Friday, June 23, 2006

Alcohol and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Now that the alcohol question has come to the forefront of the issues Southern Baptists are talking about, I feel compelled to enter the conversation. Before I continue, let me say that I am approaching this subject as a person who has NEVER, to my knowledge, tasted of any alcoholic beverage, nor have I ever desired to do so. I have never found any good reason for people to partake of alcoholic beverages (with the possible exceptions of medicinal purposes and the Lord's Supper), and I personally encourage people to abstain. However, my views on alcohol are a matter of personal conviction. I do not try to use the Bible to support my advocacy of total abstinence, because a biblical case for total abstinence cannot be made.

In the Florida Baptist Witness there is an opinion piece by Dr. John Sullivan, Executive Director of the Florida Baptist Convention, regarding the resolution on alcohol that was adopted by the SBC in Greensboro. Let me say that I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Sullivan. I heard him preach the Sunday before the SBC Annual Meeting at the church I visited in Greensboro. His testimony of how he came to faith in Christ clearly demonstrates the sovereign working of God in bringing us to salvation. But as I read the following, I wondered to myself, "Did he really say that?"

Now to be sure, we are free in Christ, but we are free to do right by living a godly lifestyle. One even suggested Jesus drank wine and even turned water into wine. Bring me the wine bottle you are drinking from and if it says, “fermented by the Holy Spirit,” I’ll agree it is okay! Jesus also walked or rode a donkey wherever he went; slept mostly outside — you know the list. He then died on a tree. Don’t pull out one thing Jesus did to justify an action. We are not in the same league!
The reason someone suggested that Jesus drank wine and even turned water into wine is because the Bible tells us that Jesus did these things! I'm not kidding, it really does! Just look at John 2:1-11 and Luke 7:33-34. Sullivan's reference to Jesus walking, riding a donkey, sleeping outside, or dying on a tree is irrelevant to this discussion because no one is passing resolutions against doing these things or is calling such things ungodly. If it is ungodly to drink alcoholic beverages, then Jesus was ungodly. No amount of verbal or historical gymnastics can get around this. And the idea that it is acceptable to drink wine only if it is "fermented by the Holy Spirit" is one of the strangest concepts I have ever seen. Are we to assume that every time Jesus drank wine that He made it Himself? Where does the Bible imply or say that?

Alcohol is the issue that is being talked about, but alcohol is not really the true subject of this discussion. The alcohol issue in Southern Baptist life deals more with the sufficiency of Scripture than with the use of alcohol. The question that we must answer is, "Are we going to base our doctrine solely on the Bible, or are we also going to use tradition, history, and culture?" I believe it is obvious that a position requiring total abstinence from alcohol is based on tradition, history, and culture rather than on Scripture. All one has to do is look at the rest of the world to see that the question of whether or not a Christian should drink alcohol is by and large an American question. French and Italian Christians have no moral reservations about drinking a glass of wine; English and German Christians have no qualms about drinking a mug of beer. Now, either Christians in other nations are not as holy as Southern Baptists or the views of many Southern Baptists on alcohol are shaped by our history and culture. Somebody made a point that the views of most Southern Baptists on alcohol are more in line with those of Mormons and Muslims than with those of evangelical Christians in the rest of the world.

In all of this discussion, I have yet to see anyone cite one single verse of Scripture that forbids God's people from partaking of alcohol. Many people cite Proverbs 20:1 to support such a position, but what about Psalm 104:15, or what about the example of Jesus? Again, I personally believe there are many good reasons to abstain from alcohol, but in the end it has to be a personal decision, and a decision that is NOT based on any idea that drinking alcohol is ungodly. To require or expect all Christians to abstain, or to affirm that drinking alcohol is ungodly, is incompatible with the sufficiency of Scripture. If the Bible does not require abstinence, then how can we? If the Bible tells us that Jesus drank and made wine, then how can we say it is ungodly or morally wrong for a follower of Jesus, to do what Jesus did?

If we as Southern Baptists are honest, we have to admit that we have a history of elevating our traditions and personal convictions to the level of biblical mandates. We did it with dancing, card playing, musical styles, and how to dress for church. Many of us (but certainly not all) have moved away from imposing extrabiblical requirements or expectations in these areas. If we truly believe in biblical sufficiency, we'll have to stop imposing requirements or expectations to abstain from alcohol as well.

45 comments:

hashman said...

I think SBTS'S reformation teaching may have backfired on them. Many young preachers are taking that Sola Scriptura seriously.

I guess since differentiating between hard drink and wine would be difficult and unenforcable, it's easier to just say no on alcohol.

Outside of the secular laws of the land, what would be the basis for telling a Christian he should not smoke weed, or hashish :-) since we don't have scripture forbidding it.

Jamie Wootten said...

Tim you are right in that scripture doesn't teach total abstinence, but I do think it teaches the wisdom of abstinence. For me that trumps personal liberty.


hash,

I think you are right in the illegal drug issue. Assuming the laws made it legal to use drugs, then we would have to apply the same principles and biblical teachings wouldn't we? It would have to be okay to smoke a joint as long as you didn't get "high".

Hmmm not sure we want to go there...

Dan Paden said...

We do, in my opinion, have scripture forbidding the smoking of weed, on two counts: 1) we are forbidden to be drunk. Yes, you can say that it explicitly says with wine, but I can't help but think that pressing the verse to make it say it is okay to be "drunk" with drugs is pressing it way too far, and I don't think we can legitimately say that smoking dope has any purpose but making you dopey, and 2) we are forbidden from sorcery, and my understanding is that at the time it was habitually practiced under the influence of drugs, and that the underlying word actually implies drug usage.

Tim, an excellent post. I will link to it.

Baptist Theologue said...

Tim, I’ll offer a few thoughts. Our greatest SBC Greek authority, the late A. T. Robertson, said the following about the wine created by Jesus in John 2:9:

“It is real wine that is meant by oinoƟ here. Unlike the Baptist Jesus mingled in the social life of the time, was even abused for it (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). But this fact does not mean that today Jesus would approve the modern liquor trade with its damnable influences. The law of love expounded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and in Romans 14, 15 teaches modern Christians to be willing gladly to give up what they see causes so many to stumble into sin.”

http://bible.crosswalk.com/Commentaries/Robertsons
WordPictures/rwp.cgi?book=joh&chapter=2&verse=9

Thus, if I have to choose between total abstinence and moderate drinking in America, I choose total abstinence. The apostle Paul said that it is good not to drink wine if it causes a brother to stumble (Romans 14:21).

Another issue should be mentioned. It has often been said that a text out of context is a pretext. This principle applies to application as well as to interpretation. Wine in biblical times had a variety of uses in the contexts of those times. While it was known that wine adversely affected one’s mental functioning (Proverbs 31:4-5), it was also known that wine could act as a sedative under certain circumstances (Proverbs 31:6-7). Wine certainly had medicinal uses (Luke 10:34, 1 Timothy 5:23). Of course wine, unlike most drinking water of the time, was not contaminated with life-threatening bacteria. In modern America, close to 100 percent of Americans have access to potable water and modern medicines. We also have access to modern vehicles in which split second decisions must be made to avoid loss of life. My conclusion is that the beneficial aspects of wine that are mentioned in the Bible (that are not applicable in modern America) are outweighed by the deleterious aspects of wine mentioned in the Bible (that are indeed applicable in modern America).

I should mention the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Robertson gave this comment on Matthew 26:29:

“The language here employed does not make it obligatory to employ wine rather than pure grape juice if one wishes the other.”

A helpful anecdote about a practical concern: I am familiar with a conservative Baptist church that used wine for many years in its observances of the Lord’s Supper. It merged with a gospel rescue mission that had many alcoholics among its members. The first time the Lord’s Supper was observed with wine, the alcoholics clearly had a problem with it. Not long after that event, the church voted to use grape juice when it observed the Lord’s Supper.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Tim,

This very good post was well worth the wait. I agree with what you have written. Having gone out on a limb to speak a similar message at the annual meeting, it is good to see that some people are trying to hold the limb up, even if others are trying to saw it off!

Love in Christ,

Jeff

nathaniel adam king said...

The principle of being filled with the Spirit, and not being filled with anything else (be not drunk with wine) is very applicable to the smoking of weed or hash.

But I think to argue such, or to question now how far we can go, misses the point entirely.

Tim's point (as well as mine and most others who are against the resolution) is not so much whether we can or cannot drink alcohol. That is not what we are arguing. We are rather arguing against the SBC submitting itself as an overarching or supreme authority.

If the question arises whether an individual should drink (or smoke pot) the question should be resolved by the Scripture, and by the influence of the Spirit, NOT by some governing body in Greensboro.

The question should be raised, and the SBC should stay out of it. The resolve should come amongst the individuals.

If we wanted to hash (pun intended) it out here upon our blogs and come to our individual conclusions together, that would be one thing. But we shouldn't go to the holy see of the SBC to govern our actions...

awaiting the hope,
Adam

dave woodbury said...

Tim-
Great post! I agree with you wholeheartedly.

Hashman-
I could not specifically defend the smoking of weed or hash biblically like I would alcohol because there is no record of Jesus using those things and the Bible doesn't equate them with God's blessing. Both are true of wine.

Jamie-
It may be that Scripture teaches the wisdom of abstinence, but where every opportunity exists for a clear, blanket mandate of prohibition, there is not one. Tell people, teach people, persuade people that alcohol use may not be the wisest course, but then leave it to their own conscience and don't judge the spiritual condition of another if they happen to choose to drink moderately and responsibly.

Baptist Theologue-
You raise very good, convincing arguments for abstaining from alcohol use. You do not, however raise good, convincing points for a blanket mandate of prohibition that binds the consciences of everyone else.

Good dialogue! May God bless you guys.

Dave

Baptist Theologue said...

Dave, you said the following:

“Where every opportunity exists for a clear, blanket mandate of prohibition, there is not one. . . . You do not, however raise good, convincing points for a blanket mandate of prohibition that binds the consciences of everyone else.”

Substitute the phrase “abolition of slavery” for “prohibition” in your quote, and you’ll see the importance of cultural context in application. Gary T. Meadors in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology wrote the following:

“God's self-disclosure and direction to his elect nation often accommodated existing cultural aspects. While such accommodation reflects God's way of dealing with his creation, it does not necessarily imply his ideal will. Slavery is accepted in the Old Testament as part of the world in which Israel functioned. It is not abolished but regulated. . . . The tone of Paul's appeal for Onesimus may well imply his desire that Philemon give Onesimus his freedom, but Paul comes short of demanding this response. It is Philemon's decision.”

http://bible.crosswalk.com/Dictionaries/BakersEvangelicalDictionary/bed.cgi?number=T653

In our current, American context, are Christians bound by conscience to abolish slavery? Yes. Is there a clear, blanket mandate of abolition in the Bible? No. Do biblical principles indicate that abolition of slavery is God’s ideal will? Yes. Can this same line of reasoning apply to alcoholic beverages? Yes.

hash-man said...

Does anyone feel comfortable with yes on wine, no on other things?

Full disclosure. I don't drink. The only wine I have had was at a Lord's Supper in Romania. yuck

The hardest stuff that I have had is Nitol PM.

I would also add that we recently took OUT the prohibition on the use of and sale of alcohol from our Covenant.

Though I personally encourage abstinence, my desire for a meaningful, enforcable, and Biblical church covenant led me to its removal.

I just couldn't see turning someone down for membership who drank wine.
Our deacons, however, vow now to drink while they are active.

Which leads a person to get HIGH quicker? Just curious, thought one of you might know.

A) Marijuana
B) Jack Daniels
C) Vodka
D) Nitol
E) O' Charlies Potato Soup

Baptist Theologue said...

Hash-man, maybe the following information will be helpful:

A quote from Wikipedia:

“Standard drinks of alcoholic beverages in the United States all contain equivalent amounts of alcohol, about 0.6 fl. oz. (American) each (17.75ml). A U.S. standard drink is a 12 ounce can or bottle of beer, a five ounce glass of dinner wine, or a 1.5 ounce drink of 40% distilled spirits (either straight or in a mixed drink).”

Some other relevant quotes:

“In a review of studies of alcohol-related crashes, reaction time, tracking ability, concentrated attention ability, divided attention performance, information process capability, visual functions, perceptions, and psycho-motor performance, impairment in all these areas was significant at blood concentrations of 0.05 percent. Impairment first appeared in many of these important areas of performance at blood alcohol concentrations of 0.02 percent, substantially below the legal standard in most States f or drunkenness, which is 0.08 percent.”

http://www.silcom.com/~sbadp/effects/bac.htm

“The results obtained in this laboratory study demonstrate that major driving-related skills were impaired by BACs as low as 0.02% on some important measures for a majority of Ss who were a broadly representative sample of the driving population.”

http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/research/pub/impaired_driving/BAC/discus-conclud.html

“Even low doses of alcohol interfere with memory and make it difficult for the hippocampus to process new information.”

http://www.nutramed.com/alcohol/ethanol.htm

“Studies suggest adverse effects even at moderate alcohol consumption levels in specific situations and individuals.”

http://www.health.gov/DIETARYGUIDELINES/dga2005/document/html/chapter9.htm

John Fariss said...

Tim, you're right on target with your comments. A strictly Bible-based case for total abstinance can be made by and ONLY by carefully choosing Scripture, and just as carefully choosing to IGNORE others, or at least preforming isogesis rather than exogesis--which is basicly what a lot of well-meaning Christians do when they insist that Jesus drank only grape-juice, etc.

There are excellent reasons to abstain, but those reasons are more sociological, physical, and cultural than Biblical. The "curse" of knowing history is that you know stuff like this when others believe pop- and pseudo-history. Baptists jumped on the Temperance bandwagon fairly late--only after the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Holiness folks had pioneered the way (look up Carrie Nation & see what denomination she was). And they took that position because they saw that beverage alcohol was becomming a sociological/cultural problem, especially in frontier areas. The abuse of beverage alcohol and resulting rise in alcoholism started becoming a serious social problem with the Industrial Revolution, when two things coincided: one, the availability of cheap distilled beverage alcohol, English gin to be exact; and two, the social pressures exerted on the working class peoples, which had largely been unknown in rural & agricultural societies. And there is NOTHING wrong with being opposed to the use of beverage alcohol BECAUSE IT LEADS TO ALCOHOLISM AND OTHER SOCIAL PROBLEMS.

The comparison to illegal & narcotic drug use is disingenious. One can drink without becomming drunk or with the sole intention of enjoying the taste. But the entire aim and goal of taking illegal narcotics--whether marijuanta, opium, cocaine, or whatever--is to become high, i.e., drunk.

And yes, I do know what beverage alcohol tastes like, although I got drunk only once, to see what it was like. But I know beer, Kentucky bourbon, Tennessee sipping whiskey (Mr. Daniels), single malt Scotch, Drambouie, Snapchs, dry white wine, and quite a few others. (Some of 'em I don't remember how to spell though.) Mind you, I could cuss, drink, and chase women with the worst of 'em back in my bad old days, before I knew Jesus Christ. When He came into my life, and began transforming me, the Spirit dealt with me about not doing that which caused my brother to stumble--although stumbling is what brought it home to me. I was at my Baptist boss's Christmas party, which included a wide assortment of alcohol, when my son was about 1 1/2. Going down a set of steps with him in arm, I stumbled. We were both OK, but I told God right then, I had heard Him, loud and clear. And I quit. If you want the best reason for telling a Christian why he shouldn't drink or use drugs--being converted and becomming sensitive to the leadership of the Spirit is my reason. The best reasons are those which are internal.

If anyone wants some Biblical mandates to pursue, there are plenty: justice for instance; honesty in government; stewardship of resources and the Earth; here's one: DISCIPLESHIP. Shouldn't we be about those more than sniping at our fellow believers regarding battles of the ninteenth century?

Tim Sweatman said...

I'm not really surprised that this discussion has deviated somewhat from the actual topic. If you read what I wrote, I do not advocate the consumption of alcohol. As I said, there are many good reasons for one to choose to abstain. My point was that one cannot make a biblical case for requiring or encouraging total abstinence. By making such requirements we are in effect denying the sufficiency of Scripture, because Scripture does not impose such requirements.

Now, I'm all for a person choosing to abstain. That is a choice that I have made, and I encourage others to do so. But I do NOT appeal to Scripture to support my decision, because the Bible neither requires or encourages abstinence, except in certain limited instances. If someone chooses to drink and never gets drunk, I have no biblical basis to condemn or criticize them.

Baptist Theologue said...

Tim, you said,

“The Bible neither requires or encourages abstinence, except in certain limited instances. If someone chooses to drink and never gets drunk, I have no biblical basis to condemn or criticize them.”

Let’s look at Proverbs 31:4-5:

“4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, 5 For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” (NASB)

The Hebrew word used for “drink” is “shawthaw.” It does not mean to get drunk; it simply means to imbibe. Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament defines it as “to drink.” It is used to describe people drinking water in Genesis 24:14, 18, 44, 46; Exodus 17:6; and other passages.

Clearly, in Proverbs 31:4-5, King Lemuel’s mother understood that moderate drinking adversely affects mental functioning. As I pointed out in my preceding post, it has been scientifically proven that a person can be impaired with a blood alcohol content of .02 percent, which is below the legal standard for drunkenness (.08 percent).

Tim, using your argument, if a person drives drunk and is responsible for a traffic death, I assume that you would say that the person was sinning. From the quote I gave at the beginning of this post, it appears that you are saying that if a person drives impaired (but has a blood alcohol content less than .08 percent) and is responsible for a traffic death, you have no biblical basis for criticizing the person, and the person was not sinning by driving impaired. Correct me if I am misunderstanding your position. Because the Bible does not address driving a car, I assume that you would say that the Bible does not require or encourage abstinence in the situation of driving.

Baptist Theologue said...

P.S.: One drink of common table wine (5 ounces) gives a 160 pound man a blood alcohol content of .02 percent (impairment for some people) according to the following web site:

http://www.ou.edu/oupd/bac.htm

Tim Sweatman said...

BT,

Uhhh, how exactly are your last two comments relevant to the point of my post? Your comment speaks to the wisdom of choosing to abstain (which, again, is the position I personally advocate), but a biblical case requiring total abstinence by all believers at all times CANNOT be made. THAT is the point of this post.

Frankly, your example about the impaired-but-not-legally-drunk driver causing a traffic death is not germaine to this particular topic. In my statement that I cannot condemn or criticize a person who drinks but never gets drunk, I am saying that I cannot condemn or criticize that person for choosing to have a drink. That does not mean that I cannot or will not criticize that person for choosing to operate a motor vehicle after having a drink. Those are two separate matters.

Regarding Proverbs 31, that falls under the heading of "limited instances" that I mentioned in my previous comment.

Baptist Theologue said...

Tim, thanks for clarifying some things. You said,

"A biblical case requiring total abstinence by all believers at all times CANNOT be made."

Okay, so if a Christian who lives in America asks you tomorrow whether he or she should abstain from alcohol or drink moderately, what answer would you give the person?

You also said,

"That does not mean that I cannot or will not criticize that person for choosing to operate a motor vehicle after having a drink."

But after one drink the 160 pound man is sometimes impaired, so how can he ever know for certain that he will make an unimpaired decision after one drink? Unless he is drinking at home, he probably drove somewhere to drink. If one drink impairs the judgment, would it be a sin to drive anywhere to have a drink? If he is drinking at home, he possibly will make an impaired decision to drive somewhere from his home after one drink. So is it a sin to drink at home?

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Friends,

If you had seen Brother Tim and me in person, and especially if you had seen us packing it in at the Waffle House in Greensboro, you would not be using a 160-pound man as an example!

:)

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Baptist Theologue said...

I'm 220. I was thinking about supposedly average guys.

dave woodbury said...

BT-
I feel that the issue of slavery is a red herring. The truth is that one indeed cannot (I believe) mandate the abolition of slavery from the pages of Scripture. I believe the convincing argument would have to be cultural and social,as well as being built upon some biblical principles (sanctity of human life). But I would not pretend to say that it is a clear biblical issue.

But since you tie alcohol use and slavery together as at least similar in regard to cultural context, do you believe that only Christians should not own slaves? Do you feel that we should push for the absolute prohibition of alcohol in our nation? If "the same line of reasoning applies to alcoholic beverages" why stop short of supporting the reinstatement of the 18th amendment (ar repeal of the 21st...I'm not sure how that would work exactly)?

Dave

dave woodbury said...

BT-
Sorry, I meant to include this on the previous post. I was also wondering about your thoughts on culture. Should a Southern Baptist living in Europe have the freedom to drink beverage alcohol since it is a different culture? What about living in the Northeast US? I know for a fact that alcohol consumption there is viewed differently than in the Bible Belt. In those cultures, would alcohol be premitted?

Dave

John Fariss said...

Baptist Theologue:
From your comments, I surmise you have never been in law enforcement. I have, although it was 25 years ago. Back then, the legal level at which there was a presumption of "driving under the influence" was 0.10%. I am glad that the laws have been tightened since then, and the presumptive level is now 0.08% (in most if not all states). However, please note the language: a PRESUMPTION. It does not state that anyone below that level is not under the influence. Even back then, the level of alcohol in a person's system per PEI or Breathalyzer was not the sole criteria by which a person would be charged. Others included physical characteristics (balance, speech, appearance, etc.), mental acuity, and behavior (i.e., driving). There are any number of times that I arrested someone for DUI when their blood alcohol level was less than 0.10% because they either they "failed" other sobrioty tests or were in (and usually the cause of) an accident, and plenty of other officers have too. In the first instance, I could usually count on the judge throwing the case out if the level was more than 0.02 under the legal level of presumption, and almost always if it were 0.04 or more under the level--unless there was an accident accompanied by injury or death. There was recently a "public" outcry against the policy of the Washington (DC) Metro Police's policy of charging people with DUI when their level was as low as 0.02%, provided other criteria were met (those I mentioned earlier)--the public mostly being bar owners, restaurants, and folks so charged. Arguments against the consumption of beverage alcohol are indeed powerful, but please note those are cultural, sociological, medical, and public welfare/policy arguments. The point Tim makes, as well as many others, is that a case for total abstinance cannot be made from Scripture without ignoring significant passages.

Now let me ask: is the consumption of beverage alcohol the sole criteria which defines holy living? If not, how big a part is it? I know a man, a church member where I formerly pastored, who does not drink or smoke, has never been arrested, is devoted to and (as far as I know) faithful to his wife; he has served his church for most of his 70+ years as an usher, Finance Committee member, Treasurer, deacon, and various other positions at times. From that, he is the very picture of holiness. He is also quite wealthy. Know how he made his money? A large part of it is from rental property--and let me tell you, he has tenants living in places I wouldn't put my dog. Another part of it is from a textile mill he used to own; and he was ruthless as a businessman there, especially towards his employees. At "his" church, an Hispanic man once came to worship--he met him at the door and gave him directions to the nearest Catholic church, then walked him out.

This man is not our tragedy; our tragedy is that our churches are full of such people who don't smoke or drink or run around on their wives. There are the "backbone" of many Southern Baptist churches, holding positions of influence and authority (much more that us pastors). I suggest there is a JUSTICE issue here, and an issue of either unregenerate church members who are "moral" by the criteria churches usually use, or of spiritually immature Christians who are not thorough in the application of Christ in their lives. WOULDN'T WE BE SERVING CHRIST BETTER IF WE CONCENTRATED ON SUCH ISSUES AS THIS RATHER THAN A CHRISTIAN WHO OCCASIONALLY HAS A GLASS OF WINE--OR WHO BELIEVES, AS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE, THAT THE BIBLE DOES NOT TEACH TOTAL ABSTINANCE?

Baptist Theologue said...

Dave, I respectfully disagree with you about slavery. Even though I am from s southern state, I believe that the northern abolitionists were correct about slavery. There are some things worth fighting about, and slavery was one such thing at the time of the Civil War in America. Even though the Bible does not specifically advocate the abolition of slavery in one particular verse, biblical principles clearly indicate that slavery should be abolished in the modern context. I think that God expects us to use common sense in our particular context. For instance, the Bible indicates that we are to obey the local magistrate, but if we see a person drowning in an area where the magistrate put a “no trespassing” sign, we should violate the trespass sign to rescue the person. Similarly, the OT demanded that people not work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), but Jesus said that it was okay to rescue an animal on the Sabbath, which could involve a lot of work, depending on the size of the animal and its situation (Matthew 12:11-12). The Bible does not give us a specific prescription for what to do for every situation we will encounter in life, but it does give us general principles that can be applied to different situations. Sometimes we must weigh one principle against another in a particular context. This is not moral relativism or situational ethics. Moral relativism denies absolute truth. Proper application of Scripture involves determining which absolute truths should be prioritized in a particular context. In our modern context in America, the deleterious aspects of wine (impairment of mental functions after one glass) should be prioritized over the beneficial aspects of wine (medicinal uses and potable liquid).

You asked,

“But since you tie alcohol use and slavery together as at least similar in regard to cultural context, do you believe that only Christians should not own slaves?”

No, I do not believe that anyone should own slaves. Christians have a responsibility to press for public policy that does not violate biblical principles. That’s simply good stewardship and being salt and light.

You also asked,

“Do you feel that we should push for the absolute prohibition of alcohol in our nation?”

If it could be enforced, then I would push for it, but the reality is that in America it cannot be enforced. I do think that total abstinence should be practiced by all Christians in America. In contrast, abolition laws can be enforced in America; i.e., all slaves can be freed.

Finally, you asked,

“If ‘the same line of reasoning applies to alcoholic beverages’ why stop short of supporting the reinstatement of the 18th amendment (ar repeal of the 21st...I'm not sure how that would work exactly)?”

Again, the answer relates to the problem of enforcement. Another example is adultery. Many states had anti-adultery laws, and a few still do, but the laws were either removed because they could not be enforced, or such existing laws are ignored. Nevertheless, Christians should not commit adultery.

Baptist Theologue said...

John, you said the following:

“The point Tim makes, as well as many others, is that a case for total abstinance cannot be made from Scripture without ignoring significant passages.”

Again, context is important for application of biblical principles. In biblical times, indeed, abstinence was not in order because the beneficial effects of alcohol outweighed its deleterious effects. In the modern context in America, however, the deleterious effects outweigh the beneficial effects and indicate the need for abstinence.

You asked,

“Is the consumption of beverage alcohol the sole criteria which defines holy living?”

Obviously not.

You also asked,

“If not, how big a part is it?”

Again, that depends on the context. I earlier mentioned a church that merged with a rescue mission made up of many alcoholics. In that context, if an alcoholic member saw a non-alcoholic member drinking, the negative effect would be greater than in some other churches. A mature Christian would heed the words of Paul in Romans 14:21.

Finally, you asked,

“WOULDN'T WE BE SERVING CHRIST BETTER IF WE CONCENTRATED ON SUCH ISSUES AS THIS RATHER THAN A CHRISTIAN WHO OCCASIONALLY HAS A GLASS OF WINE--OR WHO BELIEVES, AS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE, THAT THE BIBLE DOES NOT TEACH TOTAL ABSTINANCE?”

The issues you mentioned are certainly important, but this blog entry and accompanying comments are about alcoholic beverages and the sufficiency of Scripture.

Baptist Theologue said...

Dave, in regard to Europe and the Northeast, I would remind you that people still drive cars in both places. Thus, the deleterious effect of alcohol mentioned in Proverbs 31:4-5 is still applicable and outweighs the beneficial effects of alcohol mentioned in Scripture. Thus, a Southern Baptist living in Europe or the Northeast should practice total abstinence. Such a person can utilize the practical teaching of Scripture about alcohol's deleterious effect to be salt and light in Europe and the Northeast.

dave woodbury said...

BT-
Please don't hear that I am pro-slavery. I think it was an abhorrent practice that devalued human lives. My issue was that it would be difficult, from Scripture alone to build a case for abolition. In your very first response to me I think you came close to admitting that.

I appreciate your reasoning on the other issues. I still remain unconvinced that I can support a blanket mandate of prohibition for all believers. I believe you stretch your statistics to apply to many more people and situations that they actually do. The amount of food eaten, the weight of the person, the gender of the person, and the resistance to alcohol are all factors in the absorbtion or alcohol and the possible resulting impairment. Just because some people in some situations may be adversely affected by one glass of wine is not grounds, in my opinion, for saying that no believer should ever drink any wine ever.

One final question: you say, "biblical principles clearly indicate that slavery should be abolished in the modern context." Are you saying that eternal principles speak definitively and unmistakably in completely opposite ways depending on the time in which they are read? I'm interested in your defense of this statement. I'm not saying that I disagree, I just want to make sure I understand what you are saying.

Dave

dave woodbury said...

BT-
And if a significant portion of your argument regards the operation of motor vehicles, why am I then robbed of the freedom of having a glass of wine in my home with my wife?

Baptist Theologue said...

Dave, in regard to slavery, I was saying that there is not one particular verse that demands abolition, but Scriptural principles about the worth of every person, showing love to one another, etc. give abundant evidence that God’s will in the modern context of America is the abolition of slavery. Thus, from Scripture alone we do indeed have a strong case for abolition in the modern context in America.

Regarding the weight of the drinker, look again at the web site that follows:

http://www.ou.edu/oupd/bac.htm

Plug in 220 pounds (my weight), and you still get a blood alcohol content of .02 (possible impairment) for one glass of wine.

You said,

“Are you saying that eternal principles speak definitively and unmistakably in completely opposite ways depending on the time in which they are read? I'm interested in your defense of this statement. I'm not saying that I disagree, I just want to make sure I understand what you are saying.”

I have tried to explain this, but perhaps I have not been clear in how I have worded my explanation. Haddon Robinson’s “Biblical Preaching” is usually at the top of any list of preaching textbooks. He is a professor at Gordon-Conwell seminary and was president of Denver Seminary and served as a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He stated,

“In order to apply a passage accurately, we must define the situation into which the revelation was originally given and then decide what a modern man or woman shares, or does not share, with the original readers. The closer the relationship between people now and people then, the more direct the application. . . . When the correspondence between the twenty-first century and the biblical passage is less direct, however, accurate application becomes more difficult. An expositor must give special attention not only to what modern men and women have in common with those who received the original revelation but also to the differences between them. . . . Application becomes more complex, however, when we must deal with problems biblical writers never encountered. . . . Whether we can say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ about particular issues not dealt with in the Bible depends on our analysis of the issues and our application of theological principles. . . . Have I determined all the theological principles that must be considered? Do I give the same weight to each principle? Are there other principles that I have chosen to ignore?”

Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 2d ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001), 87-93.

I hope this quote helps.

Baptist Theologue said...

Dave, you asked,

“And if a significant portion of your argument regards the operation of motor vehicles, why am I then robbed of the freedom of having a glass of wine in my home with my wife?”

Because one glass of wine will possibly impair your mental functions and possibly lead to your mistreating you wife or going for a drive. (I assume you weigh less than 220.)

I’ve got to leave the computer for a while. I’ll try to get back on later today to answer any replies.

BT out.

dave woodbury said...

BT-
Thanks for the clarification.

Dave

dave woodbury said...

BT-
I am right at 220 actually. And I wouldn't mistreat my wife after a glass of wine. I'm a happy drunk. KIDDING, KIDDING, I've never been drunk. Just a little humor. Very little.

Dave

Tim Sweatman said...

Jeff,

That was funny! At least you're tall, so you can carry your weight better than I carry mine.

**********

BT,

To answer your question, I would encourage that person to abstain (somehow, my repeated statements to this effect are not coming across). But I would NOT tell the person to abstain because it is morally wrong for Christians to drink, nor would I try to claim that the Bible calls for abstinence. I would appeal to many of the same sociocultural and physiological arguments that you have raised, but I don't have a right to use Scripture to make a case that Scripture doesn't make.

Baptist Theologue said...

Tim, the Bible doesn't call for abolition of slavery in one particular verse, but the principles of Scripture indicate that abolition is God's will for America at this time. It seems to me that your argument that Scripture makes no case for abstinence could be applied to slavery. Unless I am misunderstanding you, you are saying that one cannot successfully use Scriptural principles to make a case for abstinence from alcohol in our modern American context. Would you say that a Christian also cannot make a successful case for the abolition of slavery in America from Scriptural principles?

Baptist Theologue said...

P.S.: Danny Akin, the president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary, also stressed the importance of context and the application of biblical principles:

"Arguments that a total abstinence position is an extra-biblical tradition rooted in legalism are simply false. Now, let me be fair. Does the Bible, by direct command, condemn the use of alcohol in every instance? The honest answer is, “No, it does not.” Jesus clearly turned water into wine (John 2). However, this is where contextual and principle considerations must be engaged. The ancient Hebrew context and the 21st century American context do not have a one-to-one correspondence in this area."

http://www.sebts.edu/olivepressonline/index.cfm?PgType=2&ArticleID=434

Tim Sweatman said...

BT,

"Unless I am misunderstanding you, you are saying that one cannot successfully use Scriptural principles to make a case for abstinence from alcohol in our modern American context."

You almost understand me correctly. I am saying that one cannot correctly use scriptural principles to require that all Christians must abstain from alcohol at all times. If drinking alcohol would violate a believer's conscience, then that believer has a biblical obligation not to violate his or her own conscience by drinking alcohol. At the same time, a fellow believer who feels free to have a drink is obligated to abstain in that circumstance if his or her having a drink would cause the first believer to have a drink and thus violate his or her conscience.

Your continued references to our "modern American context" support my assertion that the predominant view of alcohol within the SBC is based primarily on our culture and history rather than on Scripture. Regardless of the historical or cultural context, the burden of proof rests on the person who claims it is morally wrong to do something that Jesus did. In the end, such a case rests on a great deal of speculation.

In response to your quote from Danny Akin, he concedes that there is no biblical command to abstain from alcohol. Now, I believe that if God wanted to require abstinence of His people that He could have used language in Scripture to make clear that drinking alcohol is permissible only when it is the safest or most sanitary option available, yet He chose not to do so. If God wanted to portray alcohol in an entirely negative light, He could have left Psalm 104:15 and other verses that describe wine as a gift or a blessing out of the Bible. There are really two things that bother me about those who insist on total abstinence on scriptural grounds. First, as most of those on your side of the issue concede, there is no biblical command to abstain, yet many of you try to make abstinence a biblical requirement. Second, there seems to be a selective use of Scripture. You all cite passages that warn of the dangers associated with alcohol, but you never bring up those passages that describe wine as a blessing or gift from God. (Conversely, many at the other extreme emphasize the latter passages but neglect the former.) The fact is, the Bible describes alcohol both positively and negatively, as a gift from God and as something potentially dangerous. For all of these reasons, I believe that requiring all believers to abstain from alcohol goes beyond Scripture, and possibly even against Scripture.

Again, let me make it clear that I have no problem with people encouraging abstinence from alcohol on social, cultural, psychological, or physiological grounds. This is my personal position. BUT, I do have a problem when people try to make the Bible say something that it doesn't say or really doesn't imply.

Baptist Theologue said...

Tim, correct me if I am not understanding you correctly, but what I seem to be hearing from you is a demand for a specific command from God to abstain from alcoholic beverages in all contexts and at all times. Otherwise, you do not think it is biblical to call for abstinence in a particular context at a particular time. Unfortunately, the Bible rarely gives such specific commands that apply in all situations and at all times. (Condemnation of homosexual behavior certainly is an example of such a specific command that does apply in all contexts and at all times.) Bernard Ramm discussed this dilemma in interpretation:

"The Bible is more a book of principles than a catalogue of specific directions. The Bible does contain an excellent blend of the general and the specific with reference to principles for Christian living. If the Bible were never specific we would be somewhat disconcerted in attempting a specific application of its principles. If the Bible were entirely specific in its principles, we would be adrift whenever confronted with a situation in life not covered by a specific principle. The emphasis in Scripture is on moral and spiritual principles, not upon specific and itemized lists of rules for moral or spiritual conduct."

Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), p. 186.

One biblical principle which can be applied to the consumption of alcoholic beverages is stewardship of one's resources and health. In biblical times it was good stewardship for most people to drink alcoholic wine when they did not have a source of drinking water that would not cause life-threatening diseases. Today in America, it is good stewardship to abstain from alcohol in terms of mental functioning and preservation of one's physical resources (cars, etc.).

There are many issues like this that require us to apply biblical principles where there is not a specific command. An example is abortion. There is not one verse, agreed upon by all, that explicitly condemns abortion. Nevertheless, I believe that abortion is condemned by Scriptural principles, and I have participated in a number of pro-life events as a result.

Tim Sweatman said...

BT,

In the case of abortion, the Bible rather clearly implies that life begins at conception. There is also a direct command not to murder. Thus, there is a biblical basis both for opposing abortion and for viewing abortion as a sin.

In the case of slavery, there are clear biblical principles that all people are created in God's image, God loves all people, and that all people are equal before God. What is lacking is a direct prohibition or even condemnation of slavery. Therefore, there is a biblical basis for opposing slavery, but I don't see a biblical basis for saying that slavery is a sin.

In the case of alcohol, I don't see any clear biblical principle that would necessarily lead to the conclusion that Christians must or should abstain from alcohol. Yes, there are passages that warn of the potential dangers of alcohol, but there are also passages that describe alcohol as a blessing or gift from God. Since the Bible's statements about alcohol are mixed, a clear overriding principle cannot be drawn. The Bible clearly forbids drunkenness, but in no way does it require universal total abstinence.

While alcohol may have provided a more sanitary alternative to water, it is a stretch to conclude that this is the sole reason that the use of alcohol is morally acceptable. There is no textual basis for such a conclusion. Considering historical and cultural context is an essential part of biblical interpretation, but we must exercise caution not to allow our own cultural biases to color our perception of what the text actually says or does not say.

Let me ask you a question. In light of the fact that there is no biblical command for Christians to abstain from alcohol or no clear biblical principle that leads to such a position, and in light of the fact that Jesus made and drank wine, why do you feel like you have a right to impose a requirement to abstain on your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Baptist Theologue said...

Tim, you asked the following:

“Let me ask you a question. In light of the fact that there is no biblical command for Christians to abstain from alcohol or no clear biblical principle that leads to such a position, and in light of the fact that Jesus made and drank wine, why do you feel like you have a right to impose a requirement to abstain on your brothers and sisters in Christ?”

Jesus did make and drink wine. Why did He do so instead of requiring abstinence? The lack of potable water at that time and place was the key factor, in my opinion. (The six waterpots mentioned in John 2:6 were used to hold water used for washing hands and dishes, not for drinking. After they were filled with impure water, Jesus certainly would not ask anyone to drink it. Thus, He turned it to potable wine.) When He mentioned living water to the woman at the well, she was immediately interested in such a pure source of water and wanted to know where it was (John 4:11). The Greek scholar A. T. Robertson commented on the water she had in mind when Jesus mentioned it in John 4:10:

“Running water like a spring or well supplied by springs. This Jacob's Well was filled by water from rains percolating through, a sort of cistern, good water, but not equal to a real spring which was always preferred.”

http://bible.crosswalk.com/Commentaries/Robertsons
WordPictures/rwp.cgi?book=joh&chapter=4&verse=10

Tim, you said that there is no clear biblical principle that leads to an abstinence position. I respectfully disagree with you. Proverbs 31:4-5 clearly makes the point that alcohol adversely affects mental functioning, and that principle is very applicable to the cultural context in modern America. A few quotes might be helpful.

From Dennis Swanson:

“‘It is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes intoxicating drink’ (Proverbs 31:4). Speaking to Aaron, God declared, ‘Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you when you go into the tabernacle of meeting’ (Leviticus 10:9). The passage goes on to say that the reason for this was so that their teaching of the Word of God to the people might not be hindered. Those in positions of leadership in God's economy were to abstain from alcohol entirely.”

http://www.u-turn.net/8-2/swanson.shtml

From Ed Rickard:

“In the Old Testament, total abstinence was required of anyone performing a sacred office or service. A king was admonished to forego intoxicating drink while he judged the people (Prov. 31:4-5). A priest had to be fully sober while he was ministering in the Temple (Lev. 10:8-11).”

http://www.themoorings.org/life/separation/drinking/drink1.html

From the Assemblies of God position paper on alcohol:

“Secular leaders are also to abstain from alcohol. ‘It is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes intoxicating drink; lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the justice of all the afflicted’ (Proverbs 31:4,5, NKJV). If the prohibition is absolutely essential for spiritual and secular leaders, it is certainly essential for every believer. We who are kings and priests unto God (Revelation 1:6) must live according to His standards.”

http://ag.org/top/beliefs/Position_Papers/pp_4187_abstinence.cfm

From John MacArthur, who grouped Proverbs 31:4-5 with other texts calling for abstinence:

1. The higher standard for Old Testament priests

God established standards for His people, but He called certain men to live above even those standards. Leviticus 10:9 gives this standard for priests: "Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die." Some Bible commentators think this command applied only when the priests ministered inside the tabernacle. Others believe the command applied to their entire lives. But either way the priests were called to minister for God and abstain from alcohol. The reason was their judgment could be clouded and God wanted their minds clean, clear, and pure.

2. The higher standard for kings and princes

Proverbs 31:4-5 says, "It is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes strong drink, lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the justice of any of the afflicted." God didn't want their judgment, like the priests, to be clouded. According to verse 6, strong drink was given only to those who were perishing. It was a sedative for their pain. Regular wine was given to those who were heavy of heart. There was to be a greater level of consecration in the leadership of the country.

3. The higher standard for those taking the Nazirite vow

Numbers 6:1-5 says, "The Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazirite, to separate themselves unto the Lord; he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink and liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk. All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head."

http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/sg1938.htm

Tim Sweatman said...

BT,

Each of those examples you provided was a call to abstain for a specific purpose and/or for a limited period of time. That is hardly the same thing as calling for a blanket prohibition on drinking.

In the end, both of us are basing our views on assumptions. Your assumption seems to be that had Jesus come to earth in an era where sanitary water was available then He would not have made or drunk wine. My assumption is that if God really expected that His people would completely abstain from alcohol then He would have made that clear in Scripture. The fact is, neither one of us can prove our assumptions.

Baptist Theologue said...

What if Jesus had commanded everyone to abstain from alcohol? They could then have asked a couple of questions:

1. Where do we find potable water?
2. Why are You sentencing us to death?

Instead of turning the water to wine at the wedding feast, He could have turned it to completely pure water and told them that He did it because alcoholic beverages are off limits. They then could have asked, "Why don't You purify all the water in all our wells?"

He didn't do that, however, because He adapted to the culture in which He found Himself, a culture that was very different than our own in modern-day America. If He was at a wedding feast in America today, I doubt He would provide alcoholic wine to guests who would then be impaired drivers on their way home.

Sonya D said...

John Fariss,
That is one of the best comments I have read in a long time, maybe because we have lived it in one of our churches that we served at. As long as the people in our churches associciate only their outward actions with holiness while ignoring the blackness of sin within their heart, we will continue to experince rank hypocrisy within the church. Personally, I think this is why we have churches filled with lost people who are convinced they are Christians. Holiness is associated with morality and nothing else. The line of thinking seems to be, "the jealousy or hate in my heart toward my fellow church member is nothing. I don't drink, smoke, cuss, etc. Therefore, I am right with God."
Is it any wonder why young people leave the church in vast numbers? They smell hypocrisy a mile away.

Tim Sweatman said...

BT,

If, as you seem to imply, the lack of pure water is the only reason it is permissible to drink alcohol, then couldn't God, knowing that in the future pure water would be readily avaiable, have made that clear so that we today would know that alcohol is off limits? Since God neither makes nor implies such a statement in Scripture, we have no business trying to claim that universal total abstinence is a biblical mandate for Christians.

In your last statement you said, "If He was at a wedding feast in America today, I doubt He would provide alcoholic wine to guests who would then be impaired drivers on their way home." [Emphasis is mine.] What if He were at a wedding feast in France or Italy? Also, personally doubting that Jesus would do so is a far cry from stating with certainty that Jesus would do so. Many Christians do not share your opinion of what Jesus would do in such a situation. Frankly, they have a better direct biblical case for their position than you do.

Baptist Theologue said...

Tim, you said,

“If, as you seem to imply, the lack of pure water is the only reason it is permissible to drink alcohol, then couldn't God, knowing that in the future pure water would be readily avaiable, have made that clear so that we today would know that alcohol is off limits?”

Bernard Ramm answered your question:

“If the directions were all specific, a man could live up to the letter of the rules, and yet miss the spirit of true godliness. Real spiritual progress is made only if we are put on our own. Unless we must take a principle and interpret its meaning for a given situation in life, we do not spiritually mature. It is this general nature of the New Testament ethics which helps prevent hypocrisy. As long as there is a specific code to obey, men can conform without change of heart. Obedience to a moral code with no change of heart may result in the discrepancy between inner life and outward conduct which is one of the characteristics of hypocrisy. But inasmuch as we must govern ourselves by principle, we are put on our own mettle. In each important decision we shall ask ourselves: what is the important principle involved? From this consideration we may then proceed to: what ought I do? If we so treat our moral and spiritual decisions we develop in spiritual insight and moral strength. Such development is central to a mature spirituality.”

Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), p. 187.

Take the stewardship principle and interpret its meaning for this situation in our lives: whether or not to drink alcoholic beverages in the modern American context.

John Fariss said...

Thanks Sonya. We all have our war stories, don't we? And the names may change, but the stories stay the same. I agree, that is a significant part of why so many young people are leaving churches in droves. "I has met the enemy, and he is us," as the cartoon character Pogo misquoted one of Napoleon's generals 40 or so years ago (when I was a kid).

Royce Ogle said...

Wine is a mocker and strong drink is raging and whosoever is decieved thereby is not wise.

No habitual drunkard ever set out to become one. He like all his peers had to take the first drink.

I personally cannot find a biblical position for being a tee totaler, but the bible is very clear on drunkeness. You just can't get drunk if you don't drink.

I do enjoy a glass of red with with the flesh of a beast in the privacy of my own home once in a blue moon.

I think the rule should be Consideration and Moderation. Consider the weaker brother and moderation for yourself.

Royce Ogle

Timothy said...

Come on,

Unfortunatly I have experience in this matter. The only reason why anybody smokes a joint IS TO GET HIGH.

I think some of you are high to come up with some of these absurd defenses of teaching what the Bible does not teach. I officialy dub you a MODERN PHARISEE!

Thanks for helping us not only follow God's Word to be holy, but helping us by helping God out so we can be REALLY HOLY.

Timothy