Home > Miscellaneous > Open Letter to the Bethel Board of Trustees

Open Letter to the Bethel Board of Trustees

This letter is about the silliness of the special rules in the Covenant for Life Together. The document can be found here. I highly doubt anyone of relevance will ever see this, but at least it expresses my frustration.

Dear Bethel Board of Trustees,

I write to you concerning Bethel’s Covenant for Life Together. I have some significant personal and theological issues with the document in question. The majority of and purpose of the document is sensible and it contains helpful ideals for individuals in a community. Certainly it is helpful as a University and Seminary to have a basic set of beliefs and principles that provide a foundation for interaction with one another and with the world. What you have with the covenant is the elemental beliefs that unify bethel students and faculty, but you have also tacked onto it rules that are stifling.

While there is freedom of thought at Bethel and people are allowed to disagree with those rules, there is not freedom to actually live out one’s interpretation of Scripture if that interpretation conflicts with the Covenant for Life Together. The many specific and debatable rules of the covenant do not serve to create unity through Christ while retaining individual diversity, but function to limit the diversity of the student body.

I do obviously believe that placing extensive rules on students that limit their freedoms as a follower of Jesus is a negative thing and is unhelpful for creating the ideal seminary environment. However, I do understand the idea that to function properly as a community it is important not to intrude upon one another by engaging in behaviors that others find sinful. I understand thinking that stricter rules will create a more amicable environment for people (although I think it also makes relationships less real and limits them by eliminating disagreements that can actually build unity and intimacy). What does bother me is when Scripture is cited to affirm the statements of the covenant when the Scripture does not actually discuss the same issues! These actions are hermeneutically ignorant at best; at worst, they are an inconsiderate manipulation of God’s Word.

Example A:

We believe our minds and bodies should be used in God-honoring ways.9

  • We will promote the health of our bodies, minds, and emotions.
  • We will abstain from illicit or nonmedical use of drugs, narcotics, and other substances. We will also abstain from use or possession of tobacco in any form.

9. Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:14-15; 1 Timothy 4:8

Certainly promoting the health of our bodies, minds, and emotions is an important thing. I think it is obvious in our hearts that physical, mental, and emotional health is something God desires. But you will be hard pressed to find Biblical injunctions for us to strive to attain these things… especially that of physical health, which is the issue at hand. Mental and emotional health might actually be strengthened through the relaxation of tobacco use. Let’s look at the verses used to reinforce what was said about health and nonuse of illegal drugs and tobacco.

Romans 12:1-2: Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, {which is} your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Of course glorifying God with our bodies is vitally important, for it is within our bodies that we live out the spiritual life by living in an obedient relationship to God. It is with our physical form that we obey. It’s inseparable from our spirituality. That is why the verse immediately moves from the giving of our bodies as a spiritual act of worship to not living in the same way that the world does. We are instead to transform by mind renewal so that our very physical lives are evidence of the goodness of God’s will. Important stuff, but this verse says nothing about tobacco use or living healthy. If there is an underlying assumption that tobacco use is a pattern of this world, then the verse might say something about tobacco use. However, one won’t find biblical evidence to back this up. A good philosophical argument could be made for tobacco usage being a world pattern, but then one has to also evidence that nonuse of tobacco is a way in which Christians should strive to be different than the world, which is a much more difficult argument to make. At any rate, simply citing this verse says nothing.

1 Corinthians 6:14-15: Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!

This brief passage is obviously primarily about sexual immorality. It’s about how we are to use our bodies in relation to eachother and why prostitution is incompatible with relationship to Jesus. Not tobacco. Should we use our bodies wisely and prudently? Absolutely. Do these verses give us substantive reason to completely avoid tobacco use? Absolutely not.

1 Timothy 4:8:

for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

The primary thrust of 1 Timothy 4:8 actually seems to be counterproductive to argument of the Covenant. This translation makes it clear that the point of what Paul is saying is that being godly in action is far more valuable than what one does with their physical person. While other translations say that “physical training is of some value,” not “only of little profit,” the verse is still unambiguously talking about how godliness is far mare worthwhile. There is no textual evidence that godliness is incongruent with the use of tobacco products.

I do realize that there are many other Scriptures relevant to this issue that could be cited, but I wanted to focus on those that were cited by Bethel to make their point. I think Scriptures related to our maintenance of a strong witness to Jesus, living a life that is unrebukable, and not being mastered by anything are those from which one could make an argument against tobacco use. However, there are many cases in which the use of tobacco can be a help for witnessing to others and I have discovered that the use of tobacco products around those that do not know Jesus can spur great conversations on what the way of Jesus is primarily about. Certainly there are cultural contexts in which smoking would be damaging to one’s rapport as a Jesus follower. Conversely, in our variegated society there are contexts in which tobacco use can be a contributor to having a strong rapport as one who lives out Jesus’ teachings. Also, I do believe one can use tobacco products without being mastered by them, just as one can use other addictive substances without becoming addicted (alcohol, coffee, prescription drugs, etcetera).

At any rate, the Covenant for Life Together fails to make a convincing argument for a lot of things. Among those is the use of tobacco products. The document fails to rationally make sense of its regulations, instead relying on presumptions it assumes all readers of the covenant have and then tossing in verses that appear marginally related on a superficial level. I think it abuses Scripture in its attempt. It is most upsetting to me. I still follow the covenant, but I do so not because I’m similarly convicted, but because I’m a man of my word.


Thanks for reading my vent.

Categories: Miscellaneous
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