The Issue Is Scripture!
Baptists, to a greater degree than any other group, have strengthened the protest of evangelical Protestantism against traditionalism. This they have done by their constant witness to the supremacy of the Scriptures as the all-sufficient and sole norm for faith and practice in the Christian life. (Robert Torbet, History of the Baptists, p. 483)
My goal as pastor of Bethlehem is to feed the flock with the Word of God and to press for biblical reform wherever it is needed. I love the Bible because I love God. I try to follow it because I want to follow God. I do not regard anyone’s experience as a better guide than Scripture.
I have taken the stand that abstinence from alcohol is wise, commendable, and a biblically defensible way of life which I adopt and urge to others. (The reasons are spelled out in the Sunday evening sermon of October 4.) I have also taken the stand that it is wrong to make total abstinence a prerequisite for church membership. The reason is that Scripture does not make it a prerequisite for belonging to the church.
We met to discuss this matter on Wednesday, October 14. As expected, there were strong convictions expressed by the congregation on both sides (to make total abstinence a prerequisite for membership and not to). I tried to be mainly a listener and clarifier of positions. I was listening for sound biblical arguments to the effect that occasional drinking should exclude a person from fellowship in the local body of Christ.
If my memory serves me correctly, there was none. Most of the time was spent describing the evils of alcohol abuse and how we should not encourage anyone to drink. I had heartily affirmed all that in my Sunday evening sermon.
Therefore, since there was no biblical support given to justify excluding people from the body of Christ who may drink occasionally, my position still stands: The New Testament does not exclude such people, and we impugn the all-sufficient authority of Scripture when we presume to say: “It is not in the Word of God but we forbid you a place in this body of believers.”
Three months of discussion remain. If there is compelling biblical support for excluding people from the body of Christ whose conscience before God condones occasional drinking, let it be heard! We will follow the Word of God!