What is the Scriptural view of alcoholism? How do the Scriptures describe this problem? First of all, there can be no question that the Scriptures teach us that alcoholism is sin. This is basic, both as regards our view of alcoholism itself and our approach to the alcoholic. Surely, what alcoholism IS is going to determine what our approach must be to this problem. To go astray here will have inevitable, bad effects on our approach to alcoholism, and our approach will be less than biblical and really be an approach that does not have the best interests of the alcoholic in mind.
From this point of view, the term “alcoholism” is a bit unfortunate and really a euphemism. The problem we’re concerned with is the sin Scripture calls “drunkenness.” Nevertheless, we’ll use the word “alcoholism.” It does have the advantage of carrying the connotation of habitual drunkenness, that one is addicted to alcohol, and not simply that he has once or twice fallen into the sin of drunkenness. But by our use of the word we do not want in any way to take away from the fact that alcoholism is sin.
The biblical proof that alcoholism is itself sinful is clear. That anyone can profess to believe in the authority of Holy Scripture and deny that alcoholism is sin is inexcusable. In Romans 13:13 we read: “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.” In this passage the apostle describes drunkenness as a dishonest and unholy walk. In more than one place Scripture speaks of the impenitent drunkard as being outside the kingdom of heaven. I Corinthians 6:10: “Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” In Galatians 5:19-21 drunkenness is classified as a work of the flesh. The prophet Isaiah warns in Isaiah 5:22: “Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink.” In Proverbs 23:20, 21Solomon warns his son: “Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: for the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.”
Alcoholism is sin. This is our basic position on the issue of sin versus sickness as regards alcoholism. We certainly do not deny that alcoholism affects a man physically, that there are even serious and permanent effects. Nor would we minimize the physically addictive power of alcohol. But, at bottom, alcoholism is sin. The physical disorders connected to this sin are the results of the sin itself. The problem of alcoholism is a sin problem. This means that the alcoholic is not primarily a sick person, but a person who is guilty before God, a sinner. I can’t help it if I catch a cold; and certainly my becoming sick is not itself sinful. This is not true of alcoholism.
That alcoholism is basically a sin, implies that alcoholism is essentially a spiritual problem. Basically the alcoholic doesn’t need sobriety, the ability to lead a normal, addictive-free life. Nor is sobriety itself the answer to the problem. But basically the alcoholic needs the forgiving grace of God, a grace that comes only in the way of confession of and breaking with sin.
This position of ours, that alcoholism is sin, is a unique position. This is NOT the position of psychiatrists, counselors, counseling centers, church organizations, and other groups which work with alcoholics today. Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have designated alcoholism as a disease. The most popular group treating alcoholics today, Alcoholics Anonymous (hereafter A.A.), views alcoholism as an illness, an incurable illness.
Secondly, alcoholism is a sin, not only because alcoholism itself is sinful, but because alcoholism leads to other sins. The Scriptures show this plainly. Drunkenness often leads to immorality; for this reason the Scriptures often speak of drunkenness and immorality in the same breath. We have only to think of the wicked scheme of Lot’s daughters in Genesis 19:32 ff., according to which they made their father drunken in order to seduce him. Immediately after his warning against drunkenness, Solomon adds in Proverbs 23 a warning against fornication: “Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things,” vs. 33. In Ephesians 5:18 Paul exhorts: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” The “excess” to which the apostle refers is not excess of wine; that’s been mentioned already when he spoke of not being “drunk with wine.” But the excess is licentiousness, sexual excess, fornication. The effect of alcohol is that it breaks down our natural inhibitions. This exposes us to sin against the 7th commandment.
Besides, drunkenness often leads to violent behavior, wrecklessness, and carelessness. Always drunkenness strains marital and family relationships. It’s true of drunkenness as it is of every sin, that by our sins we hurt those the most who are closest to us.
Even the world recognizes the bad consequences and other sins to which alcoholism leads: 20% of all deadly falls, 20% of all drownings, 20% of deaths by freezing, 50% of all fire deaths, and well over 60% of all fatal car accidents are alcohol related. Alcohol is a contributing factor in over 60% of all suicide attempts, and in over 70% of all murders and violent crimes. In the large majority of child abuse and spouse abuse cases, excessive drinking is a major factor.
In the third place, alcoholism is sin because of the damage, often permanent damage, that it does to the body. Drunkenness tears down the temple of the Holy Spirit, which Paul says our body is in I Corinthians 6:19. Drunkenness leads to ulcers and cancer of the esophagus, stomach ulcers, intestinal ulcers; heaving drinking breaks down the lining of the stomach, causes pancreatitis, hepatitis, permanent and fatal liver damage, degeneration of portions of the brain, damage to the central nervous system, impotency, and serious birth defects in babies born from alcoholic mothers.
This, now, is the sin of alcoholism itself, and the sins with which it is connected and to which it leads.
The Approach of A.A. to the Problem of Alcoholism
What now is to be our approach to this problem and to the individual who has this sin problem in his or her life? One of the most popular and widespread approaches to the problem of alcoholism today is the approach of A.A.
The Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is an international organization whose sole purpose is to gain and maintain recovery from alcoholism. The A.A. program is apparently the only program with significant success. A.A. groups exist in nearly every sizable city in the U.S. Nearly all of the treatment and counseling centers in this country use A.A.’s approach, including most of the Christian counseling centers.
A.A. originated with two men trying together to overcome their dependency on the use of alcohol. Bill Wilson, a businessman from New York, and a certain Dr. Bob, a surgeon from Akron, Ohio, were introduced to each other one day by a mutual friend. Soon they became close friends and visited often. Through their conversations they discovered that both of them were struggling against dependency on alcohol. It seemed to them that the more they talked together, the more they were strengthened in their battle against alcoholism. Soon Wilson and Dr. Bob began helping other alcoholics, using as their main approach group therapy. In 1941 The Saturday Evening Post wrote a favorable article describing, the approach and accomplishments of Wilson and Dr. Bob. Almost overnight A.A. increased from 1500 members to 8000 members. The movement continued to grow and today has an estimated 750,000 members, in more than 22,000 groups in the U.S. and in 91 other countries around the world.
The approach of A.A. is summed up in what are known as “The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.” These “Twelve Steps” may be regarded as the constitution of A.A. The “Twelve Steps” are as follows:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The “Twelve Steps” presents the basic approach of A.A. to the problem of alcoholism. The “Twelve Steps” reflect A.A.’s view of alcoholism itself and how the problem of alcoholism can be overcome. Next time we will evaluate A.A. and its approach to the problem of alcoholism.
. . . to be continued.