Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Andrew Fuller, Missouri Baptists, and Alcohol

Two seemingly unrelated things are on my mind tonight—Andrew Fuller, and the Missouri Baptist Convention’s policies on alcohol. Why? Well, one of my friends from Southern Seminary, and a fellow former church member at Clifton Baptist, Kevin Larson, is one of the church planters who have been defunded by the Missouri Baptist Convention due to their affiliation with the Acts 29 church planting network. What motivated this move by the convention? The most likely candidate is the issue of alcohol. The Missouri Convention executive board is enforcing a total abstinence policy for their agency employees quite strictly. In fact, I would say they’ve gone a bit overboard. My friend Kevin has said in an interview with the Founders ministry that he abides by the total abstinence policy, and that the convention had previously approved his interpretation of their policy. But his affiliation with the Acts 29 network is what is costing the work that he is a part of their backing by the MBC. What’s the problem with Acts 29? It would seem that the problem is that they have no such abstinence only policy. Acts 29 allows churches to be affiliated where the planter has a “Christian liberty” view of the use of alcohol. What this reminds me of is the triple separationist attitude of many fundamentalists. By fundamentalists, I mean those groups who think Billy Graham is too liberal. In Graham’s 1951 New York crusade, he allowed some liberals to participate and he did not draw a line of fellowship since they desired to be a part of the crusade. On this basis of refusing to separate from liberals, Graham was lumped in with the liberals by the fundamentalists. I may not know all the details, but it seems that this is what is happening in Missouri, my friend Kevin isn’t being defunded because he disagrees with or disobeys the convention policy, but because he is a part of a church planting network who refuses to draw a line of separation over the issue of total abstinence from alcohol.

The second thing on my mind is Andrew Fuller. Why? Because my lovely wife gave me his Complete Works for Christmas. I was quite pleased and will enjoy this gift and get much profit from it. What does this have to do with the MBC? I was just curious what Fuller’s position on the use of alcohol would have been, so I checked the index and found only one reference listed for the entire 1012 page work. This reference was to drunkenness, and it was contained in his “Exposition of Genesis,” in the section about Noah after the flood. This is what Fuller had to say about Noah’s work as a vineyard keeper,

Perhaps there is no employment more free from snares. But in the most lawful occupations and enjoyments we must not reckon ourselves out of danger. It was very lawful for Noah to partake of the fruits of his labour; but Noah sinned in drinking to excess. He might not be aware of the strength of the wine, or his age might render him sooner influenced by it; at any rate we have reason to conclude, from his general character, that it was a fault in which he was “overtaken.” But let us not think lightly of the sin of drunkenness. “Who hath woe? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine.” Times of festivity require a double guard. Neither age nor character is any security in the hour of temptation. . . Drunkenness is a sin which involves in it the breach of the whole law, which requires love to God, our neighbor, and ourselves. The first abusing his mercies; the second as depriving those who are in want of them of necessary support, as well as setting an ill example; and the last as depriving ourselves of reason, self-government, and common decency. It also commonly leads on to other evils.[1]

Is this enough to guess what position Fuller would have held on the use of alcohol? It gives a few clues from which we can draw conclusions. First, he explicitly says that it was perfectly “lawful for Noah to partake of the fruits of his labour.” This might beg the question for some, “Was Fuller talking about wine or grape juice? Given the context of the statement this is really a silly question. In the very next sentence Fuller says that Noah, “might not be aware of the strength of the wine, or his age might render him sooner influenced by it.” Clearly, if Fuller thought that Noah’s lawful partaking of the fruits of his labor were merely to drink grape juice, then the very next statement makes no sense at all. Fuller held a biblically balanced position that condemned drunkenness as “a breach of the whole law,” yet he approved of Noah partaking in alcohol as long as it was not in excess.

One other issue comes to mind as I think about the controversy in the Missouri Baptist Convention—Biblical Authority. During the Building Bridges conference last month someone asked a question during the panel discussion that implicated Calvinists as being lax on sanctification—an implication that appeared to be rejected by both sides of the panel. The youngest member of the panel, Nathan Finn, spoke to the issue (with the assumption that the question referred to the alcohol issue) and concluded that this is not a Calvinism issue but a generational difference. I will agree with him, but I think that there is a reason for the generational difference. I will be 30 years old this March. The conservative resurgence began their unbroken streak of conservative SBC convention presidential wins the year after I was born. Many young seminary students and young pastors in my age demographic refuse to claim that drinking by itself is a sin. I would venture a guess that this refusal is an unintended consequence stemming directly from the conservative resurgence. With a return to a commitment to biblical authority, young leaders are increasingly seeing that to claim that drinking without getting drunk is a sin will erode our view of biblical authority. The Bible clearly condemns drunkenness, yet sees alcohol as a God given gift to be enjoyed as long as it is not abused. To insist on total abstinence in all situations by all Christians is to be (at the least) inconsistent with Sola Scriptura. Up and coming young Baptist leaders of a new generation are committed to biblical authority without compromise. The logical consequence of this is that graduating students who are now young pastors will reject man-made traditions that add to the Christian’s moral requirements on sub-biblical grounds. They will also return to a view held by earlier Baptists such as Andrew Fuller who condemned drunkenness, yet did not take this further than the Scriptures allowed.

[1]Andrew Fuller, “Exposition of Genesis,” in The Works of Andrew Fuller” Ed. Michael Haykin (East Peoria, IL: Banner of Truth, 2007), 364.

1 comment:

Kevin P. Larson said...

Dude, Andrew Fuller obviously doesn't understand his Bible, and he must be a liberal. Seriously, good words!