Alcohol, Addiction, And The Church - Special Guest: Rev. Wes Shortridge

Alcohol, Addiction, And The Church - Special Guest: Rev. Wes Shortridge

Special Guest Blogger: Rev. F. Wesley Shortridge

About the Author | Rev. F. Wesley Shortridge
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Wes planted Liberty Community Church in 2003 with his wife and a handful of dedicated people. Over the years, he has watched it become a great community of believers in all stages of spiritual growth, and has seen LCC change more lives than he ever imagined.
The following is an excerpt from CODEPENDENCY IN CHURCH SYSTEMS: THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN INSTRUMENT TO ASSESS HEALTHY CHURCH LEADERSHIP” presented to the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. (c) F. Wesley Shortridge 2016. Entire project is available on Proquest.

Many approaches to the issue of alcohol pull Scriptures from their context without understanding that the addicted person seeks spiritual fulfillment through his or her addiction. The addict may simply fail to realize that what they seek in the imperfect substance of wine is available in the presence of the Spirit.

The church must model spiritual wholeness in terms of joy, relationship, fruitfulness, and missional effectiveness. The addict may well be more spiritual than the legalist Christian as the addict at least still searches for something more. The addict and the legalistic Christian are both addicted to substances or methods that fail to bring the promised results. The addict seeks more wine, and the legalist seeks more rules and control while attempting to force others into their addiction to rules and control.


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If you've got the Holy Spirit what more do you need?

The passages of Scripture relating alcohol use and the life of those in the church prove difficult to understand apart from a typological view of alcohol. When the type finds fulfillment, the type ceases to be useful.[1] Once the destination is reached, a map is useless. If spiritually fulfilled through the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the believer has no use for wine. Paul instructs deacons and elders, for instance, not to be “addicted to much wine” or “slaves to much wine” (1 Tim. 3:8; Titus 2:3). A person under the control of wine cannot lead others to fulfillment in the Spirit as they would still be searching themselves. The use of alcohol among leaders as a moral issue is not the point of the text; the direction of the believer who seeks fulfillment in wine or the fullness of the Holy Spirit is the issue.

Once the destination is reached, a map is useless. If spiritually fulfilled through the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the believer has no use for wine.
— Wes Shortridge

Paul warns that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:21). Since fulfillment of the Kingdom begins at the Cross and realizes in the believer in the overflowing experience of Pentecost, a person still under the addictive pattern of alcohol has failed to encounter the fulfillment of the Kingdom.

They fail to inherit the Kingdom because they do not seek the Kingdom. They seek the benefits of the Kingdom in their own control through the illusion of control in a substance. Addiction carries the person further from the desired effects and deeper into the use of the substance. Whether the substance is alcohol, legalism, or any idolatry the issue is that the person has not repented or turned from their sinful desire to discover spiritual wholeness on their own terms and in their own illusion of control.



In the Dark and Still Searching

Paul portrays the drunkard as a person still in darkness: “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning” (1 Cor. 15:34). He describes drunkenness as something done at night or in incomplete revelation (1 Thess. 5:7).[2] The addicted person is a spiritual person who in many cases is simply in darkness concerning the completeness offered in a relationship with Jesus through the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

The church that fails to reveal the light of a renewed relationship in an active infilling of the Holy Spirit lives as much in the dark as the chemically addicted. The non-Spirit-filled church may free someone of chemical addiction, but they will likely replace the chemical addiction with other addictive behavior. Gossip, legalism, gluttony, and many other behaviors simply become sinful replacements for chemical addiction if the church community fails to meet the inner need for spiritual fulfillment.

The issue is not a moral breach in the use of alcohol; the issue is a spiritual breach in using the elements meant to point to the Spirit to exclude others. The issue is not that wine caused the division; the issue is that they again seek the substance of wine for what only the Spirit can do.

A church that claims openness to an infilling experience in the Holy Spirit often replaces chemical addiction with pragmatism. For example, speaking in tongues loses its beauty as a fulfillment of a promise to the seeker and becomes a pragmatic experience to be counted and encouraged in human method rather than submission to God. The effects are sought in a way that looks more like addiction than seeking fulfillment in the presence of the Spirit.

Paul addresses the issue in his letters to the church at Corinth. Self-promotion breaks fellowship with the Holy Spirit as the individual seeks to demonstrate personal superiority through various manifestations of the Spirit. Paul writes, “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk” (1 Cor. 11:21). The Corinthians have taken the elements of the communion meant to point the seeker to relational and spiritual wholeness and turned them into another human means of seeking spiritual wholeness.

The issue is not a moral breach in the use of alcohol; the issue is a spiritual breach in using the elements meant to point to the Spirit to exclude others.[3] The issue is not that wine caused the division; the issue is that they again seek the substance of wine for what only the Spirit can do. Addiction prevails in the church anytime the church seeks spirituality or fulfillment in anything other than the Spirit’s active presence. Attempts to control spirituality or pragmatically build a church look far more like addiction than Spirit-filled living.

The Light in the darkness of addiction

Jesus calls His Church to be light to the darkness of addiction. Many still stumbling in chemical addiction can only see further darkness in a church exhibiting addictive and codependent behavior. The legalist in the church moralizes and uses chemical addiction and other behaviors as litmus tests for spirituality when he or she often remains as bound to addictive behavior as the chemically addicted. Patterns of darkness do not break by willpower or moral fortitude; they break by shining the light of God’s complete revelation into the darkness.

Paul’s focus on wine and the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 provides the centerpiece of the issue. A believer has no need for wine that leads a person further from the source of life. He or she should observe the spiritual desire typified by wine and recognize that the Spirit makes a far superior means of fulfillment available. Through the continual infilling of the Holy Spirit the believer has no use for the inferior type of wine. The Spirit makes the antitype freely available and the type is obsolete as the type only points to the need for fulfillment. Pleasing God through abstinence as a moral issue does not form the main point of the passage. Paul emphasizes acceptance of God’s plan rather than consuming the fruit of prideful and fallen human effort.

(c) F. Wesley Shortridge, 2016. From a D.Min. project “CODEPENDENCY IN CHURCH SYSTEMS: THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN INSTRUMENT TO ASSESS HEALTHY CHURCH LEADERSHIP” presented to the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Entire project is available on Proquest.

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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the English Standard Version.

[1] Anderson observes the new structure necessary; “The effects of sin are not overcome through a more rigorous form of spirituality but through a renewed structure of sociality.” Ray S. Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001), 170. The Spirit redeems the community from dysfunction, and in the redeemed community the sinner finds salvation and holiness.

[2] E. Earl Ellis reminds that Paul is “not concerned to lay down rules for society.” Paul instead “directs his apostolic teaching only to the Christian community.” E. Earl Ellis, Pauline Theology: Ministry and Society (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1997), 54.

[3] Ellis describes the Corinthian error in worship as egocentrism and lack of order or social decency. The Spirit was in essence used to exclude others and promote self. Ibid., 112.

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