Every unique group of Christians has its own pet doctrines (“pet” doctrine is here defined as being a teaching or belief that finds its way into the conversation an inordinate amount of times as compared with other Christian groups). For Pentecostals it’s speaking in tongues. For Charismatics it’s the greater spiritual gifts. For Church of Christ it’s water baptism and no instruments in worship. For Seventh-day Adventists it’s Saturday being the Sabbath. For Calvinistic/Reformed churches it’s predestination. For Arminian churches it’s free will. And for Southern Baptists it’s tee-totalism.
Tee-totalism is the principle or practice of complete abstinence from alcoholic drinks. Surely we could all agree that if a person were to make this choice it would be a fine choice and there would be nothing wrong with it. Furthermore, it would most likely be a healthier choice for most people (although the risk of heart disease is said to be reduced if one drinks some wine on a regular basis) and it would surely prevent anyone from drinking too much and therefore becoming drunk. Complete abstinence from alcohol is like abstinence from sex, or red meat, or tobacco, or marriage in the sense that it can be proven to be a much better option for some.
But just because something can be good for some (or even most) people, that doesn’t mean it’s harmless when it’s taught as a rule or law that should be applied to all. Two things happen at that point which are very serious indeed: 1) People will often go to great lengths to try to explain and support their belief in order to make others believe the same which often leads them to make erroneous and outright false claims. 2) It can become a “doctrine of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1-3) which is to say that any law or doctrine laid on the backs of God’s people that He himself didn’t put there is bad–really, really bad.
Preachers and teachers will say the craziest things when trying to support something that is not taught and supported by scripture but that is taught and supported by them, their local church authority, their denomination, etc. For instance, when trying to support tee-totalism I’ve heard it said many times that when you read about wine in the New Testament, it isn’t really wine but rather grape juice–unfermented grape juice. Another slightly different slant is, “Ok, it was wine, but wine back then wasn’t nearly as strong as it is today.”
If the whole wine wasn’t wine but grape juice theory doesn’t work to convince you then they may go down the road of asking what other people would think if they saw you buying some sort of alcohol in which case I suppose it would depend on whether or not the person seeing you was a Baptist or not. And what about all of the drunkards and alcoholics? If they never drank in the first place then they wouldn’t have a problem (which is the point at which they begin to make a great point). This is true. Yet that still doesn’t justify teaching it as a doctrine.
Here are some questions for anyone teaching that to drink alcohol of any kind is wrong, that Christians should abstain from it, or that to drink it is some sort of sin:
- Why would Jesus turn water into wine for people to drink if it was a sin or somehow wrong for them to do it? God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13) so why would Jesus do that if it was in fact giving people a temptation to sin?
- How could it be grape juice and not actual fermented wine if the master said most people put the good wine out first then after people have drunk freely (too drunk to know the difference) they put out the poor wine (John 2:9-10)?
- The 37 times the word “wine” is used in the NT it is derived of the same Greek word so how could it be grape juice and not real, fermented wine when it is several times used to say don’t be drunk with it (e.g. Ephesians 5:18) and don’t drink it in excess (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:8)?
- Why would the instructions to deacons (1 Timothy 3:8) and older women (Titus 2:3) be not to drink too much wine or an excess of it if in fact it was wrong to drink it at all? Wouldn’t the instruction have been to not drink it at all if it were wrong?
- Paul told Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). Would Paul lead Timothy into some kind of sin or temptation? Would he really do that as if the end justified the means if in fact it was wrong?
- If we were to say that we shouldn’t drink wine because the bible tells us not to be a drunkard, wouldn’t that same logic dictate that we should not eat steak or any of our favorite foods because the bible also tells us not to be a glutton?
The biggest problem with tee-totalism being taught as a rule or doctrine is that there is scriptural warning against forbidding people to do things that God himself has not forbidden in the New Covenant under which we live. Consider the following:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)
Don’t miss the irony of the preceding text. Paul is the one who tells us that it is better to stay single if we can (without giving ourselves over to sexual impurity 1 Corinthians 7:8-9), and we know from the Garden of Eden, the Old Testament, and as a matter of medical fact that some foods are definitely better for us than others. Yet Paul says in latter days some will teach “doctrines of demons” forbidding people to marry and to abstain from certain kinds of foods–the very things the bible tells us we would at times be better off doing!
It would appear that God has a big problem with people teaching doctrines as if they should be applied to everyone when He has not commanded it to be so. Personally I have no particular desire to drink alcohol which is what a lot of people who read this would probably assume. I’m not trying to say you should drink, and I don’t care if you choose not to. Fortunately, the bible tells us exactly how we should handle this issue in Romans 14. So let your convictions fall where they may, and do nothing to cause your brother or sister to stumble–including teaching tee-totalism as if it were the gospel.