The SBC on Alcohol

John ArmstrongSouthern Baptists

The Southern Baptist Convention, which continues to discover new ways to promote the agenda of conservative populist groups within their circles, approved a resolution this week on the consumption of alcohol. The messengers to the annual convention dealt with fifteen resolutions this past week, including one on immigration and another on the environment, demonstrating that “hot buttons” often dominate conservative Baptist life. But it was the resolution on alcohol, and the debate surrounding it, that caught my attention.

The alcohol resolution was the most debated of all at the 2006 convention. This is most definitely not the first time this subject has taken center stage for Southern Baptists. It really serves to remind us that Baptists and abstinence have a deep historical, and contemporary, connection. I grew up in this setting and was thus taught from earliest remembrance that alcohol was a great evil and we must oppose it to be good Christians.

It is important to understand that the resolutions of the SBC are not binding on member churches. But they do have an effect, often an adverse one. An amendment added to this resolution also passed stating that the SBC is against the election of Baptists who consume alcohol from the convention’s board, committees and other related entities. Those who favor this statement argued that the abstinence position preserved Christian purity and testimony and would not put a “stumbling block” in the path of others.

The SBC has approved 57 resolutions against alcohol since 1886. One could almost say these Southern Baptists have alcohol on their minds a lot of the time. One leader referred to Baptists taking “the high road in our walk with the Lord Jesus.” This means, by obvious deduction, that anyone who does drink takes “the low road.” I grew up in a congregation that took this stand but many of the deacons and leaders did, in reality, drink. There was never any serious attempt to enforce any of this strong rhetoric in most cases.

Tom Ascol, an excellent Christian man and a leader among Calvinistic Southern Baptists, voiced opposition to the resolution by citing Jesus’ actions at the wedding in Galilee. Another pastor argued that the measure was “a position . . . contrary to what the Bible teaches in the flexibility of the scriptural admonitions as they relate to the consumption of alcoholic beverages.” Yet still another pastor, whose father died of alcoholism, spoke against the resolution saying: “the Bible teaches . . . flexibility . . .” with regard to admonitions about the consumption of alcoholic beverages.   

I think the most telling statement of all came from Jeff Young, pastor of Corinth Baptist Church in Ravenna, Texas. (I have never understood why anyone named a church after the biblical Corinth!) Young noted that older members of the SBC had won a battle for the Bible as “authoritative and sufficient, but when we pass extra-biblical resolutions such as this, we pull the rug out from underneath that teaching.” Well said Jeff!!! I sadly doubt, however, that you will be heard in the higher echelons of the SBC when those who control the politics of the present entity are so sure of their views on almost every issue that they debate these days.