SBC 2006 – Debate on beverage alcohol use dominates resolutions report time

GREENSBORO, N.C.–Messengers to the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention adopted resolutions on such currently controversial topics as immigration and the environment June 14, but the debate time was dominated by an issue addressed repeatedly in the convention’s 161-year history–alcohol.

A lengthy debate on a recommendation concerning the use of alcoholic beverages consumed the Resolution Committee’s report in the morning session. In a departure from recent years, the committee needed the evening session to complete its report.

When the back-and-forth on alcohol finally ended, the messengers passed with about a four-fifths majority a resolution not only opposing the manufacture and consumption of alcohol but urging the exclusion from election to the convention’s boards, committees and entities those Southern Baptists who drink. Like other resolutions, it is not binding on SBC churches and entities.

The resolution’s supporters contended the action was needed because some Christians believe they may drink based on a wrong interpretation of the believer’s “freedom in Christ.” They said abstaining from alcohol preserves a Christian’s purity and testimony, while drinking can be a “stumbling block” for others and has destructive results.

Opponents argued that the resolution promoted a position based on Southern Baptist tradition instead of Scripture, which describes the use of wine in the Old and New Testaments. Concern also was expressed that a resolution excluding those who drink alcohol could be the start of a list of sins that would disqualify people from serving in the convention.

The passage of the resolution marked the first time the SBC had approved an alcohol-related recommendation since 1991, according to the records of the convention’s Executive Committee. The 15-year gap is the longest between approved resolutions on alcohol since the convention adopted its first such recorded measure on the topic in 1886. In all, the SBC has approved 57 resolutions related to alcohol since that year.

T.C. French, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, acknowledged afterward that the panel was a “little surprised” the alcohol measure dominated debate, considering some of the other issues addressed in the 15 resolutions.

“Since we had not presented [a resolution] on alcohol in a number of years, we felt like we needed to get that done,” French told reporters.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards, a messenger from First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, introduced on the floor an amendment calling for abstinence among those serving SBC entities, and the Resolutions Committee endorsed his recommendation. Passed with about four-fifths of messengers in favor, the amendment stated: “Resolved, that we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or a member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.”

First to speak against the original motion prior to amendment was Arlington pastor Benjamin Cole of Parkview Baptist Church. While noting he does not advocate drinking, Cole said he feared the convention was in danger of “misstepping” if it adopted “a position that is contrary to what the Bible teaches in the flexibility of the scriptural admonitions as they relate to the consumption of alcoholic beverages.”

Cole said his father died at the age of 39 from a liver disease brought on by alcoholism. “My father did not die because he drank alcohol; my father died because he drank alcohol in excess,” said Cole, who said as a 13-year-old he cared for his father during the last six months of his life.

“We don’t have a single messenger here suffering from heart disease and diabetes because they eat. They’re suffering those things because they over eat and eat in excess. By adopting the resolution that speaks against the sins that this body does not commit in order to forsake resolutions that may speak to the sins that this body may commit is sounding an uncertain sound and in that circumstance, who can prepare for battle?”

In defense of the resolution, committee member Dwayne Mercer, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oviedo, Fla., said while he appreciates “the fact that people become alcoholics because they drink too much alcohol, my parents always taught me, ‘If you don’t take the first drink, you don’t have to worry about taking the last.’”

Mercer said, “We have gone from saying this is a grey area to something that you can do if you choose to do, to all the way now, among some of our younger people, you can do this, drink alcohol under the guise of freedom in Christ—whatever you feel you want to do as long as you worship God and read the Bible.” He urged support for the committee’s resolution, hoping to make Southern Baptists aware of “what’s going on across the country.”

Rising to offer his amendment, Richards said, “It is important for us as Southern Baptists to stand for holiness and purity in our walk. While there may be liberty, we cannot violate 1 Corinthians 8 and 9 where it says our liberty can become a stumbling block.” As a denomination, Richards said, holiness is needed.

“The use of alcohol as a beverage can and does impede our testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ,” he insisted, prompting strong applause from messengers. He called for the amendment’s passage so that messengers might speak to the matter and “leaders might take the high road in our walk with the Lord Jesus.”

Voicing opposition to the amendment, Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., and executive director of Founders Ministries, a Southern Baptist organization that advocates Reformed theology, expressed appreciation for his friend’s concern for holiness, referring to Richards. “I do not think we can be more holy than Jesus Christ and Christ turned water into wine.”

Ascol added, “I’d hate to see this convention start a list of sins so perceived that men cannot commit and then be allowed to serve this convention,” prompting scattered, yet strong applause.

Douglas Due of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Carolton, Ga., reminded, “The Bible says we are to shun the very appearance of evil. Everything surrounding the alcohol industry is corrupt and leads to destroying lives of our children and our families.” He urged passage of the amendment, stating, “This convention needs to take a strong stand and say this is just wrong and we as a people want to do what God would have us to do and lead holy and pure lives.”

After messengers approved the amendment by what Baptist Press judged to be a four-fifths majority, Wes Pastor of Christ Memorial Church in Williston, Vermont, spoke against the amended resolution. “I want to remind the messengers in a humble way that the scriptures are very clear that the blessing of God in the Old Testament included the blessing of wine,” he said, citing Proverbs 34.

“Obviously, the Lord Jesus Christ drank wine, the apostles drank wine, Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach ailment.” Recognizing that wine was a diluted form then, Pastor added that it was still a fermented beverage, based on the concern that some might be drunk on the Day of Pentecost.

“My opposition is not because I’m a wino. It may sound that way by the way I’m seemingly endorsing it,” he said. “But I’m not. I don’t have any alcoholic beverage in my house. Occasionally, at a wedding, if a toast is offered I’ll drink wine, but I don’t ever like the taste of it.”

Pastor said the decision should be based on whether messengers are “standing on the Word of God or standing on our tradition.” He urged “that we not take a stand that says we express our total opposition to consuming alcoholic beverages” given the examples from Jesus, the apostles and Paul’s instruction to Timothy.

Jason Lupo, who identified his church as Greenlawn Baptist, said he knew the effects of alcohol and drug abuse personally, having spent two years and seven months in prison. “It all started with drinking beer when I was eight years old.”

He said, “The resolution is to take a stand against something that is destroying our world.” After being interrupted by applause, Lupo added, “The resolution states very plainly alcoholism has led to countless deaths on our nation’s highways.”

In opposing the amended resolution, Jeff Young, pastor of Corinth Baptist Church in Ravenna, Texas, said the older members of the SBC had won the battle to proclaim the Bible is “authoritative and sufficient, but when we pass extra-biblical resolutions such as this, we pull the rug out from underneath that teaching.” He urged messengers “not to pass such extrabiblical resolutions weakening the positions that have been won with such heartfelt battle over the past few decades.”


Tom Strode and Tammi Ledbetter
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