set of 'laws' invented by man - don't drink, don't dance, don't go to the cinema, etc. Those things aren't sinful, and those 'rules' are of men, seeking control over their followers...

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:37-40

That's pretty much it, as far as laws are concerned, according to Our Lord!

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey---whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. Romans 6:15-18

I realised therefore that some care and caution would be needed!

Anglicans (which I am, however reluctantly to begin with!) seem to take a more reasonable, balanced, view of these things. And I couldn't truly claim abstinence anyway - unless I somehow made Holy Communion a 'special case' - which, given its very nature, would not be difficult... But then, if I did, I was being inconsistent in my approach - after all, I eat bread every day - going by that argument, I ought only to eat it once a fortnight!!

So, eventually, I decided that it was okay for me to drink a little, socially. And in the year and a half since making the decision, I have drunk, perhaps, half a dozen glasses of wine and about the same of beer. I have enjoyed both, but haven’t felt any sort of ‘need’ to drink - I can take it or leave it, and am happy just to have one glass when it is offered. So it looks as though that part of my life is behind me. Thanks be to God for giving me the strength to abstain for so long, and the grace to begin to enjoy, healthily, one of the gifts His creation affords us.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022