Saturday, September 1, 2012

C.S. Lewis—A man who smoked and drank alcohol


One of the most engaging seminars on C.S. Lewis was done by Dr. Knox Chamblin (who died earlier this year) at Reformed Theological Seminary. This series explored primarily Lewis’ life, his works and his theology. In one of the earlier seminars, Dr. Chamblin shared this historic interaction between the well-known fundamentalist Dr. Bob Jones Jr. and C.S. Lewis. Asked afterwards for an assessment regarding the Oxford Don, Dr. Jones stated,
“That man smokes a pipe….and that man drinks liquor….but I do believe he is a Christian!”

This quote leads us into the central thesis of this blog post, “What is the Christian’s position regarding alcohol and tobacco?”

I admit grappling with this issue is nothing new in the blogosphere or in pockets of evangelicalism. 

Furthermore, I will gladly confess that this blog post will not bring anything original to this provocative topic.

Being a Christian is not about abstaining from alcohol or tobacco.

I used to judge the individual who put out his cigarette and heads into his local church. To me, this person was a sinner, a hypocrite and a person who needed to cleanse himself of his addictions before he walks into the house of the Lord. In the judgment of my youthful self-righteousness, this person certainly could not be a Christian.

But what does the Scriptures say?
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
It is amusing to me that through the puffy haze of a pipe and a frosty pint, Dr. Jones was convinced he saw a man whose greatest affections were for Jesus Christ, the Savior of drunkards.

The above verse reveals what the legendary Fundamentalist saw: Trust in the alien righteousness of Christ; Peace as one reconciled with God; Joy as one given new desires by the Holy Spirit.

Does this mean Lewis was correct in his approach to alcohol and tobacco? Not necessarily. But again, this is not the essence of this point. It is simple fact that consumption does not make the man, but it is what comes out of man.

Jesus said,
And He called the people to him and said to them, "Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." (Matt. 15:10-11)
Young men love to invoke Spurgeon to defend their enjoyment of cigars and Lewis to support their taste for beer. Yet I would rather have young men look to emulate the Giants’ orthodoxy, affections and zeal; since it is by these standards the God of Justice will either smile or frown.


Don’t drink to numb yourself.

Here are some interesting facts:

--There were over 3.3 Billion prescriptions filled in America in 2002 (12 times the U.S’s population - that’s 12 prescriptions for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. that year).
--65% of North Americans take prescription medications daily, 43% take mood altering prescriptions regularly.
--Paxil and Zoloft (two of the more popular anti-anxiety medications) ranked 7th and 8th in the top ten prescribed medications in the US (these two medications totaled almost $5 Billion in sales in 2002.  
--Recreational drugs are also used to cope with anxiety. 42% of young adults in America regularly use recreational drugs (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

The point: People regularly use recreational drugs to NUMB themselves from the ache of their inner soul.

Is this why you drink alcohol…to forget? To find relief? Is your union in Christ not enough? Are the Scriptures not sufficient to give hope to a hurting heart?

Pink Floyd’s legendary song Comfortably Numb, says it all:

Come on
Now…I hear you're feeling down
I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again 
O.K….Just a little pinprick.
There'll be no more, ah!
But you may feel a little sick.
Can you stand up?
I do believe it's working, good.
That'll keep you going through the show
Come on it's time to go.
 

Though the lyrics are likely referring to cocaine or heroin, either way, the desire was to become numb to the pain of this existence.

What is the answer to the hurting Christian? A big view of God.

A proper (i.e. big) view of God attacks our anxious thoughts and replaces them with a peaceful confidence in Him.

Addiction is sin.

Why? Because addiction reveals that something or someone is controlling you other than the Lordship of Christ. Another way to put it is that addiction is not acting in faith and whatever is not done in faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).

Was Lewis addicted to nicotine? Probably. Testimonials reveal that Lewis’ doctors advised him to stop smoking and apparently he declined to submit to this encouragement.

And yet I would caution the reader in their judgment on Lewis or others. Is the sin of pride such an addiction? Does the evil lure of lust ever completely resolved in this life? Is there much difference between these types of addiction? If you were being honest, which addiction does the most damage to a person’s soul (and often the souls of others)? Is it not the addiction of pride?

To be clear, I am NOT saying that we should therefore be indifferent to addictions. By no means! Rather, we must fight for holiness, whether the snare of pride or any other physiological addiction, since all addictions are rooted in the individual’s replacement of true worship for false worship (Rom. 1:24-25).

Drinking can be a hindrance to “personal holiness”.

Notice I wrote can and not is. In other words, drinking has the ability to be a hindrance.

I am referring to drinking to excess? No, drunkenness is clearly forbidden in scripture and therefore, is not relevant to this discussion.

So when is drinking a hindrance to holiness?

If you have a propensity to drink to excess, maybe it is time for some biblical amputation (Matt. 5:29-30; Romans 13:14).

If you are still torn in your conscience, you shouldn’t drink (I Cor. 8:11). Furthermore, why spend so much energy fretting over something like drinking anyways? Again, it is not that important.

If you are in a cultural environment where drinking is viewed as sinful, immoral or irresponsible, you should be prepared to abstain for the sake of the gospel. Some of you will say, “Why do I have to curb or limit my freedoms for a legalistic Christian or church or culture?”

Because God said so.
1 Corinthians 9:15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.
In other words, the liberty which we have attained through the gospel, frees us to lay aside our rights for the sake of the gospel.

Period.

One more thing, if this statement bristles you….YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED THAT YOU CARE MORE ABOUT YOUR LIBERTIES THAN THE GOSPEL.

Drinking has nothing to do with being “reformed” or any other group with Christianity.

I am so sick of the recent resurgence for the consumption of alcohol within the YRR (Young, restless and reformed) movement. Is this what contemporary evangelicalism needs, more blog posts about the historical precedence of beer consumption, the reality of wine in the ministry of Jesus or the possible interpretation of future eschatological banquets involving wine, specifically during the millennial reign of Christ.

I am well aware that Luther’s wife brewed her own beer, which by the way, is impressive, especially since she used to be a nun. But who cares? Is Luther remembered in the pages of church history because he fought for the doctrine of justification by faith alone or because his wife had a brewery in their house?

Have a beer…or don’t have a beer. I don’t care. But stop making it a badge of honor for many in the Reformed community and concurrently, stop acting like it shouldn’t matter to other Christians, specifically those who come out of alcoholism or who are still trying to purge themselves of their fundamentalist roots. Quite frankly, God seems to care more about those people then the imaginary badges you enjoying hanging on your elite green jacket worn in Club Reformed.

9 comments:

  1. Great post, I feel that so many people decide to take a stand on minor issues like this, rather than standing up and defending the gospel. I know several Christians who hold a very legalistic view on alcohol and I know several Christians who border the line of abusing their freedoms. There are extremes on both ends that we can go to, however we shouldn’t be letting things like this be a hindrance to the gospel. If someone says that they wont give up alcohol for the sake of the gospel, then it is clear that they are not actually free to it but rather enslaved by it. There may be a time and a place for certain things, like alcohol, but we must always be sensitive to those around us. I am sure that I am not coming across as clear as you did in your post, but I completely agree with you.

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  2. Well said. I also have friends on both sides. Frankly, I used to be fairly legalistic about this issue. But God is patient with me, breaking of my prideful heart, while concurrently developing within me a heart of compassion. Thanks again for your comments.

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  4. Drinking is one thing, but with smoking, aren't you talking about a recreation with over 70+ certified carcinogens? If the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, wouldn't puffing on a cancer stick be working it's destruction?

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    1. Smoking no worse for you or "unholy" than the rampant gluttony that goes one with most folks daily. Government studies that "show" that tobacco smoking is bad for you are mostly bull snot anyway. It is just a way for them to control people and get more taxes. This is why the scientists who do these studies rarely give us all the parameters of their tests or all of the raw data. Any data that might distract from their preconceived notions of smoking being the most horrible thing on earth are simply ignored. Smoking isn't nearly as harmful as a bunch of people who's funding depends on them beating that drum lead people to believe. Calling cigarettes, cigars, or pipe tobacco "cancer sticks" is loaded and misleading language. Most people who get cancer get it due to genetic problems, not smoking. Lots of non-smokers get lung cancer. Doctors just don't look for it because they have preconceived notions about smoking from faulty studies. The Kingdom of heaven is not eating or drinking or smoking. It is not what goes into a man that defiles him....

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  5. As someone who grew up in fundamentalist Christianity as the son of a Pentecostal preacher, I struggled with a lot of things. I was weaned on the bible and various Charismatic teachings and studied my bible and knew it very well. However, in all my understanding and knowledge I discovered in recent years that a lot of my beliefs were based more on the preconceived beliefs of my heritage. I always loved God's word and held my beliefs very strongly. I too believed firmly that Alcohol was wrong and that a true Christian couldn't enjoy such an evil thing. However, I spent a considerable amount of time studying and researching the historical and biblical truth of my belief and was thoroughly shocked to learn the bible's actual teachings concerning Alcohol. Also, in the course of my studies I discovered that many regions of the world to this day do not have a problem with Alcohol, North America seems to be the area with the most problems. Most of these long held beliefs stem from early America and as a Canadian these same beliefs have infiltrated my native country as well. I also discovered CS Lewis and his love of the Pipe. Wow, I was blown away. I turned 40 this year and attend church regularly and play my guitar there, but as of last year I now smoke a pipe and absolutely love it. I suffer with back pain also and take prescription drugs to help me get through the day. I find that a Brandy and my pipe help me relax and also help with the pain. I now believe that there are natural things that God placed here for our benefit that can help us in the enjoyment of our lives. The key to this is the same as with food, moderation. I find from the scriptures that moderation in all these things will enhance our time on this earth, but that overdoing things can be detrimental to our lives. I feel so much freer and enjoy my life so much more now that these religious sinkholes have been removed from my heart and mind. The bible teaches us that Christ has made us free from the law yet in my formative years in church that freedom was elusive at best. We need to use our minds that God gave us and read his word for ourselves and put aside our traditions of man that make the word of God of no effect in our lives.

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  6. I love this post. And I don't say that often. Articulated much of what has been swimming around in my head - both the legalistic aspect that doesn't reflect Scripture at one extreme, and the obsession with freedom to drink and the desire to be an "expert" in it and talk about it all the time, that replaces passion for the Gospel at the other extreme. Well said - take away sola fide, and we'd never talk about Luther. Take away his beer, he's still in a giant in the faith. Great job.

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  7. Well said. I was a bit rattled by the end-bit there in regards to the "[reformed Christian youth tooting their own horn about how superior they may be because of these fresh revelations concerning alcohol and tobacco]" if I may paraphrase it? I think it's really pretty simple; alcohol, tobacco, pride, gluttony, greed, lust or any other sin you can think of, can be detrimental if it takes the form of an idol. However, in regards to the above, I do not believe tobacco or alcohol can be categorized as it is not explicitly FORBIDDEN in Scripture. Alcohol is used time and time again as a symbol for joy, celebration, and marital bliss! However, we are clearly told NOT to drink to excess and drunkenness.

    I read a blog as well regarding tobacco and the dangers of it. Ben Stokes made a very solid point regarding tobacco as well (read above). Some would assume Satan took the natural plant and twisted its purpose by altering the minds of humans into smoking it. My problem however is: is it more of a twisted state of mind to take a plant in its natural form and say it can't be consumed? Or is it more of a twisted state of mind to take a plant in its natural form and say it can't be consumed because of what society says, thus barring it from the pleasure God intended? When I have a beer, or a glass of wine (not excessively) I enjoy the smooth affect it has on me and the bubbly (not intoxicated) feeling it gives me. When I smoke my pipe, I enjoy the aesthetic and calming affect it gives me which feels completely ordained and GOOD.

    Just some thoughts. I'm a philosopher by trade so I can't take something that I feel convicted of in my heart and just let it go without reason. :)

    BTW- C.S. Lewis died of kidney failure and J.R.R Tolkien died of a non-cancer related death.

    With all Brotherly love!
    Cheers!

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  8. When my mother passed away tragically after elective surgery on her upper spine, I experience something I once made fun of in others. Clinical depression coupled with extreme and persistent panic attacks actually disabled me. The pills the medical community prescribed did nothing, so I turned to alcohol. It became a syndrome that society calls alcoholism. I battled this for ten years until I developed a true relationship with the Lord. Recovery from this syndrome is entirely futile. The end result is a dry-drunk and there is nothing more miserable. I am on the path of restoration. This is not the restoring of my previous life, but the restoration of the being the Lord intended for me to be. I'm sorry to say this, but all of the twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are actually preventing many people from attaining restoration from the Lord and trapping them into a syndrome of the dry-drunk. What a miserable existence. And believe me, I have really been through that too. This is the cure to all of our compulsive behavior syndromes, even the minor, disregarded traps that we all have in our fallen state.

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