I’ve become more interested in Les Puryear’s blog (www.lesliepuryear.blogspot.com) since the Southern Baptist Convention, and find that his discussion about all things distinctive about the SBC are helpful in many ways.
Previously I posted a general response to some of his thoughts, but want to address some of his concerns about Reformed Baptist thought and practice specifically.
Before beginning his series on the differences between Reformed Baptists and what he calls ‘traditional’ Southern Baptists, he posted an article entitled ‘Why I Don’t Drink Alcoholic Beverages.’
I think that it is perfectly acceptable, from the perspective of both biblical interpretation and practical expedience, for a believer to decide it is better for him to avoid alcohol entirely. The grounds for such a decision might include the reputation of the believer and his ability to witness, the influence of alcoholism, and so forth. In this regard, I agree with much of Puryear’s assessment and have no difficulty with many of the reasons for his alcohol avoidance.
However, I part company with tee-totalers when they conclude 1) that all believers should join them, or 2) that avoiding alcohol is ‘who we are’ as Southern Baptists.
Part of the problem is the view that all alcohol consumption implicates the biblical principle of not being a ‘stumbling block.’ Puryear references this Pauline principle, and adds “While it may be perfectly fine biblically for me to have a glass of wine with my meal in a good restaurant, it is not perfectly fine biblically for my example to lead someone else to sin”.
The problem comes when we consider the use of alcohol — which is not categorically a sin in Scripture — a ‘stumbling block,’ and enlarge the avoidance category to include all things that ‘lead someone else to sin.’
In Paul, a ‘stumbling block’ is described in terms of those who have emerged from a culture of worshiping idols and sacrificing food to them, and are now faced with buying the same food in the marketplace as a matter of practical necessity. It is bad for the mature brother to eat such food when it causes the weaker brother — whose conscience bothers him about it — to deny the voice of conscience and eat, anyway.
So the essence of ‘stumbling block’ is causing a weaker brother to begin a pattern of denying conscience and behaving against its guidance. In the case of alcohol, it is similar to a mature brother who emerged from alcoholism drinking socially when the conscience of a weaker brother — who is fresh on the wagon — still tells him to avoid liquor altogether. It is not, as Puryear suggests, simply ‘leading someone else to sin.’
If it were such a broad principle, then I should avoiding eating, because someone seeing me eat a fried chicken wing might justify his eating a whole bucket. I should avoid driving a car, because someone observing me do a ‘rolling stop’ might justify his reckless driving. I should avoid going to movies, because someone observing me watch Toy Story 3 might justify his watching The Playboy Channel.
This is not, however, what Paul intended.
Believers have good reason to conclude, as Puryear does, that they should avoid alcohol. But categorizing the discussion in terms of ‘stumbling blocks’ removes any discretion and leads to a conclusion that all believers should act the same way.