Legalism in the SBC

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TylerR's picture

Editor

Poor baby. He sounds like my 6-yr old when I take away his LEGOs. He doth protest too much. I recommend he wipe away his tears of frustration with these

In the meantime, I'll make this brief observation:

  • The SBC apparently feels that the Bible explicitly (or implicitly) teaches that alcohol must be avoided. This isn't legalism; this is sincere conviction based on Biblical principles. This charge of "legalism" needs to be substantiated. The author doesn't even try, writing, "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." This isn't an argument; it's a petty tirade - hence my analogy to my son and his LEGOs. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Whenever somebody disagrees with you, just call him a legalist... that'll teach him. (bogeyman)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

alex o.'s picture

Instead of dealing substantively with a well-reasoned article, some just mock and scoff. I could understand a young Christian opposing responsible alcohol use because of ignorance of the bible or being unduly influenced by erroneous teaching, but not a leader or seasoned saint. One has to be willing ignorant, in my opinion, to disallow and proscribe moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages to the responsible and 'of age' Christian.

Even John Piper who doesn't drink and prefers other Christians not to imbibe recognizes the danger of going to the other side of the spectrum and ending up self righteous.

. . . God hates legalism as much as he hates alcoholism. If any of you still wonders why I go on supporting this amendment after hearing all the tragic stories about lives ruined through alcohol, the reason is that when I go home at night and close my eyes and let eternity rise in my mind, I see ten million more people in hell because of legalism than because of alcoholism. And I think that is a literal understatement. . . .

. . . Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one. Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church. Therefore, what we need in this church is not front-end regulations to try to keep ourselves pure. . . .

http://philgons.com/2013/03/john-piper-on-alcohol-consumption/

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm waiting for you to break out your infamous chart on this issue . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Alex, you wrote:

Instead of dealing substantively with a well-reasoned article, some just mock and scoff.

I don't think it was a well-reasoned article at all; that's why I mocked it. He made no argument at all. He briefly mentioned that Christians can exercise self-control. I thought his article was actually pretty bad. 

You continued:

I could understand a young Christian opposing responsible alcohol use because of ignorance of the bible or being unduly influenced by erroneous teaching, but not a leader or seasoned saint. One has to be willing ignorant, in my opinion, to disallow and proscribe moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages to the responsible and 'of age' Christian.

I understand that you feel that way, Alex, but many others disagree with you. More to the point, many other people disagree with you and feel the Bible is explicit, at at the very least implicit, on this matter. 

You continued:

Even John Piper who doesn't drink and prefers other Christians not to imbibe recognizes the danger of going to the other side of the spectrum and ending up self righteous.

Please pardon me if I don't take Saint Piper very seriously. As he goes to bed tonight and lets eternity rise in his mind, I wonder if he'll think:

  • (1) his support of Mark Driscoll,
  • (2) his charismatic leanings,
  • (3) his efforts to have his Baptist church admit un-baptized Christians as members, and
  • (4) his moral pain over whether he ought to defend his family in a life or death situation

were really such great ideas. Maybe he needs a beer or two to think it over . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

WallyMorris's picture

Is the SBTS seriously considering allowing students to use wine for communion? If true, then this would open the door to wider use, no matter how much they might protest otherwise.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

WilliamD's picture

RC Sproul also endorses the use of fermented wine in communion: 

"There is an ongoing controversy in that many Protestant churches don’t use wine in the celebration of the sacrament. In fact, I think the majority of churches don’t use wine; most use a form of grape juice. One of the major reasons for that is the porblem of alcoholism, and church leaders want to protect their people from unnecesary temptation. In other cases, churches don’t believe Jesus used real wine.

I agree with Calvin–real wine communicates to our taste buds both elements–pain and joy, sorrow and gladness–and somehow, in my opinion, grape juice just doesn’t do it. I think we lose something there because, in the worship of Israel, God associated certain truths with certain tastes."  (R.C. Sproul, A Taste of Heaven), p. 170

 

David R. Brumbelow's picture

The full text of the

Southern Baptist Convention Resolution:

On Alcohol Use In America
June 2006

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.

RESOLVED, That we urge Southern Baptists to take an active role in supporting legislation that is intended to curb alcohol use in our communities and nation; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge Southern Baptists to be actively involved in educating students and adults concerning the destructive nature of alcoholic beverages; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we commend organizations and ministries that treat alcohol-related problems from a biblical perspective and promote abstinence and encourage local churches to begin and/or support such biblically-based ministries.
-SBC, Greensboro, NC

David R. Brumbelow

Dan Miller's picture

Part of the problem (and one that has shown up countless times here on SI) is that we don't have a set definition of "legalism."

Some say it means "Requiring good works for salvation." Some, "Requiring good works to have good 'standing' in the Christian community." Some, "Claiming that my conviction is necessary for someone else." Some, "Any promotion of rules within the church."

But "Legaism" isn't an exact Biblical word that we can define with the precision of Biblical usage. The author says,

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).

Moderate use isn't the same as "drunkenness" (I think we all agree). So Moderate alcohol isn't on the Gal.5:19-21 list. But surely that list is examples of sins - there are other sins that while not mentioned there, are still sins. If you apply God's Word and concluded that moderate alcohol is wrong, I have no problem with that conviction. But I would agree that to require a church (or Convention) to follow a personal conviction is wrong, even if the conviction is commendable, logical, and Biblical. More about this in Part 12 of my series...

Bert Perry's picture

Probably the biggest flaw in the article is that the author uses the term "legalism" for what is really loose exegesis and poor logic on the part of the SBC resolvers.  They reference only one passage, Proverbs 23, which describes someone with red eyes, stumbling, feeling no pain, and waking with a hangover, all of which occur at .15-.2% alcohol, according to This resource.  To get there at my size (~ 210 lbs) requires about 8-12 drinks; eight to twelve cans of beer or two full bottles of wine.  

In other words, the SBC document assumes that drunkenness and alcoholism are the same thing as social drinking, and millions of people who drink responsibly would beg to differ.  It does the cause of Christ no help to spread such silly arguments.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

SBC: 

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

I think we could debate the frequency of some of those things, but not that they are true. And we could debate whether the alcohol shares it's causal role with other important factors in each of those. But I don't think we can disagree that it plays a role in all those things.

And even though they didn't quote Scripture, things like "injury, death, breakup of family, addiction" are clearly things that Scripture is against.

For me, if the SBC had issued this as a warning to its members to take heed of the dangers, but had still affirmed the personal nature of the conviction they are promoting, it would have been fine.

WallyMorris's picture

Although I have many criticisms of the SBC (having grown up in the SBC), at least the SBC is trying to tackle the subject instead of caving in to the culture, as many Evangelicals and some Fundamentalists are doing. We can clothe our arguments with nice sounding words such as "freedom, liberty", etc., and while we do so watch the next generation take that "liberty" to a level beyond what we intended. The SBC leadership knows that many of their younger generation do drink alcohol, and I assume they are trying to confront that. Good for them. The denomination is establishing a boundary in order to help people with a problem that is basically a wisdom issue. I imagine they are trying to help people not act foolishly. However, if the SBTS allows wine for communion, then the wall is already cracking, and any resolution they have passed will be quickly forgotten by younger Southern Baptists. Allowing wine for communion but not for social drinking is a distinction without a real difference.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

SBC: 

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

I think we could debate the frequency of some of those things, but not that they are true. And we could debate whether the alcohol shares it's causal role with other important factors in each of those. But I don't think we can disagree that it plays a role in all those things.

And even though they didn't quote Scripture, things like "injury, death, breakup of family, addiction" are clearly things that Scripture is against.

For me, if the SBC had issued this as a warning to its members to take heed of the dangers, but had still affirmed the personal nature of the conviction they are promoting, it would have been fine.

I'll agree with the last bit, except to point out that when you look at the data on alcohol use worldwide and drunkenness and alcoholism worldwide, you don't find a terribly good correlation between alcohol consumption and alcoholism.  Peru, Columbia, and Sweden have relatively low alcohol use but higher rates of alcoholism/alcohol problems, while Spain, France, and Italy have high rates of alcohol use but very low rates of alcohol related problems.  

Now if they had defined drunkenness (Biblically) and warned against that and pointed to the dangers of hard liquor in particular (just like fraternities do, by the way), I'd be OK with that.  As is, however--including pretty much prohibiting anyone who attended Jesus' first miracle from church office, not to mention Jesus and the Disciples--their statement serves only as a textbook example of the hasty generalization fallacy.  The sooner the SBC can get off this hobby horse and start warning their members about the dangers of excessive sugar, fast food, and buffet restaurants, the better.

(reasons why wine and beer are less problematic are first of all because the culture discourages drunkenness, and second of all because the sheer volume you'd have to drink to get drunk compels people to slow down and go to the bathroom....whereas a motivated drinker could get to .15 in less than a minute with distilled spirits, and no trip to the bathroom)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

DavidO wrote:

Various authors (aggregated by Andy Naselli) stake out definitions for various (up to 4) types of legalism. 

If at least a couple of them are right, then Jones' concern may rightly be called legalism.  

Remember he subscribes to the WCF, which has a very interesting chapter on liberty of conscience, the heart of Jones' argument.  

David, thanks for that link. 

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Did someone say France has very low rates of alcohol problems?

French Combat Youth Binge-Drinking
“In decrying the excessive alcohol consumption of their compatriots, American and British health experts have long pointed to France with special admiration. Here, they said, was a society that masters moderate drinking. In wine-sipping France, the argument went, libation is just a small part of the broad festival of life, not the mind-altering prerequisite for a good time. The French don't wink like the English do at double-fisted drinking; they scorn people who lose control and get drunk in public. It's a neat argument. But it sounds a little Pollyannish now that France itself is grappling with widespread binge-drinking among its youth. Worse still, fully half of 17-year-olds reported having been drunk at least once during the previous month.” -Time Magazine, July 17, 2008; quoted in “Ancient Wine and the Bible.”

See more at:

Problem Drinking Outside The USA

http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2015/07/problem-drinking-outside-usa...

David R. Brumbelow

David R. Brumbelow's picture

“More precisely, legalism is the false belief that keeping certain laws - whether biblical or not - can be used as a condition for meriting God’s grace, whether for justification or sanctification (see Galatians 3:3). But one can legislate wise laws about human behavior without being legalistic in the biblical sense of the concept. Otherwise, laws against drunk driving and illegal immigration - and a host of other things beneficial to society - would be legalistic and, thereby, wrong.” -Dr. Norman L. Geisler; president, Southern Evangelical Seminary; author.

David R. Brumbelow

Dan Miller's picture

France has been having more of this problem over the last couple decades. It is said to be a change, but I wonder how much is due to better surveillance. 

Regardless, those who take a Biblical position of allowing moderate alcohol ought to be willing to admit that it is prone to abuse and addiction with devastating results. To deny that is dangerous. To minimize it is dangerous. 

The possibility of something becoming addictive and enslaving or abused and distracting from our mission doesn't mean that thing isn't one of God's gifts, meant to be enjoyed in moderation. I think you could make some sort of danger-addictive argument for every pleasure. 

If someone wants to avoid the dangers by total abstinence, that is fine. But it's not ok to require it. 

WallyMorris wrote:
We can clothe our arguments with nice sounding words such as "freedom, liberty", etc.

Wally, what do you mean by "nice sounding words"? These are Biblical teachings. 

Bert Perry's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

Did someone say France has very low rates of alcohol problems?

French Combat Youth Binge-Drinking
“In decrying the excessive alcohol consumption of their compatriots, American and British health experts have long pointed to France with special admiration. Here, they said, was a society that masters moderate drinking. In wine-sipping France, the argument went, libation is just a small part of the broad festival of life, not the mind-altering prerequisite for a good time. The French don't wink like the English do at double-fisted drinking; they scorn people who lose control and get drunk in public. It's a neat argument. But it sounds a little Pollyannish now that France itself is grappling with widespread binge-drinking among its youth. Worse still, fully half of 17-year-olds reported having been drunk at least once during the previous month.” -Time Magazine, July 17, 2008; quoted in “Ancient Wine and the Bible.”

See more at:

Problem Drinking Outside The USA

http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2015/07/problem-drinking-outside-usa...

David R. Brumbelow

Here is a link to the article.  I'm going to start by noting that the article does not mention how the data were collected; sociological data are loaded with poor methods.  But even if we accept the data as is, we find that the article also states that youth in France are simply deciding that drunkenness is acceptable, which is exactly the factor I mentioned.  The article also demonstrates another thing that I've noted; that among people without a bent to drunkenness, specifically adults in France, alcohol problems are low.   So what's the matter with youth?  Well, it could be hopelessness for the future, since youth unemployment in France is about 25%, about twice that of the U.S. rate, among other factors.

In other words, nice way of demonstrating that acceptance of drunkenness, not alcohol itself, is the problem, and that if we want to deal with the problem of drunkenness and its after-effects, we have to look at the root causes, not just blame the tool people use to get drunk.  Really, do we tolerate this kind of thinking when the subject is, say, firearms?  Of course we don't; we take another look at the data to see what's going on, and point out that family breakdown seems to be creating both young criminals and young drunks.  Now do we see this in France?

Yes, we do.

Honestly, we've got to do some better thinking on the subject (and less rather selective editing of sources) than we've historically done.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

“More precisely, legalism is the false belief that keeping certain laws - whether biblical or not - can be used as a condition for meriting God’s grace, whether for justification or sanctification (see Galatians 3:3). But one can legislate wise laws about human behavior without being legalistic in the biblical sense of the concept. Otherwise, laws against drunk driving and illegal immigration - and a host of other things beneficial to society - would be legalistic and, thereby, wrong.” -Dr. Norman L. Geisler; president, Southern Evangelical Seminary; author.

David R. Brumbelow

huh. I don't want to disrespect Dr. Geisler, but...

Legalism involves teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. State laws don't pretend to be God's laws. And obeying laws about drunk driving or the speed limit, etc. are not intended to be means of sanctification or justification. 

David R. Brumbelow's picture

“The Milan city council unveiled a study that showed that 34% of 11-year-olds have "problems with alcohol" (without specifying what those problems are). In June the Alcohol Observatory of the Italian National Health Institute found that 63% of youths under 18 get drunk on weekends, with boys consuming an average of four drinks per drinking session and girls consuming six.”

-Time.com, Italy Starts Cracking Down on Underage Drinking; July 29, 2009.

And the list could go on, and on, and on. 

David R. Brumbelow

Bert Perry's picture

My apologies for suggesting in my initial comment that David had selectively edited things.  I was wrong.

That said,  here is the link, and let's parse this quote out:

the Milan city council unveiled a study that showed that 34% of 11-year-olds have "problems with alcohol" (without specifying what those problems are).

Emphasis mine.  Now is the problem really that all those 11 year olds are drunks, or is the problem busybody city council members with an agenda to push?  The full quote leaves that question very open, and the article as a whole, again, demonstrates that the acceptance of drunkenness is the issue, not alcohol itself. The article states that young people are asking bartenders to "make something strong"--in other words, mixed drinks heavy on the hard liquor.  For whatever reason, kids in Italy want to get drunk--I'm guessing it might, in part, have something to do with their 44% youth unemployment rate and imploding family structure.  Yes, I looked it up.

Really, having been a young skull full of mush a few moons ago, I seem to remember that parties with alcohol and dope seemed to happen when mom and dad were out of town, or were hosted by the burnouts themselves.  

No bones about it; drunkenness is an issue, and that's something the Bible, and science, make very clear.  Drunkenness does lead to the consequences described in Proverbs 23, as well as the ravages of alcoholism.  Hard liquor, with typical alcohol percentages twice to five times that of wine, also makes it easy to get drunk.  But please; let's not confuse drunkenness with moderate use of alcohol.  The Bible does not, science does not, and hence we should not.  

Back to the subject, it almost seems that we need at least two words for legalism, one to describe the soteriological version where we say that if someone does not follow X rule, they are not saved, and one for law-making with a judgment on sanctification--though I'd have to admit they often overlap.  It would have been interesting to see whether the wordsmiths of the SBC declaration to which I heartily object had to work hard to remove both from the draft resolution to avoid these.  If they did not, kudos to the SBC for having delegates with at least that level of maturity.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

DavidO's picture

Pastor Brumbelow,

So it was ok for the Pharisees to legislate "washing with the fist?"  Jesus didn't seem to think so.  

This, to me (and Jones), is the fundamental error.  Individuals may sometimes need to impose "safe harbor" standards on themselves due to weakness, etc.  Individuals may never impose extra-biblical standards on others, period.  This is a yoke of bondage not to be tolerated.  

Jesus is Lord of the conscience, not the SBC delegates, or the FBFI board, or the Bible college faculty.

Having said that, Dan is right.  It does no good to minimize the dangers of alcohol.  My own father (whose death is at least partially attributable to alcohol abuse) demonstrated to me the destruction abuse can wreak in one's life.  Strict personal standards regarding alcohol are wise.  

Andrew K's picture

DavidO wrote:

Pastor Brumbelow,

So it was ok for the Pharisees to legislate "washing with the fist?"  Jesus didn't seem to think so.  

This, to me (and Jones), is the fundamental error.  Individuals may sometimes need to impose "safe harbor" standards on themselves due to weakness, etc.  Individuals may never impose extra-biblical standards on others, period.  This is a yoke of bondage not to be tolerated.  

Jesus is Lord of the conscience, not the SBC delegates, or the FBFI board, or the Bible college faculty.

Having said that, Dan is right.  It does no good to minimize the dangers of alcohol.  My own father (whose death is at least partially attributable to alcohol abuse) demonstrated to me the destruction abuse can wreak in one's life.  Strict personal standards regarding alcohol are wise.  

Hear, hear!

TylerR's picture

Editor

DavidO wrote:

So it was ok for the Pharisees to legislate "washing with the fist?"  Jesus didn't seem to think so. 

You cannot draw a legitimate parallel between the issues from Mark 7 (ceremonial washing, the inter-testamental prejudices against Gentiles, and the Corban rule) and the alcohol controversy. None. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

DavidO's picture

Tyler, please explain why. Somewhere above I was certain Pastor Brumbelow stated one may "legislate extra-biblical standards" for another/others, although I cannot find it now (edit?).

But what the SBC is doing is essentially what the Pharisiees were doing.  In order to keep people from crossing an explicit Biblical line (drunkenness, in this case), they have legislated an extra-biblical line to which they would hold people strictly acountable (tee-totalism).  How is this different from the Pharisees drawing fence lines to pull people up short of violating God's actual laws?  Do tell.  

 

 

DavidO's picture

On the other hand, I am disappointed (and somewhat intrigued) by the fact that the LBC2 does not include the 4th paragraph of WCF's liberty of conscience chapter, the rest of which they cribbed nearly verbatim. This is the point of love and mutual submission in the local church. If one goes to a church which has proscribed alcohol, love constrains one not to disturb that peace.

But do you see the difference there? The voluntary laying down of liberty out of love for another vs. the tyranny of the demanding others conform to the dictates of one's own conscience?

Andrew K's picture

DavidO wrote:

On the other hand, I am disappointed (and somewhat intrigued) by the fact that the LBC2 does not include the 4th paragraph of WCF's liberty of conscience chapter, the rest of which they cribbed nearly verbatim. This is the point of love and mutual submission in the local church. If one goes to a church which has proscribed alcohol, love constrains one not to disturb that peace.

But do you see the difference there? The voluntary laying down of liberty out of love for another vs. the tyranny of the demanding others conform to the dictates of one's own conscience?

It looks to me like the LBC2 simply chose to follow the Savoy at that point (an even closer parent document than the WCF, to my understanding) instead of the WCF. It may be nothing more significant than that. (http://www.proginosko.com/docs/wcf_sdfo_lbcf.html)

I hear Dr. James Renihan is working on a LBC2 commentary, however, and I'm very much looking forward to additional light that might be shed on this and many other issues when it is finally published.

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