Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Alcohol (2)

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17 ESV)

In the audio file found HERE, President Albert Mohler and Dean Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary give the rationale for why Southern Seminary (and, by extension, other Southern Baptist entities) exercise a total abstinence policy in regards to alcohol.


Before giving the rationale for Southern's total abstinence policy in regards to alcohol, President Mohler highlights two "really bad" arguments that should be avoided:

1. The Bible binds the Christian conscience to total abstinence from alcohol at all times, all places, and all circumstances; this argument is exegetically unsustainable.

2. Christian liberty is based upon subjective interpretation without respect to the body of Christ as expressed in convenanted communities.

Dr. Mohler then asserts that Southern Seminary's policy toward alcohol is produced by the Southern Baptist conviction that:

We should, for the glory of God, remove this temptation and remove this snare from the lives of families and churches because it is a small thing for us to remove this awful snare, and it would be a dangerous thing to allow it in place.

Dr. Moore frames the position of the Southern Baptist Convention toward alcohol in terms of social justice, in which there is an agenda being pushed by an industry: a particular lifestyle agenda in regards to alcohol, which is devastating lives; this agenda is now being put forth by multi-national corporations and was [in this form] absent in biblical times.

Dr. Mohler concedes that "wine" in the Bible was alcoholic (despite some bad arguments to the contrary), but notes:
1. Mass-produced alcohol is now intended to have an intoxicating effect, and getting people intoxicated is important to the bottom line of alcohol corporations.
2. Fermentation was necessary in biblical times, and was served to everyone in the family, and the Bible provides warnings in regards to more highly fermented beverages.

Some, seeking to prove that they understand Christian liberty better than their parents and elders, have given themselves to pride and immaturity.

[Again, hear the entire audio file HERE.]

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13 Comments:

Blogger Nathan White said...

I have a comment regarding point #2: "Christian liberty is based upon subjective interpretation without respect to the body of Christ as expressed in convenanted communities".

I would agree the assertion that Christian liberty is not individualistic, and not to be determined without respect to the covenanted communities.

However:

1) What specific covenanted community are we talking about? If by this he means an individual's local church, then I would agree with this point. One should be very careful to interpret Christian liberty in light of what their pastors/elders fellow church members believe. If we're talking about the church at large, then I would take issue with this point.

2) It seems to be implied that most Christians, or most in the church, do not approve of moderate drinking in the life of a Christian. This is very ignorant in my opinion. I would argue the opposite. I have found that, by and large, it is only the fundamentalists and the Southern Baptist Convention that even consider drinking to be an issue. And in my experience and travels, I have found that even Southern Baptists up north (or west, away from the south), have far less of an issue with drinking than those in the south --and even more so when we look outside the USA. So in my opinion, a much larger portion of the Church (at large) has no issue whatsoever with drinking in moderation; but to see that would require us to look outside some of our own denominational circles.

3) I am curious how this point can be ultimately be defended biblically given that Jesus and the Apostles very clearly and forcefully broke norms and codes of the Jewish covenant community. One can only think of Jesus refusing to wash His hands before eating and the condemnation He heaped on the elders for their traditions. So I wonder how far this point should be taken in light of the legalists tendency to spy out and remove freedom.

10:47 AM  
Blogger ajlin said...

re: 1-2.
Drs. Mohler and Moore are certainly speaking within the context of the 'covenanted communities' represented by local SBC churches, and, by extension, the SBTS. They are certainly not ignorant of (nor judgmental toward)other denominations' opinions, as demonstrated by some of Dr. Mohler's comments in the talk.

re: 3.
It's only "legalist[ic]," properly speaking, if tied to justification. And again, Dr. Mohler asserts that a blanket statement binding the Christian conscience to 'total abstinence from alcohol at all times, all places, and all circumstances' is improper. He is, however, arguing for the propriety of distinct Christian communities within certain societal situations to state a total abstinence position within their covenants.

[Dr. Mohler specifically contrasts his position with the "bad" fundamentalist arguments in Sword of the Lord, etc.]

9:21 PM  
Blogger Nathan White said...

Thanks for the response, Andrew, and the post(s).

I would disagree with this assertion: "It's only "legalist[ic]," properly speaking, if tied to justification." I understand your point, but I believe the term 'legalism' extends beyond justification.

Paul opposed Peter to his face not because he was preaching another gospel of justification, but because his conduct was "was not in step with the truth of the gospel". Here is one example, I believe, of legalism that is not directly tied to justification per se.

However, it could be argued that his conduct was tied to justification, because by implication he was separating himself from and excluding gentiles.

Thus, when I use the term 'legalistic' in talking about this topic (and other secondary topics), I'm referring to behavior or doctrine that implicitly or explicitly separates the body of Christ, makes 'classes' of Christians, and/or sets standards of behavior, not rooted in scripture, that lead one group to believe or act like they are better, or more holy, or more serious than the group that does not adhere to this behavior.

So legalism, how I use it, separates the body of Christ, or leads to self-righteousness, and always distorts the gospel.

1:51 PM  
Blogger ajlin said...

It's my understanding that Peter's actions were giving tacit approval to the Judaizers, and were thus directly tied to the issue of justification sola fide.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Nathan White said...

This is a bit tricky because 'legalism' isn't a biblical word or term, but rather a doctrine we've created based upon biblical teaching and principles. Thus, we cannot nail down its definition to one specific passage or two.

But what I am saying is that it is perfectly consistent with the biblical principles and common usage to define the term more broadly than just sola fide. That is, when we examine the Pharisees, Judiazers, and other 'legalists' in scripture, from which we derive the term, we see certain behavioral characteristics that are common to them all. It's not as if they are explicitly denying sola fide, but that their expanding of the law of God, hostile and extra-biblical separation from others they have deemed 'sinners', self-righteousness in acting as if they are better than others, and general doctrine of sanctification implicitly denies the principles of sola fide.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that it is 'legalistic' in any sense to have standards of behavior that transcend the law of God. Rather, I use the term here to refer to people who would label other Christians as 'in sin' for not holding to their extra-biblical standards (thus condemning them, the chief crime of the Pharisees), or who would, in a hostile manner, separate themselves from others --dividing the body of Christ-- over a standard of behavior not given in scripture. That is pharisaical behavior and can rightly be labeled 'legalistic' whether they explicitly deny sola fide or not, because of the implications.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Darrin said...

I read your comments and appreciate them, Nathan. Interesting to think of the church a bit more globally than we tend to do. I got the impression that MacArthur was focusing on some who give too much attention to alcohol (as seen in a blog post or two he cites) and so over-emphasize it, albeit from a positive light. I'm not saying to pretend we don't drink if we do, but it does seem to receive a bit much glory from some younger folks. But on your points, I tend to agree.

5:54 PM  
Blogger ajlin said...

Nathan,

Re: "I use the term here to refer to people who would label other Christians as 'in sin' for not holding to their extra-biblical standards."

-I agree that that would be wrong.

-I would still argue that the term "legalism" most properly applies to a denial of sola fide. Monergism.com, for example, defines "legalism" as "any attempt to rely on self-effort to either attain or maintain our just standing before God."

Re: "It's not as if they are explicitly denying sola fide,"

-Weren't they? It seems that the Judaizers were explicitly adding circumcision as a requirement for justification. Likewise, the Pharisees had an explicitly lawkeeping-centered understanding of how one was to be counted as right before God.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Nathan White said...

Andrew,

Perhaps we will have to disagree on the definition of legalism. In fact, thinking about your definition, I must say that it doesn't appear that hardly anyone in the evangelical church can be rightly accused of 'legalism', for there aren't many people around who explicitly deny justification by faith alone. So even the KJV only, women-must-wear-pants, sending your kids to public school is a sin crowd can't even be labeled as legalists, if we take your narrow interpretation.

But a few comments:
-Concerning your interpretation of Gal 2:11-14: your position stands or falls on whether Peter was associating with the Judiazers, when if fact the text only says 'the Jews'. I believe the text is focussing on Peter's separation, as Paul specifically condemns HIS behavior, rather than condeming his company and the implications therein. So while the context may seem to indicate the Judiazers are in mind here, I don't believe we can say with certainty, and thus I tend to lead towards a different interpretation.

-One difficulty in proving my position is that I actually agree with yours. I'd only add that it goes beyond sola fide and much more broadly defined. Oftentimes in definitions of the term, only the former is mentioned for the sake of brevity. Nevertheless, in this discussion, I will continue to use the term as I define above. And I do this based upon the following:

John Piper's Definition:
"Let me define what I mean by legalism... I want to try to define it in such a way that you can see that it is evil and that the New Testament does indeed deal with it, even if it does not use the word. I use the word "legalism" in at least two senses, but both have a common root problem. First, legalism means treating biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God's favor...The second meaning of legalism is this: the erecting of specific requirements of conduct beyond the teaching of Scripture and making adherence to them the means by which a person is qualified for full participation in the local family of God, the church."

Or, take Wikipedia. Now, we know Wikipedia hardly has the final say, but I add it here because I would argue that it accurately captures the common usage and biblical understanding of the extra-biblical term, and that is what is important here: "Legalism, in Christian theology, is a sometimes-pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit."

Or, Reformationtheology.com lists 4 classes of "legalists", which include: "Class-three legalists love the law so much they create new laws, laws not found in Scripture, and require submission to them. The Pharisees, who build fences around the law, were class-three legalists."

Or, take this 'letter' written by RC Sproul. Sproul is pretending to write as Satan to his demons, which may make it hard to see my point, but he absolutely includes my definition: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/legalism/

So then, again, when Christians add to the law of God, or separate in a hostile way from others over an added law, not only are the denying sola scriptura, but they are creating a standard of behavior that they believe pleases God while implying that those who disagree are displeasing God. If that isn't a form of self-salvation, I don't know what is.

1:48 AM  
Blogger ajlin said...

So, in addition to a wrong use of the Law for justification, contrary to sola fide, "legalism" may refer to the creation of [virtual] laws in the life of the Church, contrary to sola Scriptura?

If the above correctly summarizes your position, then I think that you are correct, and that I was wrong in overlooking a valid definition of the term.

The question [in practical terms] then comes to involve a discussion of when valid or invalid conclusions are being drawn from Scripture in regards to worldliness, etc.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Nathan White said...

The question [in practical terms] then comes to involve a discussion of when valid or invalid conclusions are being drawn from Scripture in regards to worldliness, etc.

Absolutely. Of course, as we know, even valid conclusions can be turned into some form of 'legalism', so the issue doesn't end there either.

And, on the other hand, an invalid conclusion doesn't necessarily mean someone has fallen into 'legalism'. We're called to make such conclusions to the best of our ability, and to avoid violating our conscience in many matters of behavior. "Test all things; hold fast to that which is good."

So I see the difficulty here (no matter if the subject is beverage alcohol, smoking, or the education of our children, etc.) as being loving others who come to different conclusions, not demanding that they adhere to our standards, and welcoming them into the body as believers in good standing. \

12:12 AM  
Blogger Nathan White said...

By the way, Andrew, what originally spawned our 'legalism' sidebar was this comment that I made:

"I am curious how this point can be ultimately be defended biblically given that Jesus and the Apostles very clearly and forcefully broke norms and codes of the Jewish covenant community. One can only think of Jesus refusing to wash His hands before eating and the condemnation He heaped on the elders for their traditions. So I wonder how far this point should be taken in light of the legalists tendency to spy out and remove freedom."

To which, in your response, you talk about attacks on sole fide. As I think about it, I believe you are right in this connection. That is, Jesus and the Apostles were forceful at times regarding popular aspects of religious behavior that were legalistic, but it seems clear that unless sole fide is being undermined, we have a responsibility to love and give up our liberty for the sake of others.

In other words, though I would say that certain misuses of the law can be 'legalistic' in tendency, I agree (with you?) that we do not have the right to tear down those tendencies (like Jesus and the Apostles did at times) unless sola fide is being specifically undermined. In this I would agree with your last statement in that some "have given themselves to pride and immaturity" regarding this matter, under the banner of tearing down what they see as legalism.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Nathan White said...

Ironically, Ligonier posted on legalism this morning, offering a definition from the Reformation Study Bible:

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/primer-legalism/

11:06 AM  
Blogger ajlin said...

re: "I have found that, by and large, it is only the fundamentalists and the Southern Baptist Convention that even consider drinking to be an issue."

-I wanted to re-visit this statement because of something I'm working on; it seems a little too limited. The Assemblies of God, for example, have a statement supporting abstinence from alcohol on their website, and the Methodists were historically tee-totalers, stemming from statements by John Wesley himself.

7:38 AM  

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