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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 

Alcohol and the SBC: A Call for Peace

Since Resolution No. 5 was affirmed by the messengers to the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, there has been an unproportionate amount of words written concerning alcohol use by Christians by everyone from seminary presidents to bloggers and from mega-church pastors to laymen of small congregations. So forgive me for adding another few hundred words or so to this now out-of-control debate. I have previously stayed away from the discussion and for good reason - it is clearly causing division in the body of Christ. And for that reason alone, I feel I can no longer be silent.

That division is occurring is irrefutable. Reading any of the articles written by those in the above categories indicates that there are few, if any, that are advocating for an end to the debate. Almost everyone who is writing about the topic uses rhetoric that suggests that this issue is anything but insignificant and some suggest that nothing short of fidelity to Sola Scriptura is at stake. Jerry Vines has gone as far at to declare that apostasy is lurking around the corner. And yesterday, in Baptist Press, Richard Land stated in a "First Person" editorial that the decision to drink alcohol is about choosing either "Wine or Witness." Even whole blogs have even been started to rebut arguments for abstinence by Danny Akin and Paige Paige Patterson. And given the recent response by James Merritt to Ben Cole's editorial in the Dallas Morning News (which was itself a response to Danny Akin's editorial in the same paper -- why again are we using secular media to post responses to one another?) , it seems things are just beginning to get out of control.

I must admit, some of this debate is healthy. Southern Baptists from time to time need to rethink their default positions in light of new academic research, Scriptual analysis, and the possibility of cultural conditioning. But, I believe this debate has taken a turn for the worse and is now being used as a test of fellowship (and possibly even faith). Personally, since the Greensboro convention, I have had my name was removed from consideration by a pastor for a ministry position because he said he was troubled by my take on Resolution #5 and called into question my ability to properly handle God's Word. So you could say that ending this "war of words" has particular implications for young ministers seeking ministry positions, as well as churches who are seeking to find the candidates to fill those positions.

So what I want to do with my few hundred words on this controversy is to issue a call to peace and a "ceasefire" (if you will) of this growing wildfire which Richard Land termed, "The Great Alcohol Debate." Just this past week I have seen attacks by "Baptist" bloggers and some other Christians on penal substitutionary atonement, Complimentarianism, and the traditional view of Hell. These are the issues that Southern Baptists need to debate with academic and spiritual vigor. The alcohol debate is almost 200 years old now, and there seems to be no end in sight. And both denominations who have taken an abstinence view and those who have taken a moderation view have grown and been successful in furthering the Kingdom of God. In the end, it is not this issue that Paul warns us to watch closely, but rather it is our doctrine that he continually calls us to guard with perseverance. We would all do well to remember the words of the apostle to his young apprentice in 1 Timothy 4:16: "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (NIV).

So Southern Baptists, I call you back to doctrine, back to the essential things of faith, back to those thngs that we have been charged with preserving, namely that Great and Glorious Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I leave you with this passage from Colossians:
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. 20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)-- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against
fleshly indulgence.
3:1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him-- 11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. 12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (2:16-3:17, NASB).

Wow, D.R., even though I am no longer a Southern Baptist, I find myself in complete agreement with you, especially about not dividing the Body of Christ over this.
I rather think with Bonhoeffer that the call should not be "back to doctrine," but to costly discipleship (which can have a doctrinal dimension, of course). Far too often, Christians have parsed doctrinal minutiae while ignoring slavery or the Holocaust, etc. But we both agree that God would call folks away from an alcohol debate to something more profitable. It still boggles my mind that this is something to get worked up over. "Wine or Witness?" Does Richard Land think Jesus made a poor witness for God at the wedding at Cana?

DR, you're in trouble. You have both of your Louisville anabaptist friends agreeing with you...

Would that religionists would heed Paul's words to the Colossians on a myriad of non-issues.

Dan,

Thanks for providing the information regarding the SBC and wine/grape juice. That was helpful.

I'm discouraged by the news of the church that considered your view as a mishandling of the alcohol issue as mishandling the word. 1 Tim. 4.1ff.

Be encouraged, you serve a sovereign and good God with a glorious Savior. I am praying for you that you'll find a church soon.

/erik
John 17.13

There is no doubt that our Christian liberty is not a license for causing someone to stumble. May it never be.

However, God's Word makes it clear that He created wine to make the heart of man glad (Psalm 104:15). There are numerous biblical references to wine in the context of blessings, fullness, and celebration.

How is it, that we as mere men, can take the good things of God and turn them into something forbidden?

The dangers of alcohol are obvious and I'm not trying to deny them. All of God's good things have the potential for perversion when sinful man is involved. But do we forbid food for fear of gluttony? Do we forbid intimacy in marriage for fear of perversion?

Corem Deo. Everything we do must be done before the face of God. Everything - and that includes drinking of the wine that He gives us, should we choose to do so.

We must be careful not to create our own standards of righteousness that God never created. To do so only elevates our piety in our own minds, makes us legalists, and gives us a false sense of security because we are obeying our own rules rather than God's.

i would have titled this post "alcohol and the sbc: shut up, please, for the love of all that is good and pure in the world, shut up."

but then, this works too.

Daniel,

You said:

"So Southern Baptists, I call you back to doctrine, back to the essential things of faith, back to those thngs that we have been charged with preserving, namely that Great and Glorious Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Unfortunately, some have gone to the point to argue that the alcohol issue is a doctrinal matter (I know you think I am joking, but this was actually argued). I have attempted to move this on with an article I wrote last week, but there are some in the SBC political wing that have a lot of fight and have found an issue that will attrack attention. Let's admit it: people are drawn to controversy. If only we were as drawn to the gospel?!

One point I think needs to be stressed with all that is going on. For those against this resolution, this has not been a matter of arguing for moderation or advocating anything except faithfulness to Scripture. Post after post by SBC leaders talks about the dangers of alcohol, its abuse, and the reports of studies on alcohol use today. Okay, okay, okay. But what about absolutizing your interpretation of Scripture? Some have gone to the point to argue that if you do not agree with this resolution, you could not honestly agree with the BF&M2K. This is ridiculous and shows that some really do want to divide the convention.

Let us, as you said, focus our efforts on the gospel and the real issues that are being ignored by being distracted by the silly attempts to make alcohol a dividing line in the SBC.

I agree that this is not a doctrinal issue--at least not on the surface. What I see happening here is the SBC leadership attempting to legislate good behavior. Overlay the legislation metaphor onto Paul's understanding of the Gospel, and I think you'll see where I'm going with that.

I'm horrified to see leadership attempt to make this prima facie doctrinal matter. I'm equally horrified by what seems to be, in some quarters of the Younger Baptist Movement, a cavalier attitude towards the consumption of alcohol. The freedom of Christ was never meant to be even a possible means of making a fellow brother stumble. That's the issue, I believe, that the SBC leadership is dealing with. "What's the wise thing to do?" they ask. I really hope that's a euphemism for "What's the compassionate thing to do?"

I am the weaker brother Paul spoke about. As a recovering alcoholic, don't buy your drinks around me.

Best to all.

I go to a church with MANY recovering alcoholics, so I understand where anonymous is coming from. It's the reason I put up with nasty grape juice in communion when I think wine should really be used.

For this reason, I resisted my initial sinful urge to print up T-shirts that say, "Baptist Beer Drinker." (I bet they'd sell, though. :-) ) But too often I think people create stumbling blocks where none were before.

Ours is a society that greatly abuses alcohol. So I get those who, for whatever reasons, choose personally to be complete tee-totalers. My home pastor never touched a drop--but he argued against those who would make this a test of holiness. Both Greek and Hebrew have perfectly good words for "grape" and "juice" and could have said grape juice if they wanted. (You slap grapejuice in a leather sack and, before refrigeration, march it across the desert and see what YOU get!)

I like beer, especially German dark lagers. But I am careful not to offend. Also, I usually don't have it in the house because I'd rather spend grocery money on real food. I doubt that I have ever consumed two cases in a year's time.

But still. . . surely there are more important problems (whether doctrinal, moral, social, spiritual, etc.) for Southern Baptists to worry about? The phrase fiddling while Rome burns leaps to mind.

Good post. I have called Dr. Reynolds to quit pushing this issue with the fervency that he has. I have warned him of sowing discord among the brethren over issues that can't be one on scripture alone. I have called for an end to the debate but have been ignored by Brad Reynolds.

However, I had a post prepared entitled, "Jerry Vines calls for separation, James Merritt warns not to take the first drink, and Brad Reynolds calls for the truth"

I wrote it and then decided not to post it. I am now not commenting on any blogs that continue to push this issue. I am trying to let it die by not participating.

(This post is the exception)

Blessings,
CR

Hey, Friends:
I realize that parts of this mess are no laughing manner. Alcoholism IS a huge problem in our culture and this feud DOES threaten to further divide the Body of Christ. But on the theory that laughter is from God as a way to cope (and because I DID resist my sinful urge to print up "Baptist Beer Drinker" T-Shirts), I thought folk might
appreciate a gem I was sent by an Episcopal priest.
It seems that the ancient Roman Rituale (8th C.?) has a traditional blessing for beer:

Bless, O Lord, this creature beer, that Thou hast been pleased to bring forth from the sweetness of the grain: that it might be a salutary remedy for the human race: and grant by the invocation of Thy holy name, that, whosoever drinks of it may obtain health of body and a sure safeguard for the soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hmm., I wonder if I could borrow that in the name of ecumenical liturgical renewal? Probably wouldn't fly as a prayer on Wed. night suppers, though, huh? SIGH.

"I have had my name was removed from consideration by a pastor for a ministry position because he said he was troubled by my take on Resolution #5 and called into question my ability to properly handle God's Word."

Could you send me that preacher's name? My church is looking for a new pastor and this guy sounds jut like somebody our search committee needs to consider

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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