Report of the Committee to Study the Relationship between Total Abstinence from Alcoholic Beverages and Church Membership [1985]


    The 101st Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Church adopted the following resolution – RESOLVED: that the 101st Annual Conference choose a special committee to execute a complete exegetical study on the issue of alcoholic drinks and total abstinence in relationship to church membership, and to present a position paper to the 102nd Annual Conference with its recommendations and furthermore that Annual Conference defer debate upon this issue until said position paper is presented.  A committee of five men was elected by the Conference.  After much study, discussion and prayer, the committee submits the following report and recommendations.

    Each section of evidence is preceded by the section of the proposed recommendation which it supports (in bold).  The full recommendation is presented at the end of the report.  The footnotes refer to books listed in the bibliography.  An appendix follows the body of the paper.


    The use of alcoholic beverages is one of the most serious social problems in the United States.  Its abuse has led to personal and family suffering, serious physical and mental health problems, and increased rates of accidental and criminal injury and death.  The financial cost of such beverages and their consequences is a tremendous and unnecessary burden on all of society.

    A. Historical Evidence

    The position and practice of Christians throughout history sheds great light on the practice of total abstinence from alcoholic beverages in the Bible Fellowship Church.

    Prior to the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire, many Christian writers addressed the subject of drinking.  They permitted the moderate use of fermented drinks such as wine and beer, and condemned drunkenness (Lampe, p. 945).  For example, Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), in a work entitled The Instructor, writes, “he who drinks ought to observe moderation”.  He continues: “In what manner do you think the Lord drank when He became man for our sakes?  As shamelessly as we?  Was it not with decorum and propriety?  Was it not deliberately?  For rest assured, He himself also partook of wine, for He too, was man. (Ante-Nicean Fathers, Vol. 2, p. 246).

    Total abstinence was rare.  Some Gnostic groups abstained from contact with women and wine in an ascetic fashion.  They even substituted water for wine in the Lord’s Supper, earning for themselves the nickname Aquarians.  Some North African Christians practiced this also to avoid persecution, lest they be caught with the smell of wine on their breath in the early morning hours.  Bishop Cyprian (died 258 AD) indignantly responded, “Are you ashamed of the blood of Christ”?  After the legalization of Christianity, the practice vanished.

    The early Middle Ages saw no change in this position.  Augustine (354-430 AD) vigorously condemned drunkenness, but did not advocate total abstinence (Pope, pp. 21, 133).  St. Basil (330-379 AD), the founder of eastern monasticism, and St. Benedict (480-547 AD), the founder of the most famous western monastic rule, both allowed the moderate use of wine within their orders (Bainton,p. 290).  It is interest- ing to note that nominally Christian Rome could have legislated and attempted to enforce abstinence during the early Middle Ages because of the close relationship of church and state.  But, the fact is that it was neither proposed nor attempted.

    Although Reformation brought great changes in doctrine and practice, the attitude toward alcoholic beverages was basically the same as during the Middle Ages.  Martin Luther did not teach total abstinence.  He certainly produced and drank beer, but strongly condemned drunkenness (What Luther Says, Vol. 1, pp. 431-433).  The Lutherans, Anglicans and post-Trent Roman Catholics held the same view of approving moderation and condemning drunkenness.

    Among the Anabaptists, there was greater strict- ness.  Stressing the changed life of the Christian as a test of saving faith, the Hutterite Brethren (1545) forbade any member of their society from being a public innkeeper or to sell wine or beer.  This was associated with “all that is unchaste, ungodly, and decadent” (Account, p. 127).  However, Hutterites neither then nor now are total abstinents (Hostetler, p. 44).  Menno Simons was accused (falsely) of being a drunkard.  The evidence at least indicates that he drank in moderation (Complete Writings, pp. 673-674).

    Calvinism took up the challenge of ethical purity raised by Anabaptism.  John Calvin himself drank wine in moderation (Harkness, pp. 27-28, 160).  However, in an attempt to regulate the abuse of alcoholic bever- ages, taverns were regulated in Geneva for a short period and public drunkenness was punished (Theological Treatises, p. 81).  But initial Calvinism was not committed to total abstinence.  This was true also of John Knox and Scottish Presbyterianism, English Puritanism, and the Puritan experiment in New England.

Drinking in colonial American was common, even at housewarmings and the ordinations of ministers (Miller, Vol. 2, pp. 392-393, 442).  Ministers, notably the Mathers, preached against drunkenness, but did not argue for total abstinence.  Colonial governments regulated the quality of drink, forbade its sale to Indians, and established the hours of taverns.

    The modern prohibition movement was first begun in England by John Wesley (1703-1791) and the Methodists.  The reason was sociological.  Until the 18th century, fermented beverages were the only alcoholic beverages available to the average person.  Beginning in 1723, cheap gin and whiskey was introduced on a wide scale in England.  In a few short years, fermented beverages were largely displaced by distilled ones, and the consumption of alcoholic beverages in England tripled in 25 years (Vulliamy, p. 260).  Distillation enables the production of beverages with alcoholic contents as high as 40-50%.  The results were catastrophic.  In 1751, there were 17,000 gin shops in England which could make a man drunk for a penny, and close to death for two.  (The shops provided clean straw to collapse on).  Distillers, bottleblowers, pawnbrokers, and coffin makers were the only beneficiaries of this terrible trade.  The Methodists, so close to the people of city and countryside, saw this exploitation face to face.  In the “Rules of the Society called Methodist” (1743), members were to avoid buying or selling spirituous (distilled) liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity”.  (Bainton, p. 294).  This statement was introduced in American in 1766.  Wesley declared himself publicly against the distillation process in 1773, and advocated a position of total abstinence from all alcoholic beverages in 1789 (Cherrington, p. 66).  Methodism has thus been the chief source of the total abstinence stand in the modern church.

    In American, the Quakers were also very active at an early date to abolish distilled alcoholic drinks.  Dr. Benjamin Rush published “An Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits” (1785) based on his observations as a doctor of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.  He declared himself against distilled liquor as the source of great misery.  He did not condemn fermented beverages.

    From the Methodists and Quakers, the movement spread to Calvinistic churches.  In 1810, Congregationalist Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) preached a famous series of six sermons against distilled liquor.  The Baptists also took a rigorous stand in 1835.  The Presbyterians officially endorsed prohibition in 1854.

    The 19th century can rightly be termed the century of prohibition.  Opposition to alcohol was as broad- based as Christendom.  Led by the Methodists, every branch of the church was represented: Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregational, Lutheran, Episcopal and Roman Catholic.  All the famous preachers of the day were outspoken against it.  Revivalism especially was associated with anti-saloon preaching.  D.L. Moody (1837-1899) preached against drunkenness and selling liquor, as did Billy Sunday (1862-1935).

    Formal opposition took the form of the Temperance Society (formed in 1826), the Women’s Christian Temperance League (formed in 1874), and the Anti-Saloon League (formed in 1895).  Their efforts were rewarded by statewide prohibition laws in some states (beginning with Maine in 1846) during the 19th century, and finally by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which prohibited alcoholic beverages nation-wide.  The Amendment was in effect from 1920 until its repeal in 1933 by the 21st Amendment.  No serious campaign to prohibit alcoholic beverages has taken place since that time in the realm of national politics.

    The practice of total abstinence continues in several church traditions today.  Much of the Wesleyan tradition has maintained the stand, as do most church that consider themselves of the Fundamentalist tradit- ion, regardless of the denomination.

    The Anabaptist tradition (of which the Bible Fellowship Church is a part), although less involved in the political aspect of prohibition, was affected by the general opposition of the 19th century.  As late as 1955, in a “Declaration of Commitment in respect to Christian Separation and Nonconformity to the World”, the Mennonite General Conference stated, “we appeal to all Christians….to voluntarily adopt the `clean life’ by a complete abstention from the use of beverage alcohol…we also protest the production, manufacture and sale of both alcohol and tobacco.”  The Bible Fellowship Church, according to its Conference minutes, expressed its approval of a Pennsylvania prohibition law in 1889.  In the 1897 Discipline, members were forbidden to make, sell, or use intoxicating liquors.  In 1951, the Doctrine and Disciplines included a very similar statement.  In 1963, the present article requiring total abstinence was adopted into the Standards of Worship and Life, (1963 Yearbook, p. 78; 1981 Faith and Order, p. 37).

    The committee notes the following observations from the historical evidence:

    1. By far, the greatest part of the Christian church in all places and at all times has allowed the moderate use of alcoholic beverages and has condemned drunkenness as sin.  Until 1700, total abstinence was almost unknown among orthodox churches.  The current position of the Bible Fellowship Church is a relatively recent innovation in church history.  This is neither good nor bad, but is a fact.

    2. The advocacy of total abstinence is closely related to the technological fact of distillation on a large scale.  The call for abstinence was the direct result of the effects of distilled beverages on society.  It should be noted again that the early cries were for the abolition of distilled beverages, not fermented ones.  Dr. Rush recommended the use of beer and wine instead of distilled beverages (Rush, p. 7, also Rorabaugh, p. 41).  At one point in England, fermented beverages were encouraged in the hope that distilled drinks would fall into disuse.  But the policy only increased drunkenness (Bainton, p. 294).  Thus the opponents of distilled drinks felt compelled to advocate total abstinence from all alcoholic drinks.

    Total abstinence has thus always been advocated as a pragmatic corrective to a societal evil.  Not only ministers, but medical doctors led the early fight against distilled alcohol.  The mighty wave of prohibition preaching and rhetoric in the 19th and 20th centuries centered also on the effects of alcohol on society.  Since use of fermented drinks may lead to the use of distilled ones, total abstinence may be the best policy in 20th century America.  But it should be advocated as a protest against a societal evil, rather than as an integral part of Scriptural obedience.

    3. History demonstrates that the church has not understood the Bible to teach total abstinence.  If total abstinence is taught in Scripture, why was it universally ignored or overlooked until the 18th century?  Those who were closest tot Bible times, and spoke a Bible language as a native tongue, were not advocates of total abstinence.  It appears that recent attempts by scholars to support total abstinence from Scripture arise from prior conclusions.  The committee does not questions their motives, only their conclus- ions.  The cry for total abstinence in the church was the result of the widespread use of distillation, not compelling Scriptural data.

    Conclusions from the Historical Evidence:

    1. Fermented beverages were in moderate use throughout church history until the 18th century.  Drunkenness has always been condemned as sin.

    2. Since the 18th century, the widespread use of distillation has made alcoholic beverages a societal evil that demands a Christian response.  The committee believes that total abstinence from all alcoholic beverages is the proper Christian response to this evil.

    B. Sociological Evidence

    The committee believes that the effect of alcoholic beverages on society is an evidence which cannot be overlooked.  From a nutritional standpoint, ethyl alcohol (the active ingredient in such beverages) contains no vitamins, minerals, or proteins.  It contributes only calories, and is the equivalent of eating pure refined sugar (Jones, p. 91).  Thus heavy drinkers often suffer from malnutrition.  Medically speaking, excessive amounts of alcohol have harmful effects on the stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, pituitary glands, brain and central nervous system.  Heavy drinking among pregnant women can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome in their children, characterized by slow growth, low IQ and frequent birth defects (Pitt- man,p. 30).  John M. Dresher says: “Alcoholics live 10-12 years less than other people.  It is estimated that 85% of all hospital admissions are alcohol-relat- ed” (Dresher, p. 7).  Because of its effect on coordination and reflexes, 50% of all highway accident deaths can be traced to alcohol.

    The use of alcoholic beverages has a terrible effect on the American family.  A heavy drinker can spend thousands of dollars a year on beverages that ought to be used to support the family.  It also acts as a disinhibitor in domestic violence.  Studies show that 25-50% of the cases of wife-beating and 20% of the cases of child abuse and neglect are related to alcohol (Collins, pp. 285-286).  As such, it is a major cause of family problems and divorce.

    Crime and alcohol consumption are also related.  Some studies estimate as high as 80% of all crimes involve alcohol (Dresher, p. 7).  Other studies showed alcohol involved in 64% of murder crimes, 50% of rape crimes, and 55% pf property offenses (Collins, pp. 290-291).  Alcohol is a clear disinhibitor of social control.

    Economic production is also affected by the use of alcohol.  Heavy drinkers have more accidents on the job, a higher job turnover rate, and two and one-half times as much absenteeism as non-drinkers (Schramm, p. 15).  It is estimated that alcoholics earn 10 billion dollars less per year because of their drinking habits (Schramm, p. 41).  A 1978 Congressional Report estimated the economic cost of alcoholic misuse and alcoholism in America at 42.75 billion dollars (Alco- hol, Science, and Society Revisited, p. 134).

    Approximately half of the United States population drinks alcoholic beverages.  Of these, some 10 million are alcoholics, including over a million teenagers.  Studies show that one of every ten persons who begins to drink will become an alcoholic.  No one knows which one that will be.  Therefore, even moderate drinking, in a day of powerful distilled beverages, can lead to heavy drinking and alcoholism.

    In summary, it is almost impossible to overstate the evil influence of alcoholic beverages in their effects on the individual, the family, and society at large.  The committee therefore believes that Christ- ians should adopt total abstinence.  This position is urged because of the harmful effects of even moderate use of alcohol on the human body, because of its potential for addiction, and because of its massive consequences for evil as a disinhibitor of human behavior.  The Christian should take on a positive view of separation, endeavoring to do all for the glory of God.  In 20th century American society, separation should involve total abstinence from alcoholic bever- ages.

III. Biblical Evidence

    The Scriptures teach that drunkenness is sinful.  Due to the addictive quality of alcohol, even the moderate use of such beverages may lead to serious consequences.  This is especially true because the alcoholic content of such beverages has been tremendously increased since Bible times.  Furthermore, moderate use may be a stumbling block for believers and unbelievers alike.

A. Linguistic Evidence Relating to Alcoholic Beverages

    The Scripture of the Old and New Testament are the ultimate source of authority for the Christian in matters of faith and practice.  Believing the Bible to be inspired in a plenary way, i.e. to the very select- ion of vocabulary, we turn to a study of the Bible terminology for alcoholic beverages.  An exhaustive list of Scriptural references relating to alcoholic beverages is included in the Appendix.  The reader is

urged to study these passages.

    1. Old Testament Hebrew Words:

         a. Yayin – the most popular Hebrew word translated as “wine”.  It is used 141 times in the Old Testament for wine as a common drink (Judges 19:19, I Chronicles 12:40), as an intoxicating beverage (Genesis 9:20-21), as a part of the ritual sacrifice (Numbers 15:7) and as a figure of speech (Song of Solomon 7:9-simile; Jeremiah 51:7-metaphor).  The word represents the product of the grape, squeezed and placed into skins.  The process of fermentation began immediately, since only refrigeration would prevent this from taking place.  Yayin was served in preference to water, which often was contaminated.  It was unusual to abstain from yayin (e.g. the priest on duty – Leviticus 10:9; the Nazarite during a vow – Numbers 6:1-4, 20; the Recha- bites, who remained nomads – Jeremiah 35:6-7).  Yayin could produce intoxication, which was warned against and condemned (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35; Isaiah 28:1, 7-8).

         b. Tirosh – usually translated as “new wine” or “fresh wine”, this is found 38 times in the Scriptures.  It is often used in conjunction with other products of the orchard and field, and is probably closer to grape juice than any other Biblical term.  In one passage, it is translated as “grapes” (Micah 6:15).  However, Hosea 4:11 indicates that both yayin and tirosh can produce drunkenness.

         c. Schackar – used 21 times, this word always refers to a strong intoxicant.  It is different from yayin in that the beverage is made from pomegranates, dates, or some other product than grapes.  Thus it is often coupled with yayin to describe the full range of intoxicating beverages (Deuteronomy 29:6).  Since schackar is related to the Semitic word for “sugar”, some scholars believe that it is mixed with lots of sugar to produce a very potent drink.  Schackar was used in the ritual sacrifice (Numbers 28:7) and was suitable for a common beverage (Deuteronomy 14:26).

         d. Khemer (8 times), Soveh (4 times), and Asis (6 times) are the other, rarer Hebrew words which represent the fruit of the vine.

    2. New Testament Greek Words:

         a. Oinos – this word is used 25 times in the New Testament, and is directly related to the Hebrew word yayin.  Its common meaning is “the fermented juice of the grape” (Bauer, p. 564; Liddell & Scott, p. 1207).  This is proven by the ability which oinos has to burst skins (Job 32:19lxx; Matthew 9:17).  A separate Greek word, trux, means unfermented grape juice (Liddle & Scott, p. 1830).  It is significant that the Holy Spirit did not inspire the writers of the New Testament to use the word trux.  Jesus made oinos at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:9-10).  In contrast to John the Baptist, who drank no oinos (Luke 7:33), Jesus was accused of being a “drunkard”, oinopatas (Luke 7:34).  As in the case of yayin, oinos was a common part of ancient life (Revelation 6:6; 18:13), and was capable of producing drunkenness (Titus 2:3).  Drunkenness is sharply condemned (Ephesians 5:18), but, as in the Old Testament, abstention from oinos was rare (John the Baptist was a Nazarite – Luke 1:15).  Oinos was also used for medicinal purposes (Luke 10:34; I Timothy 5:23).

         b. Sikera – used once, in Luke 1:15, as a transliteration of schackar.  It is obviously in the context of Nazarite legislation.

         c. Oxos – used 6 times and translated “sour wine”, the word evidently refers to some light drink offered to Jesus on the cross.

         d. Gluekos – used once in Acts 2:13.  Often translated “new wine” or “sweet wine”.  It may be similar to tirosh, but in any case was potent and capable of producing drunkenness (Acts 2:15).

         e. Paroinos – used 2 times in reference to the qualifications for elders (I Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7), the word means “given to wine”.

    Some scholars dispute the point that the Biblical words (especially yayin and oinos) refer to fermented beverages capable of producing drunkenness.  The committee, however, believes that the evidence for distinguishing between the fermented and non-fermented usages of these words is insufficient and arbitrary.  By restricting ourselves to the study of actual usage, the words undoubtedly refer to fermented beverages.  For example, there is no objective method which can distinguish between the alcoholic content of the yayin which made Noah drunk (Genesis 9:21), and the yayin which makes man’s heart glad (Psalm 104:15); between the oinos which produces drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18), and the oinos served at the wedding at Cana (John 2:3, 9:10).

    It should be noted that wine in Bible times was rarely drunk undiluted.  Fermented wine is about 12% in alcoholic content.  Various pagan sources recommend-

ed its dilution from 2-1 to 20-1 parts water to wine (Stein, p. 9).  The rabbis recommended two parts water to one part wine for everyday use and three parts water to one part wine for the Passover wine (Edersheim, Vol. 2, p. 208, citing the Talmud).  Early Christian writers such as Clement of Alexandria (cited earlier) also recommended at least three parts water to one part wine.  Thus a bowl of wine in Bible times was 3-6% in

alcoholic content.

    3. Conclusion from the Linguistic Evidence:

         a. Fermented beverages were in common usage in Biblical times.  Such beverages were capable of producing drunkenness, but were not forbidden for moderate use in everyday life. (Genesis 27:25, Deuteronomy 14:26, I Samuel 25:18, Nehemiah 5:15, Amos 9:14, John 2:9-10).

         b. Because of the deceptive nature of such beverages, and because of the harmful effects of excessive use, drunkenness was severely reproved and condemned. (I Samuel 1:14-15, Proverbs 20:1, 23:29-35; Isaiah 5:11, 28:1, 7-8; Romans 14:13; Ephesians 5:18).

         c. Total abstinence from fermented beverages was not required, and was comparatively rare (e.g. the priest on duty – Leviticus 10:9; the Nazarite during a vow – Numbers 6:3,20; Luke 7:33).  The committee does not believe the Biblical evidence requires a position of total abstinence.  This is in agreement with the report of the study committee on Church Membership Qualifications.  “The committee agrees that it is not possible with integrity to make an absolute exegetical case for total abstinence” (1973 Yearbook, p. 136).

B. The Deceptive Nature of Alcoholic Beverages

    Although total abstinence is not required in Scripture, the abuse of such drinks is constantly warned against.  This is because of the addictive quality of alcohol.  Even righteous men such as Noah (Genesis 9:20-21) and Lot (Genesis 19:33) were deceived by it.  According to our study, of the 253 references to alcoholic beverages listed in the Appendix, 58 have a negative connotation.  Therefore, the Bible warns the Christian that even the moderate use of such drinks can lead to the sin of drunkenness(Proverbs 20:1, 23:29 -35).  If this were true in the day of fermented drinks, how much more is it true in a society filled with distilled drinks?

C. Christian Liberty and Alcoholic Beverages

    The committee believes that the possible use of alcoholic beverages should be guided by a proper view of Christian liberty.  The purpose of Christian liberty is not freedom to sin, but rather freedom to obey and glorify God.

    The Christian should consider the use of alcoholic beverages with such questions in mind as: Is this proper stewardship of my physical health? (I Corinth- ians 6:19-20).  Does this increase or diminish my ability to resist temptation? (Genesis 19:33). Will this possibly control or enslave me? (I Corinthians 6:12).

    The Christian should also act with a view to the welfare of others (Philippians 2:3-4).  Moderate drinking may be responsibly handled by one Christian, but could lead another Christian into sin.  This might be by the defilement of conscience or by the addictive quality of alcohol.  In either case, we would be placing a stumbling-block for sin in the path of another Christian (Matthew 18:6-7; Romans 14:20-21; I Corinthians 8:9-11, 13).  This argument is especially relevant with respect to the children of believers and other young people.

    Furthermore, the Christian should act with a view to the impact of his actions in the sight of unbelievers.  Every aspect of his behavior should be calculated to enhance his witness for the Savior (I Corinthians 9:19).  To many non-Christians, even moderate drinking is perceived as inconsistent with a Christian profess- ion.  The believer should thus be motivated to: “by all means save some” (I Corinthians 10:32-33).

    Finally, the desire to glorify God, rather than satisfy himself, should be the overall motivation for the Christian’s life (I Corinthians 10:31).

    The committee concedes that to drink or not to drink may be matter of private conscience in which no man has a right to judge or condemn another, but wishes to emphasize that the purpose of Christian liberty is the promotion of vital godliness.

IV. Practical Evidence

    Therefore we strongly and persistently warn our people of the dangers of alcoholic beverages and urge all members of the Bible Fellowship Church to abstain totally from the use of them.

    The committee has concluded that the Bible does not require total abstinence from alcoholic beverages.  However, this in no way changes our overall conclusion that total abstinence should be practiced by members of the Bible Fellowship Church.  After studying the evidence, we are more convinced than ever of the wisdom of this practice.

    Part  of the confusion over this issue is the alcoholic content of such beverages.  The Scriptures do not forbid the use of fermented drinks, ranging from 9-13% alcohol.  With dilution, a bowl of wine rarely exceeded 6% alcohol in content.  But the Scriptures do not address distilled beverages.  Since experience has shown that the use of fermented drinks can lead to the use of distilled drinks, we readily endorse the practice of total abstinence from all alcoholic beverages.

    The committee’s assignment included a study of the relationship between total abstinence and church membership.  The committee believes the issues should be separated and the membership requirement of total abstinence be dropped for the following reasons:

    A. The Biblical requirements for church membership include a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and the outward testimony to that fact appointed by Jesus Himself – water baptism.

    On the day of Pentecost, those who responded to Peter’s message asked him, “What shall we do”?  His response was, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  Verse 41 follows: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls”.  The significant word “added” certainly refers to an outward identification with Christ and His people, equivalent to our modern concept of church membership.  The very fact that the number of disciples is known on the birthday of the church implies some formal method of enumeration.  Note the same concept in Acts 2:47, 4:4, 5:14, and 6:7.

    Membership was not restricted to those who had attained any particular level of spiritual maturity.  This is not to say that the apostolic church was unconcerned with the sanctification of its members.  It most certainly was (I Corinthians 6:9-10).  But the early church recognized and practiced the principle that justification by faith alone was the basis of its existence, and not the actual sanctification of its members.  In a similar way, the Bible Fellowship Church should place no extra standards upon the new convert for membership, good though they be in themselves.  This, likewise, is not because our Church is unconcerned with holy living.  Rather, it is because the church is eager to bring the new convert into all of the blessings of being a part of Christ’s visible body.

    This is in complete agreement with the 1969 report of the Committee to Study Church Membership (1969 Yearbook, pp. 119-133).  We quote, in part,

         “When a man has been born again by the grace of God, he should be received into a church.  The church is obligated to receive the new Christian.  It is his right as well as his responsibility to become a member of a local church…Membership in a church is not a gift bestowed by the local church, nor a reward that is earned by the believer, but a right that is bestowed by God”.

    The current standard adopted in 1963, is more restrictive than Scripture.  The negative effect is two-fold: 1) We exclude those who currently drink alcoholic beverages, thus depriving them of the benefits and discipline of church membership which could help them overcome problem drinking and become total abstainers.  Furthermore, 2) we exclude those who do not drink, but for conscience’s sake believe they cannot join.  Ironically, the Bible Fellowship Church has lost some of its more conscientious people, who believe no requirement other than those stated above should be placed upon a person for church membership.

B. The committee believes that the church cannot overemphasize the need for practical holiness among its members.  However, we believe that the place to do that is in the church.  It is within the membership of the church that instruction, admonition and discipline can be applied to overcome sins such as pride, jealousy, lust, greed, gluttony, and drunkenness.  It is within the church that total abstinence can be urged as they very best practice for members of our church.  It is inconsistent to single out as a test for membership one dangerous activity – drinking alcoholic beverages, and one sin – drunkenness, and overlook a host of others.

C. The committee believes that the church has the right to address the moral standards of its membership (see 1973 Yearbook, Report of the Committee to Study Church Membership Qualifications, pp. 134-136).  The committee differed over the propriety of the church establishing requirements for membership other than conversion and baptism in order to enforce these moral standards.  Discussion of this point centered on the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.  The committee judged that the “necessary things” (Acts 15:19-21, 28-29) constituted extrabiblical rules established to maintain the peace of the apostolic church.  The committee was not unanimous in its understanding of the implications of the Jerusalem Council.  It is not explicitly stated that the “necessary things” were a test for membership.  However, the committee was unanimous in its conclusion that the extreme and temporary crisis at that time finds no parallel in our present circumstances in the Bible Fellowship Church.  Thus both points of view recommend the removal of the total abstinence requirement for membership.

D. The committee believes that our view of the regenerate church and its high view of church membership is undercut by the current standard.  Our established churches have a group of “non-member members”, and our mission churches have difficulty recruiting members because of the standard.1 In both situations, the church has the problems of reconciling the professed necessity of church membership and the obvious fact that some real Christians are non-members.

E. The committee believes that the intent of the current standard is hindered by attaching total abstinence to membership.  By excluding those who will not abide by the standard, the church forfeits its ability to help those Christians overcome the dangers of alcoholic beverages.  And since all members have subscribed to total abstinence, it is a dead issue within the membership of the church.  If it is not, then an even worse hypocrisy is taking place.  Indeed, since it is almost impossible to address the issue of total abstinence without discussing membership, we find ourselves in a position where the dangers of alcoholic beverages are not being addressed at all in many churches.  The committee believes that separating the issues of alcoholic beverages and church membership

1. In a recent case, a mission church organized its first membership roll with 24 members.  Eleven other active persons indicated they would not join the church because of the total abstinence requirement. will allow the church to directly address the dangers of alcoholic beverages and urge total abstinence upon its members.

    The committee does not believe that changing the present standard need weaken our historic position on alcoholic drinks, nor indicate a shift toward liberal views of faith or practice.  The committee rather seeks to reaffirm our stand for total abstinence on better footing and provide for a greater unity and holiness of life among the membership of the Bible Fellowship Church.

    Therefore, because of all of the reasons stated above, the committee unanimously recommends that the Standards of Worship and Life, Article IX, “Harmful Indulgences”, be amended to read:


    A. Alcoholic Drinks – the use of alcoholic beverages is one of the most serious social problems in the United States.  Its abuse has led to personal and family suffering, serious physical and mental health problems, and increased rates of accidental and criminal injury and death.  The financial cost of such beverages and their consequences is a tremendous and unnecessary burden on all of society.

    The Scriptures teach that drunkenness is sinful.1 Due to the addictive quality of alcohol, even the moderate use of such beverages may lead to serious consequences.2 This is especially true because the alcoholic content of such beverages has been tremendously increased since Bible times.  Furthermore, moderate use may be a stumbling-block for believer and unbeliever alike.3

1. Romans 13:13;I Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:18-21

2. Proverbs 20:1, 23:31-35

3. Matthew 18:6-7; Romans 14:20-21; I Corinthians 8:9-11, 13

    Therefore, we strongly and persistently warn our people of the dangers of alcoholic beverages and urge all members of the Bible Fellowship Church to abstain totally from the use of them.

              Philip E. Morrison, Chairman

              Randall A. Grossman, Secretary

              David T. Allen

              William L. Graybill, II

              LeRoy S. Heller

APPENDIX(Some passages contain more than one reference)

Old Testament Hebrew Words:

1. Yayin –

    Gen. 9:21     I Sam. 25:18       Prov. 23:30

     ” 9:24       ” 25:37        ” 23:31

     ” 14:18  II Sam. 13:28        ” 31:4

     ” 19:32       ” 16:1         ” 31:6

     ” 19:33       ” 16:2        Ecc.  2:3

     ” 19:34      I Chr.  9:29        ” 9:7

     ” 19:35       ” 12:40        ” 10:19

     ” 27:25       ” 27:27       S.of Sol. 1:2

     ” 49:11  II Chr.  2:10        ” 1:4

     ” 49:12       ” 2:15        ” 4:10

    Ex. 29:40      ” 11:11        ” 5:1

    Lev.10:9      Neh.  2:1        ” 7:9

     ” 23:13       ” 5:15        ” 8:2

    Num. 6:3       ” 5:18       Isa.  5:11

     ” 6:20       ” 13:15        ” 5:12

     ” 15:5       Est.  1:7         ” 5:22

     ” 15:7        ” 1:10        ” 16:10

     ” 15:10       ” 5:6         ” 22:13

    Deu.14:26      ” 7:2         ” 24:9

     ” 28:39       ” 7:7         ” 24:11

     ” 29:6   ” 7:8         ” 28:1

     ” 32:33      Job 1:13        ” 28:7

     ” 32:38  ” 1:18        ” 29:9

    Jos. 9:4       ”   32:19        ” 51:21

      ” 9:13      Psa.  60:3         ” 55:1

    Jud. 13:4      ” 75:8         ” 56:12

     ” 13:7       ”   78:65       Jer.  13:12

     ” 13:14      ” 104:15        ” 23:9

      ” 19:19     Pro.  4:17         ” 25:15

    I Sam.1:14     ” 9:2          ” 35:2

      ” 1:15     ” 9:5          ” 35:5

     ” 1:24      ”   20:1          ” 35:6

     ” 10:3       ” 21:17         ” 35:8

     ” 16:20 ” 23:20          ” 35:14       

APPENDIX (continued)

1. Yayin (continued)

    Jer. 40:10    Dan.  10:3         Amos 6:6

     ” 40:12     Hos.  4:11         ” 9:14

     ” 48:33      ” 7:5         Micah 2:11

      ” 51:7       ” 9:4     ” 6:15

    Lam.  2:12 ” 14:7         Haba.  2:5

    Eze. 27:18 Joel 1:5         Zeph.  1:13

     ” 44:21      ” 3:3         Haggai 2:12

    Dan.  1:5     Amos 2:8         Zech.  9:15

     ” 1:8  ” 2:12         ”   10:7

     ” 1:16      ” 5:11

2. Tirosh

    Gen. 27:28 II Chro.32:28        Hosea 2:8

     ” 27:37     Neh.  5:11         ”   2:9

    Num. 18:12     ”   10:37         ”   2:22

    Deut. 7:13     ” 10:39    ”   4:11

     ” 11:14      ”   13:5          ”   7:14

     ” 12:17      ”   13:12         ” 9:2

     ” 14:23     Psa.  4:7         Joel 1:10

     ” 18:4  Prov.  3:10         ”   2:19

     ” 28:51     Isa.  24:7          ”   2:24

     ” 33:28      ”   36:17        Micah 6:15

    Jud.  9:13     ”   62:8         Haggai 1:11

   IIKings18:32      ”   65:8         Zech.  9:17

   II Chr.31:5      Jer.  31:12

3. Schackar

    Lev. 10:9     Judg. 13:14        Isa. 5:22

    Num.  6:3     I Sam. 1:15         ”   28:7

     ” 28:7      Psa.  69:12

    Deut.14:26    Prov. 20:1

     ” 29:6       ” 31:4

    Jud. 13:4      ” 31:6

     ” 13:7      Isa.  5:11

APPENDIX (continued)

4. Khemer

    Deut.32:14    Ezra 7:22        Dan.  5:4

    Isa. 27:2     Dan.  5:1          ” 5:23

    Ezra 6:9      ” 5:2

5. Asis

    S.ofSol.8:2   Joel 1:5         Amos 9:13

    Isa. 49:26     ” 3:18        Mal.  4:3

6. Soveh

    Isa. 1:22     Hosea 4:18        Nahum 1:10

     Ezk. 23:42

New Testament Greek Words:

1. Oinos

    Matt.9:17     John 2:3         Rev.  6:6

    Mark 2:22      ” 2:9          ” 14:8

     ” 15:23       ” 2:10         ” 14:10

    Luke 1:15      ” 4:46         ” 16:19

     ” 5:37      Rom.  14:21         ” 17:2

     ” 5:38  Eph.  5:18         ” 18:3

     ” 5:39      I Tim. 3:8          ” 18:13

     ” 7:33       ” 5:23        

     ” 10:34      Titus 2:3

2. Sikera

    Luke 1:15

3. Oxos

    Matt.27:48    Luke 23:36        John 19:30

    Mark 15:36    John 19:29 

4. Gleukos

    Acts 2:13

5. Paroinos

    I Tim. 3:3    Titus 1:7


Historical Evidence:

Account of Our Religion, Doctrine and Faith given by Peter Rideman, Suffolk, England: Hodder and Stoughton, 1950.

Bainton, Roland, “The Churches and Alcohol”, pp. 287- 298 in Alcohol, Science, and Society, New Haven Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1945.

Cherrington, Ernest H., The Evolution of Prohibition in the United States of America, Montclair, N.J.: Patter- son Smith, 1969.

Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Bk II Chap. 2, “On Drinking”, pp. 242-246 in Ante-Nicean Fathers, Vol. 2, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962.

Complete Writings of Menno Simons Scottsdale, PA.: Herald Press, 1956.

Harkness, Georgia John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1931.

Hostetler, John A., Hutterite Society Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1974.

Lampe, G. Witt, A Patristic Greek Lexicon London: Ox- ford University Press, 1961.

Miller, Perry and Thomas H. Johnson, The Puritans, New York: Harper & Row, 1938.

Pope, Hugh, Saint Augustine of Hippo Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1979.

Rorabaugh, W.J., The Alcoholic Republic Oxford: The Oxford University Press, 1979.

Rush, Benjamin, An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirit- ous Liquors, 1785.

Theological Treatises by John Calvin, Edited by J.K.S. Reid, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1954.

Vulliamy, C.E., John Wesley New York: Charles Scrib- ner’s Sons, 1932.

What Luther Says, Compiled by Ewald M. Plass, St.  Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959.

Sociological Evidence:

Alcohol, Science, and Society Revisited Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1982.

Collins, James J., Jr. (ed.) Drinking and Crime New York: The Guiliford Press, 1981.

Drescher, John M. “Alcohol: A Witness Against Itself” in Ministry, March 1982.

Jones, Kenneth L., Louis W. Shainberg and Curtis O. Byer, Drugs and Alcohol New York: Harper & Row, 1969.

Pittman, David J., Alcoholism New York:Harper & Row, 1967.

Schramm, Carl J. (ed.)., Alcoholism and Its Treatment in Industry Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.

Biblical Evidence:

Baur, Walter, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971.

Liddel & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon London: Oxford University Press, n.d.

Stein, Robert H., “Wine-Drinking in New Testament Times” in Christianity Today, June 20, 1975.

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