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James Merritt responds to Ben Cole’s article

James Merritt

The Dallas Morning News ran Danny Akin's article on alcohol and Ben Cole's response (see previous blogs on this site). Dr. James Merritt, the pastor of Cross Pointe, the Church at Gwinnett Center in Georgia and former President of the SBC, has written a response to Ben Cole's article. Dr. Merritt has allowed SBCWitness to post this fine response. The following are Dr. Merritt's remarks:

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Just a few notes of observation in chronological order:

1. To label anyone who advocates abstinence as "older, narrow fundamentalists" is a gross and misleading caricature. First which of the 5 fundamentals does Ben Cole deny? Second, there were more than a few of the "younger" crowd that voted for the resolution. Third does "diverse" mean liberal? There are "diverse" people who call themselves Christians and even evangelicals that support gay marriage and monogamous homosexuality–is Ben Cole one of them?

2. Is alcohol abuse and drunkenness possible without alcohol? Can the "nth" drink which finally causes the line to be crossed to drunkenness and alcoholism be taken if the first drink never is? With the answer obvious, these tragedies then can indeed be traced back to alcohol!

3. No one is condemning all use of alcohol–this is a straw man. Alcohol has its medicinal purposes (just as Paul said to Timothy) and no one is putting taking one drink or moderate drinking in the same category as drunkenness as indeed Akin make plain.

4. Cole exhibits a gross ignorance of the difference between the wine/strong drink of Bible days and that of today. His entire argument in one sense is irrelevant because it is comparing apples and oranges. It would be as if one would advocate that a car should not travel more than 25 mph because a horse at that speed traveling through the streets of Jerusalem would be dangerous in bible days so the speed limit of today applies accordingly. The alcohol content of wine today would be the equivalent of much strong drink in bible days!

5. Again marriages cannot fail because of alcohol if neither party drinks, no one gets killed by drunk drivers if no one drinks, and children do not have food robbed from their tables if no one drinks. So, alcohol is indeed a destroyer of marriages, menace to families, and a highway murderer. The gun/bullet analogy is laughable. A person with a bullet in a gun knows exactly when he is a menace to others–when he points his gun at an innocent person and fires. No one knows when their line of moderation in drinking is crossed into the danger zone–which is exactly why some people can "hold their liquor" better than others. There is no one "line fits all" standard for moderation which is why the bullet analogy fails. Furthermore there is no harm to a Christian's witness by having a bullet or a gun in their home–the same cannot be said if Budweiser cans fill the refrigerators and litter the house.

6. No one is trying to deny anyone their 21st Amendment rights–again another straw man. On the other hand just because something is legal doesn't make it right. The Supreme Court has ruled abortion on demand for all intents and purposes legal–is Ben Cole pro-life? Would Ben Cole have fought the abolitionists 150 years ago because slavery was then legal? When it comes to Christian convictions and biblical morality the Constitution is to put it bluntly irrelevant–at least to an older narrow fundamentalist!

7. Again the statement that "it is not true that the temperate consumption of alcoholic beverages leads to debauchery" simply is not universally true. The chain smoker comes from the one who smoked his first cigarette. The drug addict comes from the one who first tried drugs. It is true that not all temperate consumers of alcohol become alcoholics but this is a totally different statement than Cole makes and no one is saying any thing differently. Furthermore, no one is saying categorically that abstinence is the only acceptable position for Christian believers (as opposed to say a pro-life position which Southern Baptists do believe is the only "acceptable" position for Christian believers). What Akin and others are saying is that the abstinence position is the wisest and most responsible position for a Christian believer where Cole would say a moderation position would be–the question is which case has the strongest biblical backing.

8. Concerning alcohol and church leadership, God himself holds Christian leaders to higher standards as evidenced by who was eligible for the priesthood in the Old Testament and the requirements given for pastors and deacons in the New Testament (see also James 3:1). It is neither out of line from a biblical standpoint nor from a practical standpoint for the church to require a higher standard from their leadership in terms of alcohol use or tobacco use for that matter.

9. Cole himself stretches the "flexibility" and "nuances" of the bible to the breaking point. It is glaringly evident that nowhere does he mention the key text in this matter (and other matters of potential gray areas) which is I. Cor. 8. That text is the sine qua non for any discussion on alcohol. Paul's entire point (which is so plain it cannot be denied or diluted) is the trump card over Christian liberty is Christian love. In other words liberty which is not limited by love becomes license. Paul knew there was nothing inherently wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols just as Akin and others know that there is nothing inherently wrong with taking a drink of wine with a meal. But then Paul dropped the love bomb on the liberty platform–if steak becomes a stumbling block I will not eat it (v.9)–and according to verse 13 he never did again. Now the key question–is there anyway that having a Budweiser at a ballgame or wine– or a Bloody Mary, rum and coke, gin and tonic for that matter–in a restaurant can be an enhancement to one's Christian witness? Put another way is there anyway those scenarios can be stepping stones to a weaker brother's walk with God? Conversely is it more likely those scenarios would harm one's Christian witness and be stumbling blocks to a weaker brother's walk with God? To most if not all (except to some young, "diverse" evangelicals) the answer is patently obvious. So, although I have the right to drink, because of Christian love and my desire to avoid any potential stumbling block to other Christians not to mention anything that could damage my witness to unbelievers I will pass– as I have all of my life to no regrets.