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Leading Question: Moderation or abstinence: Which is better and when?

The topic for our discussion this week is “temperance,” a word that has a rather stuffy feel about it. But the issues are still very contemporary. We will address the advisability of abstinence and moderation.

Alcohol has always been a major concern for Adventists when the topic of temperance arises. And the Adventist position has always been total abstinence, in spite of the voices suggesting that moderate use is preferable to abstinence. A sobering study was cited in the Adventist Review a number of years ago (1992) that showed children of moderate drinkers being more likely to become heavy drinkers than either children from abstaining homes or those from homes where there had been heavy drinking. Here are the results:

 

Alcohol Usage (cited in Adventist Review, 1/16/92 from a 1990 study):
Children of moderate drinkers : 30% become heavy drinkers
Children of abstainers : 14% become heavy drinkers
76% become abstainers
Children of heavy drinkers: : 15% become heavy drinkers
63% become abstainers

 

1. Does Scripture provide us with a rock-solid argument for abstinence from alcohol? Starting with the drunkenness of Noah (Gen 9:20), a number of passages can be cited that highlight the dangers of alcohol: Immediately following the disaster of Nadab and Abihu as reported in Leviticus 10:1-2, God prohibited Aaron and his associates from drinking wine or strong drink, implying that alcohol had played a role in the tragedy. The strong words of Proverbs 20:1 can also be cited: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”

But then there is that fascinating passage in Proverbs 31:4-7:

It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to desire strong drink;
or else they will drink and forget what has been decreed,
and will pervert the rights of all the afflicted
Give strong drink to one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty,
and remember their misery no more.

2. Does the passage in Proverbs 31 point to the sedative or medicinal use of alcohol? Would that be different than its recreational use?

3. Turning away from alcohol as the primary example, what does Scripture tells us in general about abstinence vs. moderation? These passages are worth noting:

  1. Galatians 5:22-23: “Self-control” is part of the fruit of the Spirit.
  2. 2 Peter 1:5-9: “Self-control” is listed as one of Peter’s cluster of virtues.
  3. Ecc 7:15-17: The wise man cautions against being too righteous, too wise, or too wicked.

4. Should one deny strong cravings or meet them halfway? In some situations, moderation rather than abstinence seems to be preferable. A striking illustration of this is supplied in Ellen White’s counsel to a man who was being far too rigorous with his pregnant wife, depriving her of adequate nourishment:

B has been very deficient. While in her best condition of health, his wife was not provided with a plenty of wholesome food and with proper clothing. Then, when she needed extra clothing and extra food, and that of a simple yet nutritious quality, it was not allowed her. Her system craved material to convert into blood, but he would not provide it. A moderate amount of milk and sugar, a little salt, white bread raised with yeast for a change, graham flour prepared in a variety of ways by other hands than her own, plain cake with raisins, rice pudding with raisins, prunes, and figs, occasionally, and many other dishes I might mention, would have answered the demand of appetite. If he could not obtain some of these things, a little domestic wine would have done her no injury; it would have been better for her to have it than to do without it. In some cases, even a small amount of the least hurtful meat would do less injury than to suffer strong cravings for it. Testimonies 2:383-84 (1870)

How far can one generalize from that last statement about the danger of strong cravings?

4. Asceticism vs. Hedonism. In some devout circles, a strong ascetic impulse tends to limit one’s freedom to actually enjoy one’s food. In such a situation, the example of John the Baptist seems to take precedence over that of Jesus: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Mat 11:18-19). Does the modern believer have a choice between those two contrasting models?

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