There is an old Methodist ditty (I think it must have been “Methodist”) that went something like this: “Tobacco is a filthy weed, and from the devil doth proceed; it stains your hands and bums your clothes, and makes a smokestack of your nose.” One could always get a good laugh from that—especially when quoted to good Calvinists who all knew how the fathers puffed away at the old Synod of Dordt. Of a Methodist one could expect such sort of odd ideas. But a good Calvinist and his tobacco could seldom be parted. And a good Reformed man would listen with approval when all sorts of sins would be condemned—until something might be said of tobacco.
There is, it seems to me, good reason to consider this whole matter seriously. First, there are the reports seen increasingly which describe the harmful effects of smoking. If there is anything to these reports, and none have successfully challenged them, ought this not to affect the action of the Christian? Does Scripture have anything to say concerning misuse of the body?
Secondly, I am deeply concerned about some of our young people in this respect. Many imitate their parents. Some consider it a mark of manliness to smoke. I have observed how a large number of young people come to conventions prepared to smoke. They might forget their Bibles, or the discussion outlines—but remember to take even cartons of cigarettes. And they freely use them. Ought one to say nothing—even when 15-year-olds are involved? Their folks do it; their peers do it. Anyone who is anybody does it. Some probably do this without parental knowledge or consent; others do this with their full awareness.
But listen to some of the report as quoted inChristian News, Jan. 22, 1979.
A new report on the dangers of cigarette smoking by the Surgeon General of the United States expresses concern with the sharp increase in recent years of young smokers and women who smoke.
“Among the age group 13 to 19, there are now 6 million regular smokers. One hundred thousand children under 13 are regular smokers,” according to the 1,200-page report of Dr. Julius B. Richmond. He described cigarette smoking as the “largest preventable cause of death in the United States.”
The report stated that “lung cancer has increased fivefold among women since 1955” and “the percentage of girls aged 12 to 14 who smoke has increased eightfold since 1968.”
Dr. Richmond’s report reiterates warnings against smoking first made in 1964 by the then Surgeon General Luther Terry, whose statement was based on 6,000 scientific papers. The new report presents additional information underscoring the earlier warnings, based on findings of some 30,000 research papers.
The papers show there is now almost unanimous agreement among doctors and scientists that cigarette smoking is harmful to health and causes diseases, including lung cancer and heart ailments. . . .
The new report warned that the death rate for smokers was two-thirds higher than for non-smokers among both men and women, and that new research ties smoking more closely to cancer and heart diseases.
Women smokers were also warned that if they smoke during pregnancy, they face the possibility of “creating long-term, irreversible effects on their babies.”
“Smoking accounts for an estimated $5 billion to $8 billion in health care expenses,” the report stated. “No person, given these staggering costs, can reasonably conclude that smoking is simply a private concern; it is demonstrably a public health problem also.”
Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), said in a foreword to the new Surgeon General’s report that “this document reveals with dramatic clarity that the cigarette is even more dangerous—indeed, far more dangerous—than was supposed in 1964. . . .”
The Tobacco Institute, in defending the $17 billion tobacco industry at a press conference, charged that the new smoking report was “more rehash than research. . . .”
Now you can take the reports for what they are worth. Perhaps you are able to prove them wrong. But if these are even half correct, what implications are there for the child of God?
We read in I Cor. 6:19-20, “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.” Now it is true that the context condemns “fornication” in which one “sinneth against his own body.” But the fact remains that anything which harms this body, called the temple of the Holy Spirit, would violate the mandate of verses 19 and 20. Does smoking, in light of the many reports, harm that temple of the Holy Ghost? If it does, then what?
One can well recall the instruction approved by our forefathers at Dordt (while perhaps puffing away at their cigars) as recorded in Lord’s Day 40 of the Heidelberg Catechism. This treats the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” It teaches that the sixth commandment means “also that I hurt not myself, nor willfully expose myself to any danger.” Would this apply to the danger of smoking as well? If it is true that the life span of the smoker is noticeably shorter than that of the non-smoker (attributed, it is said, to the smoking), is there not an “exposing one’s self to danger”? If it is, then what?
Finally, there is the question of idolatry. Are some so enslaved to a habit, so insistent on maintaining it, that no Scriptural principle or teaching could persuade them to relinquish it? Then there is reason for real spiritual concern. May I quote finally from These Times, a magazine of the Seventh-Day Adventists (hardly Calvinists or Reformed) as quoted in the column of Ann Landers (who is a questionable authority on many subjects)? The quote might just give us a few more things to think about:
I Am Your Slave
You are closer to me than any living creature. You repose in my pocket just over my heart.
With my lips I caress you more than I do all the members of my family.
When I awake I turn to you and follow you all day long. I worship at your shrine with burnt offerings at constant intervals.
On my desk the fires seldom go out on your altar. I call on you for help more than I call on my Creator. I pay more money for you than I give to the church and all charities.
I mix your nicotine incense with the mucus of my throat, lungs, and nostrils and blow it into the faces of my family and friends. Normal breath goes downward, but your smoke floats in the air; so I force all in the room to breathe this stifling refuse.
I risk my life for you. By heavy smoking I take one chance in ten of having lung cancer because of you. You see this in the color of my fingers, teeth and skin.
I just suck one end of the cigarette while you smoke the other end. I am your slave!
And, as the saying goes, “put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats
Evangelical Action, December 1978, quotes a tract with the above name written by Rev. Archibald Brown. I quote some pertinent parts:
An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it. During the past few years it has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until now the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people with a view of winning them!
From speaking out, as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony; then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day; then she has tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of “reaching the masses.”
My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in Scripture as a function of the church. If it IS Christian work why did not Christ speak of it? “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”—that is clear enough! So it would have been if He had added “and provide amusement for those who do not as yet relish the gospel.” No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to Him. Then again, “He gave some. apostles, some prophets, and some, pastors and teachers—for the work of the ministry.” Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Ghost is silent concerning them.
Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people—or because they refused? The Gospel of Amusement has no martyr-roll.
Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all His apostles. . . .
When many went back because of the searching nature of His preaching, I do not hear Him saying, “Run after those friends, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow. Something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick, Peter; we must get the people somehow. . . .”
Lastly, the Mission of Amusement fails to effect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and the scoffers who thank God because the church met them halfway speak and testify. Let the heavy-laden who found peace through the concert not keep silence. Let the drunkards to whom the dramatic entertainment had been God’s first link in the chain of their conversion stand forth. There are none to answer. The Mission of Amusement produces no converts. . . .
How about the other side? Though I have never seen a sinner saved, I have seen any number of backsliders manufactured by this new method. Over and over have young Christians come to me in tears, as they had lost their peace and fallen into evil. Over and over again has the confession been made, “I began to go wrong by attending amusements patronized by Christians.” A young man in agony of soul said to me, “I never thought of going to the .theatre until my minister told me there was no harm in it! I went, and it has led me from bad to worse. I am a miserable backslider, and he is, responsible for it.”
Paul emphasizes the point in I Cor. 2:2, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” And in I Cor. 1:21, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Let us never, then, minimize the necessity of that “foolishness.”