Sufficency of Scripture

April 21, 2010

Matthew 7:5-13 tells us of a time the Pharisees confronted Jesus about his disciples’ non-washed hands before they would partake of a meal.  Jesus responded to them about their own traditions where they were dishonoring the word of God through what they thought to be wisdom.  In other words, they did not rely on the sufficiency of the Scripture.  The Pharisees said they believed the Scripture but developed numerous rules to keep the Scriptures and these rules ended up being used to violate the Scripture they said they believed.  These, over 600, rules used to keep the Ten Commandments could be said to be the wisdom of man in determining how to follow the Scripture.  This example of affirming one’s belief of Scriptural authority raises a question; “If the Scriptures are sufficient to guide my life, why does my wisdom keep me from engaging in an action the Scripture affirms?

The word sufficient means; “enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.”  This definition applied to Scripture is the belief that the Scriptures are sufficient to meet ones needs concerning any principles advanced from its authority.  An example is found in the issue the Pharisees asked Jesus about in the above reference.  Jesus proceeded to point out to the Pharisees His disciples may be violating the Pharisaical rules, but Pharisees were using the rule of Corban to violate “honor father and mother”.  It was as if God could not look after his own temple so the Pharisees were allowing pledges of family fortunes to be pledged to the temple. Those making such pledges were allowing their father and mother to live in poverty explaining their funds to look after their parents were dedicated to God.  Thus, we see that man’s wisdom was placed on a rule that violated the very law they were supposed to be following.  This brings me to a debate that appears to use the same logic of “wisdom” to violate a principle of Scripture–moderation of beverage alcohol.

In all of Scripture one can find only a few places that the Bible speaks positively about using beverage alcohol.  However, one would be very hard pressed to advocate the alcoholic beverage of the scripture is the same alcoholic beverages today.  As a matter of study, I would encourage one to research the alcoholic beverages the Scriptures encourages us “not to look upon” and one will find they are the beverages being encouraged to be used  in moderation today.

I remember being on a mission trip to Romania where we partnered with an evangelical group of German students.  Our team stayed in a different location from the German group.  I remember the German group would openly go to the bar and drink beer during their times of relaxation.  When we did our various outreach projects the German group did not experience the same level of reception to the Gospel as we did.  To their amazement the reason their outreach efforts were not as well received had to do more with their witness concerning alcohol. The German group failed to understand that the people working in the bar were living in the same neighborhoods we were doing our outreach events.  Also, the German group would leave the bar and go to the outreach event and would begin to perspire and you could smell the remnants of alcohol on their person.  I will tell you this German Evangelical group believed the Scripture allowed for alcohol to be used in moderation.  If one believes scripture teaches something, then one should respond according to their understanding of Scripture’s teaching, regardless of the outcome of one’s culture.  However, regardless of the culture, the German group came to realize that beverage alcohol was a stumbling block to those that do not know Christ.

Let us now focus on the two positions of beverage alcohol for the Christian. The Christian will be confronted that either the Scripture teaches moderation in the use of alcohol or it teaches abstinence.  For me personally I affirm the Scriptures teach abstinence and that one should abstain from any social use of beverage alcohol.  For one that believes abstinence is the position of Scripture he/she will avoid the appearance of imbibing in beverage alcohol at social events.  One who believes in abstinence is not going to avoid restaurants that serve alcohol neither will they avoid social events because alcohol is being served.  One will not avoid these areas of life because that could lead to legalism  The one that affirms abstinence is taught by Scripture is not legalistic.  The charge of legalism against one that believes Scripture teaches abstinence is just as absurd as saying churches who require Baptism by immersion to become members are legalistic.

Another argument inside of the abstinence position is the ‘wisdom of abstinence’.  All abstainers do not believe Scripture advocates abstinence.  There appears to be two positions wrapped up in this one position.  First, There are some who believe Scripture advocates moderation but teach abstaining from beverage alcohol based on the scripture’s teaching of causing a brother to stumble.  Thus, one that takes this position would do so based on a conviction of scriptural authority. This position is not part of the wisdom argument, but is an argument based on Scripture.  Second, there are others who believe the scriptures teach moderation but abstain because they believe it is wise to do so due to the documented problems that come from alcohol addiction.  Of course no one is going to argue it is wise to allow oneself to become addicted so this position appears to be very strong in a debate.  These two positions have recently been posited as one argument in favor of a scriptural teaching of moderation of beverage alcohol.  Placing the scriptural teaching of causing someone to stumble in a “wisdom argument” allows one using a moderationist position to gain a hearing with those that hold to abstaining.  One who holds a wisdom moderationist view of Scripture, but abstains, will say to those that hold to a scriptural view of abstaining things like; “we end up at the same position we only get there from different places.”  The wisdom position sounds as if it is wise and one must confess that it appears to be a valid position unless one advocates scriptural authority for one’s life.

Scriptural authority says that scripture is the rule of one’s life.  Principles found in Scripture may not be something one feels is best because of circumstances, but one submits to that principle because one believes Scripture is above individual wisdom.  When one changes one’s position of a scriptural principle based on a circumstantial event, the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy is diluted.  For example, I have friends who take the moderationist position concerning beverage alcohol.  They do not drink around me because they know I take an abstinence position.  One went as far as to ask me if I would be offended for them to order some wine in a restaurant and I responded I would.  Let’s say that I told that person it would not offend me and they ordered a glass.  I would then have chosen the practice of cultural unity over my belief that partaking in beverage alcohol is taught by scripture to be sin.  Was I offended that I was asked that question?  No!  That person and I are still great friends.  I admire that person because she believed at the time that moderation was taught by scripture (she has changed her position to one of abstaining since that incident) and she practiced her scriptural understanding.  If one advocates inerrancy of Scripture and believes that the Scripture teaches moderation then for Scriptural authority to prevail one should freely drink beverage alcohol in a moderate sense.  If one states that Scripture teaches a moderation use of beverage alcohol but for wisdom purposes does not partake of beverage alcohol, then one has trumped Scriptural authority with personal wisdom.  Allow me to remind the readers that abstaining due to a belief it causes a weaker brother to stumble is a scriptural view not a wisdom view.

One’s perspective concerning wisdom versus Scriptural authority seems to rest more with individual wisdom than it does with Scripture.   If one believes Scripture allows for moderation and uses beverage alcohol in moderation then he/she holds more to the sufficiency of Scripture than the one that advocates a moderation view but does not imbibe because of wisdom.