“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” I Corinthians 8:9
I often get the question, “Why does Celebration Fellowship ask everyone in leadership to totally abstain from the use of alcohol.” It’s a good question and one that deserves an honest and well thought-out response. In essence we do it out of love for the person for whom social drinking is not an option. That includes the alcoholic, who is either still in his/her addiction and is seeking sobriety, or the recovering person who has been sober for years.
You see, we are a church who actively reaches out to the addicted person. We strategize to reach them. We go after them. We welcome them into our midst and then help them live in victory over the things that have completely destroyed their lives, and so often the lives of their loved ones. The truth is, they are in every church. Even yours.
There are some things we know. One of them is that anyone can become an alcoholic with enough practice. One of my dear friends, and mentor, who has enjoyed over 20 years of sobriety after nearly 40 years of alcohol abuse, replies when asked how he became an alcoholic with simple words: “Practice, Practice, Practice.” In other words, “I worked hard to destroy my life and family with alcohol abuse.”
But we also know that a percentage of the population doesn’t have to work at it much at all. They have a genetic, inherited, pre-disposition toward addiction. For them it doesn’t take very much practice at all before they are into a full-blown addiction. Medical science has made huge strides in recent years to help us understand that truth. In some of us there is a switch that gets flipped early on in alcohol use. Once that switch is flipped, we experience a craving that quickly gets out of control.
We ask all of our leadership to abstain so that we can stand in support and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in our midst for whom an occasional drink is not an option. For them it is very simple. If they drink they die. One drink is too many and twelve or twenty are never enough once they get started. Our stance is an act of love not law – an act of freedom.
A number of years ago we had a young man come to our church who had years of substance abuse in his past. He and his wife experienced a great deal of growth after years in our fellowship and he is now the pastor of a church in another state for which we were the sponsoring church. A couple of years ago he was involved in a training program through a large, well-known church that actually encourages social drinking as a means of ministry. After a morning training session this young pastor was at lunch with several of the staff of the church and fellow trainees. He was the only one not drinking a beer at lunch. One of the church staff asked him why he wasn’t drinking. He replied, “You don’t want me to drink. I wouldn’t stop with just one and before it was over I would have torn this place down.” He is a hulk of a man and anyone who has seen him would have known immediately that he has the ability to make good on that promise.
That afternoon the senior pastor came into the training session because the word had spread. He asked the young pastor about his stance on alcohol. This was the young pastor’s response. “Well if I take your encouragement and drink with you, as I said, I won’t stop with one. Then if I go home and beat the crap out of my wife are you going to accept responsibility for that?” The senior pastor had a blank look on his face and couldn’t give a reply. Neither did he re-examine his position on the casual use of alcohol.
When my young pastor friend told me of that encounter it brought all kinds of images from my own childhood of watching my alcoholic father “beat the crap” out of my mother. Far too many adults I know today have those same images in their minds. Sadly enough, many of them have gone on and repeated the pattern.
So back to our original question, “Why does Celebration Fellowship ask all of its leadership to abstain from the use of alcohol?”
Out of love.
We do it out of love. We want to be able to answer when asked by the alcoholic, “Do you drink?” with a simple “No, I don’t.” When asked why, we want to be able to say, “Because I love and care about you. I want to stand by you and with you in your sobriety. I know your life depends upon total abstinence even if mine doesn’t but I stand with you. This is a choice I make freely out of love.”
When a Christians personal freedom to drink becomes more important to them than the good of the brother or sister who must abstain in order to live, something is really amiss.
We know everyone doesn’t agree with our position on this issue, and that’s ok. Each one must decide before God for themselves on this and ultimately their accountability is to God for the attitude of their heart not to man. I am ok with the position I have come to. I pray that it honors the heart of God for the hurting and that it is an encouragement to the person who is learning to walk in sobriety one day at a time.
James M.Reeves, DMin.
Senior Pastor, Celebration Fellowship, Ft. Worth, Texas
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