Newsflash: Personal Discipline Is Not Legalism

"The source of the problem, ultimately, is a general sense, born out of sentiments endemic in broader culture, and perpetuated at times in Christian homes and churches, that cultivating discipline and developing a work ethic are somehow dangerous, legalistic, or antithetical to the Christian Gospel. This is patently false." - Snoeberger 

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AndyE's picture

WallyMorris wrote:

I am surprised that no one has mentioned the mess at the recent BJU Fashion Show as an example of "legalism".

I was pretty distraught when I saw this. This was by far the worst thing I've seen allowed on campus.

However, I was heartened by the response to this by Dr. Pettit.  I'm glad this was addressed publicly and that they don't want it to happen again.  

https://twitter.com/BJUPresident/status/1481394538455478277

 

Dan Miller's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
I suppose the Pharisees may have sincerely believed that their laws were Scriptural.  But they were clearly wrong, which is why Jesus corrected them.

We will never resolve all differences of Biblical interpretation.  ...

Matt 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.


The Pharisees imposed many rules on themselves and others. They detailed tithing even of fine herbs, which perhaps reflects a sincere desire to carefully obey the Law.

Part of the problem is that those rules satisfied them, regardless of whether their own hearts (and perhaps the hearts of the people they led) were filled with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. 

Note that Jesus's message did not actually say those rules were wrong. In fact, He said, "These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." 
The problem - the real problem - is that adherence to rules (while they can be good) can only clean the outside, while the inside remains filthy!

Greg, I think this is the key to understanding weak/strong issues. The weak are not "clearly wrong" about the rightness of their conviction for themselves.

They are wrong when they 1) use the rule-following as the way to salvation or 2) try to impose it on others. 

Dan Miller's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

The word legalism gets used in a few different ways:

1. The act of placing and following rules for salvation.

IOW, can I do SOMETHING to earn my standing with God? If you say "Yes," then you're a legalist. Now, even if you say, "No," I would hope that you still believe that there is such a thing as sin. Even though you believe with Paul that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works, you still believe that there is such a thing as works and that we should do them. 

2. The act of placing and following rules for sanctification

IOW, once saved by faith, do we bring about our own sanctification by doing good works? This is actually a really interesting and difficult question. Mark seems to be saying "Yes," at least partially or in a sense or sorta.

Even if you believe that both salvation and sanctification are by grace through faith and not by works, you still believe they should move the believer toward doing good works. So there's still such a thing as a good work!

3. The act of placing rules on others that they have not concluded for themselves are God's rules or applications of Biblical principles.

IOW, since the reasonable Christian here at SI believes in Eph 2:8-9 and ALSO v. 10, the question becomes, "What actions are good works?" And the term legalism is often used for people who consider things required/prohibited that I don't.

I think that Mark's post deals with question #2. But this thread has mostly dealt with question #3. And I think that to honor Mark's paper, we should turn things back to #2.

Mark seems to say that the disciplines he was taught as a child made entering and succeeding in seminary easier for him. And thus they have value and should not be considered "legalism." I would classify his seminary work as a "good work." One done with the aim to enable/improve Mark's service to the Lord. That's good. Not just acceptable, but good. If he's right that his parent's effort to instill discipline into him made him a better man by giving him mental tools and inclination to study God's Word deeper, then we could conclude that his parent's discipline sanctified him. Right?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

AndyE wrote:

WallyMorris wrote:

 

I am surprised that no one has mentioned the mess at the recent BJU Fashion Show as an example of "legalism".

I was pretty distraught when I saw this. This was by far the worst thing I've seen allowed on campus.

 

However, I was heartened by the response to this by Dr. Pettit.  I'm glad this was addressed publicly and that they don't want it to happen again.  

https://twitter.com/BJUPresident/status/1481394538455478277

I never heard about this.  I guess it's good that I didn't...

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

It can be inflammatory for the reasons Rajesh mentions--they were largely unregenerate and most people do not see themselves in that faction of Judiasm--but there is also a reality that the New Testament speaks a lot of about the Pharisees and other legalists for a reason; it is, per Galatians, that we are tempted to it.  So as humiliating and irritating as it can be, I think we ought to cheerfully suffer the question "are you being a Pharisee?"

Wally, hope you're recovering well.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

RajeshG wrote:

The Pharisees that Jesus condemned and excoriated were unbelievers:

[...]

I believe that using that term to speak of believers is unhelpful, unjustified, and a misuse of the term.

I'm sort of in Bert's camp on this one.  While using the exact term "Pharisee" would be unhelpful in describing a believer, the terms pharisaical (literally "like the Pharisees," with definition "excessively or hypocritically pious") or pharisaism are describing traits or actions, which could apply to those not pharisees, and indeed actions of Christians can still resemble what the Pharisees were doing, rather than the people themselves.

Pharisaism may not be the perfect term for what is being described in this thread, but it is descriptive and useful at least in this discussion.

Dave Barnhart

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Andy,

On Rom. 14:21 that you quoted, I think putting something like an alcohol clause in a church covenant on the basis of that verse will depend on how that verse is taken -- is it for each of us to make a personal (good) decision to restrict our liberty at certain times to not cause a brother to stumble, or does it mean that all Christians must not eat meat or drink wine at any time?  Given that Paul mentions eating meat at other times, I would think the 2nd interpretation is out.  Not to mention Rom. 14:22, which talks about keeping our faith (presumably on such liberty issues from the context) between ourselves and God rather than restricting others' liberties in a church covenant.

If a church agreed together that they wanted a phrase on abstinence from alcohol in their covenant, I think that is their own business.  However, I also believe the reasons behind such a rule should be explained (in this case, not because those agreeing to it believe the Bible prohibits alcohol, but that they want to have a distinctive behavior in order to not cause other brothers to stumble).

The short form, as appears in most constitutions like you mentioned, leaves the reasoning unclear, and could lead to the idea that those behind that text believe something that they actually don't.  Future generations will simply take it as "the Bible prohibits alcohol" even if those who wrote that constitution don't believe that at all.

Dave Barnhart

RajeshG's picture

dcbii wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

The Pharisees that Jesus condemned and excoriated were unbelievers:

[...]

I believe that using that term to speak of believers is unhelpful, unjustified, and a misuse of the term.

 

I'm sort of in Bert's camp on this one.  While using the exact term "Pharisee" would be unhelpful in describing a believer, the terms pharisaical (literally "like the Pharisees," with definition "excessively or hypocritically pious") or pharisaism are describing traits or actions, which could apply to those not pharisees, and indeed actions of Christians can still resemble what the Pharisees were doing, rather than the people themselves.

Pharisaism may not be the perfect term for what is being described in this thread, but it is descriptive and useful at least in this discussion.

Using these illegitimate terms, one negatively associates a believer or his positions or both to people, positions, and practices that Scripture speaks negatively about. In that sense, it appears to be a form of guilt-by-association that illegitimately puts in a negative light others with whom one disagrees.

How much better to simply state one's disagreement and argue for it and support one's own views with Scripture rather than using these illegitimate terms to faultily associate others and their positions with people, practices, motivations, and positions that Scripture condemns.

AndyE's picture

dcbii wrote:
On Rom. 14:21 that you quoted, I think putting something like an alcohol clause in a church covenant on the basis of that verse will depend on how that verse is taken -- is it for each of us to make a personal (good) decision to restrict our liberty at certain times to not cause a brother to stumble, or does it mean that all Christians must not eat meat or drink wine at any time?  Given that Paul mentions eating meat at other times, I would think the 2nd interpretation is out.  Not to mention Rom. 14:22, which talks about keeping our faith (presumably on such liberty issues from the context) between ourselves and God rather than restricting others' liberties in a church covenant.
I think Paul is saying that there are times when abstinence is necessary for the good of your brother.  I think that also means that the “keep it to yourself” option in vs 22 is not always possible or practical, depending on the situation.  But regardless, if it is good for an individual to abstain in certain situations, why would it not be proper for the entire church to do the same? 

Quote:
If a church agreed together that they wanted a phrase on abstinence from alcohol in their covenant, I think that is their own business.  However, I also believe the reasons behind such a rule should be explained (in this case, not because those agreeing to it believe the Bible prohibits alcohol, but that they want to have a distinctive behavior in order to not cause other brothers to stumble).
Some churches have new members classes in which they cover things like this.  I think this would be a good idea. 

I've already said I think the issue is a wisdom issue, but there are people who argue that the wine in the Bible is not like the wine and alcohol we have today and even if it was OK, even good sometimes, to drink in moderation in Bible times, the situation today is not the same.  And that the new, modern situation demands what we take the warning passages regarding alcohol as normative, and that it is sinful to drink a beer, or have whiskey, or wine, or whatnot. I'm not going to call those people pharisees.  Just like I'm not going to call Pastor Barkman a Pharisee even though he insists on an extra-biblical standard regarding abstinence in church covenants. Pharisees lead people to hell. That's not what people are doing if they say wine is a sin.

pvawter's picture

AndyE wrote:

BTW,  I have a little booklet called "A Baptist Church Manual" written by a J. Newton Brown in 1853.  It has a sample church covenant that reads like almost every church covenant I've ever seen. It includes this line, "to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage..."  I don't know if this booklet is the source for these church covenants or what, but it's interesting to me.  Our covenant reads almost word for word with this one, as do many of covenants that I have read.  

I did some reading on John Newton Brown a few years back when updating our church's covenant. If memory serves, he was involved in the publication of the New Hampshire confession and the covenant which became very popular among moderately Calvinistic Baptist churches across the US since the 19th century. Brown had a significant role in the temperance movement which would eventually lead to the prohibition movement in the early 20th century. 

Paul Jackson wrote a book on Baptist church order for the Regular Baptist Press in the 1950s or 60s, and he suggested that it was time for an update on the old covenant by Brown. If the was true 60 years ago, it's even more true today!

Bert Perry's picture

It ought to be noted that when we're talking about Pharisaism these days, most often we're referring to those who are trying to "fence off the law" with additional rules "so we cannot get close".  That's the central tendency of Pharisaism--it was an attempt to regulate society to avoid the kind of sins that earned God's wrath that got them sent to Babylon. 

So it's not a "guilt by association" along the lines of "well, you want to wear a mustasche, well you know Hitler wore one too!", but rather a legitimate metaphor akin to saying "if you state that the workers ought to own the means of production, you are voicing a Communist sentiment whether you like it or not."

We also ought to remember the consequences of those "fencing off" rules.  I taught on Matthew 12 recently, and it struck me that in their zeal to preserve the Sabbath, the Pharisees were breaking laws of mercy, of work on the Sabbath (how far were they walking to harass Jesus that day? Doesn't that count as work?etc..), and they were in general infringing on the entire purpose of that seventh day.   Consistently, Christ and the Apostles point out that the "laws of men" flat out contradicted the written Law of Moses.

I see the same dynamic in place with a lot of the "extra rules" I've seen in evangelical and fundamental churches.  It's hard to reconcile, IMO, evangelical and fundamental "dress codes" ("gotta wear a suit" and the like) with James' admonition to associate with the poor man in vile raiment.  Strict regulations on music seem to contradict the last two Psalms, and then there's "OK, so your church covenant prohibits your members from going to the wedding at Cana with Jesus...."

One side note; ancient wine wasn't that different from today's in terms of character or strength.  It's the same species of grape (vitis vinifera) and the same species of yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae), and the Greeks used about the same techniques to get wines to ~16% alcohol that are used today.  Distilled spirits are somewhat different (40% typically, some cask liquors at 75% or more), but the long and short of it is that a determined drinker back in Bible times could get himself drunk/incapacitated/killed in about the same way as today.  It's not like it was safe then but super dangerous now.

(another casualty of additional rules at times seems to be, ahem, the truth)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

AndyE wrote:

I think Paul is saying that there are times when abstinence is necessary for the good of your brother.  I think that also means that the “keep it to yourself” option in vs 22 is not always possible or practical, depending on the situation.

I think I'm in general agreement with this, as I suspect any Christian who isn't just trying to be libertine would be as well, whether abstentionist or not.

Quote:
But regardless, if it is good for an individual to abstain in certain situations, why would it not be proper for the entire church to do the same?

Of course the "certain situations" makes all the difference doesn't it, especially when it doesn't appear in the covenant text?  Again, any independent church can put in their documents whatever standards they wish.  The way most are written on this topic, similar to the booklet you quote, does appear to me to go further than what the Bible is requiring, so I at least understand Greg's point of view.  I just think that if such clauses are used, church documents should make clear when they are asking such of those who subscribe to them, and why they are being asked to do so.

But there's a bigger issue in my mind, at least.  Since I see church discipline as not only protecting the church body, but trying to save the soul of someone unrepentant, I think putting things like this on the same level as scripture does one of two things: 1. It says that breaking this rule that didn't come from the text is just as important as breaking scriptural prohibitions, or 2. It means that church discipline will need to be followed not just for issues dangerous to a person's soul or to the church, but also for things that are just specific to the "club."  Maybe breaking agreed-on rules like this, that are added for "wisdom" reasons should result in a different type of separation from the church that what is the norm for church discipline.  (i.e. we don't see you as an unbeliever, but you can't stay a part of this local church.)

Quote:
Some churches have new members classes in which they cover things like this.  I think this would be a good idea.

Agreed, though sometimes expectations don't match reality.  Adding explanatory text in the church documents would seem to be longer lasting and more obvious to those who may not remember the class.

Quote:
...there are people who argue that the wine in the Bible is not like the wine and alcohol we have today and even if it was OK, even good sometimes, to drink in moderation in Bible times, the situation today is not the same.  And that the new, modern situation demands what we take the warning passages regarding alcohol as normative, and that it is sinful to drink a beer, or have whiskey, or wine, or whatnot. I'm not going to call those people pharisees.

I might not call them Pharisees, but in my mind this comes pretty close to "situational ethics."  It's like saying that God didn't anticipate what would happen in the 21st century, and that we have to "better" what he wrote and declare things sinful that he did not.  Anything I do (or a whole church does) for "wisdom" reasons might be a good thing (just like individuals being careful to not cause their brothers to stumble), but again, we have to be careful to not teach "for doctrines the commandments of men."  Explaining a clause prohibiting alcohol use as being wise rather than sin would certainly be a good start.

Quote:
Pharisees lead people to hell. That's not what people are doing if they say wine is a sin.

The Pharisees might not have been sending people to hell by telling them they should wash themselves or utensils before eating.  Personally, I believe this was a (legitimate) personal application they made, given the number of unclean things (like many types of insects) that would touch them or utensils on a nearly constant basis in an ancient agrarian culture.  And yet, the scriptures made clear that eating with unwashed hands did not defile a man (Matt. 15:20), so applying that personal holiness standard to others was shown to be at least unnecessary, and maybe wrong.

I'm certainly good with someone developing personal holiness standards (fences not directly tied to the scriptures), and even OK with a group like a church doing so, as long as they understand that such standards are not the equal of scripture, and that violating them (depending on the circumstance, like when private and not causing another to stumble) is not necessarily dangerous to them spiritually.

Dave Barnhart

T Howard's picture

from the article:

Quote:

I’m not suggesting that Bible Colleges are to blame, though several have seemed to lose their raison d’etre rather suddenly and cataclysmically in recent years. I admit to sympathies here, not only because (1) my experience at one Bible college played a key role in my ministry preparation but also because (2) Bible colleges have been tasked, by parents and churches, with the very difficult and somewhat unnatural task of functioning in loco parentis and in loco ekklesia. The problem, I would suggest, is much deeper than Bible colleges. The source of the problem, ultimately, is a general sense, born out of sentiments endemic in broader culture, and perpetuated at times in Christian homes and churches, that cultivating discipline and developing a work ethic are somehow dangerous, legalistic, or antithetical to the Christian Gospel. This is patently false. 

Bottom line: if you want to prepare for seminary (and specifically, for Detroit Baptist Seminary) and ultimately for pastoral ministry, start by learning the discipline of sustained reading, the long task of thorough research, the meticulous skill of writing cogently, and the meaning of hard work. Then, having cultivated these disciplines further in seminary and made them field specific to Christian ministry, you will be better positioned to be a workman worthy of his hire.

A few comments:

  1. Developing the personal disciplines discussed in the article is less about spiritual matters and more about being successful academically and personally. If you're pursuing an advanced theological degree and called to pastoral ministry, you need to develop the discipline of time management as well as the others mentioned in the second paragraph above. That's not legalism, that's just the truth about pursuing any advanced degree. If you're pursuing pastoral ministry to get out of these disciplines you have no business becoming a pastor. Period.
  2. Developing personal disciplines around cleanliness, timeliness, personal hygiene, hard work, study habits, etc. are part of growing up and becoming an adult. It's true: our culture loves its autonomy and freedom and thinks discipline, self-control / denial, and sacrifice are terrible. And, don't get me started on the fact that many in our society view these issues as involving "white privilege." However, if you study the lives of great athletes, leaders, etc., oftentimes their success in life is due to their discipline, self-denial, and sacrifice. They paid their dues, so to speak. Today, many people want to become celebrities by doing nothing in life other than posting YouTube or TikTok videos.
  3. I reject the idea that Christian colleges need to function in loco parentis or that they should function in loco ekklesia. These are not the roles and responsibilities of the Christian college. They do a terrible job when they try to usurp the role of parent or church to their students. Instead, they should treat their students as adults and allow their students to attend the church of their choice.
  4. Today, many young pastors are more interested in building their brand or their ministry clout than they are in being faithful shepherds. Further, they lack the disciplines required for sustained pastoral ministry. When things get hard they quickly move on to the next church. They like to blame God for moving to their next church ... which happens to almost always be bigger and pay more.
AndyE's picture

dcbii wrote:
But there's a bigger issue in my mind, at least.  Since I see church discipline as not only protecting the church body, but trying to save the soul of someone unrepentant, I think putting things like this on the same level as scripture does one of two things: 1. It says that breaking this rule that didn't come from the text is just as important as breaking scriptural prohibitions, or 2. It means that church discipline will need to be followed not just for issues dangerous to a person's soul or to the church, but also for things that are just specific to the "club."  Maybe breaking agreed-on rules like this, that are added for "wisdom" reasons should result in a different type of separation from the church that what is the norm for church discipline.  (i.e. we don't see you as an unbeliever, but you can't stay a part of this local church.)

But we are not putting the things in the covenant on the same level as scripture.  Maybe you don’t really like the idea of a covenant at all, which is fine.  The covenant is not the doctrinal statement, but rather things the local body affirms with each other. Many things are directly from scripture to be sure (e.g., “to walk together in brotherly love”), but others are more practical applications (e.g., “engage to maintain personal and family devotions”) or highlight areas of special concern in the Christian life at the church engages with this present evil age (e.g., “maintain a clear line of separation from all religious apostasy and all worldly and sinful pleasures, practices, and associations”).  This last category is where my church puts “to abstain from the sale of and/or use of intoxicating drink” and adds a couple things not found in Brown’s covenant (“and from the abuse of drugs, and from every appearance of evil”).

In other words, the covenant highlights things of special concern to the local congregation.  I’ve often thought, to pvawter’s point, that the covenant could stand to be updated on a regular basis, maybe reviewed every decade or so, to maintain relevance.  At my previous church, we read the covenant out loud as a church body at very business meeting, so that we would be reminded of what we have covenanted to do.  But I do agree that church discipline may not be warranted for violation of the covenant. It might warrant a separation, but one on good terms rather than bad.

Quote:
I might not call them Pharisees, but in my mind this comes pretty close to "situational ethics."  It's like saying that God didn't anticipate what would happen in the 21st century, and that we have to "better" what he wrote and declare things sinful that he did not.  Anything I do (or a whole church does) for "wisdom" reasons might be a good thing (just like individuals being careful to not cause their brothers to stumble), but again, we have to be careful to not teach "for doctrines the commandments of men."  Explaining a clause prohibiting alcohol use as being wise rather than sin would certainly be a good start.

I don’t look at it that way at all.  If we go down that road, then what do we do with a host of ethical questions not addressed specifically in the Bible?  And, besides, Paul does say there are times when it is good not to drink wine. It’s not like those situations were not anticipated in the Scriptures.  But to your point, I am very sensitive when I teach about not teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.  I really try to be very careful about that, and I’m upfront if I know I’m taking a position not commonly held or if I’m dealing with a wisdom issue.  I want people to see where in the Bible I’m getting what I’m getting, why I am interpreting a verse or word the way I do, and how I’m applying an ancient text or narrative to a modern-day situation. I certainly wouldn’t oppose adding clarifying verbiage to a covenant, but I’m not sure it’s absolutely needed, either.

Just as a footnote, when I was part of the founding of a church plant many years ago, I was involved with the development of our church constitution, bylaws, and covenant.  We did not put the abstinence item into our covenant.  I was fine with that. It was not because we wanted to say drinking was fine, but so that we could bring people along to a position who might not be there right away when joining the church.  At least that is how I remember it.  I would probably lean more towards having it in now, but there are various valid ways to deal with the drinking situation in a church.

Dan Miller's picture

AndyE wrote:

dcbii wrote:
On Rom. 14:21 that you quoted, I think putting something like an alcohol clause in a church covenant on the basis of that verse will depend on how that verse is taken -- is it for each of us to make a personal (good) decision to restrict our liberty at certain times to not cause a brother to stumble, or does it mean that all Christians must not eat meat or drink wine at any time?  Given that Paul mentions eating meat at other times, I would think the 2nd interpretation is out.  Not to mention Rom. 14:22, which talks about keeping our faith (presumably on such liberty issues from the context) between ourselves and God rather than restricting others' liberties in a church covenant.

I think Paul is saying that there are times when abstinence is necessary for the good of your brother.  I think that also means that the “keep it to yourself” option in vs 22 is not always possible or practical, depending on the situation.  But regardless, if it is good for an individual to abstain in certain situations, why would it not be proper for the entire church to do the same? 

Such a covenant, as usually phrased, prohibits a "strong" believer from having his faith to himself before God, which was Paul's advice.

 

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
Such a covenant, as usually phrased, prohibits a "strong" believer from having his faith to himself before God, which was Paul's advice.
I'm not so sure.  I you can keep your position to yourself, between you and God, without actually partaking.

Dan Miller's picture

T Howard wrote:
...

  1. Developing the personal disciplines discussed in the article is less about spiritual matters and more about being successful academically and personally. If you're pursuing an advanced theological degree and called to pastoral ministry, you need to develop the discipline of time management as well as the others mentioned in the second paragraph above. That's not legalism, that's just the truth about pursuing any advanced degree. If you're pursuing pastoral ministry to get out of these disciplines you have no business becoming a pastor. Period.  ...

I'm glad you posted this because I think all the alcohol and Romans 14 talk, while a topic I love, isn't really what Mark was writing about.

And yet consider the command to pastor Timothy (and by extension to all pastors) to study to show himself approved, a Christian worker who doesn't need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word. That is a Biblical command. Yes, the ease and inclination to follow it might be partly based in what you call a non-spiritual matter - diligence. But also it should be motivated by very spiritual matters: Biblical command, care for the flock, love of the Word,... 

Further, the "work ethic" is misunderstood as simply a secular willingness and heartfelt duty to work hard. Properly, as understood by reformers, it should be an understanding that work well done is "good," not just at providing a living, but as "good" service to others. So making shoes isn't "secular" while serving as a pastor is spiritual. Both are spiritual, and good and Godly service to others. 

And teaching you kids to work hard and serve others isn't just preparing them for secular life. It is instilling good Godly character into them. 

On the other hand, Paul says that to not work and provide is evidence of a lack of faith. 

--- Sanctification ---

I think Mark has some work to do in thinking through exactly what he means by this and what place disciplines have in sanctification. 

Dan Miller's picture

AndyE wrote:

Dan Miller wrote:
Such a covenant, as usually phrased, prohibits a "strong" believer from having his faith to himself before God, which was Paul's advice.

I'm not so sure.  I you can keep your position to yourself, between you and God, without actually partaking.

I think you're suggesting that Paul considered the strong (able to partake in meat and wine) to have a theoretical ability to eat/drink in good conscience. 

I don't think that's consistent with the passage. v.3 says, "Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains." Paul considers the strong to be using their strength, not just having it. So the command to keep it to yourself should be thought of as not using it in ways that cause a brother to stumble into sin (of eating/drinking or of blasphemy).

 

Dan Miller's picture

AndyE wrote:
...

I just happened to refer to this drinking issue in my SS class last week.  I said it was a wisdom issue. That we need to acknowledge places in the Bible where wine is mentioned positively and where the dangers are mentioned.  The classic danger passage in Prov 20:1 actually says if you are deceived by wine you are not wise.  I mentioned that our church has in its covenant a prohibition against the use of alcohol as a beverage, explained why I thought that was in there (see comments to Dave above) and agreed that I thought it was wise to hold to an abstinence position. I don't think I created any sort of extra-biblical command, but I did very briefly state my general agreement with the abstinence position.  Am I a Pharisee?

That is the key question. If I make an logical application of a true Biblical principle, the result is a Biblical conviction. And if you don't agree with my application, does that make it "extra-Biblical"? Well, in my opinion, it's Biblical. But you don't agree, so you'll call it extra-Biblical. 

You seem to believe that the abstinence position for alcohol is so obvious that it should be required for church membership and that if someone doesn't agree, then you would take that as proof that they are not a believer? I don't hold the abstinence position.

Phil 4:8 says to "think on these things." And that means to treat the listed principles as rules for life. When we think and conclude that something isn't good, lovely, etc., we should stop doing that thing, as a Biblical command. If our brother doesn't agree with one of our conclusions, does that brother have the right to call our conclusion "extra-biblical"?

So often that is the case. Brothers agree on a principle (together declare it to be "biblical") but they disagree on whether the principle applies to X. One says X is wrong and sees it as Biblical. The other says X is fine and sees his brother's conclusion as extra-biblical.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

AndyE wrote:

But we are not putting the things in the covenant on the same level as scripture.  Maybe you don’t really like the idea of a covenant at all, which is fine.  The covenant is not the doctrinal statement, but rather things the local body affirms with each other. Many things are directly from scripture to be sure (e.g., “to walk together in brotherly love”), but others are more practical applications (e.g., “engage to maintain personal and family devotions”) or highlight areas of special concern in the Christian life at the church engages with this present evil age (e.g., “maintain a clear line of separation from all religious apostasy and all worldly and sinful pleasures, practices, and associations”).  This last category is where my church puts “to abstain from the sale of and/or use of intoxicating drink” and adds a couple things not found in Brown’s covenant (“and from the abuse of drugs, and from every appearance of evil”).

This is definitely a bit OT now, but actually, I am in favor of having a covenant (our church does, and I was on the team responsible for it), but only as much as possible putting things in there that can be directly tied to scripture or its logical implications.  Our covenant mentions not being under the influence (i.e. strong enough to be similar to addiction or DUI) of anything that would inhibit a relationship with Jesus Christ and being filled with the Spirit.  That was phrased that way to naturally include drugs, which most that mention alcohol do not mention at all, and to make the use of alcohol closer to drunkenness than simply having a drink. 

We also have something similar to your clause about devotions that, IIRC, rather than using that specific word is more the idea of us studying the scriptures, and both personally and families having a relationship with God and Jesus Christ.  Although I'm sure our implementation is less than perfect, the idea was to have what we are covenanting be tied as closely to the scriptures as possible.  Our constitution specifies a committee that meets at least every 5 years to see if changes to the church documents are necessary, and interestingly, just like your old church, we read our covenant together at every regular business meeting, and sometimes at the impromptu ones.

I'm not actually sure if we would consider church discipline for the contents of our covenant either.  Keeping it as close to scripture as possible was the goal, though thinking on it I'm fairly certain there are some things that might be closer to local body applications, even with the constraints we set for ourselves when writing it.  It's not an exact science, as I'm sure you know as you have done it as well.

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If we go down that road, then what do we do with a host of ethical questions not addressed specifically in the Bible?

Well, I think we apply the Luther test to those as well.  Why is recreational use of drugs wrong?  Why is abortion wrong?  The Bible and plain reason together can tell us.  Wine and strong drink are tough to treat in the same way given the places where the Bible speaks of them positively, but anything related to drunkenness (like being stoned) is a pretty easy logical connection.  If we treat alcohol and substance use based on the drunkenness standard, then it's not really interesting if wine or hard liquor today are different from Bible times.  Drunk is drunk, and it's a sin whether it takes 8 glasses of "biblical wine," or just one medium-sized drink of Everclear.  And we can certainly still encourage either abstinence or being wise in its use.

Other issues can be dealt with the same way.  I'm OK with the idea that we should read and apply the scriptures with wisdom, and that not everyone will do it the same way.  I get leery when we say something like "no matter what the scriptures say about wine, wine today is different, so wisdom says use of it is a sin."  The biblical prescriptions on not being drunk or causing your brother to stumble are actually quite sufficient to help us figure out what to do.  For some that may lead to abstinence, for others moderate use.  To bring this back to impositions on others, I personally don't think the Bible record should lead us to a position of prohibition on all.

Dave Barnhart

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
I think you're suggesting that Paul considered the strong (able to partake in meat and wine) to have a theoretical ability to eat/drink in good conscience. 

I don't think that's consistent with the passage. v.3 says, "Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains." Paul considers the strong to be using their strength, not just having it. So the command to keep it to yourself should be thought of as not using it in ways that cause a brother to stumble into sin (of eating/drinking or of blasphemy).

Who is Paul referring to in verse 21 to abstain,  if not the strong?  What is he talking about in 15:1 ("We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak") then?  Doesn't "not to please ourselves" mean that you might have to abstain in certain situations?

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
You seem to believe that the abstinence position for alcohol is so obvious that it should be required for church membership and that if someone doesn't agree, then you would take that as proof that they are not a believer? I don't hold the abstinence position.
Proof that they are not a believer? Where did I say that?

G. N. Barkman's picture

I would not call a Christian brother a Pharisee.  (I should not have answered Andy's question as I did.)  However, I have identified pharisaical tendencies within myself over the years that needed to be corrected in the light of Scripture.  I believe all Christians possess such tendencies, and we need to ask the Holy Spirit to show them to us so that we can root them out.

Romans 14 teaches us that we should curtail Christian liberties, such as drinking wine, if doing so would cause a weaker brother to stumble.  This is an individual decision that each person must make before the Lord.  To require that all Christians must practice abstinence to avoid the possibility of harming a weaker brother violates the teaching of Romans 14.  We cannot prohibit others from practicing a legitimate Christian liberty simply because someone has decided that it should be avoided.  I am free to abstain in the presence of a weaker brother, and as a mature believe, I am happy to do so.  However, others may not require me to abstain in private.  No one has that right.  Christian liberties cannot be canceled by others.  I must make these decisions personally before God.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Here's the text of the Baptist Church Manual.  Other doctrines of note therein are perserverance of the saints, and explicit Sabbatarianism.  Just for reference.  

Regarding inclusion of certain "fences" in church covenants, my take is, per brother Barkman's comment, that it will tend to prohibit believers from engaging in behaviors which are explicitly permitted (and sometimes even encouraged) by Scripture, all while tending to undermine actual Biblical principles.  If we've got a principle where we're confident it's the clear implication that we ought to separate from a brother because it's real sin, but is implicit and not explicit in Scripture, let's go ahead, but let's not do so on the basis of disputable matters here.  Our default position is liberty, not bondage, after all.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

AndyE wrote:

Dan Miller wrote:
I think you're suggesting that Paul considered the strong (able to partake in meat and wine) to have a theoretical ability to eat/drink in good conscience. 

I don't think that's consistent with the passage. v.3 says, "Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains." Paul considers the strong to be using their strength, not just having it. So the command to keep it to yourself should be thought of as not using it in ways that cause a brother to stumble into sin (of eating/drinking or of blasphemy).

Who is Paul referring to in verse 21 to abstain,  if not the strong?  What is he talking about in 15:1 ("We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak") then?  Doesn't "not to please ourselves" mean that you might have to abstain in certain situations?

 

Certainly it is the strong who is called to abstain (sometimes) in v.21. But that doesn't mean he must always abstain. 
v.22 confirms that the one who believes he can eat (strong) can exercise his faith where it doesn't offend the weak. 
15:1-7 calls the strong to take on the weakness of the weak for the purpose of fellowship. 

While Paul advised refraining in certain fellowship, he also advised eating and drinking in private. 
Most abstinence covenants require abstinence period. 

Dan Miller's picture

AndyE wrote:

Dan Miller wrote:
You seem to believe that the abstinence position for alcohol is so obvious that it should be required for church membership and that if someone doesn't agree, then you would take that as proof that they are not a believer? I don't hold the abstinence position.

Proof that they are not a believer? Where did I say that?

Sorry - I think I made a couple assumptions here I shouldn't have.

1 Corinthians 5 teaches us to exclude members who are living unrepentant in sin. Along with Matthew 18, it is (in my understanding) the basis for Church Discipline and for covenants that limit fellowship. Those passages teach us that sometimes we should break fellowship.

IOW, what a covenant is saying is, "X activity is so clearly sinful that if someone won't repent of it, we can no longer consider him or her to have a credible profession of faith."

Romans 14 commands us to fellowship with those that God has accepted (credible profession) in spite of clear knowledge that our brothers/sisters do what we consider sinful and refuse to do other things we think are good. 

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
IOW, what a covenant is saying is, "X activity is so clearly sinful that if someone won't repent of it, we can no longer consider him or her to have a credible profession of faith."
  That is not how I view a church covenant.  That is how I view church discipline, but as I have thought through things in this thread, I don't think you church discipline someone for not keeping the covenant.  You might still want to part ways since that particular church body doesn't view the Christian life the same way you do.  Just like you might not want to join a Presbyterian church if you believe in believer's baptism, or a church that emphasizes Sabbath-keeping if you don't feel like that is for today, or if a church is more reformed or less reformed than you feel comfortable with.  Drinking is one of those issues. So far I have not be convinced by anyone here that Romans 14 prohibits a group of believers from voluntarily covenanting with each other to not drink. In fact, Romans 14 and 15 seems to side with the strong curtailing their liberty to protect the weak. I just don't get what some of you are trying to say here.

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Romans 14 commands us to fellowship with those that God has accepted (credible profession) in spite of clear knowledge that our brothers/sisters do what we consider sinful and refuse to do other things we think are good.
No, it can't just be that. Otherwise you have no basis ever for church discipline.  The very fact that someone is doing something we consider sinful,and not repenting of it, is the basis for questioning their credible profession.  Now the whole church in general has to agree it is sinful; otherwise, the church won't vote them out. So, if the church in general does not view the action as sinful, then we should accept and fellowship with them, even if we have a more strict conscience on the matter. That is sort of my understanding of God has accepted them.  

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
he also advised eating and drinking in private. 
Where does he actually do that?  Verse 22, for example, says to keep your faith (regrading what is acceptable -- i.e., it is faith because you believe the revelation from God that says the Jewish dietary restrictions have been removed) between you and God.  It doesn't actually say to partake.  Where does Paul advise to eat and drink in private?  I'm wondering if you are brining in thoughts from 1 Corinthians here?

Dan Miller's picture

Lots of things to answer. One at a time. 

AndyE wrote:

Dan Miller wrote:

he also advised eating and drinking in private. 

Where does he actually do that?  Verse 22, for example, says to keep your faith (regrading what is acceptable -- i.e., it is faith because you believe the revelation from God that says the Jewish dietary restrictions have been removed) between you and God.  It doesn't actually say to partake.  Where does Paul advise to eat and drink in private?  I'm wondering if you are brining in thoughts from 1 Corinthians here?

Romans 14:3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.

Romans 14:6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

 It seems clear to me that Paul believed that meat eating was happening and should continue to happen in the Roman community of believers. 

Romans 14:22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. 

You're right this doesn't explicitly say to eat meat. It does say to keep your faith private.

I think this means that the eating in faith should be done privately where public eating would cause a brother to stumble. You are saying(I think) that perhaps this means that the belief that you can eat should be private. But wouldn't that make the whole passage a violation of that? Paul openly stated that many Christians (perhaps even himself) believed they can eat meat. 

As far as 1 Corinthians, Ch. 8 and most of 10 deal with eating in the idol's temple, which is a pretty public thing to do. The end of 10 deals with market-meat, which is similar to the Roman dispute. Again there, Paul expected and allowed for eating - unless it was an issue for the conscience of someone present. 

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