Sitting out on the back porch this evening with my mother, we watched a popular Baptist radio and television preacher teach on compromise. His lesson was a good lesson in principle. The basic thrust was taken from the story of Solomon. Solomon was given a promise that if he followed the Lord as his father David he would not lack a descendant on the throne of Israel. Yet Solomon compromised by disobeying God’s command and took many wives.
The preacher used this story wisely to explain the danger of compromise. Like any preacher, he had examples that would take the eternal principle of compromise and contextualize it for our day so that we might see the immediate danger that we face (since most of us don’t have the temptation to take too many wives!). Yet, the examples he gave evidenced the misplaced priorities of many in the church to misdirect the application of the principles to acts that in-and-of-themselves did not represent compromise.
Here is the list of examples of compromise he gave and expounded upon for nearly thirty minutes:
1. Going to the movies with an “R” rating.
2. Listening to a dirty joke at work.
3. Accepting a mixed drink at a party.
This preacher focused on the pressure that often comes to participate in these actions. He said that others will think you are a “goody-two-shoes” if you don’t participate, but if you do you will have crossed the first line compromise which is the most dangerous line to cross. Following up these examples, he encouraged the listeners with these exhortations: “We must obey God’s word,” “God’s word is not about not having fun,” “God knows best, and if he says don’t do these things, then we obey without question.”
While I agree with what this preacher said about compromise, its danger, and about God knowing best, I felt that the examples he gave were irresponsible, representing a legalistic folk-theology which is more destructive than constructive. Not only this, but as I sat there and listened, I found myself thinking This guy has compromised by giving these examples without qualification.
I want to focus on the example of drinking for just a moment to illustrate what I mean. Let me loosely quote how the illustration was laid out. “If you are at a party and someone tries to give you a mixed drink, what do you do? You say, ‘I am a Christian and I don’t drink.’ But what if the person says come on, just one. You say ‘I really can’t.’ Then the person just tells you to hold the drink and you do. This is compromise.” From the preacher’s point of view, the the person crossed the dangerous line of compromise by even holding the drink. Holding the drink will cause you to take a drink and then, as the preacher said, say “Give me another.”
The assumption behind this illustration is that drinking an alcoholic drink–especially a mixed drink–is the sin that we must avoid at all costs. This is where I think this preacher has compromised himself. He has given in to the temptation of setting up a legalistic standard. He has built a wall of protection around a sinful act and the wall itself has become the object of sin. Drinking an alcoholic drink–even a mixed drink–is not in any way a universal sinful act, much less holding a drink - compromise. I sat at a friends house the other night and had a glass of Koniak and a cigar (they are supposed to go good together). While I don’t really drink often, I have no problem having a beer or even a mixed drink. It does not matter whether it is vodka and tonic, Jack and Coke, or a margarita. This issue is not drinking, but getting drunk. Even then, the issue is not simply that God does not like an altered state of consciousness that drinking too much causes, but it is being out of control.
Ephesian 5:18 “And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled with the Spirit.”
Notice, the emphasis is on the “reckless actions,” not simply an altered state of consciousness. The encouragement of Paul is to be “filled with the Spirit.” This does not refer to an esoteric state of mind, but one of perpetual control being given to God, not alcohol. The Bible speaks much about drunkenness (i.e. being controlled by alcohol as a lifestyle) because it encourages a state of being where your actions are perpetually not in your own control so that you might yield that control to God.
We must balance the warning passages in Scripture with those that speak positively about alcohol. Some encourage its acute celebratory, medicinal, and emotional purposes and effects.
John 2:1-11: Christ turns water into wine (”the best wine”) so that the marriage celebration could continue. If holding a drink is compromise, how much more so was Christ’s actions?
Psalm 104:14-15 14: “He [God] causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth, 15 And wine which makes man’s heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man’s heart” (emphasis mine). Here, “wine which makes man’s heart glad” is spoken of as a gift from God.
Proverbs 31:6: “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to him whose life is bitter” (emphasis mine). Here, strong drink and wine are encouraged to be given to those who are in pain.
1 Timothy 5:23: ”Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” Paul encourages Timothy to drink wine for his ailing stomach.
The sin of drunkenness in the Scripture is serious and many people are effected by this. Alcohol can control people and cause them to be someone who they are not, thereby dishonoring God and His image which they bear. We must be in control of ourselves if we are to have a consistent witness. But drinking itself is not the sin.
Please know that I understand the dangers of alcohol . . . Believe me I do. Both sides of my family have members who are totally controlled by alcohol. My sister was controlled by both alcohol and prescription drugs before she took her life. On my wife’s side of the family there is a family member from whom I am estranged because of the boundaries that I have set for her interaction with my children due to her addiction. For them and others with this problem, the simple act of holding a drink might be compromised were they attempting to overcome their addiction. However, this compromise would not be unlike the glutton who eyes a chocolate bar, the sex addict who watches a movie filled with sexual provocation, or the person with anger problems owning a gun. If you have a particular bent to certain sins, you must know yourself well enough to act wisely with regards to its provocation, but this does not mean that assumptions must be made about everyone’s ability to handle the same circumstances.
In the end, these things must be dealt with carefully and with much wisdom. We must understand that focusing the sin on the possible abuse of something neither makes the abuse necessary or even likely. Most importantly, we must recognize that it is a sinful compromise to deem that which is not sinful, due to misapplied folk theology, no matter how good our intentions are. Drinking alcohol is not sinful. Let us get over this legalistic fascination and represent the principle truly and with perspective.