I have waited two months before publicly responding to comments made at the recent Florida Baptist Convention by Executive Director, John Sullivan. I wanted to make sure that he actually said what I heard. My efforts immediately after the convention to secure a recording of his comments were futile. However, within two weeks the Florida Baptist Witness quoted him extensively and accurately in an article by Joni Hannigan.
During the last session of the 2006 convention, after a wonderful message by Voddie Baucham, Dr. Sullivan came to the pulpit and expressed his dismay that at the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro messengers had “wasted thirty minutes of God’s precious time debating” resolution #5 on abstaining from alchohol. Citing the amendment to that resolution, that says that “we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages,” Sullivan made the following statement:
We are not going to have people on our boards of trustees that do not believe in total abstinence.
I emailed Dr. Sullivan and asked if he actually meant that it would not be enough if a trustee abstained from drinking alcohol, but that he or she would also have to hold to a total abstinence conviction. He confirmed that this was exactly what he meant. He pledged to pursue action within the Florida Baptist Convention to assure this. The current issue of the Witness carries the first of 3 articles by Dr. Sullivan on this topic, with his further pledge to work to impose his view, and that of the infamous Resolution # 5, on the entities of the Florida Baptist Convention. He writes,
Please understand, I am not taking a poll on this matter. It is my candid opinion that as the executive director-treasurer of this convention, I must do everything possible to protect our integrity and witness. This new attitude on “moderate” use of alcohol poses a problem for me and many other Florida Baptists. A proposal will be made to the State Board of Missions through the proper channels that the trustees of the entities of the Florida Baptist State Convention will abstain from the use of alcoholic beverages.
This is a little less than what Dr. Sullivan stated publicly that he would work to impose on Florida Baptists. He will be more likely to gain a hearing for this than if he tries to insist that every trustee personally have a conviction that the Bible teaches abstinence. I suppose the next articles will explain his intent further.
As he states in the article, his mind is made up. It is not up for discussion. I find it ironic that he sees this issue as necessary to “protect our integrity and witness” while admittedly refusing to deal the biblical arguments involved. Perhaps he will engage Scripture in future articles.
As a Florida Baptist pastor, I am grieved by the public statements of our Executive Director and will oppose any effort that he makes to make his extra-biblical convictions the litmus test for service on our the trustees of our convention entities. In fact, in anticipation of this move our church leaders have already discussed a plan of action to recommend to our own church. I do so not because I want to drink (as I have loudly and widely proclaimed, I do not drink), but because I love the Word of God and think it is sufficient to guide us in faith and life. This action, and others like it, undermines the authority of God’s Word. Many, many Florida Baptists who read their Bibles readily recognize this. An attempt to impose a total abstinence view on our churches will be disastrous for the welfare of our convention.
Dr. Sullivan begins his article with these words:
I have been surprised by the attention given to my recent statements about the use of alcoholic beverages. Being a “tee-totaler” has been my conviction-not convenience-since August 1955 when I was saved. After salvation, it never entered my mind that “social” or “moderate” drinking was acceptable to the Heavenly Father. I never considered discussing it as a possibility. Now some would say that is closed-mindedness. They would be right-there is no debate for me.
I end my article with this response:
I have been surprised by the quickness with which some have been willing to impose rules on fellow Christians that the Bible does not impose. I have been a “Bible man” since my conversion in 1963 when I was saved. After salvation, it never entered my mind that trying to impose cultural standards on the Bible was acceptable to the God who breathed out the Scripture and said that it was enough for the man of God to be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I never thought I would see leaders trying to do that very thing. Now, some would say that this is close-mindedness. They are wrong. If I can be shown by clear teaching from the Word of God that any activity is prohibited, I will stand against it without hesitation or equivocation. Like one of my heroes said long ago, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
If you want to change my mind, come with an open Bible.