Thursday, June 15, 2006

The SBC Resolution on Alcohol

A few days ago the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution on alcohol that expressed, in part, their "total opposition to the . . . consuming of alcoholic beverages." (The whole resolution can be read here.)

I'm not sure how wise it is to pass resolutions that functionally condemn the actions of Jesus (John 2; Luke 7:33-34; ) and Paul (1 Tim. 5:23). I'm also not sure it's very wise to prohibit that which God has given as a gift (Deut. 14:26; Ps. 104:15).

Many people don't know that John Piper--himself a teetotaler and one who recommends teetotaling--put his ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church on the line in 1982, having been at Bethlehem for just a year and a half. The church constitution required that teetotaling be a requirement for members. Piper sought to change this biblically indefensible position. (It's interesting to note that he waited years before explicitly speaking of Calvinism, but sought to make this change right away.)

Again, remembering that he himself is a teetotaler and wishes that all would be teetotalers, he offered these powerful words from a sermon delivered nearly 25 years ago:

* * *

I want to hate what God hates and love what God loves. And this I know beyond the shadow of a doubt: God hates legalism as much as he hates alcoholism. If any of you still wonders why I go on supporting this amendment, after hearing all the tragic stories about lives ruined through alcohol, the reason is that when I go home at night and close my eyes and let eternity rise in my mind I see ten million more people in hell because of legalism than because of alcoholism. And I think that is a literal understatement. Satan is so sly. "He disguises himself as an angel of light," the apostle says in 2 Corinthians 11:14. He keeps his deadliest diseases most sanitary. He clothes his captains in religious garments and houses his weapons in temples. O don't you want to see his plots uncovered? I want Bethlehem to be a place Satan fears. I want him to be like the emperor in "The Emperor's New Clothes." And we will be the babes (not in thinking! 1 Cor. 14:20) who say, "Look, he thinks he is clothed in white, but he is naked and ugly."

Listen as I uncover one of his plots. Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn't look like one.

  • Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world.
  • Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one.
  • Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength.
  • Alcoholics don't feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.

Therefore, what we need in this church is not front end regulations to try to keep ourselves pure. We need to preach and pray and believe that "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither teetotalism nor social drinking, neither legalism nor alcoholism is of any avail with God, but only a new creation (a new heart)" (Gal. 6:15; 5:6). The enemy is sending against us every day the Sherman tank of the flesh with its cannons of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. If we try to defend ourselves or our church with peashooter regulations we will be defeated even in our apparent success. The only defense is to "be rooted and built up in Christ and established in faith" (Col. 2:6); "Strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy" (Col. 1:11); "holding fast to the Head from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together … grows with a growth that is from God" (Col. 2:19). From God! From God! And not from ourselves.


This quote from Martin Luther (known to drink [and brew!] a beer or two in his day) is helpful:

We must not...reject [or] condemn anything because it is abused. This would result in utter confusion. God has commanded us in Deut. 4 not to lift up our eyes to the sun (and the moon and the stars), etc., that we may not worship them, for they are created to serve all nations. But there are many people who worship the sun and the stars. Therefore we propose to rush in and pull the sun and stars from the skies. No, we had better let it be. Again, wine and women bring many a man to misery and make a fool of him (Ecclus. 19:2; 31:30); so we kill all the women and pour out all the wine. Again, gold and silver cause much evil, so we condemn them. Indeed, if we want to drive away our worst enemy, the one who does us the most harm, we shall have to kill ourselves, for we have no greater enemy than our own heart, as the prophet, Jer. 17, says, "The heart of man is crooked," or, as I take the meaning, "always twisting to one side." And so on - what would we not do?

-From his fourth Invocavit sermon from 1522, found in Works [American edition] 51:85.

(HT: Zach Schrute)