questions on elders: can an elder drink?


Q. All my life I’ve been told and believed that a true Christian must be a tee-totaler. Period. Then I notice while reading my King James Bible that an elder in Christ’s church must not be “given to wine” (1 Timothy 3.3), but the word “given” doesn’t sound like tee-totaling to me. Now I’m confused! What does this passage mean when it says “given to wine?”

A. Short answer: I addressed this question in a post last month. Read that post.

Long answer: Neither this passage, nor the one very similar to it in Titus 1.7, nor the the rest of the Scripture, condemns drinking. What Scripture does consistently condemn is drunkenness. That is, it is not the consumption of alcohol that is generally forbidden by this word, but the abuse of it. That such is the clear meaning of this particular passage is apparent no matter what English rendering a person consults:

  • given to wine (KJV, NKJV)
  • given to drink (REB)
  • drink too much wine (NCV)
  • heavy drinker (CEV, NLT, KNT)
  • get drunk (NIRV)
  • drunkard (GNT, NAB, RSV, NRSV)
  • given to drunkenness (NIV 1984, TNIV, NIV 2011)
  • addicted to wine (NASB)
  • addicted to alcohol (CEB)

Q. Are you saying it’s perfectly fine for Christians to drink? Are you advocating drinking alcohol?

A. Short answer: That would be “No and “No.”

Longer answer: No. However, though the answer to the second question is a categorical “No,” the answer to the first question, while “No” is far more involved than can be addressed by a simple, one-size-fits-all answer without comment. Why? Consideration of it involves both our conscience and our context in life. We mustn’t forget that the one who penned these passages in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 also wrote concerning our conscience (cf. Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8). For some Christians, in some situations, there is nothing wrong with drinking with self-control, while for others, it would not be right at all. What we must not do is impose our conscience on such matters on others.

But let’s not change the subject, as this question does. The passages here in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, were not intended to address this question, much less give anything like a comprehensive answer to such. In these texts, the apostle Paul assumes that at least some Christians drink and that it is fine for some Christians to do so in some settings. The notion that a Christian cannot be a mature disciple of Christ and drink alcohol at all is not found here (or anywhere else in the Bible). The question addressed in these texts is not whether or not there is a specific rule for drinking in any and every form, but whether or not a a candidate for serving as an elder is ruled by drink.

Q. Well, why then would an apostle single out drinking in these lists in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1? Why make a point of mentioning such?

A. A great many (all?) of the individual items in these two lists (1 Tim. 3.1-7; Titus 1.5-9) address different aspects of control in a elder candidate’s life. Do they exercise self-control? Do they have control of their attitude? Do they have their emotions under control? Do their habits in life speak of someone who is consistently allowing the Lord to control them? Do they keep their children under control? Do they have healthy control of the way they perceive and make use of money and possessions? And so, it shouldn’t surprise us then – indeed, we would likely expect – that mention would be made as to whether or not an individual is controlling their intake of substances (such as alcohol) or if that person is allowing substances to control them.

Surely a huge factor for this emphasis on the subject of control is the fact that the opponents of Timothy and Titus’ ministry in Ephesus and Crete were people whose lives were clearly out of control. Read all of 1 Timothy and Titus and note how frequently, and in how many different ways, Paul draws attention to such. Consequently, as Paul forms his lists for Timothy and Titus as to what to look for in the selection of elders, it only made good sense for him to highlight matters that stood in clear contrast to those who were wreaking havoc in the church there. Such comments function as commentary on “the qualifications lists.”

Q. So, do you drink?

A. No. Never have, don’t now, and never will – with a will. And the same holds true for all of my immediate family.

this went thru my mind


Amazon: 9 Astonishing Facts About Amazon

American history: Lincoln and the Mormons by Ted Widmer

Church & the future: Snapshot: The Next 10 Years in the American Church by Mike Breen

Consumerism: Reflections on Black Friday by Roger E. Olson

Drinking: Making Choices About Alcohol by Michael Harbour

Evolution: Misconceptions About Evolution parts one and two.

Feedback: There’s No Such Thing as Constructive Criticism by Tony Schwartz

Gospel: * The Problem with Our Gospel #1: The Self-Centered Gospel by Marc Cortez and * The Problem With our Gospel # 2: The Individualistic Gospel by Marc Cortez

Homelessness: * Homeless children and youth. . .our response??? by Larry James and * On Shopping Carts, Thanksgiving, and Homelessness

Humor: The Ninja Nod-off by Jon Acuff

Insecurity: Kathy Escobar: Insecure Christians

Movie illustrations & reviews: * Wisdom, Stories, & “No Country for Old Men” by Tim Gombis * An Egalitarian Examination of “Courageous” the Movie

Phariseeism: As Perfect as I Supposed Myself (a quote from Alexander Campbell)

Thankfulness: Practicing the Attitude of Gratitude by Michael Hyatt

this went thru my mind

Archaeology: Graffiti is not a new thing. Archaeologists Unscramble Ancient Graffiti in Israel is fascinating to me.

ChurchHow’s Your Church Doing? by John Ortberg.

Church conflict: Amen, Joe McKeever. Curing a Church Conflict Before It Starts.

Church music: A Variety of Religious Composition by Lawrence Mumford.

Drinking: If you’d like to see some of the latest statistics on drunk driving, check out this infographic.

Environment: Eugene Peterson never fails to give me good food for thought. This interview of Eugene Peterson and Peter Harris (The Joyful Environmentalists) is good stuff.

Humor: I’ll never forget the day my friend Brent Franks introduced me to the V-neck T-shirt, the memory of which makes Jon Acuff’s post V-Neck Syndrome all the funnier to me. Don’t stop there; read his more serious post entitled Complaining.

Islam: Joshua Graves’ brief post Crescent and Cross is required reading. The second paragraph is spot-on and needed to be said. While on Joshua’s site, also read his excellent, brief post entitled What About You?

Note-taking: Want some guidance as to how to take good notes during a sermon? Peter Mead offers some solid advice I bet you’ve never heard before. It was new to me. If You Must Take Notes.

Parenting: N.T. Wright is one of my favorite Bible scholars, actually my very favorite outside of the heritage of Churches of Christ. His 3 1/2 minute video entitled Look At Jesus captures him, at his best, answering a crucial question the way I would hope to answer it, but of course, I could never express it nearly so well as he does here. Enjoy, be moved deep within, and share. Here’s the link:

Regret: If you had a great deal of experience in closely working with the dying, you would hear their life regrets verbalized. What do you suppose the dying tend to regret most about their life? A post by Wade Hodges steered me toward a piece by Bonnie Ware entitled Regrets of the Dying will tell you. Serious food for thought.

Sexuality: Let’s not pretend that lust is always someone else’s problem or that it’s all on the woman. Dan Martin does us all a good service by speaking clearly, candidly, and kindly regarding lust and clothing in his post entitled To My Younger Sisters

Vocabulary: Did you notice how Dan Martin, in the preceding entry, is at pains not to miscommunicate? The words we choose to use make a difference. Words that communicated well twenty years ago can convey something entirely different, perhaps even undesirable, today. This is especially tricky ground for those of us who have some gray hair for we’ve grown accustomed to certain words and they work well for us. However, by using what works well for our mind, rather than deliberately starting with others in mind, we, at best, miscommunicate. Sometimes we even build walls unwittingly by our poor choice of words. An example: “committee” sounds like a “neutral” or even “constructive” word to those in their 60’s, but is virtually a guaranteed turn-off to those under age 35. Kem Meyer’s six-year old post In Other Words succinctly captures one church’s attempt to be deliberate in updating the language it uses. Good stuff. Adopt the list.

it went thru my mind

Archaeology. Ah, spring! More sun, growing grass, singing birds, blooming flowers … and the annual parade of hoaxes and supposed “discoveries” related to Christian faith. If you heard that some of the nails used in the crucifixion of Jesus have been recently found, you ought to read Robert Cargill’s piece entitled no, simcha, you didn’t find the ‘nails of the cross’ of christ.

China. Barring something unforeseen, over two hundred will gather at MoSt Church tomorrow, openly worship God, and probably not even think of such as a privilege, but as a right. We’d all do well to follow what’s going down in China, pause, and pray.

Civil War. The American Civil War began one hundred and fifty years ago this past Tuesday. Most of you know of my interest in, and research of, the Civil War in years past. In fact, you’ll see some of the fruit of that labor in regular posts on Tuesdays here on my site in the coming weeks. If you read nothing else that I link to today, read Ben Witherington’s simply outstanding post A Son of the South – 150 Years On.

Drinking. How have you been talking about Charlie Sheen? David Briggs’ piece The Double-Edged Sword of Religion and Alcoholism will make you think. Thank you, Doug Williams, for making me aware of this great article.

God & tragedy. I really enjoy reading Ted Gossard‘s writing. Every week I wind up bookmarking something he’s written. His piece entitled Does God Cause Everything? is something you ought to read. Why? Because what we think about God matters and we’re all theologians.

Idols. In our adult Bible classes just a few weeks ago at MoSt we looked at the second of the Ten Commandments (“you shall not make an idol”). Jared Wilson’s post entitled How to Identify Your Idols is a brief, supremely practical follow-up to that study.

Music. “Oh, be careful little ears what you hear.” Matt Dabbs’ post America’s Top 5 Songs – Better Find Out What Your Kids are Listening To sounds just like a sermon I preached … back in the ’80’s. Some things never change … for the better.

Non-retaliation. As a bit of a visual to go with my sermon this Sunday morning (Toward a Life of Blessing), watch this video (“Cleaning the Cobra Pit“). As Christ-followers, we are like the one cleaning the cobra pit. We’re to take our stand among those loaded with venom and serve them, doing them good. Retaliation is the way of death. “… you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. … love your enemies … just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone …” (Matt. 5:39,44,48)

War, pacifism, & Churches of Christ. If I told you that Churches of Christ in the U.S. were at one time a largely pacifist people, would you laugh? Yes, that’s probably how few know about this portion of the history of my church heritage and it was not that long ago (within my father’s lifetime). If you’re a member of Churches of Christ, three of  Timothy Archer‘s posts this week would be of interest to you along this line: (a) Moral Legacy of War, (b) The Decline of Pacifism in Churches of Christ, and (c) The Decline of Pacifism in Churches of Christ: Cordell Christian College. Tim frequently broaches this subject so you’ll probably want to watch his great site for more to come, particularly as you think about our upcoming study of the sixth of the Ten Commandments (“you shall not kill”).

Just for fun. I confess, I was a Doctor Who fan back in the ’70’s and ’80s, but have missed seeing it since its return in 2005. Who is Doctor Who? Well, if I have to explain, you need not read further, but if you too are a fan, you’ll appreciate The Only Doctor Who Infographic You Will Need. I ought to get the theme song as a ring tone for my phone. Now, if they’ll ever just put that Tardis USB hub into a half-price sale …