The Ancient Faith

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Irvin Barnes

What is sinful about drinking as long as I don’t get drunk?” asks the advocate of social drinking. Drunkenness is condemned as a work of the flesh in Galatians 5:21. Ephesians 5:28 says, “Be not drunk with wine.” From these and other passages the person who believes the Bible knows it is wrong to drink enough alcoholic beverage to cause inebriation. Controlled drinking or social drinking is the issue.


How much does one drink before he becomes drunk? No one knows! The weight or size of the person, if one drinks on an empty stomach, if one’s body is adapted to drinking or if it is the first time, the strength of the booze one consumes; these and other factors all make a difference. So, who can say? True, a thimble full won’t produce drunkenness. It is just as true that a few beers or several drinks of whiskey will cause drunkenness right away. Who can judge exactly at what point between the thimble full and the fifth of whiskey that the drinker is no longer sober and has become drunk. The only right thing for a Christian to do is to abstain.


Addiction demands abstinence. Alcoholic drink is addictive. How can one be certain at what point he may begin to drink by compulsion? It is a well-established fact that some individuals may become alcoholics after only a few drinks. Once a person is addicted, he is trapped in a sinful lifestyle. The very thing that the alcoholic thinks he cannot live without will eventually cause him to die. Total abstinence is the only certain way to avoid this trap.

“Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst ofthe sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast,” Proverbs 23:29- 35.

The writer points out the subtlety of the alcoholic drink. “At the last,” he says, “it bites like a serpent and stingeth like an adder.” At first it seems so harmless to have a drink with a friend. How much of a friend is one who will encourage you to consume that which is so potentially dangerous? How would you respond if “a friend” encouraged you to handle a rattlesnake? Be- cause of the potential danger it would be easy to turn down the offer. In the end, the alcoholic drink bites like a serpent!


Drinking, the Bible says, produces excess. Ephesians 5:18, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.” Much to the disappointment and surprise of some, this passage does not say one may drink as long as he does not drink excessively. Excess is a noun which describes a state or condition which comes as a result of being drunk with wine. Excess means lasciviousness, outrageous conduct, wanton violence, wastefulness. Excess is from the same Greek word translated “riotous living” in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:13). The prodigal son wasted his substance on excess or riotous living.

Why is it so difficult to refuse the social drink when the outcome can be so devastating? A faithful and dear Christian in Ky., told me how he drank occasionally before he was a Christian. He married and before long he and his wife were expecting their first child. He drank too much one night and passed out trying to get home. He came to in a road ditch the next day lying in his own vomit with an excruciating headache. Ashamed, he went home and promised his wife he would never drink again. In a few days he visited a friend who offered him a drink. He explained, “I don’t drink. I have quit.” The friend insisted that they were not drinking to get drunk but simply having a drink together as friends. He then told of his recent bout with the bottle and replied, “Wow, if I took only a small drink of your whiskey, I would smell of the liquor. How could I go home with whiskey on my breath and convince my wife that I have quit. When I say I don’t drink that means I don’t drink.”‘

The approach for the Christian is simple. Don’t buy a beer, a glass of wine or a shot of whiskey in a restaurant or bar. Don’t keep any kind of alcoholic beverage around the house. If someone offers you a drink, simply say, “I don’t drink.”

Paul writes, “For they that sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation,” 1st Thessalonians 5:7-8. When one is sober, he is not drunk. When one is drunk he is not sober. The only sure way to be sober is to never consume anything that will make you drunk!

[This is from the July 1 1992 special issue of the Old Paths Advocate. Subtitles added for reading ease.]

 Recommended articles:

Introducing the Church of Christ – Ronny Wade

God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”