Monday, December 04, 2006

This Post is not about Alcohol

When I first came to Europe about 27 years ago on a summer missions campaign with Operation Mobilization, I was surprised to learn that committed evangelical believers from other denominations, countries, and cultural backgrounds were not all “teetotalers.” Since that time, especially after 16 years in Spain, I have pretty much come to terms with the fact that we as North Americans, and especially as Southern Baptists, are pretty much a minority among the world’s evangelicals on our stance regarding alcohol. In Spain, for instance, at the annual Baptist Pastors’ Retreat, you would typically see wine served and consumed at every table, both at lunch and supper.

In spite of all of this, I myself have maintained a position of total abstinence. I see with great conviction the untold harm the alcohol industry has caused, in terms of broken homes, highway mortality, and ruined lives. I see the risk involved of not being able to control oneself, and, unintentionally winding up an alcoholic. I also see the issue of respect for the convictions of others, primarily believers in the States, who voluntarily contribute of their tithes and offerings in order to keep missionaries like myself on the mission field. I also see the need to submit to the authority of the organization with which I serve, which has a policy that enjoins me, as a field worker, to not partake of beverage alcohol.

However, I do not see quite as clearly that the Bible necessarily commands total abstinence. Injunctions against drunkenness? Yes, indeed. Warnings against the dangers associated with the abuse of alcohol? Without a doubt. But, across the board, no exceptions, total abstinence? A little harder to make the case biblically.

In any case (remember, this post is not about alcohol), in the majority of the evangelical churches (both Baptist, as well as others) in Spain, at the Lord’s Supper, they serve wine, and not grape juice. It just so happens at the church where my family regularly attends that they serve a combination of small cups, some (on the outside of the serving tray) with wine, and others (on the inside) with grape juice. The reason for this? First off, I imagine, out of love for those with an alcoholic background, in order to not be a motive for “stumbling.” Next, out of deference, for those, like myself, who have convictions against the consumption of alcohol. All in all, a posture for which I have great respect, and which, for me, represents a high level of spiritual maturity, being willing to sacrifice cultural values out of love and deference for those with other convictions and values.

Normally, when the plate comes around, I always choose from among the glasses of grape juice on the inside of the plate. One Sunday, however, by the time the plate got to me, the only glasses left were those on the outside, the ones with “real wine.” What to do? And, now we are finally getting to the point of this post…

How do our core values determine the decisions we take? For me, one of my main core values is a commitment to the authority of the Word of God. If I were totally convinced that the Bible mandated total abstinence on every occasion, this would be a “no-brainer” for me. However, I cannot honestly say that.

Another one of my core values is the unity of the Body of Christ. And, here we are, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, in which we commemorate the Lord’s death, but also show symbolically our communion one with another, as brothers and sisters in Christ, from different races, backgrounds, and cultures. Since I do not believe in hiding the truth from others in order to make things less awkward, I will come out and let you know now that, on this occasion, I went ahead and drank the wine from the outside cups. And I don’t feel guilty about it. As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure I would have felt bad if I had not been able to join together in unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ to commemorate His death, just as He commanded, on that particular Sunday morning.

Several other bloggers, among them, Art Rogers, have written recently about a suggestion given at the recent Florida State Baptist Convention to eliminate from consideration from denominational leadership anyone who either partakes of alcohol in moderation, or (if I have understood correctly) who advocates the legitimacy of moderation. I am not sure, based on what I have just shared, whether I myself would be included among those eliminated from possible leadership. I am more confident that the majority of Baptist pastors in Spain, and in many other countries in the world, would be.

Which brings me back to the point of this post. Another one of my core values is a commitment to working, with the best stewardship possible of the resources with which God entrusts us, towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I believe this implies working together with believers from other cultures and denominations. I am concerned that there is a certain disposition in the air to move us as Southern Baptists to more and more of a narrow and isolationist approach towards our work together with other believers for the advance of the Kingdom of God.

This, in my opinion, goes far beyond attitudes towards cooperation with those who take a different view on the use of alcohol in moderation. I will not be able to be in attendance at the Sandy Creek-Charlestonian Roundtable this Tuesday in Fort Worth, to talk about some of these issues, and consider what should be done in response. I do pray, however, that God would give an unusual amount of wisdom, insight, vision and charity to those of you who will be there.

11 comments:

micah said...

David-

You know I always appreciate what you have to say. I once again find myself agreeing with your writing. I think it's horrifying, to be honest, that we are elevating this issue of alcohol (or other issues of equal lesser importance) to a place that gives them a subsequent value that is greater than that of evangelism and missions.

I'm leaving early in the morning to fly into Texas and I look forward to the meeting. I hope that this is a time for us to evaluate ways to promote unity in spite of diversity and not a gripe fest where we can all complain together and simply cause greater division with the convention.

Alycelee said...

David, Years ago we attended a church where the stance on alcohol was "permitted in moderation". This was a non-denominational church and the pastor was a former SBC. The real problem in the church was the government (you may have heard of the shepherding ie discipleship movement). He got trapped and one of them was with alcohol (the other power). He eventually lost his ministry. But the entire church fell because of the government of excessive power. I still believe there is liberty in God concerning these things. In saying that-I don't partake, my choice, because I would never want my liberty to stumble another.
But the real problem here in SBC life isn't about alcohol-it's about power. Isn't that usually the problem? Yes, alcohol is dangerous and many have fallen to it. But the real enemy is power and pride. It seems far more of us fall captive to these strongholds than alcohol has ever held prisoner and perhaps we don't even know it?
Agape

Grosey's Messages said...

AMEN Alycelee!

Ken said...

David,

Another insightful post.

Although I am not ready to advocate for a change in our denominational postion on this issue, I do find it rather strange that we are inconsistent in many of our practices in terms of tolerance to alcohol related issues.

For example, most who would fight to the death before allowing someone to assume a leadership position who drinks in moderation will after they have cast their no vote will then go and dine at an establlishment which serves alcohol to others. And sometimes will order a "virgin" version of the same drinks served at the bar. The problem is, no one else in the restaurant knows it was made without alcohol.

What about the many great leaders we quote from the pulpil, lauding them as people to listen to and to learn from, but they too took a drink from time to time though this is never mentioned.

Then there is the ever popular let's put a Christian in public office to advocate for our Christian values. Hmmm, don't some of these take that drink of wine or champagne at official dinner functions? Yet drinking does not seem to be an issue when it's time to vote.

When was the last time someone was denied a position of leadership because they could not manaage their own household? Or maybe drinking is not their problem, but eating in moderation is a challenge. Okay, now I've gone to meddling. I'll let you cover these in another post.

mr. t said...

I would hope that total abstinence policy does not apply when we come to the Lord's table. If so, how ridiculous! After all, there are medications that have alcohol. Should we abstain from them? This policy does nothing but lead us down the slippery path of legalism.

mr. t said...

Oops! I forgot, you said that this post was not about alcohol.

David, I think the narrowing of parameters for cooperation stems in part from confusion about what is cultural and what is biblical. I think the alcohol issue falls under this category as U.S. churches and leaders canonize Christian sub-culture values/behaviors using proof texts that really don't stand up to the whole word on the matter.

Then there are the disagreements over doctrine. That is another category altogether. We should settle what are the core (first tier) doctrines that we must agree on before we can effectively cooperate. We thought the BF&M did that...not. I don't see how this will be resolved without another revision of the BF&M.

Bryan Riley said...

Well written and I join you in praying for the gathering. May we all join with Jesus in his prayer for our unity.

Strider said...

Dear David, You're fired.
Actually you don't have the emoticons going yet so I shouldn't do that and not tell you I was just kidding. Seriously, I took communion this sunday in a new national church and was surprised to find that they were using wine. Fortunately I didn't choke from surprise. I guess we are both fired. But here is the thing. There many things about that church that I did not agree with missiologically, methodologically. I could not work closely with them as my primary ministry, but you know what? God was there. I loved those folks and in spite of everything they did 'wrong' (including using wine during communion in a muslim country) I am glad that they are there worshipping God and serving their community. I am friends with some of them and I am glad that I am. I intend to continue my friendship with them and I hope that I serve in a Convention that values those kinds of friendships.

JohnJaxtheBaptist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Rogers said...

John,

First off, I agree with you that, just because the Bible does not "blanket" condemn drinking in moderation does not mean that it is okay. There are other very good reasons for choosing total abstinence, which is why I, for general purposes, choose total abstinence.

However, my "point" is, there are other things ("core values") even more important. One of these, in my opinion, is the unity of the Body of Christ. Not false unity, based on disobedience to the Word of God. But, true unity with true brothers and sisters in Christ. Closely related are our united efforts at taking the Gospel to the nations, that are adversely affected when we let our cultural biases get in the way of working and fellowshipping together.

While I respect the decision you took, out of concern for the example you would set for your family, I also think about the example I set for my family of truly valuing the unity of the Body. I want my kids to know the Lord's Supper is not just an empty ritual we tack on to the end of church. It has a deep significance, and is something we should take very seriously.

foxofbama said...

David:
Interesting blog. Upshot for me is it appears you are now where IMB's formerly FMB's Keith Parks was about 30 years ago, when you talk about cultural differentiation and and cooperation.
Which raises the question flaming on Wade Burleson's blog today and carrying over to www.baptistlife.com/forums coming out of the Sandy Creek conference in Ft Worth.
Long shot of it is, there is discussion at Wade and bl.com about the many trustees in Baptist life on staff at Mid America, and the "spooky fundamentalism" emanating from there.
Would love for you to take that up at Bl.com as you have graced that board before.
Question I leave for you is the one I posed to Wade on his blog; have you had a chance to get very into the provocative book making the discussion rounds here in the states, Randall Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come and his Chapter Where Have All the Baptists Gone??
Sfox
Alabama