Akin on Alcohol

Dr. Daniel Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has written an article in favor of the famous Resolution #5 (Resolution calling for total opposition to alcohol). Here is his article, with my own thoughts scattered throughout.

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)--I readily confess to a personal bias when it comes to the issue of alcohol.

My wife Charlotte grew up in the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home because her parents were alcoholics. Her father died a lost alcoholic. Her mother, by God’s grace, was saved on her deathbed; the twin killers of alcohol and tobacco had ravaged her body. Today, Charlotte’s sister and brother are lost alcoholics and so are most of the rest of her family.

My sister Joy and her husband Kevin King adopted a daughter born with fetal alcohol syndrome. She began life with this strike against her through no fault of her own.

-- There are more than 40 million problem drinkers in America.

-- Alcohol is the number one drug problem among teenagers.

-- One in three American families suspects that one or more family members have a drinking problem.

-- Misuse of alcohol costs our nation $100 billion a year in quantifiable cost.

Because of these experiences and many more, I often have said that even if I were not a Christian I would have nothing to do with alcohol. There is simply too much sorrow and heartache connected to it. Avoiding this devastating drug is simply the wise thing to do.

There has been a lot of talk about "wisdom" in the middle of this discussion. I agree we must pursue, and pray for wisdom. But "wisdom" is not law, and it is often subjective. What is wise for one man, may not be wise for another. I will agree in saying that abstaining from alcohol may be "the wise thing" for some people, but to suggest that it should be the behavior of all people is not only unwise, it is unbiblical.

This year at our convention we again passed a resolution calling for abstinence from alcohol. The resolution passed overwhelmingly, but it did generate significant debate both during and after the annual meeting. Some have accused those supporting the resolution of being pharisaical and legalistic, traditionalist and anti-biblical, that we fail to understand Christian liberty and freedom, and that we even stand against Jesus.

These are strong accusations from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. However, are they correct? Are those like myself who believe abstinence to be the best lifestyle choice actually guilty of these charges?

Some who have been speaking to this issue are rightly charged with legalism, pharisaism, and inventive theology based on something other than the Bible. Not all, but some of the more vocal advocates of the resolution have argued that to drink is to sin, and to argue for moderation is "liberal." Even Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggested that "Calvinists" who believe drinking in moderation is good are "antinomian."

Let me respond as graciously and kindly as I possibly can, explaining why I hold the position I do. I share my heart with no malice or ill will toward anyone, but from a desire to honor the Lord Jesus, and to protect others from the evils alcohol has visited on so many.

Cool. I would not have expected anything less from Dr. Akin. He's a good guy.

We should remember from a Baptist perspective that there are historical precedents for affirming abstinence.

In 1886, Southern Baptists issued their first resolution on alcohol. Since then, at least 61 additional corporate statements have addressed the risk of alcohol and the wisdom of abstinence. For 120 years, Southern Baptists have made clear their stand on this issue.

We have many precedents. As Baptists we actually have a longer, more historic heritage of enjoying alcohol in moderation than that of teetotalism. And some precedents are not good. Arguing for precedent is a more winsome way of saying, "We've always done it this way." It is not a biblical argument. It may be what we have practiced, but it may be something we must repent of. Some precedents are bad. In 1971 we passed a resolution encouraging Southern Baptists to work for legislation to allow abortion in the case of "damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother."

Individual Baptists no doubt continue to drink as some had before 1886, but the Southern Baptist Convention as a consensus whole has been crystal clear on where it stands for a long time. I am confident that our forefathers understood the issue of Christian liberty as they passed these resolutions. I am grateful for this tradition. I believe we should continue it.

There are moral reasons for affirming abstinence. John Piper teaches the wisdom of abstinence because alcohol can be a mind-altering drug, and it can be addictive; it does not help one in doing the will of God and can genuinely be a hindrance. He points to “the carnage of alcohol abuse” to support his choice to boycott such a product. He also reasons, “Is it really so prudish, or narrow to renounce a highway killer, a home destroyer, and a business wrecker?”

Look, no one is debating that alcohol cannot be addictive, or cannot be abused. We agree there. But suggesting that alcohol does not help one carry out the will of God is like saying eating a grilled cheese sandwich, or drinking a Coke, does not help us accomplish the will of God. Some will argue that homes are not destroyed by grilled cheese or Coke. Let me be clear. Lives are not destroyed by wine, but by its abuse. Lives are not destroyed by food, but by its abuse.

Some questions are in order and deserve an answer. Does alcohol make me a better person? Does alcohol draw me closer to God? Does alcohol help me run the race faithfully to the end (Heb. 12:1-2)?

There are many things that men do recreationally that do not inherently draw one closer to God, but may yet be an aide in things spiritual.

Some respond by saying the issue is not abstinence but moderation, arguing that the equivalent would be to abstain from eating and from marital sex to eliminate, respectively, gluttony and sexual abuse.

There is however a significant difference. We must eat to live. We must engage in sex to procreate. Alcohol is not a necessity for life or good living.

I am in total agreement with my spiritual hero Adrian Rogers who said, “Moderation is not the cure for the liquor problem. Moderation is the cause of the liquor problem. Becoming an alcoholic does not begin with the last drink, it always begins with the first. Just leave it alone.”

Hold the phone… er, blog. Whatever. Moderation is the cause of the alcohol problem?! By definition moderation cannot produce drunkenness. It means not over-indulging. For the record, I do not think moderation is the cure either. The Gospel is, and I have already made the point here.

I am in total agreement with my spiritual hero, Jesus, who said, "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." I am not trying to be a jerk, but am pointing out that the words of our earthly heroes must be tested by the words of Jesus.

My friend James Merritt wisely says, “It is impossible to be bitten by a snake that you never play with.”

Alcoholism cannot strike unless given the opportunity. That potential becomes real with the first drink one takes.

I think this is very important. This is the argument the Pharisees made. They sought to honor God's law by making additional laws that will (in theory) keep them from transgressing God's laws. Their motives are great, but this is a form of legalism that falsely binds men's consciences and produces something other than godliness while placing something other than the yoke of Christ on the necks of brothers and sisters.

There are biblical reasons for practicing abstinence:

-- It is consistent with the principle of edification (1 Cor. 6:12). Alcohol does not build you up or make you better for Jesus. Avoiding it ensures you will not harm yourself with it.

This is not consistent with the principle of edification. Abstaining does not build one up, nor make us better for Jesus.

-- It is consistent with the principle of refusing that which enslaves (1 Cor. 6:12). Alcohol is a drug that can impair the senses and has a potential addictive element. Like addictive pornography, it should be avoided at all cost.

Lust is sinful. Beer is not. Pornogaphy is the abuse of God's gift of sex, drunkenness is the abuse of God's gift of wine. We seemed to agree early on that drinking alcohol is not necessarily sinful, but then the wheels fall of this line of thought and we go careening back into legalism by equating something God says is lawful with sin.

-- It is consistent with the ethic of love for believers and unbelievers alike (1 Cor. 8:13; 9:19-22; 10:32-33). Because I am an example to others, I will make certain no one ever walks the road of sorrow called alcoholism because they saw me take a drink and assumed, “if it is alright for Danny Akin, it is alright for me.” No, I will choose to set an uncompromising example of abstinence because I love them.

They will also never see the example of self-control or moderation related to a huge issue in our culture. In the example of others who do drink "unto the Lord" the fruit of the spirit is on display, the power of the Gospel is seen, and the world sees what it looks like when men righteously enjoy one of God's gifts. The ethic of love does not rely on a one size fits all man made law. It assesses every situation one is in and allows Scripture to determine the course of action. There are times to abstain for the welfare of a weaker brother, and times to drink to the glory of God.

-- I will seek my joy and filling in the Spirit not in alcohol. I love the Phillips translation of Ephesians 5:18 which reads, “Don’t get your stimulus from wine (for there is always the danger of excessive drinking), but let the Spirit stimulate your souls.” Psalm 4:7-8 adds, “You [O Lord] have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

No Christian argues that we should find our ultimately satisfaction in alcohol. I could argue that Chritsians in Texas should find joy in Jesus and not in high school and college football. But such temporal forms of joy are gifts of God, meant to be enjoyed in their proper place. In fact God himself says he gives wine to gladden the heart!

-- It is true Jesus drank wine. However, there is no evidence that he ever partook of “strong drink.” As Bob Stein has carefully documented, “The term “wine” or oinos in the ancient world, then, did not mean wine as we understand it today but wine mixed with water. To consume the amount of alcohol that is in two martinis by drinking wine containing three parts water to one part wine [a common ancient ratio], one would have to drink over twenty-two glasses. In other words, it is possible to become intoxicated from wine mixed with three parts water, but one’s drinking would probably affect the bladder long before it affected the mind.” It is important to note also that children would have drunk this diluted mixture of water and wine. It seems clear that there is no one-to-one correspondence with first century wine and twenty first century distilled liquor. Concerning the latter, I believe the Lord Jesus would have no part.

Arguments from silence are often meaningless. There is no record that Jesus drank strong drink, but that does not mean he didn't. Saying he didn't is building your theology on speculation, not Scripture. Of course, saying he did would create the same problem. Besides, the argument/resolution is not about percentage of alcohol or moderation, but total opposition and complete abstinence.

Let me conclude with some practical considerations:

-- Should those who practice abstinence look down on those who do not? The answer is an unqualified no. That is pride and therefore is sin. It is true that alcohol has contributed to many going to hell, but pride, no doubt, has done so in even greater numbers. A smug, prideful abstainer without Jesus is just as lost as the poor drunkard who is always in search of another drink. Those who believe in abstinence should be gracious and humble, kind and caring, loving and patient.

-- As a pastor or church leader, would I demand abstinence for church membership? No, I would not. Would I demand it for leadership? Absolutely! The principle of Proverbs 31:4-5 is appropriately applied here, “It is not for Kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.”

A friend of mine responded to this by saying, "Why not? Why would you allow church members to participate in an activity that you have expressed your 'total opposition' to unqualified language? What other activities would fit into that category? This is an interesting use of Prov. 31 by a Baptist. We who take the royal priesthood of all believers so seriously must be careful in applying texts regarding kings to leaders rather than members of our churches. Should leadership be held to a higher moral standard than membership? No. They should be held to a higher attainment of the one moral standard for all believers--the standard of God's law. There can be no higher standard than that because no one can be more righteous than God."

-- I agree with John MacArthur. Can I say it is always a sin to take a drink? No. Can I say it is almost always ill-advised? Yes, because it violates the biblical principles of wisdom and witness. One of America’s leading pastors is Andy Stanley. He wrote a book titled, The Best Question Ever. That question is this, “What is the wise thing for me to do?”

I challenge anyone to show me the superior wisdom of drinking “in moderation,” as opposed to not drinking at all. This is not legalism but love. This is not being anti-biblical but pro-brother and sister. This is not working for evil but for good. Given the world in which we live, I believe such a lifestyle honors the Lord Jesus. I believe it pleases Him. Without question, it is the wise thing to do.

No one is saying abstinence is a bad choice for an individual. But arguing, as Dr. Akin has, that the wisest choice, the best way to follow Jesus, is to reject the example of Jesus and what God has given us because of potential abuse disregards the history of the church, as well as the other bible-believing evangelicals in other countries and denominations who chose to drink in moderation. If you spend some time in Germany, Canada, or England you will find godly, evangelical, pastor/theologians enjoying the gift of alcohol without abuse. There is an elitism common among Southern Baptists; a triumphalism that says God's greatest work in the history of redemption has been carried out through the SBC. I have to disagree. I love the SBC, but believe we are still in need of a lot of repentance, reformation and revival.

My hope for the SBC is the glory of God in the gospel of Christ, the power of his Spirit bringing about change through his word, and the sufficiency of Scripture to govern us in all faith and practice. I am hopeful a few will take Dr. Akin up on his challenge and submit their response in writing to BP.

Related Posts: Drinking with Jesus, The Sword and Spirits