The other day while I was at a restaurant I watched as a host attempted to seat two gentlemen in the bar area. Mind you, the “bar area” isn’t actually at the bar, but just in the vicinity where most restaurants allow open seating and smoking (in states where smoking is allowed; in my own, smoking isn’t allowed anywhere in a restaurant). The men acted deeply offended that the host would even suggest the idea of sitting in the bar area because one of them was a Baptist minister. As I watched, multiple people who came in their church clothes simply refused to sit in the bar, and most acted offended when offered the bar area. They were more willing to wait 10-15 minute to get a seat than to sit in the bar area.
It is after this experience that I came across an article by John MacArthur that all but condemns Christians who drink alcohol, especially those who do so in order to “fit in” within the culture. His argument is that people who get tattoos, drink beer, and smoke cigars all in the name of “reaching out” are abandoning their Christian identity in order to reach people. He argues,
This tendency to emblazon oneself with symbols of carnal indulgence as if they were valid badges of spiritual identity is one of the more troubling aspects of the YRR movement’s trademark restlessness. It is wrong-headed, carnal, and immature to imagine that bad-boy behavior makes good missional strategy. The image of beer-drinking Bohemianism does nothing to advance the cause of Christ’s kingdom.
Now, it may shock some people, but I partially agree with MacArthur’s point; when we drink, smoke, get a tattoo, or do whatever in order to appear “cool” so as to advance the Kingdom, we’re using a marketing strategy and not relying on the Holy Spirit. In other words, our actions are empty, purposeless, and will generally only attract Christians who are dejected with the current culture. There’s generally no real conversion.
But what MacArthur ignores in his critique, and I would argue that many others are guilty of this, is that it’s equally dangerous when Christians retreat into a sub-culture with man-made rules on what it means to be holy. While churches that have “beer night” in order to have outreach may not advance the Kingdom, neither do preachers who rant against the dangers of alcohol or refuse to sit in the bar area at a local restaurant. MacArthur quotes from Matthew 11:19 where the Pharisees call Jesus a friend of “tax collectors and prostitutes.” They call Him a drunkard and a glutton because those are the types of people He was hanging around. While we can say that Jesus didn’t engage in getting drunk or in prostitution (though certainly He had a drink of wine – after all, He was a practicing Jew), He didn’t have a problem being around such people and befriending such people.
The people who are the target of MacArthur’s scorn and MacArthur himself misses out the fact that if you desire to reach people, you must live the essence of the Gospel. That essence is self-sacrificial, unconditional love. The Greek word, or at least the concept, is famously known as agape. We don’t need to submit to what’s “cool” in the culture in order to show people Christ, but neither do we need to create a sub-culture to shelter ourselves from the influences of the world. Rather, we should have no problem being amongst “sinners” just as Christ had no problem with it. Furthermore, we should have the grace and wisdom to know what we can engage in and what we cannot engage in. We should know our own personal limits.
Finally, in living a life of agape, we should never judge other Christians who may have a glass of wine before bed or go out and get a beer with friends. So long as such a person is not getting drunk or an alcoholic, who are we to judge? Where in Scripture can we say that such an action is wrong? Just as it’s wrong for Christians to use alcohol as an outreach tool, so too is MacArthur wrong for judging any and all Christians who drink alcohol. When we create the idea that drinking is wrong, we inherently limit who we’ll reach out to, to the point we become ridiculous and won’t even sit anywhere close to a bar. How does that “further the Kingdom of God?”