A number of years back, I took four young men to Europe for ten days of teaching history and a biblical worldview. It was a great time just hanging out with these young guys. It was like a retreat on the move. One of the men was a new pastor at my church where I was an elder.
We were sitting outdoors at a café in Paris our first night there, about to order dinner. “Are you going to have a glass of wine?” asked the pastor. “I can’t,” I said, “the elders and staff at our church may not drink. Didn’t they tell you that?” “Yes, but this is Paris! Lighten up!”
When he realized I was serious he asked, “Do you think it’s a sin to drink?” “Not for believers,” I answered, “But for you and me it would be.”
I clearly had everyone’s attention. On the surface, my statement appears either non-sensical or legalistic. It was the kind of teachable moment that spiritual mentors pray for. But I’d thought about this issue before, so, here’s how I cleared up the mystery.
Prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve, there was only one authority structure on earth. Both Adam and Eve were equally under the authority of God. Eve was not under the authority of Adam, her husband at the time. There was no need because there was no sin. Once they sinned, God changed that and established a new authority structure for marriages. The husband now had authority over his wife (and the responsibility to care for her). And to Eve he said, “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” Genesis 3:16b
As time went on, God commanded children to obey their parents, another authority structure. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Colossians 3:20.
And God went even further. In both Israel, and the Church, God gave leaders authority over the people under their care
So, while it’s clear it is not a sin in the Bible to drink alcohol, except to excess, if the local church body to which you submit yourself says you may not drink, then it’s a sin if you do. If you disagree with their decisions, you have the option to either resign from that church, or obey, but not to disobey your leaders.
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” Hebrews 13:17
In the same way, believing parents can “make up rules” that they expect their children to obey and if their children do not, it is a sin for them, as long as those rules do not violate a clear teaching of scripture. All of our children are grown and out of the house now, and therefore are no longer under my authority. But they have children, and they have the God-given right to set their own rules. And I’ve told our grand children, the same thing I’m telling you.
My point is this, God manages his Kingdom on earth through surrogates, which means he has given authority to certain people or groups to represent him on earth. If they establish sinful or unwise rules, God will punish them, or take away some reward they might otherwise have earned, for doing so. So there is a check and balance to this governance. Nevertheless, he’s given them authority to make those rules and declares those who violate them, in sin.
So, I did not have a glass of wine on that trip, to keep true to my vows as an elder. And our church no longer has that rule. So last night, I enjoyed a glass of wine, without any guilt whatsoever, watching the sun set at our cottage on Lake Michigan.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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