Addressing Missouri Baptists and alcohol
You talk about…hustle and bustle …
A whirlwind of commotion …
A flurry of activity …
A war of words … would be a more accurate description of life in the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) ever since the action of the Executive Board concerning Acts 29.
Has there ever been a time in Christian history when so many brothers in Christ have said so much about each other without first talking to one another? Some who oppose the Executive Board action have attributed dreadful motives to the Executive Board members who voted for the measure. Is it fair to ask how it is that some are able to peer into the hearts of others and determine motive? The fact is, I cannot know your motivation. Nor can you know mine.
Most of us also do not know or understand all the mitigating factors that brought about that vote. One thing we can say with certainty is that the Acts 29 issue is about a whole lot more than any one issue. We do, however, know that the moderate use of alcohol was one of the elements considered by Executive Board members. Alcohol, in fact, has been a divisive issue in Southern/Missouri Baptist Convention life since the resolution that was passed at the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Greensboro, S.C. An identical resolution was passed at the recent 2007 annual meeting of the MBC held at Tan-Tar-A. I have no desire to debate that resolution. If I were to rewrite it, I would change some things about it. However, many of us were surprised at the vigorous debate that took place before the passing of those resolutions. We were surprised at the number of Southern Baptists who defended the moderate use of alcohol.
Lately, I have been quoted—mostly out of context, but I have been quoted as having said that “… the Bible does not say, never says, ‘Thou shalt not drink.’ It is also true to say that the Bible does not specifically refer to drinking as a sin. However, I want to be very clear to say that the only Christian position in this 21st century that we live in is total abstinence.” And it is true. I said that. Many of you heard me say that last October in my convention message. And I wonder if you will allow me to explain my statement.
First, I should tell you that I misspoke during the delivery of my sermon. I am, perhaps, the only Missouri Baptist preacher ever to do that. But I did—I misspoke. My manuscript reads, and my sermon notes repeat these words at the end of that statement; “… the only bibilical position for Christians in this 21st century Show-Me state environment is total abstinence.”
In the delivery of the sermon I used the word Christian at a time when I intended to use the word biblical. To be very forthright and clear now—I did not intentionally imply that only those who practice and/or preach abstinence are Christian. Further, I did not intend to insinuate that those who believe differently than I do concerning the alcohol issue are unchristian. I apologize for the misstatement. However, I stand by the intended statement. Abstinence is, in my view, the only biblical position for Christians in 21st century mid-Missouri.
Lev. 10:8-10: Lest you think I spend all of my time on this issue, you should be aware that out of 20 years of preaching ministry, I have only one sermon on the subject of alcohol consumption. The text of that sermon was taken from Lev. 10:8-10. As you might imagine, it was a three-point sermon. But, for the purpose of this article, I will elucidate only one point. Speaking to Aaron and the priests, Lev. 10: 9 states, “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink … when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die.” Verses 10 and 11 tell why alcohol consumption should be shunned, “that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean, and that you may teach the children if Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”
The biblical principle contained in these verses is easy to see. That principle is that the consumption of alcohol would impair the discernment of the priests. You have to also notice in this passage that there is no discussion concerning the amount of intoxicating drink. The commandment is clear that no amount of intoxicating drink is to be consumed by the priests because it will impair their judgment.
And right now I can hear someone claiming, “But that commandment was only for Aaron and the other priests.” To which I say, yes and the priests were the religious leaders of the day. And many of you are the religious leaders of this present day. Does this passage apply directly to you? You be the judge. But, the clear teaching of this passage is that intoxicating drink, in any amount, impairs your ability to make good decisions and should therefore be avoided by God’s people.
And, notice that we went to the Bible for that principle.
Rom. 14 and the weaker brother principle: Rom. 14:7 informs us all that “… none of us lives to himself,” meaning, that what we do and the way we live affects other people and makes us responsible for the way our actions are perceived. Verse 8 tells us that “… if we live, we live to the Lord…therefore…we are the Lord’s.” In other words, we do not live for ourselves or to fulfill our own desires. We live to fulfill the Lord’s will and according to His desires. By the way, anything less than that is to disregard God’s standard and, therefore, is sin.
Verse 12 reminds that we will all, one day, give an account before God. Verse 13 says that we ought not judge one another, and I have to be as careful about that as anyone else, maybe more so than most. But the verse also tells us to “… resolve this, not put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in a brother’s way.” Verse 14 says there is nothing that is inherently unclean for us. But, verse 15 challenges us all when it says, “Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love.” Verse 21 amplifies that statement: “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” Verse 19 tells the Christian to “… pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”
Undoubtedly, persons on both sides of the alcohol issue would blame the other side for the current alcohol squabble within the SBC/MBC. But how is it that Missouri Baptists who claim abstinence from alcohol as their personal practice are willing to do battle over the position of moderation concerning alcohol? Is that pursuing “… the things which make for peace” in the MBC? If we claim one position theologically, but practice something else without regard to the effect on others, how will we “… edify another”?
Notice that the weaker brother also is a biblical principle.
The biblical wisdom of abstinence: Many, if not most, of those who charge that there is no biblical prohibition concerning the moderate consumption of alcohol still acknowledge that abstinence from alcohol is the wise choice. And it is true, that wisdom naturally leads us to a position of total abstinence from alcohol.
Alcohol consumption is certainly an unwise choice. Prov. 20:1 states, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” Since the consumption of alcohol is an unwise choice, a complete lack of wisdom is demonstrated through the consumption of alcoholic beverage.
Two questions beg to be asked at this point. The first question is: What is the opposite of wisdom? Look up the word wisdom in any thesaurus and you will find many and various synonyms. But the most often found antonym is the word foolishness. The Word of God corroborates that characterization in Deut. 32:6a where the Bible says, “Do you thus deal with the Lord, O foolish and unwise people?” The opposite of wisdom, therefore, is foolishness.
The second question then becomes: What does the Bible say about foolishness? Space in this article will not allow me to list all the references, but the Proverbs are full of passages that describe the plight of those who live foolish lives. An example is found in Prov. 9:6: “Forsake foolishness and live, and go in the way of understanding.” That verse alone, coupled with the fact that abstinence is the only wise position for Christians in our culture, ought to be enough to stop us from drinking alcoholic beverages in any amount.
Look also to Prov. 19:3 and the heart condition of the man or woman who would choose unwisely, “The foolishness of a man twists his way, and his heart frets against the Lord.” And then, Ps. 69:5 puts foolishness and sin together. “O God, You know my foolishness; and my sins are not hidden from You.” In the New Testament, Eph. 5:15 directs the Spirit-filled Christian to “… walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.”
Clearly, the strongest biblical position concerning alcohol consumption is a position of total abstinence because of Godly wisdom that ought to be a part of the life and testimony of every Christian.
For those who missed it, I’ll say it again. At least in my opinion concerning alcohol, the only biblical position, for Christians in this 21st century Show-Me state environment is total abstinence. You should also know of my commitment to Missouri Baptists to keep all Missouri Baptist missions dollars free of entanglements with alcohol.