Sunday, November 4, 2007

Holier than the Bible

Michael Spencer at Internet Monk posts about a controversy among Missouri Southern Baptists. The issue appears to have been whether to adopt total abstinence from alcoholic beverages as the position of the convention. The comments section after the post raises most of the issues that usually arise in this debate, which is reminiscent of the debates our grandparents used to have about card playing [Rook was OK], dancing [square dancing was alright], movies, etc. All of these issues involve making inferences from Scripture since, unlike things like murder and sexual immorality, there is no clear Scriptural authority prohibiting them. There is, in fact, just the opposite in the case of the moderate use of alcohol - Our Lord both used it and provided it. Internet Monk provides a link to a good article on this subject, "Alcohol and the Bible" by Daniel Whitfield. I have found the book God Gave Wine: What the Bible Says About Alcohol, by Kenneth Gentry pretty thorough on the subject and effectively refuting the idea that teetotalism, whatever its other virtues, can be justified through Scripture.

One of the comments quotes C.S. Lewis:
I strongly object to the tyrannic and unscriptural insolence of anything that calls itself a Church and makes teetotalism a condition of membership. Apart from the more serious objection (that Our Lord Himself turned water into wine and made wine the medium of the only rite He imposed on all His followers), it is so provincial (what I believe you people call “small town”).
Obviously, we don't earn salvation by any of our works, and certainly not by marking off a checklist of behaviors. We do hope to grow into Christ - to become more like him as He enables us to understand what that means. It is a question of relationship. We love because He first loved - and love wishes to please - to know what He to whom we owe everything desires in us.

At a recent Seventh Day Baptist General Conference, Paul Manuel provided a useful guide to evaluating the rules we make for ourselves:
...[Y]ou must be careful about assuming a stance that is unequivocally confident (dogmatic). You must recognize that there are different degrees of assertiveness for the positions you hold, and you must be able to gauge (and identify) the strength of your convictions appropriately.
Although I do none of these (i.e., peas, wine, idols), I do not avoid them with the same degree of conviction.
  • If someone invites me to dinner and serves peas, I will probably eat some to be polite. But I would decline a second helping, because that is my personal preference.
  • If my host offers me a glass of wine, I will decline, because I do not drink wine as a general principle. But if I am taking communion in a church that uses wine, I may accept, because my conviction is not based on a scriptural prohibition against it.
  • If a Hindu acquaintance invites me to offer incense to Krishna, I will decline, because my conviction is based on a biblical precept. To violate that precept would damage my relationship with God.
Likewise, if you do not make such distinctions, if you accord all your convictions the same status (whether or not they have the same support of Scripture), you will either feel unnecessarily guilty when you fail to keep them or you will impose an unwarranted expectation on others to keep them.
  • If you accord an issue less status than Scripture gives it (e.g., permitting idolatry), you will fall short of the mark. You will not be holy, as the Bible prescribes.
  • If you accord an issue more status than Scripture gives it (e.g., prohibiting wine), you will overshoot the mark. You will be holier than the Bible prescribes.
I found that very helpful. » Blog Archive » Riffs: 11:03:07: Missouri Baptists and The Battle of the Booze

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