Which Gospel? Prologue, the Gospels of Kicking the Smoking Habit

Back a few days ago, I asked a question about just how wrong is smoking? I got 23 comments! I don’t get 23 comments when we talk about women elders! Why such interest in a fairly mundane subject? I mean, we all agree that smoking is wrong and nasty. The question was how wrong.

I’ve pondered that quite a bit, as I was really surprised. Why is smoking even an interesting question? I mean, I’d never teach a class on it. Everyone already knows it kills.

It finally occurred to me that the controversy is a great exemplar of the shifting church culture that’s going on. The question is interesting because it demonstrates how the church is changing (and not changing). It gives us a concrete example of what’s going on. Indeed, our disagreements on such a mundane topic are symptomatic of the inevitable trauma of profoundly dramatic changes in how we perceive Christianity itself.
Until recently, American churches were Constantinian, that is, part of the prevailing culture. Everyone believed in Jesus. We considered our task as (1) getting people saved by converting Baptists and others in the “denominations” to the “one true church” and (2) encouraging moral living. Hence, the emphasis was on baptism and on the rules for how to live “faithfully until death.”

In that culture, smoking is not only a sin, it’s a big one, because it’s obvious to others that we’ve not yet obeyed God’s law regarding treating our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit. And the keeping of moral laws is central to how you live faithfully.

Kicking the habit in such a church is seen as “fruits of repentance” and honoring our commitment to live faithfully. It’s obedience, plain and simple.

More recently, we shifted more toward being “purpose driven,” with “purpose” defined as growing our congregations. The emphasis shifted to programmatic evangelism methods, seeker sensitivity, excellence in the worship service, and such.

Concurrently we moved toward a “therapeutic gospel,” that is, a gospel of being better parents and spouses, overcoming depression and addiction, and such like. Many of our ministers trained in counseling. One advantage of this slant on the gospel was that it made the gospel accessible to non-Christians, who often struggle with these very same issues.

Cigarette smoking in such an environment is thought of as an addiction to be overcome through prayer, group support, and such, rather than as sin to be preached against.

In that culture, smoking is an addiction to be overcome by the power of the gospel and the Spirit, with kicking the habit celebrated as a victory of Jesus over addiction.

Now, we see churches moving to become more “emerging” or “missional.” Emerging churches seek to preach the eternal gospel in language that communicates with the Postmodern unchurched. Missional churches realize they are on a mission to bring the Kingdom to ever greater fruition in this world — helping fulfill the Lord’s Prayer so that God’s will is done on earth as in heaven — and to be missionaries in a nation that is increasingly pagan.

In such a culture, cigarette smoking is considered a minor problem compared to the huge institutional problems our society is faced with — such as poverty, racism, and war. In this culture, kicking the habit is to be celebrated. It’s a victory for Jesus, but it’s nowhere near the center of what’s most important. In fact, if we were planting an emerging church in a community where smoking is accepted as perfectly fine behavior, such as Japan and much of Europe, we might be years getting around to such a sermon, if ever!

Notice, that in the Constantinian church, kicking the habit is highly individualistic. You’re a sinner and you need to stop.

In the purpose-driven church, kicking the habit is the community’s responsibility. The church provides support groups and counseling. When you succeed, it’s by the power of Jesus both through the Spirit and through his church.

In the emerging/missional church, kicking the habit is great but would rarely be preached on. If you want help, we’ll be there for you in any way possible. But no one’s going to bug you about cigarettes when there’s a lost world full of hurting people to help. If you want to smoke during breaks while serving at the food bank, well, serving at the food bank, being part of the redeemed community, and making a difference in the world is what really matters.

Now, even the most emerging church never gets entirely away from teaching personal morality. Nor does it entirely abandon the therapeutic aspects of the gospel. But the emphasis changes dramatically.

In this series, we’ll explore the different approaches to the gospel further. There are even more “gospels” out there to ponder.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Which Gospel? Prologue, the Gospels of Kicking the Smoking Habit

  1. garybartlett says:

    I was raised in a home where smoking, mixed swiming and dancing were wrong. I got to college and my dorm-mates were from all over the country. One was from Kentucky and his father grew tabacco. He saw nothing wrong with smoking. Another roommate was from California and saw nothing wrong with mixed swiming. The other was from New York and had worked at a dance studio. He saw no danger in dancing. I learned to redefine what I believed as "doctrine" as I learned to receive people where they are. Please God, teach us about your grace!

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    Here is the thing. If we are going to start preaching on kicking the habit, let's start preaching on kicking "the habit". All habits or behaviors that contrary to God's nature, are bad. We can continue to focus on smoking, drunkenness, drugs, dancing etcetera, and never touch the nice sins like greed, sloth, gossip, slander, domestic verbal abuse, racism. This divulges one key failure in the norm of theology in standard religion; good sins and bad sins. This is a total distortion of who and what God is like. Until we begin to hate lying and racism just as much as homosexuality or "smoking" then our message to the ever watching unbelieving world will have no credibility.

  3. Adam G. says:

    You make a lot of good points. I wasn't raised in the Church of Christ culture, but was exposed to it in college. It always seemed like a lot of rules to prove holiness. I would definitely consider smoking a problem, but not a sin.

    I also agree with the critique (or so I perceived it) of the therapeutic gospel. As I'm attempting to learn to be missional, I am also trying to bring a more theocentric perspective to my preaching of the Good News, and the Scriptures in general.

    Like smoking (which I have never done), I find the "habit" of anthropocentric thinking hard to kick. 🙂

    I look forward to the rest of this series.

  4. Alan says:

    People used to be a lot more comfortable with the idea that some things are right and other things are wrong. Today's culture is not at all comfortable with that idea. I don't think that's a good thing.

    True, some of the taboos of the past were misguided. So Christians need to think through what is right and what is wrong, based on the scriptures. But we can't let the church lose its moral compass. There is a God-given standard of right and wrong, and it is not the prerogative of any mortal to change it. After all, we will ultimately be judged by that standard.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Alan,

    Actually I'm troubled by the over-reaction of some of the emerging types who make personal morality a trivial concern when, as you point out, it's not.

    On the other hand, we really have to get away from some old attitudes that seek salvation through the invention of rules. I remember having a fellow student at Lipscomb tell me — in all seriousness — that Coke is sinful because it interferes with metabolizing of Vitamin K!

    I've enjoyed Coke all the more ever since!

  6. Nancy says:

    "we really have to get away from some old attitudes that seek salvation through the invention of rules" – Jay

    Not to mention that seeking salvation through rule following is heresy and futile. Yes, better to get away from that.

  7. Chris C says:

    Interestingly, in my state, smoking on the church property might be condemned in the larger, more liberal churches. But go to a small town "conservative" church and you might find a few men smoking or chewing in the alley between services! We surely all confuse local practices and customs with what really matters to God?

    X-smoker, still struggling.

  8. kris says:

    It IS funny you got so many comments on smoking! lol

    Would it help people to quit if they knew that they stunk? All the time. Breath, hair, clothing… Stinky! It is simple. If you smoke, you smell, and no amount of gum or perfume will hide it.

    Harsh. I know. I grew up with a smoker. I had no idea that I smelled that way even though I didn't smoke. So, not only do smoker's stink, but so do their offspring and their homes and cars.

    I really don't care what people want to do, and I doubt it is really sinful. But, if a friend had broccoli in their teeth I would tell them. Just like I let smoking friends know that they need to fumigate. 😉 In the nicest way possible of course.

  9. Andy says:

    While I agree with much of your commentary, I'm not really sure it's to the point as to what most of us in the prior thread were talking about. Smoking stands out because it is or was considered a sin, when so many other things we know are addictive or unhealthy aren't considered sins. Do you mean to suggest this is a recent phenomenon? I'm not old enough to remember the "good old days," but I hardly think indulgence in food, drink, or other unhealthy pleasures that aren't typically considered sin is new. Wasn't C.S. Lewis talking about how gluttony was a forgotten sin back in the 50's (see Mere Christianity)?

    My suspicion is that the smoking issue has stood out more because 1) many find it to be more disgusting in terms of looks or smell, and 2) most Christians who consider it sin have managed to steer clear of it — after all, avoidance is relatively easy, it's quitting that's hard — and thus don't have as much sympathy for smokers as that might for other kinds of addicts.

  10. Todd says:

    In my younger days you could not enter the church building without passing through the sacred incense of the smokers gathered on the porch or under the driveway. During my first year of college (1984) the college group actually pitched in to help a member get his tobacco crop in on time. Funny how our "doctrine" shifts with time.

    And yet God Was, Is and shall Be I AM.

    Frankly the same truth applies here that applies to sex, cheeseburgers and wine. God made them all to be enjoyed, but each in its correct place, time and amount.

  11. Pingback: Which Gospel? Introduction, Part 3 « One In Jesus.info

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