If you’ve read my testimony you’ll see that I grew up in a legalistic religion. I could never be good enough. I was the on the receiving end of the the never ending road of legalism. Whether it was a cuss word or a beer, I was done. However, even Christians are prone to legalism, especially, when it comes to alcohol. Not every Christian who disagrees with moderation is a legalist, but those tendencies may be present. Especially, when forbidding alcohol becomes a sanctification issue.
The debate of whether or not Christians should or may drink any alcohol whatsoever will go on until we get to share a glass of wine with Jesus in the Kingdom(Matt. 26:29). This is especially true in the Southern Baptist Convention. Just look at Dealing with Legalism which has 95 comments thus far.
I do have a question that goes beyond moderate use of alcohol by Christians.
Who would you rather have in your church, alcoholics or legalists? How would you answer and why? Eventually, an alcoholic will easily see his sin. It’s not hard to see the addiction in his life. The legalist actually embraces his sin as righteousness.
Let us not be deceived by outward appearances. Satan “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). He keeps his deadliest diseases most sanitary. He clothes his captains in religious garments and houses his weapons in temples. Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one. Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in the church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church. Piper, John. Brothers We Are Not Professionals. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2002. 155.
While the alcoholic may see his problem, how do we show the chains of legalism? Legalism introduces new laws. New rules to follow. What really changes though? For example, the Moral Majority got their guy elected. Even so the world was still lost, the Gospel absent and the only real change was the name of the office holder. It was a campaign for morality, which is a good thing, but without the Gospel true change cannot come. A change in habit does not change the heart.
Total abstinence as an entrance requirement may secure a church membership with one common attitude toward alcohol, but it is of no help in making us a pure people who do not live according to the flesh. Ibid. 158.
To invite someone to a new set of rules without the life changing Gospel of love is to offer nothing. See, the alcoholic already knows he needs to stop. So to bring him to a church where someone else just tells him to stop isn’t very helpful. They need to see their sin and helplessness. They need Jesus who can change the heart and work forward from there.
Some days I wish I just carried my own sin in a bottle. It would be much easier to see.
For what it’s worth…