In the last few years one thing our church has come to enjoy are regular Q & A sessions. After a sermon series Pastor Mike and I take a Sunday, sit around a table with coffee, and give it our best shot to answer people's questions. We cram in as many questions as we can in twenty minutes, but we really need two hours to get them all. So we'll post some answers to questions we didn't have a chance to get to. Here's the first question:
In the same way that we would adopt cultural dress code in order to not be offensive, is it appropriate to consume alcohol with secular coworkers at an workplace gathering - in order to not offend your coworkers?
When I was a child I was deathly afraid of tornadoes. When storms came I would listen for that dreaded “freight-train” sound, ready to hop out of bed an run to the basement. Occasionally the sirens did go off and we hid under a sturdy table in the basement.
Nowadays when a tornado siren sounds I run to the window and look outside instead of the basement! Will I ever see a tornado in person? Do I really even want to? In my city they’ve started blaring the sirens, not only for tornado warnings, but also for high winds. The unintended consequence is that many people now think, “Oh well! It’s probably just high winds,” and go on with their activities.
A conscience is an internal alarm system. A siren. Consciences are dynamic, constantly being trained, informed, or deadened. Therefore I do not think it is wise to ever go against one’s conscience in a supposed gray matter. To go against your conscience when it may not matter may negatively impact your conscience when it does. To go against your conscience is to render it less and less effective. It’s the whole “boy who cried wolf” syndrome.
This is the advice of Paul in both 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14. In these passages Paul dealt with similar-yet-different issues of conscience, meat, and weak/strong brothers.
1 Corinthians 8-10 dealt with arrogant Corinthians abusing their liberty eat at temples. Romans 14 addresses well-meaning Christians who differ on food laws. Nowhere does Paul tell Christians to try to toughen up their conscience. In fact, Romans 14:23 says, "But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” If you have doubts, don’t do it. If you have doubts and you do do it, your doubt makes it a sin.
It would be better to offend someone else than your own conscience. By the way, what would offend them by not drinking? Abstaining from alcohol is not strictly a Christian practice or religious practice so it need not become an issue between coworkers.
Let me offer a brief personal testimony. I spent seven years working at a bank prior to becoming a pastor. That meant many afterwork football fantasy drafts at the sports bar, winter celebrations, and work parties where most of my coworkers were drinking. And sometimes drinking a lot! My employer even sponsored events that completely centered around alcohol.
Christians differ on alcohol, but my family has chosen to abstain. To date, I have never been teased, tempted, or bothered by coworkers or non-Christians because I choose not to drink.
Sadly, the only people who have ever made fun of me for not drinking are other Christians. Certainly that hasn’t been everyone’s story. But in four years of public high school where a lot of alcohol was consumed (illegally!) and all of my adult life, not drinking has never cost me anything.
Don’t ever ignore the sirens.