Thursday, July 27, 2006

Driving A Wedge

On Wednesday July 19 Jerry Vines (a famous, influential Southern Baptist pastor) posted the following blog on abstinence regarding alcohol ( Needless to say, posts like this cause my blood to boil, but it's not for the reasons that one might think. I'm not upset that Vines is an advocate of total abstinence among Christians regarding the consumption of alcohol, nor am I any longer distressed at the recent resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention regarding alcohol. I've come to accept the fact that the majority of old-school Southern Baptists are hard-core prohibitionists through and through and they are convinced in the Lord Jesus that their position is biblical because they believe alcohol is "unclean" (Rom 14:14). Regarding the teachings of Scripture, I do believe that it would violate the conscience of many confessing believers in the SBC to drink alcohol of any kind, under any circumstance, and thus, it would be sin for them to consume because they would not be able to do so in faith (Rom 14:23).

My consternation with Pastor Vine's article is in his call for separation, the separation achieved under his terms would not so much be separation from the world, but rather, separation between brothers and sisters in Christ within the family of God. His article is a call to arms against anyone who names of the name of Jesus Christ and also has the liberty to enjoy a Guiness on occassion.

Vines says, "Biblical separation begins with our absolute commitment to Jesus and His Word." I absolutely affirm this statement. However, what Vines fail to take into consideration is the reality that Scripture is not silent regarding the consumption of alcohol. Not only is it not silent, but it does not call for total abstinence from its consumption. The evils of the abuse of alcohol are well-documented and should be heeded. Nonetheless, there is not a compelling biblical argument that tells us that the consumption of alcohol in moderation is sinful. The implication of Vines' statement is that anyone who does not believe in abstinence and practices moderation is not committed to Jesus and His Word. This is a gross misrepresentation of the confessions of those who believe in Jesus and practice biblical moderation. Most moderationists are trying to honor Scripture in their moderation while also holding in tension the reality that "nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean" (Rom 14:14). The moderationists, particularly those in leadership within our churches, should be on notice though. They must carefully weigh the influence their position on alcohol has on members of their flock and take heed of the fact that their consumption and liberty to partake may actually prove to be a stumbling block to weaker brothers and sisters (Rom 14:21-23) who follow their example but lack the necessary faith to do so "in the Lord Jesus" (14:14).

In his article, Vines describes Christian moderationists as "worldly", "apostate" and compares them to "winos", all of which explains why he calls them to repentance. He goes on to say that a position of moderation will "lead thousands to addiction and destruction". Furthermore, Vines says that "total abstinence is the only way to go for a Christian who takes Bible separation seriously." Again, the issue, for me, is not whether you abstain alcohol or consume in moderation. The issue is the accusatory nature of Vines' comments. The very nature and tone of his article is divisive and leaves no room for God's judgment (Rom 14:10-12). Is it accurate that moderationists are worldly apostates who fail to take seriously God's call for separation? Not likely. The charge that moderationists are on the road to apostasy by Vines is serious and should not be taken lightly.

I agree with Vines in that we need to call our churches away from "rampant worldliness" amongst our members and leaders. However, I would submit that 20% of the messengers of the SBC voting against the resolution on alcohol is not so much as sign of worldliness as it is an issue of faith holding the teachings of Scripture in tension. There is support, biblically, for abstinence and moderation, and this issue is also largely cultural. The issue of alcohol is serious and needs our careful attention. There are many things to consider, including the physical, social, domestic, spiritual and biblical implications of abstaining versus moderation. But the charge that one who does not practice total abstinance is not faithful to God's Word is egregious.

There is no question that there are likely some within the church may need to heed the call to repentance regarding the abuse of alcohol. Some may also need to repent of the use of alcohol because they do not drink in faith. But a greater evil, in my estimation, than the "evil" of moderation is the rampant materialism in our churches, which is perhaps, a more significant, glaring indicator of love for the world or things of this world (1John 2:15) than the occasional glass of wine or beer by confessing believers in the Lord Jesus.

When Paul dealt with these issues of faith in Romans 14 and 15 he told those who were strong to "bear the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up" (15:1-2). In this case, I think Vines approach to this issue is wrong and puts him in the category of "one who is weak in faith" (14:1) regarding this issue. However, the appropriate response for the believer in the Lord Jesus is to build him up and others like him and respond to the issues and his concerns biblically, compassionately and respectfully. As we do so, "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Fatehr of our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:5-6). May those who disagree with Vines not be guilty of the same kind of inflammatory, broad-brush comments and accusations.


At 3:44 PM , Blogger r a i n e r said...

that's something when I read Vines' article earlier in the week that didn't even hit me - it is divisive. the tone of your commentary shows the patience, love, and gentleness, while not watering down the serious issue, that so often lacks in hot topics like this. i think you should send that in to the Tennessee Baptist, SBC Life, or somewhere because all SB's need to read it, and more so, take note of your New Testament tone.

At 10:18 AM , Blogger Aaron said...

Publish for the world to see? Taking jabs at Dr. Vines. I don't think I have the stamina or charisma for that fight!


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