For as long as I can remember I have been told that the group that I have been a part of always and in all circumstances held to the Bible as the final rule for faith and practice. In fact, in no uncertain terms, other groups were often purported as being the ones that placed human reason or desire above Holy Scripture in their development of doctrine and practice. The high churches, especially Catholics, were the worst offenders because they believed that their history of tradition (practice) should be placed upon the same level as Holy Scripture. Essentially, like Vatican II, concentric circles were drawn with my group in the center and other groups appearing on the succeeding lines in order from low church to high. This graph represented the belief that our group followed the Bible closest while the others travelled further and further out from the center of truth.
This whole way of looking at the Church was fine with me as long as I remained ignorant and uncaring about the larger Christian world outside of my own little existence. The problem came for me when I felt the Lord calling me to get a biblical education. Of course, I knew that this meant that God was calling me to go to our schools; after all, our schools were the ones that taught the real truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This is what I believed before I started actually studying the Bible for myself with the tools that I was taught in our schools.
Being Pentecostal, I was always enamored with the study of eschatology and the book of Revelation. I had watched all of the old dispensational dramas like “A Distant Thunder.” I had even shown the Left Behind series to my youth when I was a youth pastor. I encouraged them to be ready for the rapture of the Church at any time because they could be left behind! I helped them to gain a great appreciation for national Israel, because after all it was they who were really God’s chosen people. All of this I believed and taught before I learned to study for myself. Furthermore, I verbally beat my members over the head with the “holiness” message. If they wanted to be true Christians then they would strive to never curse, never listen to secular music, and never, ever smoke or drink a sip of alcohol. All of these things were the greatest of sins, next to being a Catholic of course. Every time I would hear a preacher from my group talk about sin, the conversation would immediately move to smoking, drinking, and cursing. These were the trifecta that were the signs to everyone that you were not really a Christian. Breaking any one of these rules meant that you needed to immediately repent because, who knew, you might just find yourself missing the rapture before you had the chance to beg for forgiveness!
Something began to change within me as I got a biblical education. Uneducated ministers would say that I had lost my salvation or my Christian liveliness – this is what Pentecostals often call “being dead.” However, the truth is that I began to discover that what the Bible said and several things that I was taught to believe that it said were worlds apart. At the same time that this was going on, the Lord brought great teachers and mentors into my life that were not afraid to challenge long standing beliefs and practices that were clearly unbiblical. In fact, all of them had been persecuted by others within the group for daring to go against the tradition. What I learned through all of it, over the past ten to twelve years of moving in biblical academia, is that the claim to the Bible as the final rule for faith and practice just was not true in every case. All groups within the Church develop their own dogma that is based upon a number of factors that move way beyond the bounds of the biblical text. Fortunately, many groups “cast a big enough tent” so that discussion on the non-essentials can take place without fear of persecution. Unfortunately, the group that I have been a part of often appeared to cast a big tent, only to zip the door closed when someone dared to challenge some of their pet beliefs. I guess that is what you get when in a group historically connected to fundamentalism.
Take for example the issue of alcohol. I have recently had many conversations with people from my group concerning the use or non-use of alcohol. To drink or not to drink, that is the question! Many in the group that I have been a part of have started to come to the same conclusions that I have come to: it is time for the group to “put its money where its mouth is.” In other words, if the group wants to claim that the Bible, and not man made rules, are their final rule for faith and practice, then they actually need to practice that! Over the years I have seen how this faux view of holiness that created such beliefs has actually caused many to turn from the faith. This generally happens for two reasons: 1) People begin to realize that it is unbiblical. 2) People constantly fail to live up to the Pharisaical standards created by others and end up giving up. Ironically, Jesus alludes to this same thing happening in his day. Jesus, seeing how the Pharisees added all of their man made laws unto God’s, told them that they travel the whole world to win one convert only to turn that one into twice the son of hell that they were (Matt 23.15).
The tradition within the group that I have been a part of has done the same thing with many issues, including the issue of alcohol. Of course, the problem is that the biblical text is very clear on the use of alcohol – it is permitted with moderation. As aforementioned though, the group that I have been a part of rejects this clear teaching in favor of the holiness that it has created in its own image. Holiness, we are made to believe, is about what one takes into the body as much as what comes out of one’s body. The only problem with this is that Jesus actually said the exact opposite. He said that no one can be made unclean by anything that is taken into the body but it is what comes out of the body that makes one unclean (Mark 7.14; cf. Matt 15)! This means that if we want to hold to Holy Scripture as our final rule for faith and practice then we must change our tradition so that it lines up with Scripture. But when this is pointed out the conversation quickly devolves into historic practices and beliefs of the group again. So, I ask, what is the difference between the group that I have been a part of and the Catholics that they love to hate so much? Do not both hold that their tradition in certain circumstances is equal or even superior to Scripture? Do not both attempt to interpret Scripture in light of their tradition? These are some of the questions that have changed my life!
In the aforementioned recent conversations, it has become even more apparent that the Bible is not always the final rule for faith and practice for the group that has always claimed it as such. The leader of this group was even called in recently to a conversation in order to “correct” the ones who tried to help the others understand how their beliefs and practice concerning the issue of alcohol was unbiblical. Other leaders within the group got heavily involved and began to give all sorts of philosophical reasons why one should continue to “hold up the standard” of the group’s tradition. Like I said, it is zipper time when it is a “pet” issue. Now, this does not mean that most of the group’s faith and practice is unbiblical, for indeed it is. But what it means is that in these cases it is an example of what takes place when we put our desires and beliefs before the Word of God. We are always in error when we begin to use our own reasoning and philosophy to try to circumvent Holy Scripture to make it fit within our paradigms. We need to all reconsider our thoughts on Holy Scripture so that we may reaffirm it as the genesis for all of our faith and practice. This is a serious task that will also cause us to reflect upon what we believe and change what needs to be changed in order to line up with Scripture. If Holy Scripture truly is our final rule for faith and practice, then our faith and practice should line up with Holy Scripture! If it does not, then it needs to be challenged immediately!
To finish off this little posting here are some texts dealing with the issue of alcohol and holiness:
After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.
“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? “For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’ “But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ ” After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. “But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. “And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’ ”
“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” (in other words, they could tell the difference – it says nothing of people being too drunk so that they could not tell that Jesus’ wine was not alcoholic!)
But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day.
II Cor 10.28-31
Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
1 Tim 3.8
Deacons must also be of good character. They must not be two-faced or ADDICTED to alcohol.
1 Tim 5.23
No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.
For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick- tempered, not ADDICTED to wine.
Tell older women to live their lives in a way that shows they are dedicated to God. Tell them not to be gossips or ADDICTED to alcohol
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a PRIEST of God Most High.
Its grain offering shall then be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire to the Lord for a soothing aroma, with its drink offering, a fourth of a hin of wine.
Then the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. It is holy for the priest, together with the breast offered by waving and the thigh offered by lifting up; and afterward the Nazirite may drink wine.’
and you shall prepare wine for the drink offering, one-fourth of a hin, with the burnt offering or for the sacrifice, for each lamb. ‘Or for a ram you shall prepare as a grain offering two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-third of a hin of oil; and for the drink offering you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a soothing aroma to the Lord.
All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the Lord, I give them to you.
that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil.
“You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.
You have put gladness in my heart, More than when their grain and new wine abound.
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine which makes man’s heart glad
Honor the Lord from your wealth. And from the first of all your produce;
So your barns will be filled with plenty. And your vats will overflow with new wine.
Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.
The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine.
Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion,
And they will be radiant over the bounty of the Lord—
Over the grain and the new wine and the oil
And in that day
The mountains will drip with sweet wine,
And the hills will flow with milk,
And all the brooks of Judah will flow with water;
And a spring will go out from the house of the Lord
Do not altogether abstain from wine and flesh, for these things are not to be viewed with abhorrence, since [the Scripture] saith, “Ye shall eat the good things of the earth.” And again, “Ye shall eat flesh even as herbs.”6 And again, “Wine maketh glad the heart of man, and oil exhilarates, and bread strengthens him.” But all are to be used with moderation, as being the gifts of God.
There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands.
God give to thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, plenty of corn and wine.
And the list could go on and on and on…
So, why against the warnings of St. Paul do we cause division in the body of Christ by proclaiming something that God gave to be unholy and by suggesting that our brothers and sisters who partake of it are unholy, unworthy, sinful, immoral, or not minister material for us, when the Bible, Church history, and the vast majority of the Church today disagree with us?