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.