got a little side-tracked in part 1 of this series because of a necessary qualifier, but I had really intended to talk about the issue of Gene and Finny as archetypes in which Baptists can learn a lesson. In A Separate Peace, Gene and Finny have to separate – because Finny dies. They go their own ways because Finny dies during an operation, but the author’s point in writing the story is that Gene realizes, in the end, that while he called Finny his friend he was never really “right” with Finny – he was jealous of him, and was somewhat slyly-hateful toward him. Finny’s death was a catalyst for Gene, sadly, to “get over it” – that is, it took a cataclysmic event to make Gene know something about himself that needed fixin’, and he was able to fix it. Or to put that last phrase more precisely, he was able to fix the part with which he was left.
Let’s have no doubt that this book is a secular book, yes? And may Memphis and the IMB forbid that Baptists (Southern Baptists, anyway) ever learn anything from a non-biblical source. But with the primary qualification that we ought to contend for our faith in a right minded, generous, and humble way, and the secondary qualification that the metaphor I am drawing on is a secular source (even if it bears some resemblance, for example, to Cain and Abel [Gen 4:1-15], and to Saul and David [1 Sam 18:6-8], and to Peter and Jesus [John 21], and to Paul and Barnabas [Acts 15]), let’s ask ourselves a serious question: when, exactly, should we formally “separate” from people who, yesterday, we were in full fellowship with?
You know: for example – at what point should the prohibitionist fundamentalist social conservatives separate from the non-prohibitionist fundamentalist social conservatives? The rhetoric for such a thing is out there – because the non-prohibitionists are (among other things) obviously sympathic to baby-baptizers and drunk drivers. Can the case be made that the non-prohibitionists have actually tread upon the fundamentals of the faith in such a way that they are in sin, and cannot or will not repent, and ought to be disfellowshipped – especially for the sake of doing missionary work in places as diverse as China, Pakistan, the Sudan, and Webster, NY? Specifically, over a beer at dinner, or a glass of champagne at one’s 25th wedding anniversary?
Yes, I know: I have painted this issue in pretty stark terms, but what is at stake is the viability of the missionary work of the SBC. In the U.S., it is the largest relief organization on the ground at any given time, and is internationally renown for demonstrating compassion in every nation without regard to their political or religious beliefs. In the end, the issue is whether or not we’re going to send missionaries to the largely-Catholic state of Louisiana who can break bread with the indigenous peoples there and not be offended by a glass of wine at the dinner table – or perhaps even show good manners by having one like an appreciative guest.
Splitting the convention along prohibitionist/moderationist lines will certainly cripple the missionary work of the SBC because the line there drawn will demand that all missionaries be prohibitionist -- which is not to say, "don't partake themselves" but "actively work to abolish all uses drinkinguses of alcohol". It will place the work of abolishing alcohol on the same cooperative level as the demand that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture. Someone will have to do some work someplace to demonstrate for me how those two things are of equal importance in Scripture – when the former cannot be found in Scripture at all.
See: for Gene and Finny, somebody had to die and the other had to suffer the catastrophic loss of a close friend for redemptive change to happen. For Baptists, we have to realize that somebody already did die for the sake of redemptive change – and His death is Sufficient for redemptive change. And I’m not talking about honored men like Adrian Rogers here: I’m talking about the Son of God, the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world that God has made both Lord and Christ – this Jesus who was crucified.
In the end, Gene lived with the regret that he was never the kind of friend Finny had been – which is to say, seeing the whole world (including Gene) as perfectly innocent in motives, and thereby allowing even Gene to take advantage of him. Gene in fact held himself separated from Finny even as his friend for the sake of protecting himself – which was never necessary! And that separation – that method of self-interest – ultimately was the cause of the death of Finny.
Is that the kind of peace the prohibitionist Baptists want – a peace which can only result in the permanent alienation of brothers in Christ? We should think on our roots – and on the political reasons the SBC was formed in 1845. We are not guilty of the sins of our fathers in the faith, but if we are not careful we are going to commit the same kinds of sins – which would be placing our worldly interests, both in the form of fear and of political influence, ahead of the Gospel which is the only power to redeem the nations.
The Gospel is more powerful than alcohol. Maybe if we focused on that, we could do something greater than separate from brothers who agree with us that drunkenness is evil and an abuse of good conscience.