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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thou Shalt Not Drinketh Beer

Recently the Southern Baptist Convention issued this statement in total opposition to consumption of alcoholic beverages.

While I do respect their intentions, I cannot affirm this decision. The Scriptures clearly condemn drunkeness. And having just returned from Russia, I can attest to what a serious problem alcohol abuse is in that country. People everywhere are seen carrying open bottles of beer and spirits. Public intoxication there is common. I had 5 or 6 different drunk people attempt to engage me in public places such as airports, on an airplane, train stations, and the beach. Without doubt, such alcohol consumption is socially and spiritually destructive.

But I also believe that watching television more than an hour or two per week is socially and spiritually destructive. The same with Big Macs. Gluttony and obesity are also serious social, health, and spiritual issues in our time. If overeating is one of the seven deadly sins, having 3 squares a day is not.

I respect any person (Christian or otherwise) who makes the decision to not drink alcohol. I met a number of very solid Lutheran pastors in Russia who avoid alcohol, not because they see it as sinful in itself but because of the issues mentioned above. But mandating temperance is not a good solution.

First, it is pharisaical to make religious/moral legislation beyond what is contained in Scripture. There really is no avoiding the daily use of alcoholic beverages in Bible times. "The fruit of the vine" is unquestionably alcoholic wine. Before the invention of pasteurization in the 19th century and without refrigeration, it is not possible to keep grape juice from fermenting. People drank wine. Jesus made high quality wine, in massive quantities, at the wedding of Cana. In addition, there is the symbolic eschatological dimension to wine in the Bible. It is always associated with the joyfulness of banquets and feasts, particularly wedding feasts which are visages of the great wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven.

OK, so I am not defending alcohol abuse. I just think it's wrong to bind consciences in this way by totally condemning even moderate alcohol consumption.

In Colossians, St. Paul says not to let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink. I don't ridicule those who abstain and I ask not to be condemned for the occasional pint of ale.

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Michael Schuermann said...

Walt Snyder had an excellent "Ask The Pastor" column on the "two wines" theory that some Baptists will cite in regards to alcoholic consumption. Definitely worth a read.

Powerball said...

Amen! I've been saying this for years and I have had my own Christianity questioned because of it.

I also respect those who choose not to drink, but "invented sin" is a big problem. We must never confuse our opinion and standards with the command of God.

c l miller said...

A few years ago a read an article about this topic which quoted Luther as saying "men can go wrong with women and wine. What shall we do then, outlaw women?" I cannot say exactly where that quote came from because I have been unable to find it myself, and the article was not footnoted. I still think the statement makes a good point.

The Beast said...

I intended to respond much quicker than I have to your post, which, I believe, was well written. It is a beautiful and healthy thing when Christians can voice opinions without carrying with them inflections of accusation, hatred or just down right name calling. You have done none of those things, and as a proud Southern Baptist, I appreciate it.

I intend to go into this issue with greater detail on my own blog, but let me just quickly make a note here. I personally pretty much agree with every word of the SBC resolution on alcohol. However, I probably don't think it was the right thing to do.

But, what I do want to have us think about is the reaction to the resolution that I am hearing from both Southern Baptists and other denominations as to why it should not have been made. The concept that I feared would surface, and I think it has, is that the SBC is in some way "inventing a new sin." Read the resolution again carefully. The word sin is nowhere to be found.

What, then, are they doing? This resolution is a strong urging to SBC members to consider the culture, the history, the witness and the potential consequences of alcohol as a reason to abstain from it's use altogether. The resolution is in effect doing what we preachers do every Sunday of the week. Do our best to read, study and interpret Scripture for our lay people. That process of interpretation does not stop at just the obvious condemned acts found in the Bible, nor does it universally accept everything that was done in the 1st century ad. There are, of course, those things which never change, and God certainly does not. But we must be sensitive to who we are today as God's people in the 21st century and ask ourselves what brings Him the most Glory.

So, the question is not did the SBC invent a new sin. They absolutely have not and that was never their intent. The question you have to ask yourself, as Pastor Scott correctly addressed, is do I have a problem with my denomination making a resolution, i.e. legislating their interpration of what is the best course of action to prevent all those potentially negative effects. My feeling is that those kinds of decisions can, and should be discussed and opinions and explanations be made to help us with our decisions. We all have to decide what does and does not interfere with our relationship with God and our potential witness to the Kingdom. But, to ultimately resolve that no one can take office if they decide that taking a drink does not hinder those things is, I think, not a good thing.

And the two wines theory is a lost cause. Even if it were true and Jesus was only drinking grape juice, we will never know that. The Bible says wine and those of us who believe that alcohol does way more damage than good will never convince anyone using the two wine logic.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

I thank you for commenting. I was hoping you would.

As I hoped to convey, I respect any person who voluntarily chooses to abstain from all alcohol. There are many good reasons to avoid alcohol.

In a similar way, I respect those who decide to be vegetarians or vegans.

It's just that, in both cases, I don't want to them to try to bind my conscience to follow their example if I choose not to.

I'm glad you pointed out that the resolution does not use the word sin. That is an important point. I'm afraid many will assume that is the intent. It probably would be good for the resolution to have made that a bit clearer, to make sure people understand that this is a human regulation, not a command of God.

I do personally also think it is a wise strategy to abandon the two wine theory.

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