ALCOHOLIC PROHIBITION IN SOUTHERN BAPTIST CHURCHES
These are the e-mails between Dr. Paige
Patterson and me.
October 8, 1999
Dear Dr. Patterson:
I am a student at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I am writing a paper on alcoholic prohibition in Southern Baptist churches and its implications on the priesthood of believers.
I have a question concerning two issues of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Baptist Faith and Message states, "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it." However, the SBC has taken the position that Baptists are not permitted to drink alcohol. The SBC does prohibit all employees and seminary students from enjoying alcohol; and the SBC has even strongly encouraged all member churches to follow suit. My question is this: How can the SBC claim to believe in individual liberty and at the same time place this rule about alcohol on others?
There can be no claim that the Bible explicitly condemns alcohol. While the Bible condemns drunkenness, there is no condemnation of alcohol. Therefore, such a rule is "not contained in it." By adding this rule to the Bible, the SBC has prohibited the divine right of conscience and placed Baptists under "the doctrines and commandments of men." Apparently, when alcohol is involved, the SBC is not content to leave the conscience to "God alone."
I realize that your time is limited, but I would greatly appreciate any response. I have yet to find anyone willing to defend both teachings, and that is making my research difficult.
October 21, 1999
Thanks so much for your e-mail about alcohol. It is my conviction that you are in error about two or three statements that you make in your letter. First, the Southern Baptist Convention as such has no rule of any kind regarding employees and seminary students "enjoying alcohol." Quite to the contrary, any such policies are the policies of an autonomous, individual church or else the specific institution or Southern Baptist entity involved. It is a decision of the Board of Trustees and/or Administration of that entity and has nothing to do with the SBC per se. You will search in vain for any official statement in the constitution and bylaws of Southern Baptists regarding prohibition of alcohol.
Second, as concerns your judgmental position that New Orleans, Southeastern, or one of the other entities has violated the Baptist Faith & Message statement about liberty of conscience, you are wrong again. We do certainly believe in liberty of conscience, but there are any number of things that are not covered by liberty of conscience. Obvious ones such as murder and theft are present, but, for example, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary also prohibits its employees from being alone in counseling sessions with members of the opposite sex. There is no violation of conscience in this regard or in the case of the use of alcoholic beverage since every faculty member and every student who chooses to come here understands what the rules are. If a person does not approve of the rule and does not wish to abide by it, there is no necessity for him to come to one of our schools since there are many other possibilities available to him where this would not be the case.
Furthermore, you are
wrong regarding the teachings of Scripture. While there is not a statement
that says, "Thou shalt not imbibe alcohol. "The fact is that
the Nazarite vow was the highest and holiest vow anyone could take in
Israel. As a part of it, it forbade the use of fermented drink or strong
drink of any kind. Furthermore, Paul had to urge Timothy for medicinal
purposes to "take a little wine for his stomach's sake and of his
infirmities." This clearly would not have been necessary had he not
been a "tee-totaler." Furthermore, the Bible says, "Wine
is a mocker; strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it
is not wise." I read nothing of "drunkenness" in the passage.
The bottom line on all of this is, my friend, that when you have done
as many funerals and as much marital counseling for people whose lives
have been tragically marred by alcohol, you will be as much of an opponent
of it as I.
Thanks again for writing. God bless you.
Until He Comes,
October 22, 1999
Dear Dr. Patterson:
First, I would like to thank you for responding to my first e-mail. Having your thoughts will lend greatly to my paper. However, I would like to comment on those thoughts.
You stated that:
That information certainly will be helpful. I was basing my statement on previous research. My previous research found, "in 1896, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution which denounced all forms of beverage alcohol and urged churches to exclude from church membership any persons who made, sold, or drank such beverages" (Hailey, 55). Also, "Our own Christian Life Commission has published a variety of materials which advocate absolute abstinence" (Hailey, 53). One such SBC publication states, "Prohibition brought countless benefits to our country.... The Prohibition law...was a blessing to our nation as a whole" (Hearn, 21). So, there may be no rule in the by-laws of the SBC, but they did pass a resolution. I will have to look into the difference. Secondly, the fact that SBC publications promote abstinence, while never mentioning moderation as an acceptable alternative, makes prohibition the 'de facto' rule, regardless of by-laws.
You go on to note
There is a great difference between murder and theft, and alcohol. The former two are prohibited throughout the Bible (Mt. 5:21; 15:19; Ro. 13:9; 1 Cor. 6:10; 1Pet. 4:15, just to name a few). I have no problem with a church expecting one to hold to biblical teaching. As for the counseling, the seminary has the need and right to protect itself from legal matters arising out of faculty behavior. However, if a psychology professor also opened a private practice in Raleigh, he/she would not have to abide by seminary rules there. The same should be true for alcohol. You can prohibit it on campus, but students have private, off campus lives.
You then claim the Nazarite vow as proof of the abstinence ideal. However, I would like to quote others: "If someone today wants to claim that believers do not have the right to drink alcohol on the analogy of the Nazarite vow (as some today are fond of doing), they also should say that believers ought not to eat Raisin Bran" (Wallace)! After all, the Nazarite vow also demanded abstaining from raisins. Further, "The Nazarite also vowed not to cut his hair. Does this mean that contemporary Christians should abstain from cutting their hair as well?" (Hailey, 55) To use the Nazarite vow for a claim to prohibition is simply picking and choosing from the Bible. Take it all, or none.
You next cite Paul's
letter to Timothy:
While it may be true that Timothy was a teetotaler, who cares? I am not arguing against abstinence, but rather for free choice. I couldn't care less whether or not Timothy drank. The fact remains that most of the New Testament characters did drink. But let me quote another Baptist who will refute you. "Most people understand this to be a reference merely to the medicinal qualities of wine. However, some scholars, not the least of which are Walter Lock, Martin Dibelius, and Hans Conzelmann, have theorized that this is a reference not only to Timothy's ailments but also to the threat of his falling captive to ascetic (i.e., Gnostic) dualism. In fact, in a previous portion of the same letter Paul reminded Timothy that 'everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude...' (1 Tim 4:4-5 NASB). Thus, we can deduce that Paul's writings hardly provide the basis for absolute abstinence from alcoholic beverages" (Hailey, 56).
Finally, you mention:
While it is true that the passage does not use the word "drunkenness," I think that it is inferred by the idea, "whoever is led astray." Moderation, by definition, is to not be led astray. If we accept your view of this passage, our Lord Jesus was "not wise," because he drank. I find this unacceptable.
Last but not least, you use the ad hominem argument that I must be a drinker, "The bottom line apparently is that you want to drink and attend New Orleans Seminary at the same time." The truth is that I am a "teetotaler." I do not drink. However, I believe that one can be a good Christian and still drink in moderation. But that is all beside the point. I am conducting research for an academic paper.
As Dr. Wallace so greatly points out, "I think the best balance on this issue can be seen in Luke 7:33-34: John the Baptist abstained from drinking wine; Jesus did not abstain [indeed, people called him a drunkard!...] Both respected one another and both recognized that their individual lifestyles were not universal principles. One man may choose not to drink; another may choose to drink. We ought not to condemn another servant of the Lord for his choice"(Wallace).
Or as Paul puts it, "For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 11:29b-31). "Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink.... These are just a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:16-18).
Once again, I would like to thank you for your response. My paper will only be richer for your thoughts. And I would like to close with a quote from your visit to the NOBTS chapel: "I'm often wrong; but I'm never in doubt."
Hailey, David J. "Beverage
Alcohol and the Christian Faith," Search, Winter 1992.
Wallace, Daniel B., [internet site], accessed 10/05/99, http://www.bible.org/docs/soapbox/alcohol.html
Copyright © 1999,
Bruce M Sabin
Agape, Sophia, Servitutis: de Deo, cum Deo, pro Deo