Ask Steve: Alcohol














Question: Steve, is it acceptable for a pastor to drink alcohol?

Answer: Drinking alcohol is a matter of liberty for Christians. It is not a sin to consume alcohol anymore than it is to consume food. However, there is a danger to drinking alcohol, because it can easily affect Christians if they are not careful to practice self-control. It is drunkenness, which the Bible clearly identifies as sin (Eph 5:18). Drunkenness is sin not only because you allow your body to be given over to abuse and cognitive impairment, but because you become mastered and enslaved by its damaging effects (1 Cor 6:12; 2 Pet 2:19). In other words, you are addicted to it, and it becomes your idol. That is why alcohol has an undeniable social stigma that causes Christians to be cautious about drinking it, both in front of other Christians or in private. How and when Christians decide to drink alcohol of any kind (ex. beer, wine) should be a matter of great discernment and caution so that it will not cause you or anyone else to be tempted or stumble into sin. That is the art of Christian liberty, whether it deals with drunkenness, gluttony, or addictions to smoking and drugs (1 Cor 8:9-13).

Now the question is: Should pastors drink alcohol? This is a question that stirs up different opinions and concerns. The answer to this question is simple: There is nothing in Scripture that forbids a pastor from consuming alcohol, but he must not be mastered by or entertain a particular thirst for it. Pastors and elders must be careful in drinking alcohol, more so than laypeople. Pastors are required to constantly be temperate in their work, but also be able to provide a type of example that will garner him a reputation of being respectable and above reproach. This principle is outlined in 1 Timothy 3:2-3, which describes the qualifications of an elder: “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” Deacons, who serve in the church, are also held to similar standards: “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

Pastors must not be addicted to alcohol, or be in the habit of drinking it habitually as a pastime. Such actions expose overseers as being given over, controlled, or dependent on alcohol, which goes against his call to be sober and prudent in all matters. Even if the pastor drinks but does not get drunk, he still must moderate his usage of alcohol so as not to further expose himself to addictive danger, or be a poor testimony to the congregation. Pastors are called to model the godly lifestyle, and one cannot model holiness if he is being given over to drunkenness, or at least imitating a habit that is characteristic of pagan unbelievers.

Alcohol 2Once again, this is not to say that pastors are forbidden to drink alcohol under any circumstances. There are occasions in both the Old and New Testament in which believers consume wine, but in a spirit of festivity and celebration onto the Lord. Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, “Drink you wine with a merry heart.” Amos 9:14 also describes God’s blessing on the grape harvest of believers, in which men celebrate God’s goodness by their consumption of wine. Jesus was even depicted in the NT as drinking wine at the wedding of Cana (Jn 2:1-11) and will drink wine with the church in a celebratory sense when He returns and sets up His kingdom on earth (Matt 26:29).

The model of Jesus is an informative one, but as I said, pastors must always be cautious of drinking wine as it regards his conscience, his personal life, and the cultural context of his ministry. Even if the pastor has excellent self-control over addictions and has a clear conscience in drinking wine, he must do so wisely according to the occasions. There are certain countries in which it is more permissible and normative to consume wine because it has a therapeutic affect. It also sanitizes water that is contaminated. In fact, Paul instructs Timothy to drink wine as a medicine (instead of the polluted water) when he says in 1 Timothy 5:23, “No longer drink any water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” Therefore, wine would not only be for enjoyment, but for health.

However, there will be other times when pastors must be willing to abstain from alcohol, even for the duration of his life if necessary. In certain cultural contexts like the West, alcohol (especially hard alcohol and beer) is often times associated with sinful worldly practices like partying, orgies, and drunkenness. In societies like these, pastors who partake in alcohol could be viewed as one who is in the world. In this case, pastors must be cautious and abstain from alcohol (at least publicly) so that he can avoid the appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22) and be a biblical testimony to both believers and unbelievers. He must not “conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of his mind,” as Romans 12:1-2 teaches. This means that pastors/elders should have a desire to abstain from alcohol if it can evidently bolster his testimony of being consecrated from the world onto the holiness that God has called him to. The principle behind these practices is laid out in many OT passages such as Leviticus 10:9, Deuteronomy 29:6, and Judges 13:4. Pastors are called to not to imitate the world, but to reflect Christlikeness, which means that he will not partake in or be wrongly associated with the ways of pagans. He must be salt and light and an evangelistic witness (Matt 5:13-16).

Alcohol 3There are also times that pastors must be willing to refrain from alcohol if it will cause Christians to stumble into sin. Earlier in the response, I said that drinking alcohol is a matter of Christian liberty. However, Christian liberty can be misused and abused if it is not done to the glory of God, but done for selfish purposes. For example, if there is a member of the church who has struggled with alcoholism in the past and still finds it to be a temptation, it would be unwise for a pastor to drink alcohol of any sorts in front of him, or even to drink it occasionally out of enjoyment. A pastor who abstains totally from alcohol to help a weaker brethren to be edified and built up in the faith is to demonstrate the type of self-sacrificial love that Scripture talks about, especially as it regards the use of Christian liberty (1 Cor 8:9-13; 13:1-2). Pastors must examine their conscience to see if choices like these are necessary, especially if they know that it will bring glory to God and will make his ministry more effective. This issue not only relates to a pastor’s use of alcohol in front of a sensitive church, but also his involvement with certain types of food, movies, music, and recreation.

It is not a sin for pastor’s to consume alcohol, but the best course of action is for the pastor to refrain from a habitual or recreational consumption of alcohol for the good of his spiritual health and his testimony in front of others. In fact, some of the most effective pastors in the world are those who choose not to drink alcohol. It is the safest option, and one that will not bring any negative impression by or temptations upon other Christians. If pastors choose to drink alcohol at times – at birthday meals where others are drinking it as well, for providing an opinion on a product, for medicinal purposes – they must exercise great discernment in every situation. That is what it means to be an effective overseer.