Am I rejoicing at Perry Noble’s forced departure from NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina? I could scarcely believe my ears when that question was asked. To the contrary, I am profoundly saddened – hurting for an obviously gifted young man, sad for his family, grieved for his church, and burdened with sorrow for evangelicals everywhere. Hardly is it necessary for me to agree with every soldier in the army in order to grieve over a fallen fellow combatant who wears the same uniform as I. In our vocation as followers of Christ, we are forbidden from rejoicing even in the fall of an enemy (Proverbs 24:17-18), and he is no enemy!
Alcohol is only one issue with which we pitiable humans struggle. That temptation may not affect me, but I have been in a life-long battle to keep my nose on top of the sludge in my own life, so I now reach out a hand to Perry and say, “Grab hold!” I cannot help you, but I am holding on to God’s hand of grace and love, which has been extended to me. As I am sure Perry knows, God Himself is the only dependable rock in the universe. Thank the Lord for His mercy extended to me and to all who seek it.
No one will go to hell for imbibing alcohol. If someone spends eternity in hell, he does so because he failed to seek Jesus and His atoning forgiveness on the cross. So let’s be clear about the nature of sin. Sin separates us from God; and Jesus died on the cross, extending His hand of grace to all of us sinners.
On the other hand, the Bible does not have to record a “thou shalt not” to make a behavior wrong. The Bible contains no command that “a man shall not mainline heroin.” But surely our slide into moral ambiguity has not taken us so far that someone would wish to argue that such a practice would be fine.
The Bible does have prohibitions. However, the wisdom literature, such as the book of Proverbs, is remarkably lucid. The principles revealed in 1 Corinthians on the subject of meat offered to idols are as relevant as ever to issues not commanded or prohibited. And there is the example of Nazarite vows and the fact that pastors are “not to be given to wine,” which hardly conjures up an openness to the use of alcohol.
So what is it with which I am not pleased? Anything that attacks and cripples our pastors must be resisted. Pastors are to be blameless, sober-minded, known for good behavior, and not given to wine, among other characteristics (1 Timothy 3:2-3; Titus 1:6-7). Porn and alcohol happen to be among the most devastating methods devised by our enemy, and the inappropriate use of prescription drugs is not far behind.
The comments of one well-known commentator carried some good advice. But the answer to these problems will not be found primarily with the psychiatrist or the ever-burgeoning self-help industry. Remedies arise from God’s Word and from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Nor can the church fail to speak.
Admittedly, the church’s denunciation of sins of all kinds has often been harsh and uncharitable. A younger generation detests this approach, and the church can learn to do better. What is needed in this day is a clear exposition of all of God’s Word throughout all organizations of the church saying, “Here is the way of holiness; walk in it.” This admonition does not involve as much the denunciation of human sins as it does a clear definition of what it means to embrace holiness before God. And the grounds for personal holiness are not discovered in positive or negative mandates but in your love for Jesus and gratitude to God for His grace. This pursuit of holiness does make demands, however. For that reason, God-anointed preaching must identify the nature of sinfulness and should never call good “evil” or evil “good.”