Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The PAOC & the #Boozetalk



This past week I tuned into the live stream of the 2014 PAOC General Conference. It is a Bi-Annual conference for credential holders of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. The intention of conference is to connect credential holders across the nation of Canada for time of rejuvenation, connection, and among other things, to hold a national business meeting to pass denominational or "fellowship" wide legislation. The conference this year was hosted in the beautiful city of Saskatoon, which until about nine months ago was the city I called home. I do not currently hold credentials with the PAOC, as I live in England, and therefore fall under the jurisdiction of the AOG-Great Britain. [1] 

This brings me to one of the reasons I was keen to tune in for this year's General Conference. There was a particularly controversial piece of legislation being brought to the table around the issue of alcohol. The PAOC has a long history of abstinence that I believe is partially due to the movement being founded during the time of prohibition. The current reading of the legislation simply stated that “the non-medical use of mood altering substances” was listed under a moral failure. I know as someone who grew up in the PAOC that the wording “mood altering substances” created much confusion to what exactly that entailed. To get an answer to the vagueness of the term “mood altering substances” one had to dig back through the archives to see what exactly the term implied. It should be no surprise then that the confusion generated diverse opinion on what the PAOC believed on the issue of alcohol. This was also demonstrated by the lengthy discussions that took place on fellow blogger Jeremy Postal’s website.

The General Executive attempted to clarify those areas that are moral absolutes and those that are corporate convictions. The placement of “the non-medical use of mood altering substances” in the category of “moral failure” as it currently reads was not viewed as helpful to the fellowship. It was with this background that the following resolution was presented under the category of disciplinary action: 



10.6.2.2.3 The use of tobacco and the non medical use of alcohol or other mood altering substances.

The resolution sought to indicate that it is drunkenness that infringes on the biblical absolute whereas drinking alcohol as a credential holder infringes on our historic corporate conviction of abstinence. What I am sure surprised many within the PAOC family is that corporate conviction is not unanimous on the issue of alcohol. The heated discussion around 10.6.2.2.3 proves that even the historic corporate conviction of abstinence has shifted. It is certainly apparent that there is a significant percentage of PAOC credential holders that would advocate for moderation on the issue of alcohol. The rest of this blog will seek to summarize the discussion that took place at the 2014 PAOC General Conference.


To the best of my knowledge, I believe the house was in agreement on the following two points:[2]


Point #1 The consumption of alcohol is not a sin.

 Point #2 There are times when it is appropriate to limit our freedoms. 

For our purposes I will divide the discussion under the headings of PRO & CON. Those advocating for a moderate responsible use of alcohol will be represented by ‘pro’ heading. Those against any use of alcohol for the credential holder will be separated into the ‘con’ category. Here is a chart of what I believe represents a summation of the various positions represented during the discussions at the 2014 General Conference. 



I am now going to elaborate on each of the five positions represented in the chart.

#1. CON- The belief is that, while it may be allowable for non-credential holders to partake in alcohol, there is a different set of rules for those in leadership. “Higher standard” is interpreted in this view as ‘different standard’. Pastors and leaders are fundamentally different than their congregants because they have a higher standard to follow than lay members. The lay member of a congregation might be encouraged to follow their leader's example, but would not be reprimanded if they chose to exercise their freedom to partake in the use of alcohol. Those who represent the ‘con’ view would see the function and demands of leadership as exclusive, hierarchical, and set apart from the laity. Dave Wells summarizes the 'exclusive to leadership' approach,

“The context for By-Law 10 is our credential holders. It is not intended to legislate morality for all believers globally but to address what is wise for Pentecostal leaders in Canada and in our global ministries”


#1. PRO- The pro moderation view would argue that the New Testament does not call leadership to exclusive practices and behaviours apart from the rest of the church body. The call to be ‘above reproach’ [3] is interpreted as setting an example that others in the church should seek to imitate.[4] Leaders are viewed as servants who are themselves members of the body. There is no separation of the ‘professional holy person’ in this view, rather there is a plea that we are all baptized into one body. Whatever practices and behaviours are acceptable to the Body are therefore acceptable to the leader in the appropriate context. In this view the function and demands of leadership are always invitational, imitational, and inclusive to the whole Body.


#2. CON- You might summarize this objection as “we’ve have always done it this way.” This view believes that as a fellowship we should stay as close to original intension of the founding movement. Pentecostals have a long history of promoting prohibition, and as such, it should be the duty of credential holders to remain faithful to founding history of the movement. As Dave Wells expressed in an email to credential holders, “Drunkenness infringes on the biblical absolute whereas drinking alcohol as a credential holder infringes on our historic corporate conviction of abstinence.” 

#2. PRO- This view recognizes that each generation of our fellowship will pass unique guidelines on ‘grey areas’ that will help serve that generation in that specific period of time. It is, however, the duty of each generation to adapt to shifting cultural contexts. This view may question the validity of being beholden to historical frameworks, however there is also an appeal to a wider historical framing of issues. On the specific issue of alcohol consumption, this view might call our tradition to submit to the historic Christian approach to the topic; which is to say: Total prohibition is a new concept in church history. 

 #3. CON- “Alcohol is only destructive.” There is no possibility for responsible use of alcohol in this view. Despite any precautions taken, the use of alcohol will eventually result in poor decisions by the credential holder; OR those who imitate the credential holder. The use of alcohol is only a slippery slope to destructive decisions and behaviours. The only approach to alcohol should be abstinence. 

#3. PRO-“There are positive examples of the uses of alcohol.” This view believes that alcohol can be consumed within the context moderation and wisdom. While there are examples of those who abuse alcohol, there are also plenty of examples of believers who have demonstrated healthy attitudes towards alcohol consumption. This view believes that while abstaining from alcohol may be helpful in certain situations, it is not the only approach available to leaders. 


#4. CON- “There is never an allowable context for the consumption of alcohol by leaders.” This view cannot imagine a situation where a credential holder might be allowed to drink. This view could not imagine a segment of Canadian society where the consumption of alcohol would be deemed a ‘non-issue’ by the local church. This view also extends to PAOC Global Workers who serve across the globe in various international contexts. Simply put: the context should never inform the practice of credential holders on alcohol consumption. Even though this view may not officially label alcohol consumption in the category of ‘sin’, by practice this view would always see any consumption on the part of the credential holder to be cause for disciplinary action, regardless of the context.

#4. PRO- “We need to allow for diversity and differing cultural contexts.” This position is perhaps best summed up in a comment from Pastor Billy Richards, “Paul says that he becomes like the Jews. Well the Jews I become like in Toronto … they all drink!!” This view believes that context should inform practice on the issue of alcohol consumption. This view is culturally sensitive, adaptable, and contextual on disputable matters, whether nationally, or internationally. 


#5.CON- “Tradition is over and above Scripture.” I realize that this is quite the claim I am presenting here. But I do believe it to be a fair assessment of those who were opposed to alcohol consumption for credential holders. Let me explain: 

It was during the conference that two New Testament scholars from our own tradition took to the microphones to challenge the house. A professor from Masters Seminary was quick to remind the house that there is no Scriptural basis for 10.6.2. The Professor proposed a resolution to delete the inclusion of Scripture in 10.6.2 due to the passages being taken out of context. The amendment was voted down, despite the testimony of two theologians to the mis-reading of the passage(s). This proves, I believe, the tendency to neglect the wider Scriptural witness in favour of what our tradition historically believes is correct. If the PAOC was primarily concerned about following the direction of Scripture on this matter, we would have heeded the advice of the scholars among us. 

I don't think I am saying anything new by highlighting this distinction. 
After all the context of this resolution, according to Wells,  is a “historic corporate conviction of abstinence”[5]. This is to say that the corporate body of Canadian Pentecostals are convicted of the current position of abstinence due to the historical precedence. There is no official claim that the position of (forced) abstinence is the teaching of Scripture.

Therefore, I believe, we could accurately say of the ‘con’ position:  “PAOC is the absolutely supreme and sufficient in authority in all matters of faith and practice for credential holders.” 


#5. PRO- “Scripture above all else.” This view seeks to emphasize the place of Scripture above a denominational or fellowship precedent. The "pro" camp would be skeptical of legislating practices beyond the scope of Scripture. There is an inclination to not go beyond the text. Scripture is said to have the final word on matters of faith and practice. The 'pro' camp is quick to note that while the Bible is explicit on the command to avoid drunkenness, there is no prohibition against moderate and responsible drinking. 

Those representing this position seek to confront the full range of the canonical texts. The 'pro' moderation view is not content to read one set of texts to the exclusion of another set of texts. For every text that declares, "Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler" (Proverbs 20:1) there is counter text of, "wine that gladdens the heart of man…” (Psalm 104:14-15) OR “spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household” (Deut 14:26). Dr. Richard Hays summarizes the approach to Scripture taken by this position:


"When we begin to seek the unity of New Testament witnesses- whether in general or on a particular issue- all of the relevant texts must be gathered and considered. Selective appeals to favourite proof texts are illegitimate without full consideration of texts that stand on the opposite side of a particular issue. The more comprehensive the attention to the full range of New Testament witness, the more adequate a normative ethical proposal is likely to be. Beware of the interpreter who always quotes only the Haustafeln (e.g. Col 3.22: "Slaves obey your earthly masters in everything') and never wrestles with Galatians 5.1 ("For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery")- Or vice versa." [6]


Concluding Questions


1.What say you? Which category do you find yourself most geared towards? Pro or Con?

2.Is there another category of distinction I could add to this list?

3. Which of the five points of disagreement, presented above, do you find the most compelling? 



Thanks for reading! 
Footnotes
  1. As a side note, theologically I self identify under the category of Anabaptist- although I don’t think Anabaptism & Pentecostalism are mutually exclusive. You could call me a “Meno-costal”, or “Ana-costal”.  
  2. I am generalizing. There is likely some exception to the points I have presented. 
  3. 1 Timothy 3.2
  4. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” - 1 Corinthians 11.1 
  5. Email sent to credential holders. 
  6. The Moral Vision of the New Testament. 

11 comments:

  1. Let's nail it to the door Paul, I'll bet that by the time we all speak up on this one we'll have at least 95 points. I like the breadth of your approach. It's mature, honest, genuine and full of the Holy Spirit. My associate cried out in horror when the resolution supported by 2 of our own scholars was voted down. It was the most interesting conference business meeting I've ever seen. I have my own 6 point rebuttal on this, st your request I can share it with you.

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  2. I appreciate this overview, Paul, and would consider this matter an ongoing discussion. I couldn't help but watch the business meeting online--I think it would have been more helpful if, instead of a straight proposal for resolution to the constitution, a forum where people could feel free to share their "Yeas" and "Nays" in discussion, moving things along, and giving more time for people to feel heard on the matter. Rather than doing it within the business meeting which requires so much officiating for the record. I think a resolution then developed out of that discussion perhaps would have seen more success, for or against.

    I started drafting a further response to this post, but soon realized it will be too long for a blog comment, and will likely glaze over those who come to read this post in the future. Therefore, I am going to write a response on my own blog (http://trevorbuehler.com) and I'll share the link here when it's complete, hopefully this weekend. Bless you Paul. --@Buehlerish

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  3. Bart,
    I am writing my own response to post as well. I too am shocked at the rejection of our scholars suggestion. I would love to hear your thoughts on conference.

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  4. I wonder: Could these same arguements down the "con" side with minor edits on the specifics be applied to any NUMBER of things regarding church practice? It seems that these can be adapted (both the pros and the cons) as universal arguments and balancing points for any number of conversations, not just within the AOG but with any number of denominations.

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  5. Without engaging your individual points, Paul, the strength of your post is also its weakness. I was among those who were there. The discussion was more nuanced and holistic than your chart would indicate. As I explained to the guy on the video camera ( a Catholic) we work through these issues as an intergenerational Family. It is not passed down from on high, but it is worked out ( think: Divorce and Remarriage, Women in Ministry) through a grassroots process, over time, with an overall tone of mutual respect in the midst of our differences. To his outside eyes, he saw it as a strength. From my vantage point going in, having seen the PAOC process issues over the past three decades, I would have been surprised if it had all been resolved in one General Conference.
    BTW, I thought the sessions on eschatology by Van Johnson were excellent. To his point: eschatology is important, but our system is not working for us. As a result, he is opening up an ongoing conversation. He is opening up the whole can of worms so that we can distill what is most valuable to us as a movement without being caught up "majoring on minors". I think sessions like this on alcohol etc, which create the framework for an ongoing discussion, would bear fruit.

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    1. Thank you Robb for your comments! I was wondering if could you give an example of a nuance in the discussion that was presented during the discussion time?

      I agree that it would have been surprising to see this issue resolved in one session of the General Conference. The PAOC family will need to continue to hash this issue out in the next few years. I hope this blog post is useful to both sides of the discussion. If you have something else to add or subtract, please do share your thoughts, as 'concluding questions' have suggested.

      God Bless!

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    2. I guess I would first begin with context. What weighs heavily on Dave Wells (one of the finest Christian leaders (of any stripe) in the entire country) and the team is the 2020 Initiative. Which ,by the way, is the real news of the conference. It encapsulates the vision that we would increase to 1% of the Canadian population, with 350,000 Christ-followers and 1500 disciple making communities by the year 2020. The implications of this are staggering, not only within our borders but in in our influence beyond. Bringing this to pass is a BHAG ( Big Hairy Audacious Goal) that compels me to cry out to The LORD of the harvest for His wisdom and power. Unpacking this is what should be ( to quote J.I. Packer) “ getting our knickers in a knot”. We have MUCH bigger fish to fry than whether we get to quaff a pint.

      But to your request, about nuance. Let me give you one small example. You reduce things to:

      “Therefore, I believe, we could accurately say of the ‘con’ position: “PAOC is the absolutely supreme and sufficient in authority in all matters of faith and practice for credential holders.””

      It’s a great one-liner. It’s the stuff of preaching that will rouse the choir. It is also reductionistic and misleading.

      Nobody that I talked to considered the scripture(s) attached to the motion as a ‘proof text’. The question is whether the particular scriptures can shine light on our practices. Someone respectfully asked, from the floor, if the other scriptures in the discussion document could be considered, in its place. The Professor said he felt that it couldn’t. He offered his valued and educated opinion. However, there were those in the assembly who, based on their reading of the considered texts, felt that the principles in these texts most certainly illuminated the discussion and provided a point of reference. This was an issue of hermeneutics and application, not the PAOC vs The Bible.

      On a personal note: As I write this, I think “ I don’t have time for this”. I am up to my eyelids, and stretched beyond recognition, in stuff that is actually core to the reason I exist. A significant piece of what I do is facilitate alternatives to the narrative of a multi-billion dollar industry for young adults (that are squarely in its crosshairs). And I pick up the pieces. There may be others with different capacities and priorities. The reason I do write , Paul, is not primarily because of the issue itself, but because I see a certain disrespect implicit in your reduction of what was a profound discussion in a profound conference. I have grown, with the perspective of time and breadth of experience, to love and appreciate our Fellowship.

      We need more mature conversations: Not ones that reduce the other side to cardboard cutouts.

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    3. I agree that PAOC has much bigger fish to fry. You bring a great example of the 20/20 initiative as one of the many positive contributions of the conference. Unfortunately, I have narrowed this blog post to the discussion surrounding 10.6.2.2.3.

      Robb, I fear that you have understated the Professor’s comments.There was one point, during a reply to those who suggested replacement scriptures, that the Professor clearly said, “there is no Scripture that will accomplish what we are trying to do with this amendment.” What exactly was the Professor suggesting that we were trying to accomplish? We were trying to land in a ditch by prohibiting freedoms legislatively. We are adding our tradition where Scripture is silent and I believe it is one of the 'ditches' to try to legislate grey areas. It reduces Paul lengthy discussions about Weaker and Stronger brothers/sisters (Romans 14-15) into a sweeping statement of "NO", rather than the tension of freedom and the love of neighbour. I submit that legislating a 'meat issue' in favour of the Weaker brother/sister, is to ignore Paul's whole discussion on the subject.

       

I want to believe that this is merely an issue of hermeneutics. I am still open to that possibility, however, I did not hear another theologian offer an alternative reading of the texts. I DID hear many anecdotal evidences and proof-texts offered up, but no serious discussion on any text that would have supported 10.6.2.2.3. I think that is a glaring fact requires your attention. (Remember, I have limited my points to what was spoken during the discussion time. AND I asked you to provide an example that was given during that time... still waiting.)

      

As a side note, I think you have seriously misunderstood me by suggesting that I have presented a “Bible vs PAOC” argument. That is simply not the case, as both the ‘con’ and ‘pro’ categories are found within the PAOC.

      I agree we need more serious mature discussions. One's that honour and respect those with PHD's among us.

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  6. It seems to me that we must avoid legalism and license in favour of loving obedience. I concur that this is a meat/idol issue, not a moral issue, if we understand that the Bible seems to teach moderation if one drinks, condemns drunkenness, and a case can be made based on principle in our culture for leaning to abstinence. Ultimately, it is a conscience issue and I am leary about legislating things for leaders (the qualifications for leaders do not say abstain, but not be drunk, etc.).

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