Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lifeway Research--Alcohol & Tongues

I just received a phone call from Lifeway Research and decided to participate. I'm glad I did, but I'm sure I confused the pollster a bit.

The two major topics he asked about were Tongues/Private Prayer Language and Alcohol.

With all the debate about these issues the last year or so in the SBC, I was glad to finally be able to contribute a bit of an opinion. Of course, I may now be forever labeled as one of those "young pastors". --Sigh--

It's a sad fact, but I have to start with a disclaimer as many others feel the need to do when talking about these issues in order to avoid being automatically lumped into the heretic or liberal camp.

I don't drink alcohol. Neither do I speak in tongues, nor do I forsee allowing it to occur in a corporate worship setting at my church. There, that out of the way...

Again, I don't drink alcohol and have not since college (and even then never to drunkenness now driving). This is part of the commitment I made for going into the ministry. When I talk to people about alcohol, I stress that abstaining is the best model for a Christian to follow. However, in order to be faithful to the biblical witness, I tell them (when invariably they ask) that no where does the Bible condemn alcohol itself as a sin. It condemns drunkenness. Now, you can't get drunk if you never take a drink--but you can also not be sinning if you don't get drunk.

Alcohol is a substance which can have devastating and destructive effects on people's lives and their families. Alcohol can destroy your witness especially in our culture which sees drinking primarily as a means to get drunk. Alcohol can hurt a weaker brother who is struggling with patterns of sin and addictions. There are many reasons to abstain from alcohol. And yet, we are told to "not let anyone judge you for what you eat or drink."--Colossians 2:16. Alcohol abstention is not the defining mark of a "true believer" and all others are spiritual failures. My walk with Christ is not defined by that issue (though it may be for some) nor is it an absolute rule that must dictate the conscience of every believer.

Alcohol is a Matter of Conviction and should never be a Matter of Mandate--all must obey this rule. Then it becomes a law, which becomes a burden, which actually increases sin in the life of the believer. It becomes legalistic which is just as great a sin as over-indulgence.

To me, it relates to the old axiom about helping people and fish. Give a man a fish and he’ll be fed for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

You could easily turn the axiom into a similar statement for the believer.

Teach a Christian to live by a Rule and he'll walk the Way for a day and stay an immature believer.

Teach a Christian to live by Faith and he'll walk the Way for a Lifetime and become a mature disciple

That whole line of “everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial” rings true. I have the freedom to drink alcohol, but that doesn’t mean that I should. But just because I don’t, doesn’t make me better before Christ. What makes me in good standing before God is the Blood of Christ and nothing else.

I see Jesus turning water into wine and see troubles for a "total-abstinence for all people, all the time position". It compromises Jesus' sinlessness. If alcohol was a sin in itself, then Jesus was making sin and contributing to sin in others. If it wasn't really alcohol (a great stretch) then He's walking a fine line and giving the impression of compromise. Both bother me. The closest many Baptists have ever come to dancing are the various steps they are willing to take in order to explain away the clear meaning of "wine". In my mind, this passage (John 2) is forever the Baptist 2-Step or Baptist Tango. But if wine is not a sin in itself, only the sin of the one getting drunk, then Jesus is not compromised either way.

Abstinence from Alcohol, it is my conviction, is the best policy for a believer to take in the American culture. It is a position that most Southern Baptists have held to. However, I believe it resulted more from being swept away in the Prohibitionist movement than in actual biblical evidence. Now that we are several generations away from the Prohibitionist fervor, we are once again, looking to Scripture to define our positions and not popular movements. Abstinence is still the best policy, however, I refuse to judge my brothers and sisters in Christ who do drink alcohol appropriately; neither will I break fellowship with them or deem them unfit for service in the Kingdom of God.

As for tongues--I do not believe that gift was limited to the apostolic time or to the completion of the New Testament (such an argument would imply that only Apostles or NT writers would have had the gift at all--which is not the case). With that said, I believe the majority of tongues expressions in today's churches are bogus and certainly not in line with the restrictions Paul gives in 1 Corinthians. Can it happen, yes--does it happen to this extent, no--and the church is not following it's own guidelines in Scripture. It is a gift that is often misunderstood, misused and abused--just like any other gift or issue--just like sex, food, or alcohol.

Tongues is not the sign for salvation—i.e. if you don’t have tongues, you’re not really saved. It is not a sign that you are a more mature or better Christian. It has always baffled me that someone could have the gift of tongues, but not exhibit any of the Fruit of the Spirit otherwise—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I believe such gifts are dispersed among the Body of Christ for the strengthening and edification of the individual and us all—implying that most of us will not have the gift as we all don’t have the gift of preaching or teaching or serving.

I believe some missionaries today have experienced the gift when language is the only barrier to receiving the Gospel. I believe someone can privately speak in tongues without it defining their corporate worship expectations, nor compromise their solid doctrine, nor exclude them from missions service.

I trust that most of the expressions of tongues in today’s church which are disingenuous or out of biblical order will be dealt with by God Himself.

Just like with the issue of alcohol, I am unwilling to take a matter of conviction—e.g. a cessasionist position—and make it a matter of mandate that everyone must adhere to. Those leading such efforts to enforce such a conviction on a 3rd Tier/minor doctrinal issue are overstepping/overstating the biblical witness and will be held to a higher standard—not everyone should presume to be teachers—if you do presume to be, then how you teach, not just what you teach will be the standard.

A cessationist position is well within the orthodox Christian belief, but it is not the only orthodox Christian belief, nor is it the only position within SBC life. Being a cessationist doesn’t make you more a Southern Baptist than a non-cessationist.

I would liken this type of mandate on alcohol or tongues to be like trying to enforce a Southern Baptist doctrinal position on End Times. If you are not a Dispensationalist and don’t ascribe to the Left Behind model, then you aren’t a real Southern Baptist, nor are you eligible to be a missionary. However, I have seen some evidence, talking to some pastors and others, that this position is held under the table—after all if you don’t believe dispensationalism, you must not really believe the Bible—therefore, you are not qualified to minister for us.

I don’t appreciate this top-down enforcement of doctrinal issues. I hope this all makes sense, I’m typing fast because it’s time to go home for lunch and see my wife and kids (who love me despite my grammatical and spelling mistakes).

Thank you, Lifeway Research for making your call this morning.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

P.S.--Sorry, due to meaningless and questionable comments, I've had to turn comment moderation on.

1 comment:

Kevin Bussey said...

Well said.