Alcohol consumption has jumped back into Baptist discussions, this time stirred by the termination of a high-profile pastor.
Perry Noble’s removal as senior pastor of the multi-campus NewSpring Church in South Carolina was communicated to members and attendees during Sunday worship services, July 10.
“Perry’s posture towards his marriage, increased reliance on alcohol and other behaviors were of continual concern,” according to a statement by NewSpring’s board of directors and pastor advisory team that was read aloud.
“While this is the most difficult and painful decision we have had to make, unfortunately it was necessary,” church leaders said of “some unfortunate choices and decisions” Noble had made.
“Because Perry chose not to properly address these ongoing issues and didn’t take the necessary steps toward correcting them, he is no longer qualified, as outlined in 1 Timothy 3 and the church’s bylaws, to continue as a pastor at NewSpring Church,” the leaders’ 338-word statement reported.
A statement by Noble, who founded NewSpring in 1999 in Anderson, was posted at the church’s website.
“I’m really sorry and ask you to forgive me,” Noble wrote in concluding a 654-word statement to the church, now with more than 17 locations across the state.
“In my opinion, the [B]ible does not prohibit the use of alcohol, but it does prohibit drunkenness and intoxication. I never had a problem drinking alcohol socially, but in the past year or so I have allowed myself to slide into, in my opinion, the overuse of alcohol. This was a spiritual and moral mistake on my part as I began to depend on alcohol for my refuge instead of Jesus and others.”
Noble said neither he nor his wife had committed “any sort of sexual sin. I have not stolen money. I have not been looking at porn and there was absolutely no domestic abuse.”
He said he intends to seek “the spiritual guidance of some amazing men and women of God in my life — and am currently under the treatment of an excellent psychiatrist who is helping me take major steps forward.” His highest priority, he said, will be “to put 100% of my time and effort into becoming the best husband and father I can become. I would ask that you pray for my family and me as we seek out what’s next for our lives.”
Southern Baptists on alcohol
The dangers of alcohol have been voiced nearly 60 times in resolutions adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention over the years, most recently in 2006 and 1991.
A lengthy debate marked the 2006 resolution. From the floor, an amendment to the Resolution Committee’s initial text was proposed urging exclusion of Southern Baptists who drink from the convention’s boards and committees. After back-and-forth debate, the amendment and the resolution passed by an estimated four-fifths vote, according to a Baptist Press report on the non-binding resolutions that year.
Among the resolution’s declarations: “Years of research confirm biblical warnings that alcohol use leads to physical, mental, and emotional damage (e.g., Proverbs 23:29-35)”; “Alcohol use has led to countless injuries and deaths on our nation’s highways”; “The breakup of families and homes can be directly and indirectly attributed to alcohol use by one or more members of a family.”
The resolution’s final “whereas” clause stated: “There are some religious leaders who are now advocating the consumption of alcoholic beverages based on a misinterpretation of the doctrine of ‘our freedom in Christ.'”
In the key “resolved” clause, messengers embraced “total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages.”
Perry Noble is not alone
Empathy for Noble was voiced by Ed Stetzer, a popular blogger and Wheaton College faculty member who formerly was executive director of LifeWay Research.
Alcohol has been a struggle for various church leaders — those who are “innovative, contemporary, traditional, and liturgical,” Stetzer wrote. “The Bible says that ‘wine is a mocker and strong drink a brawler’ (Proverbs 20:1). Let’s pray and weep because alcohol mocked again, and let’s not feel the need to join in that mocking. The world will do that enough.”
In a word of hope to any pastor “struggling with alcohol or any other addiction,” Stetzer recommended “ministries and resources like Recovering Redemption, Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, and more.”
“If you need someone to contact you personally, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and Mark Dance, who leads our efforts with pastors, will get you in touch with someone who can help. (You can also use the LifeWay Pastors contact page.) Your name will be kept confidential and pastors of all denominations (and none) are welcome. Or, if you prefer not to even share that information, call the Focus on the Family Pastor Care Line 844-4PASTOR.
“You don’t have to suffer alone,” Stetzer wrote, “and it won’t end well if you don’t get help. You do not have to hide. Alcohol isn’t freedom, and hiding isn’t the way out. We can stand together in the power of the Gospel and see the way forward in hope.”
Alcohol & theology
Readiness to delve into what the Bible disallows or allows in alcohol consumption abounds among Baptists, as evidenced by a July 11 commentary by Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, titled “Concerning Alcoholic Beverages.” Also online: a commentary titled “Time to Rethink the Drink” by Kentucky pastor Daryl Cornett, a former faculty member at the Memphis-area Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Tennessee.
Both men, in 1,800-word essays counseling Christians to shun alcoholic beverages, examine an array of Bible passages such as Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding ceremony; warnings regarding alcohol in Proverbs and other Old and New Testament passages; and the Lord’s Supper.
Patterson’s essay can be accessed at http://swbts.edu/news/releases/first-person-concerning-alcoholic-beverages; Cornett’s, http://darylcornett.blogspot.com/2014/01/time-to-rethink-drink.html.
Patterson acknowledges, “References to wine are frequent in both the Old and New Testaments,” though the Greek word “oinos” in the New Testament can refer to freshly pressed grape juice as well as low-grade wine.
“The Bible has almost no good word about it and, in fact, usually associates tragedy and sin with the use of wine,” Patterson writes. “… A believer in no way can justify drinking if thereby he is contributing to the sustenance of an industry responsible for two-thirds of the violent deaths, two-fifths of all divorces, one-third of all crime, and untold millions of dollars in damage to private property.”
Cornett, describing himself as a “1 Corinthians teetotaler,” underscored the apostle Paul’s concern to avoid causing weaker Christians to stumble in their faith.
“In other words, I should care more about the other guy than my own liberty — a clear call to self-denial…. Paul says that the cavalier Christian who disregards his ‘weaker’ brother does not merely sin against his brother, but against Christ Himself since Christ died for the weaker brother, too.” This biblical principle “that God has given us in His Word,” Cornett writes, “ought to be all we need.”
— Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.