Legalism in the Southern Baptist Convention (Alcohol)

If there's one thing I dislike a lot more than antinomianism, it is legalism. Legalism has many forms, and very often can come across as sanctimonious, which is why it is so lethal. 

Legalism often rears its ugly head in American churches concerning the matter of alcohol. This article here (getting close to 1 million shares) is probably the worst I've ever read on why one doesn't drink alcohol.  

However, it is one thing for a female pastor on Charisma News to give dozens of silly reasons why she doesn't drink alcohol, but quite another thing for the Southern Baptist Convention to be legalistic about alcohol. With so many bright theologians, you'd think they could do better than this:  

WHEREAS, Years of research confirm biblical warnings that alcohol use leads to physical, mental, and emotional damage (e.g., Proverbs 23:29-35); and

WHEREAS, Alcohol use has led to countless injuries and deaths on our nation's highways; and

WHEREAS, The breakup of families and homes can be directly and indirectly attributed to alcohol use by one or more members of a family; and

WHEREAS, The use of alcohol as a recreational beverage has been shown to lead individuals down a path of addiction to alcohol and toward the use of other kinds of drugs, both legal and illegal; and

WHEREAS, There are some religious leaders who are now advocating the consumption of alcoholic beverages based on a misinterpretation of the doctrine of "our freedom in Christ"; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2006, express our total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages; and be it further

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.

See also the SBTS website on alcohol: "In accordance with the irreproachable standards of moral conduct as well as denominational expectations for all members of the seminary community, the use of alcoholic beverages, intoxicants such as marijuana, and illicit/illegal drugs are prohibited..."

This is what happens when the Bible is jettisoned for something else (e.g., worldly wisdom, pragmatism). And when one abandons the Scriptures, you necessarily end up with a form of legalism, which has no power to restrain the flesh.

I would say that their resolutions have the "appearance of wisdom" (Col. 2:23), but I'm not even sure I can say that much. 

In Galatians 5 Paul contrasts the work of the flesh versus the work of the Spirit (Gal. 5:19-23). Notice that in Gal. 5:22 that "fruit" is singular.    

Thus the graces of the Spirit (e.g., love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, ... self control...) are all interconnected (see also 1 Cor. 13:4,7 - love is patient and kind). Having the fruit of the Spirit means that we exhibit these graces in their interconnectedness, never one grace without the other. There is no such thing as Christian joy that isn't also Christian self-control. There is no such thing as love that isn't also patient love. Grumpy patience is not Christian patience. 

For example, consider Moses (Heb. 11:23-28). 

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God [love] than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin [self-control]. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt [joy], for he was looking to the reward [faithfulness]. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible [patience]. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood [peace], so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them [kindness].

The SBC arguments that highlight the fact that alcohol can be abused (i.e., "leads to" reasoning) are arguments that treat Christians like those described in Gal. 5:19-21 rather than those described in Gal. 5:22-23. That may be the worst thing about the so-called wisdom of commanding total abstinence. It treats Christians like pagans. The SBC seems to have a low view of self-control in the life of the Christian. These studies of how worldly people act are affecting theological practice rather than allowing good theology to affect worldly practice. 

And when you treat Christians like pagans, you're not only entering into the legalistic realm that Paul and Christ so strongly rail against, but you're also breaking the first commandment by denying the power of God (see 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 3:16). 

Now if you want to read an article that deals well with the blessing and use of alcohol in the Scriptures, see this piece. 

But I highlighted a few specific points above that sometimes gets lost in the discussions on whether Christians should drink, namely: just what do we believe about the power of God at work in his people? The SBC view on this matter is a pneumatological error, among other things. 

Strong language is required when legalism is involved, especially against those who should know better (per biblical example). Sex is not necessarily fornication; eating is not necessarily gluttony; sleeping is not necessarily laziness; and drinking alcohol is not necessarily drunkenness. 

In the end, this isn't even so much about alcohol as it is about the principle of binding consciences, jettisoning biblical ethics, and denying the power of the Spirit to enable us to make a good use of God's gracious gifts. 

WHEREAS God has given wine to gladden the heart of man (Ps. 104:15), be it

RESOLVED to exercise the fruit of the Spirit, with joy and self-control, when drinking God's good gift of alcohol. 

I highlight self-control because some Christians, especially in Reformed circles, do flaunt their liberty a little too much and seem to show a lack of self-control in this area. Just as you aren't a better Christian because you don't drink, don't be deceived that you're somehow more holy because you have a gift for showing others just how free you are in Christ when it comes to your consumption of alcohol.