The Bible’s teaching about alcohol has stirred debate in Christian churches for centuries. Is drinking alcohol in moderation, so as not to cause drunkenness, permissible, or should believers abstain entirely? Followers of Jesus Christ, the churches they attend, and the denominations they belong to answer this question differently.
The Pentecostal tradition has a strong history of abstinence from drinking alcohol. However, while leaders in the tradition know that people can drink alcohol without getting drunk, they are convinced that the practice is a bad witness to non-Christians and hinders their efforts to help those with drinking problems.
What shaped Pentecostalism’s views on drinking alcohol? What are the specific reasons leaders in the tradition give for their position of total abstinence? What exactly does the Assemblies of God denomination teach about alcohol consumption? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also, see Are Pentecostals Allowed to Dance? to learn more.
Pentecostal Views on Drinking Alcohol: How They Formed
It’s important to know that “Pentecostal” doesn’t describe a particular denomination but a belief system that certain Christians, churches, and denominations affirm. (Also see Pentecostal vs. Charismatic: What’s the Difference?)
Asking what Pentecostals believe about drinking alcohol isn’t as easy as referencing the teachings of a single administrative body, but surveying the convictions of different leaders, churches, and denominations.
What are the largest Pentecostal denominations? The largest Pentecostal denominations in the world are the Assemblies of God, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), and the Church of God in Christ.
What is unique about Pentecostal theology? The central conviction distinguishing Pentecostals from other Protestant Christians concerns baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of it.
When the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs, and what, if anything, is the initial evidence for it, is the question at the center of the dispute. (Also see Pentecostal vs. Church of God; What’s the Difference?)
|Baptism in the Holy Spirit
|Occurs sometime after conversion.
|Occurs at conversion.
|Speaking in tongues
|Tongues are the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
|Some non-Pentecostal Christians believe tongues are a functional gift today but don’t practice it themselves; others believe it was a gift that only first-century believers experienced for the establishment of the Church.
Why do Pentecostals generally believe the same way regarding abstinence? First, the Pentecostal tradition, though it exists in different branches today, shares the same historical roots. Most historians trace the birth of Pentecostalism to William Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 in Los Angeles, California.
However, many Pentecostal historians believe people like Charles Parham planted the seeds for the revival at Bethel Bible College a few years earlier in Kansas.
As Pentecostalism spread, so did its convictions about alcohol. Pentecostalism is one of the fastest-growing movements in the history of Christianity.
As it expanded, its teachings about baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and even drinking alcohol impacted and convicted more and more people.
Did Pentecostals support Prohibition? “The Prohibition” refers to a time (1920-1933) when the production, transportation, and sale of alcohol were illegal in the United States.
Many Christian denominations supported the restrictions on alcohol, including the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the country. In many ways, Pentecostal denominations and churches still support Prohibition-era principles. (Also see Do Pentecostals Believe in the Trinity?)
Why Do So Many Pentecostals Believe Drinking Alcohol Is Wrong?
If the Bible sometimes positively uses the image of alcohol (e.g., Amos 9:13), Jesus changed water into wine (John 2:1-11), and Paul encouraged Timothy to drink wine when he has an ailing stomach (1 Tim. 5:23), why do Pentecostals advocate for complete abstinence? Why doesn’t the tradition just forbid drunkenness like the Bible teaches (e.g., Eph, 5:18, Gal. 5:21, 1 Cor. 6:10)? Here are reasons often cited for abstinence,
- Abstinence avoids sin: The Pentecostal tradition suggests abstinence is the best application of the Bible’s warnings about the dangers of drinking alcohol.
- Abstinence helps Christians to love other people: Not drinking alcohol is the best way that a Christian can love people who have problems with alcohol.
- Abstinence is best for families: Drinking alcohol can ruin lives, marriages, and families. Abusing alcohol is often handed down from generation to generation, so it’s best to avoid it altogether, according to Pentecostal thinking.
- Abstinence is holy: Christians shouldn’t give into the world’s normalization of drinking alcohol, which often includes the celebration of drunkenness, which the Bible strongly forbids.
Also, see Why Do Pentecostals Fall on the Floor?
What Does the Assemblies of God Believe About Alcohol?
What does the largest Pentecostal denomination teach about abstinence from alcohol? The Assemblies of God encourages its members not to ask, “Can I drink alcohol?” but “Should I drink alcohol?” The answer to the question is that believers shouldn’t drink alcohol. The denomination’s reasons are summarized in these three points:
Abstinence is the biblical choice
“The Bible clearly warns of the perils of alcoholic beverages and negatively views the consumption of what the context clearly describes as a beverage with high alcohol content. Failure to take seriously those warnings has resulted in untold heartache, misery, and ruin.”
It continues, “Unnecessary self-indulgence for a fleeting pleasure may eventuate in unacceptable costs to the individual, the family, and the society at large. Moderation may seem a harmless, private indulgence, but may become a very public detrimental influence.”
Abstinence is the wise choice
“The tragic results of alcoholism will never come to the one who never takes the first drink. Where alcohol is avoided, drunken abuse will not pull a family apart. A church that teaches and practices abstinence should compassionately rescue those bound by alcohol, but also faithfully warn others of its subtle dangers. Prevention is always better than cure.”
Abstinence is a moral choice
“It glorifies God, protects the individual, honors fellow believers, preserves families, unifies the church, and blesses society. Abstinence reflects both the direct and indirect moral principles of the Word of God.”
It continues, “Abstinence is not moral legalism but Christian discipleship, which inherently involves self-denial in following Christ. ‘The underlying sensibility is taking care of your neighbor, taking care of your family, trying to be a good role model, and not being a stumbling block.’ Abstinence is not grounded in legalism, but in the highest moral attribute of love.”
Also see Pentecostal vs. Holiness Pentecostal: What’s the Difference?
Alcohol Can Lead To Many Dangers According to the Assemblies of God
The Bible includes many stories and statements that warn about drinking alcohol. The denomination commonly cites these verses to defend its position:
Alcohol tends to alter one’s judgment: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, 5 For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” (ESV, Proverbs 31:4–5)
It brings woe, sorrow, and strife: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.” (ESV, Proverbs 23:29-32)
It can cause physical harm: “They struck me,” you will say, I ‘but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.'” (Proverbs 23:35)
It can lower one’s inhibitions, leading to shameful behavior, loose speech, promiscuity, and violence: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (ESV, Prov. 20:1; cf. Isaiah 5:11; Romans 13:13)
It is a mocker, a deceiver that leads people astray: “Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper.” (ESV, Proverbs 23:31–32)
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