Friday, October 4, 2013

Going beyond is not going ahead

In a conversation with a perfect stranger, I was informed that Moody Bible Institute has relinquished their 100 year stance on the prohibition of alcohol for their faculty.  It was strange to hear this from the Jewish woman, whom I had just met.  The information was confirmed to me, again, when I heard it on Moody Radio on the way home.

And my thought?  "Good for them"

Let me explain why I feel this way, and if you disagree with me, I just ask you to hear me out on this one.

Twenty years ago, I would have been shocked, abhorred, and sickened by Moody going "liberal" with this sort of stance.  But that's just it.  Twenty years have passed, and so have twenty years of grace.

I gave myself a personal prohibition on alcohol after I was saved.  I saw no need for the stuff.  It was only used for the purpose of getting drunk and damaging lives.  Amen?  yes. amen.

But something changed.  I slowly started meeting people who did not abuse it.  I started traveling to France and other countries where a glass of wine or even a beer was enjoyed in moderation by the believers.  But then again, other areas of their lives were controlled by moderation also.  So, was it just that American Christians shouldn't drink?  or was it just me? or was it everybody?  And these questions, and questions like it started swimming through my mind.

And yet, this issue is not even about alcohol.  It's about the Bible.  Does the Bible prohibit alcohol? I would have to say: no.  It prohibits drunkenness.  It does not prohibit alcohol.  Wine was served at weddings and what appeared to be every day life type of meals.  Now, keep in mind.  I am not a drinker.  The last glass of wine I had was on the evening of our 20th anniversary in Kusadasi, Turkey.  And after a full day of touring ancient Ephesus and a nice big meal, added with a glass of wine (for someone who doesn't even drink) I fell into a deep sleep, even before I left the dinner table.  Happy anniversary...  But alas, I digress...

If there is no direct prohibition on something in the Bible, why do we (as churches, or Bible institutions, such as Moody) put restrictions on it?

I can tell you why.  We are afraid of freedom.  We are afraid for freedom for ourselves, as well as for others.

If you give someone freedom to make their own decisions before the Lord and others, there is a huge risk that they may fail.  And they often do.  And there we are--having to pick up the pieces of that.

But on the other side of the coin, if we impose restrictions where there are no Biblical mandates, we will get something worse than a messy failure.  We will get something a lot worse.

Please do not misunderstand me.  We are called to holy living.  We are called to walk worthy.  But we are not called to enforce holy living standards on others by outward restrictions, insinuation, guilt, manipulation, or fear.  This is, however you want to slice it, legalism.

We (these rules or the leadership promoting this stuff)  are essentially taking the place of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers and denying them the privilege of walking with God.

And what do Christians look like-- who have essentially trained themselves out of learning to listen to the Holy Spirit?

Defeated.  Dependent. non-thinking. judgmental. unhappy. crushed in spirit. narrow minded. and... wait for it... prideful

With a life completely independent of following the Holy Spirit, and seemingly successful at that, why wouldn't we be proud? What's not to be proud of?  It's the essence of a self-made Christian.

And with all of that success, why not design and promote a program completely encapsulating the tried and true methods for holiness??

After all, it's too messy to let these new believers work out the when and where and who and what of their holiness...  so we package it up and tell them what sins to give up first and where to go in the Bible for the catch verse.

And you can have a successful marriage, parenting, job,  you name it-- all with neat little American style packaging..  of the do's and don't's of life.

And I just want to challenge anyone who is caught up in this way of thinking because I know I was for the first 15 years of my conversion.

Is the God who is powerful enough to save you also powerful enough to convert your soul to holiness? Is the Holy Spirit powerful enough to change the lives of those with whom you are working?

And can we agree that going beyond the Scriptures.. (adding rules and restrictions that are not biblical) is not really going ahead??


Kevin said...

I'm reminded of Colossians 2:20-23: If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

When the Holy Spirit leads us, that's when we see the victory, but when we lead ourselves, well we can just look at the book of Judges for where that takes us.

Bernadette Veenstra said...

"We are afraid of freedom." Yes!

Melinda said...

The article link goes to a page about men's dating guidelines?

Mrs. Santos said...

"We are called to holy living. We are called to walk worthy. But we are not called to enforce holy living standards on others by outward restrictions, insinuation, guilt, manipulation, or fear. This is, however you want to slice it, legalism." TRUE. Great Post.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

I know, I know, legalism kills. It's bad. But I see this issue in this setting (college campus) in a different light for three reasons:

1. The context has a lot to do with it. Back before I was married, I worked for a ministry that was kind of a Christian version of Outward Bound. While on staff we were asked to agree to abstain from alcohol.

I have no problem with this. They weren't saying "Alcohol is evil and we don't trust you with it." No... not at all.

They were concerned about their testimony and reputation in the community, where non-Christians (and maybe Christians, too) might be less apt to give the benefit of the doubt that I'm being responsible if they see me drinking alcohol.

The way it was presented to me came across as, "Are you willing to give up this freedom for the good of the organization?"

No problem.

2. Further, a close friend of mine is the head physician at our local university's health clinic. They see alcoholism running rampant on campus, and cases of alcohol poisoning with all-too-frequent regularity. It's absolutely heart-breaking.

Yes, I know, that's a secular state university where the vast majority of the students are not believers and don't have the same faith, values, or world-view as the average student at Moody.

But I can sympathize with the administration there having banned alcohol in the past. Though in many ways college students are adults, many of them are young and inexperienced... and that's not a bad thing. In a small way, the university is acting in loco parentis and trying to protect these students.

3. Having married into a family with alcoholics and seen the ravages first hand...

until you've watched a new believer struggle (and fail) overcome his addiction, until you've watched an alcoholic lose custody of her kids, until you've watched someone die of alcoholism...

maybe be less quick to cheer for others to claim that freedom.

I know, I know, we can't be legalistic.

Nita Brainard said...

Freedom is good, but Herding Grasshoppers has some excellent points that must be taken into consideration. There are extremes on both sides, and Moody may be in danger of going from one to other. Abstaining in America for testimony's sake is not a bad idea -- even though alcohol is not intrinsically evil.

Jena Webber said...

Sorry about the bad link! OOoophfff!

Jenny P. said...

I love reading these words full of grace and faith on your page :)

As for Moody, I'm interested in their decision. I agree that limited, on occasion alcohol isn't a crime or a sin. However, I assume their student code of conduct still requires abstaining from drunkenness? I think it's entirely appropriate for them to intervene and apply consequences for activity that 1) Damages the individual's witness and the witness of the school and 2) Indicates a need of that brother or sister for loving help.

Excellent, thought provoking post (as usual!)

Jenny P. said...

Oh, and according to the New York Times, the alcohol ban has been lifted for faculty and staff... NOT students. So it isn't going to be a beer in the dorms, drunken immature students situation. Student code remains unchanged.

sara said...

Jena, I wrote and rewrote and then lost a somewhat lengthy comment. And then lost it. I'll take that as a sign. But what I find helpful is to read and meditate on the entire book of Romans.

Kathy MomOfNine said...

Great Post! I love your thoughts on this subject. I have quietly enjoyed wine with my family for years and hidden the "bottle" from my Christian friends. Then, my closest friends found out over the years that the secret to my cooking was wine. A number of them would allow me to give them wine to use in their cooking or even have me purchase it for them. The, of course, would not be caught dead purchasing alcohol themselves! Oh, the trappings of legalism! Thank you for your thoughts.