“Don’t smoke, drink, cuss, or chew, or hang out with those who do.”
“I can assure you of this: if you are associated with the use of beverage alcohol, I think I dare exaggerate not to say that 99% of all doors of ministry in the Southern Baptist Convention will be closed to you.” – Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2005
As Dan Kimball asks, “would Jesus then have 99% of the ministry doors shut on Him?” Apparently, in the Southern Baptist world, the answer to that question would be “yes.”
I think that the concept of “balance” is one that is lost on traditional Christianity. To be fair, though, the situation is improving. But every now and then you’re reminded that there is still a lack of tolerance in the Christian world to things such as drinking alcohol.
I’ve heard many stories from people who grew up in churches where you couldn’t go to the movie theater, couldn’t go to the ballpark, couldn’t go to the bowling alley, couldn’t use playing cards, etc. because of the association those places had with “sinful” activities such smoking, drinking, cussing, and chewing.
Yet there is a simple truth – while all of them are potentially harmful and/or disgusting, we simply cannot label smoking, drinking, cussing, or chewing sin.
True enough, smoking regularly will kill you. But I know someone who smokes one cigarette a year. Is that sin? Binge drinking is dangerous, and damages relationships and bodily functions. But Jesus turned water into wine. Was that sin? While the Bible says we should not take the Lord’s name in vain (a concept much more complex than we make it out to be), standards of speech are entirely subjective and culture-specific, and words flow in and out of vulgarity over the ages. How can we label uttering a specific word sin? And as disgusting as I think chewing tobacco is, how is it any different from smoking?
The issues surrounding all of these issues are simply related to “balance.”
As an example:
Nevada Couple Blame Internet for Neglect
RENO, Nev. – A couple who authorities say were so obsessed with the Internet and video games that they left their babies starving and suffering other health problems have pleaded guilty to child neglect.
The children of Michael and Iana Straw, a boy age 22 months and a girl age 11 months, were severely malnourished and near death last month when doctors saw them after social workers took them to a hospital, authorities said. Both children are doing well and gaining weight in foster care, prosecutor Kelli Ann Viloria told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Michael Straw, 25, and Iana Straw, 23, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts each of child neglect. Each faces a maximum 12-year prison sentence.
Viloria said the Reno couple were too distracted by online video games, mainly the fantasy role-playing “Dungeons & Dragons” series, to give their children proper care.
This is a classic example of how we don’t know how to balance our lives. Michael Straw received $50,000 in an inheritance, and spent it on a new plasma TV and computers. Then he and his wife tuned everything else out, including their children.
Somewhere out there, there’s probably a pastor who is preparing a sermon on how evil games are, and how good Christians shouldn’t own an XBox or Playstation. That type of reaction would have been quite common fifty years ago. Instead of such a reaction, we should be talking about how to appropriately balance such activities, and how to recognize when an activity begins to consume us.
At the Catalyst Conference last year, Louie Giglio discussed a Christian winemaker as an illustration, and mentioned that he and his wife enjoy wine occasionally.
On the official Catalyst blog post summarizing that session, they had to shut down comments. The anti-drinker comments got particularly nasty, and of course prompted nasty comments from the opposing side. But in the end, Louie took a lot of flack for admitting that he (gasp!) enjoys wine.
Trying to prevent any consumption of alcohol is an attempt to push us back into legalism, the same kind of legalism that said that bowling was a sin. The same kind of legalism that said that Christ couldn’t heal on the Sabbath. Getting drunk is a sin – that’s clear in the New Testament. But to take the step further and say that therefore we can’t drink at all, is once again acting like the Pharisees.
In any case, if Jesus were to step back into this world today, he’d be hanging out in the bars and reaching out to the people there. And just like the Pharisees back then, the Baptists (among others) would be outside complaining about it.
Full disclosure: I don’t drink. I honestly don’t like the taste of alcohol. But stuff like this makes me want to acquire the taste for it…