Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hair Dryers, Alcohol, and the SBC

A few days ago, my wife bought a new hair dryer. Since my hairline has been in steady retreat since I was in my late teens, I had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t a present for me. A few days ago while I was getting ready for church, I moved it out of my way and noticed that it had about a dozen labels, and warning stickers on it. Curious, I began to read these warnings to see what was so dangerous about a $15 hair dryer. The one label that surprised me the most read; warning: do not use this device while washing hair.

At first, I thought that this was just an over reaction of some lawyer to our culture of litigation. Honestly, who on earth would try to simultaneously wash and dry their hair? First, the abundance of water would prevent the dryer from drying the hair, and second, everyone knows that water and electrical devices like hairdryers don’t mix well. But then it hit me. This warning was here for a reason. Someone in our vast world had actually tried to do it, and had hurt themselves in the process. That was why the company had to put this ridiculous, and in my opinion, unnecessary warning on this hairdryer.

And that’s when I had one of my "aha" moments.

During the 2006 SBC annual meeting, a resolution was passed that condemned the use of alcohol. It shouldn’t be of any surprise that we would pass such a resolution, as past conventions have passed at least 60 similar resolutions over the past century. But the one aspect of this resolution that has caused a stir among some people is the exclusion of those who do drink from serving in the SBC. The exact wording of this exclusion is:

RESOLVED, That we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.

This has caused a response from some spheres of Southern Baptist life who do drink, or think that drinking is not forbidden by the Bible and thus should not be forbidden by the church.

Admittedly, when I first heard of this prohibition, I also thought that it was a bit much. Not because I drink, or because I believe that the Bible approves of drinking, but because I felt that it was just common sense that Christians should not drink. But then I realized the need for such a resolution – people in the SBC were abusing alcohol, and hurting themselves, others, their witness, and their churches because of it.

Since this resolution passed, I have been shocked by the number of Southern Baptists, and Southern Baptist pastors, who admit to using alcohol – in moderation or otherwise. As I discuss this issue with seminary students (when I was in seminary), and pastors (now that I am pastoring), I have found that most people who drink do not see the practice as worldliness (as Jerry Vines described it), but almost as a sign of holiness. They see prohibitionists as biblically ignorant, pharisaical, legalistic, and some have gone so far as label supporters of the resolution as antichrists, or lost.

Which begs the question, why do prohibitionists, such as myself, feel that people should not drink? Are we really just power mad Pharisees, or are we legitimately concerned of the well being of our fellow Christians, and the well being of our denomination as a whole?

Honestly, I cannot speak for all prohibitionists, but I believe that a complete alcohol ban within the SBC would be beneficial to my individual brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the kingdom of God as a whole.

Civic Reasons for a Prohibition of Alcohol Use in the SBC

I will not camp here long, as others have made this argument very well. Alcohol use is destructive to individuals, families, and societies. Here are some interesting facts on the effects of alcohol:

Alcohol may encourage aggression by disrupting normal brain mechanisms that normally restrain impulsive behavior such as aggression. (Hingson et al, October 2001)

Alcohol is closely linked with violence. About 40 percent of all crimes (violent and non-violent) are committed under the influence of alcohol. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1998)

The majority of those who reported alcohol-related DUI in the 12 months prior to a national survey are not alcohol dependent or alcohol abusers. (Caetano and McGrath, 2005)

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2005, 16,885 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes - an average of one almost every half-hour. These deaths constituted approximately 39 percent of the 43,443 total traffic fatalities.

Biblical Reasons for a Prohibition of Alcohol Use in the SBC

When most people object to the SBC resolution concerning alcohol, the first and loudest objection is that it has no biblical support. Admittedly, there is no passage of scripture that states "Thou shalt not drink Absolute Vodka." However, just because there is no passage of scripture that directly condemns alcohol use does not mean that the Biblical witness supports the use of alcohol. To the contrary, we will see that the Bible does in fact weave a picture of alcohol as a substance that God’s people should avoid.

First and foremost, the Bible does teach that pastors, deacons, and denominational leaders must abstain from the use of alcohol is in fact biblical.

Proverbs 31:4-5 It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, 5 For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

Leaders should not drink alcohol. Note the exact wording of this verse. Proverbs 31:4-5 does not just say that leaders should not abuse alcohol, it says that leaders should not drink alcohol at all.

Second, there are many passages of scripture that paints those who drink as foolish, or falling short of God’s best.

Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.

Isaiah 28:7 7 And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink: The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; They reel while having visions, They totter when rendering judgment.

From a brief look of these passages, we can make some basic conclusions. First, that those tasked with leadership of any kind should not drink alcohol at all. Second, because those who do drink are typically portrayed as foolish or sinful in the Bible, then we can safely conclude that it is God’s best for all people to abstain from the use of alcohol.

As a final observation, I realize that there will still be some out there who will call me a Pharisee, or a legalist, or a control freak, or biblically ignorant because the Bible doesn’t say "Thou shalt not drink alcohol." Thus concluding that alcohol use in moderation is O.K.

But lets remember, the Bible does not directly forbid many things we see as sinful.

For example, the Bible doesn’t forbid the use of marijuana, or cocaine, or meth, or many of the other drugs we see in our society.

Yet, I would wager that even those who drink "in moderation" would get pretty pharisaical pretty fast if they caught their teenage kids with a couple of hits of meth in their pockets. And I seriously doubt that their kid’s insistence that they are using the drug "in moderation" would make it O.K.

That same argument doesn’t make alcohol use O.K. either.


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5:30 PM  
Blogger posttinebraelux said...

Again, a most thoughtful and gracious post on your convictions regarding alcohol use. I would offer just a couple of thoughts on the post, however.
First, your use of 'civil reasons', while legitimate in the secular realm, is not relevant in the Biblical realm. We cannot create a Biblical mandate based on civil issues. In order to assert that 'Christians' should or shouldn't do something, we must use the Bible as our guide. I do, however, think it reasonable to present 'civil' arguments in favor of a prohibition for 'citizens'. In other words, should our society deem that the 'costs' of alcohol consumption outweigh the benefits of personal liberty, then civil authorities should ban the consumption of alcohol (as we've done with other products). As a side note to this part of the argument, your points of support involve the abuse of alcohol, not the moderate consumption of such. Finally, the use of 'abusive' behavior to prohibit the moderate and legitimate consumption or use of something is akin to recommending that guns be outlawed becuase abuse of such can cause death.
Now, to your 'Biblical' reasons. First, you cited Prov. 31:4,5 as evidence that 'leaders, pastors, and deacons' shouldn't drink, but the passages refers specifically to kings and rulers. Now, I certainly could understand making the argument that a pastor is a ruler and, in fact, Paul does encourage pastors not to drink at all. There is, however, no Biblical mandate for 'leaders' or 'deacons' to not drink. In fact, Paul's directive toward deacons is that they be no addicted to alcohol (the greek word we translate 'given' has the connotation to dependency or addiction). Second, you cite Prov. 20:1 which is, indeed, a sobering (no pun intended) caution, but again, the context is the abuse of alcohol, not just the consumption of such - i.e. those who are 'led astray' or 'made drunk'. Third, Isaiah 28 is OBVIOUSLY alluding to drunkenness and not moderate consumption.
In conclusion, is it wise, as a pastor, to encourage personal convictions of prohibition? Sometimes - especially if there is a propensity to abuse or become addicted. Is it Biblical to issue mandatory prohibitions? Never. We do not have that authority from Scripture. Is it laudable that one has a personal conviction regarding abstention? Certainly. Should those who abstain 'judge' those who partake in moderation? Not according to Paul's directive to the Romans.

Grace to you my friend,


10:06 AM  

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