Some of my blogging friends believe the resolution on alcohol use in America, as amended by the Executive Director of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Texas, is an attempt to embarrass me, or possibly remove me from the International Mission Board of Trustees.
I would caution anyone about assigning motives to certain members of the Resolutions Committee or the leadership of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Texas regarding me. In addition, I am never embarrassed about my interpretations of the Word of God, because I have such a high view of the inerrant, sacred text. If anything, I sometimes get embarrassed by the actions of my fellow Southern Baptists, but never what the Bible says.
I teach my children and my church that abstinence is a wise choice for every Christian, and the best way to avoid drunkenness. I wholeheartedly support all believers who have an abstinence conviction. However, I believe the authoritative, inspired Word of God forbids drunkenness, not necessarily the drinking of an alcoholic beverage.
One person called me today and said this resolution is an attempt to "get me" off the IMB. I laughed. That won't work. If the trustees were to approve a policy of total abstinence for sitting trustees, I would, of course abide by it. As I have said, I am policy driven. I would, however, without hesitation, argue against such a trustee policy prior to adoption because of my belief in the inerrant Word of God. The trustees of any agency have the right to set any policy they desire, even extra-Biblical requirements for trustees, and though I will seek to prevent the adoption of any extra-Biblical policy during my tenure on the IMB, were the abstinence policy to be adopted, I would abide by it.
In fact, I will go even further. Resolutions are not binding, but since I am elected by and represent the Southern Baptist Convention, and since the convention adopted a resolution urging abstinence by trustees, I will abstain from drinking an alcoholic beverage during my entire tenure as an IMB Board member.
However, let me use this "alcohol" issue as discussed by Southern Baptists at our Convention as an example of the overall lack in our convention of sound, Biblical exegesis. The idea that to drink a glass of wine, or any other alcoholic beverage, is a sin against God is so foreign to the teaching of the inspired, inerrant Word of God that for anyone to say to a Christian who has no abstinence conviction, "You are sinning against God when you drink a glass of wine" is a sin in itself. To do so would be to accuse Jesus of possessing personal sin, the epitome of liberalism.
Jesus drank wine. The disciples drank wine. Jesus turned the water into wine. Paul commanded Timothy "Drink a little wine for your stomach." The Biblical prohibition is "drunkenness." The inerrant Bible says "Be not drunk with wine."
And make no mistake: Drunkenness is a sin. It is a scourge on our society. We must sharply rebuke anyone, including the alcohol industry, who minimizes or encourages drunkenness. Our church disciplines people for the sin of drunkenness, and we treat the sin very, very seriously.
However, the sin of drunkenness is similar to the sin of promiscious sex. We don't teach that a man should abstain from sex with his wife because other people are sex addicts. Similarly, we don't teach that individuals MUST abstain from alcohol because some commit the sin of drunkennes.
Likewise we don't DEMAND that those who are single get married, or those who choose to abstain from alcohol drink. Some things are matters of personal conviction and conscience. The pastor's job is not to force those who use sex properly, or alcohol properly, to abstain from either because some others cannot control the lusts of their wicked hearts, but rather, the pastor's job is to teach the Bible and urge God's people to live by Biblical principles.
I have never tasted beer. But I play golf every Friday with some wonderful men from my church that enjoy a glass of beer after the round. I don't condemn them for drinking beer and they don't condemn me for not drinking beer. And they don't get drunk.
There have been three people in our church in the last fifteen years, only three, who have undergone loving church discipline for the sin of drunkenness. All three people must now be --- by their personal choice and their corresponding accountability to our church --- absolute tea totalers. They have shown their inability to control their appetite for alcohol. Their drunkenness is a dishonor to the Christ who has saved them and a shame to the body of believers with whom they have joined. Their conduct has been a breach of our church covenant which forbids drunkenness.
Fortunately, the grace of God is apparent in all three and they willingly accepted the counsel of their families and pastors and agreed wholeheartedly that abstinence is now a requirement in their lives. If they drink, we all identify it as sin for them and immediately confront them. Yet, they understand abstinence is not demanded from others in the church.
Alcohol and the Bible
I believe one of the reasons Southern Baptists love to point to the act of drinking an alcoholic beverage as a sin in itself is because it is an action they can easily avoid and feel comfortable in their own self-righteousness. In fact, one messenger from Texas stated during the debate on the resolution that every Christian must ABSTAIN in order to be holy. Really?
The Bible teaches that claiming the righteousness of Christ is one's only hope of salvation. He is our holiness. We have His righteousness by faith. Imputed righteousness, of course, is not a license to sin, but the inspired Word of God never equates drinking an alcoholic beverage with sin. Drunkenness is the sin, according to God's word.
In fact, the Bible says wine was given by God for man's enjoyment. The Psalmist says that God gave wine to make men glad (Ps. 104:15). Jesus did not preach against the use of wine; instead he did like most other Jews of his day. He drank wine in moderation. In ancient times it was normally diluted with water for drinking purposes, but it was one of the principal beverages in Palestine at that time—as it is today-and it was, and is, alcoholic.
Jesus’ first miracle was to change water into wine (oinos). On this occasion Christ turned six jars of 20 or 30 gallons each into wine (oinos). This was no small miracle. This wine was of the finest quality— “You have kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10). At such wedding feasts, after people had drunk the better wine, the hosts brought out lesser-quality wines.
Jesus gave a parable involving the fermenting process of oinos in Matt. 9:17. At that time, instead of having metal or glass bottles to enclose wine, the skins of animals were used. The fermentation of the wine would break an old inelastic skin, but it would not break a new stretchable skin.
Another proof that oinos is fermented wine is the fact that the apostle Paul said, “Be not drunk with wine [oinos]” (Eph. 5:18). Paul did not mean to avoid getting drunk on grape juice! Paul instructed Timothy, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine [oinos] for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Tim. 5:23). He said to use only a little wine, not a whole lot. The purpose of this wine was Timothy’s frequent stomach ailments; small amounts of wine can help some stomach problems.
Some of the Corinthian Christians were getting drunk at the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:21). They were using fermented wine, probably following the example that Paul had set for them. Paul did not tell them that they were using the wrong kind of wine. He simply told them to eat and drink at home, and to participate in the Lord's Supper in a respectful way. In Romans 14:21, Paul says that it is good not to drink wine or eat meat if it offends a weak brother. He is referring to fermented wine; grape juice wouldn't offend anyone. The implication is that there's nothing wrong with the wine in itself.
Drunkenness Condemned in Scripture
Both the Old and New Testaments contain many examples and commands against excessive use of alcohol and drunkenness. Drunkenness is listed as one of the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:21). That means it is the result of the undisciplined, indiscriminate use of alcohol. Jesus warned his followers not to be drunk (Luke 21:34).
The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church to “put away from among yourselves”—to have no fellowship—with a person who cannot control his or her drinking (1 Cor. 5:11-13). This refers to people who will not face up to or try to overcome drinking problems, not people who are working on and overcoming their problems. The Bible says that drunkards will not enter the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10, Gal. 5:21). No one who abuses alcohol should be ordained an elder in the ministry of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 3:3, 8, Tit. 1:7). If a minister drinks, it should be in moderation.
Wine Used in the Conversion of a Sinner
The following story is a beautiful narrative of reconciliation, conversion, and ultimate redemption --- all initiated because of a glass of wine.
Years ago a man came into our services and sat through the preaching time weeping. He was a wealthy, high profile business man who had just gone through a heartwrenching divorce because of his own indiscretions.
After the service he introduced himself to me and set up an appointment to see me for some counseling. This began a six month pastoral relationship with this man that eventually led him to an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ultimate experience of Divine forgiveness.
All that was now needed was reconciliation with his wife. He asked if I would counsel them. I said I would, but when he requested his wife to come with him to see me, she said, "No. He's a Baptist preacher. All he will do is condemn me."
The businessman was crushed. I asked him why his wife was so hostile about Baptist preachers. He told me she grew up Roman Catholic and the only time she ever attended a Baptist Church the preacher yelled and screamed about the sins of the people in the pews including drinking, going to movies, wearing short skirts and long hair, etc . . . and it turned her off from "the Baptist religion."
I suggested that rather than have her come to my office that the man might want to see if his ex-wife (a divorce had since occurred) would have my wife and I over for dinner, just to get acquainted. To his surprise, she agreed.
To our surprise she was a gourmet chef. We entered the lovely home with the smell of French bread wafting in the air, and sat at the table meticulously crafted for a true dining experience.
Unfortunately, though the introductions were cordial, I could tell the evening might be a long one because of the chill toward this "Baptist preacher."
As we sat down, I noticed the brilliant table settings, the scrumptiously prepared French gourmet meal, and the solemn expression on the woman's face.
I also noticed there was tea and water on the table.
So this Baptist pastor said, "You can't have a meal like this without wine. Where is the wine?"
I wish you could have seen her expression. She smiled and warmly said, "But I thought you were a Baptist preacher."
"I am," was my response, "And this Baptist preacher knows a great chef when he sees one, and no chef worth her salt would prepare a meal like this without wine."
She asked my wife and I to follow her as she took us down to the cellar. She was a wine collector and she proudly showed us her collection, passed down to her by her grandfather. She meticulously chose a bottle of wine for the occasion and we made our way back to the table.
I led us in prayer and we thanked God for the food and the drink and His provision for us. We ate a wonderful meal and I enjoyed a glass of wine. Nobody around the table had more than two glasses.
To make a long story short, the walls that had hindered the relationship came down. We enjoyed the evening with the couple and as a result five things happened:
(1). I was able to lead this woman to faith in Jesus Christ, showing her that Christ alone provided the righteousness she needed, and that she must forsake any trust in her own "self-righteousness." She trusted Him and was baptized shortly thereafter.
(2). It was my privilege to perform the private ceremony where wedding vows were exchanged again and this man and woman were reunited in marriage.
(3). The couple became very active in our church and have led out in our outreach of the lost in our community through Sunday School.
(4). They have personally given tens of thousands of dollars to the Lord's work through our church and Christian school, and have personally been able to lead several of their own family members to faith in Christ.
(5). They still have their wine collection and enjoy a glass of wine, but they have never been drunk since giving their lives to Christ as Lord.
Now, I ask this simple question to my Southern Baptist friends. What, if anything, is wrong with the events just described to you?
I am convinced that we Southern Baptists have for too long avoided teaching our children the principles of God's Word, and instead, substituted a system of religious morality that is often contradictory to the Bible, and therefore, when kids leave Southern Baptists homes they go off the deep end into addictions, rather than live their lives in the enjoyment of the things of God within the parameters established by God.
I have heard the argument before that "Even if one person becomes a drunk then I will abstain from alcohol because of it." The power of the gospel is absolutely lost in that kind of thinking. The drunk is a drunk because of the sin in his soul. His soul is transformed by the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, not by observing cultural prohibitions of a Southern Baptist. Christians around the world drink beer and wine without getting drunk. It doesn't hurt their witness. It seems the only weaker brothers I keep running into are Southern Baptist pastors who "stumble" when they see a Christian drinking wine. We Southern Baptist pastors claim to believe the Bible, but I sometimes wonder what Bible it is we are reading.
Let's teach the Bible. Let's proclaim the gospel. Let's focus on the essentials.
There is a lost world out there. It's time Southern Baptists were known for the transforming power of Christ rather than are cultural prohibitions.
In His Grace,