It is said that our forefathers made momentous decisions for the Protestant Reformed churches in smoke-filled rooms. Indeed they did. And I am grateful for the heritage we are able to pass on to our children, and the solid foundation laid by their work. The matters placed before these men were great. The decisions would have consequences for generations. Fierce battles were fought on behalf of the truth. Hours and hours were spent late into the night with heart wrenching, tense debates that would end with families divided. To this tension, tobacco smoke brought welcomed relief.
As we move onward through history, and reminisce about those days, the element of a smoke-filled room continues as an important element to these meetings. Perhaps we take some pride in the theological intensity that the blue haze represents. I truly hope that we continue to appreciate the difficult work that was done by those men. What they fought for was rooted solidly in God’s word and can serve to guide our development today. The smoking, however, needs to be left behind, especially if we use their smoking as an excuse for ours.
While time does not change true doctrine, it can and does change our attitude toward smoking. There was a day when it was easy to brush off concerns that filling one’s body with smoke was a bad idea. That has changed. Some of the first questions asked by the doctor are: “Do you smoke?” or “Are your children exposed to second-hand smoke?” It is one of the first questions on the health or life insurance form. These questions are asked because the answer makes a big difference for one’s health and life. The doctor is alerted to be on the lookout for the deadly effects in your body. The insurance company will prepare for higher costs and a shorter life by making you pay more in your premiums. Now, when we smoke, we know that we are making a choice that will very likely take away from the health and life that God has given. Our forefathers could claim ignorance, we can’t.
So is smoking a sin? We have no direct statement in God’s word to that effect because, to my knowledge, the activity of smoking did not exist at the time. Similar behavior such as gluttony and drunkenness is, however, condemned. Drinking alcohol in itself is not wrong, but when it continues to the point at which the mind loses control, it is. Alcohol also contains the potential for dependence as well has health and life degradation. How much food is too much, and why we eat is different for everyone. In this area of life too, the sin seems to have an element of losing control along with a degradation of health and life as a result. Smoking also has a mental control and health element. One difference, however, is the fact that food and drink have a life sustaining purpose whereas inhaling mind altering chemicals into our bodies does not. So even if an occasional puff on a cigarette is not a sin, I believe that God’s word makes it very clear that we are only one step away from it.
Because smoking is something that perhaps only the strongest of us can do without being pulled into a sinful grip, I think we need to put an end to smoking outside of our church buildings. The psychological effect of smoking along with peer pressure makes it hard enough for our young people and children to resist trying a smoke. When our ministers, elders, uncles, and other respected adults smoke, it makes the temptation to dabble in so powerful a substance as nicotine all the more difficult to fight. Such an influence and temptation certainly is not welcomed when we gather after a worship service to fellowship together. If anything, we ought to do what we can to encourage and help those who struggle with addiction to fight against it.
The negative impact that smoking has on the youth is only one reason why it’s time to move on and leave the smoke behind. As our knowledge of the wonders of the human body increases with science and medicine, we marvel and testify that our bodies are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made by our God. When the world sees us willfully destroy our bodies, they mock our foolishness and blaspheme God. Let us not forget that we hold to a glorious heritage. We must let this light shine. The scattered sheep in the world hear Christ from our pulpits. They come to our churches to hear more, but often must first walk through a cloud of smoke. Let’s clear the air and let our light shine. May the doctrine we hold dear to the heart come to clear manifestation in our life and conversation as we glorify God in our body and spirit.
In conclusion we consider this word of God: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:19, 20). We know the dangers of smoking. Statistics indicate that the average person who is taken by the addiction and smokes all his life loses about ten years of life. In this light, consider that such willful exposure of our body to danger is condemned in the sixth commandment as expounded in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 40. May we stand together as the body of Christ to encourage and strengthen one another in the battles we face as the people of God.