By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen, First Baptist Church, Spearfish, SD
Many years ago, a woman from a different church asked me if we had any cigarette smokers who attended our church. I said, “People who smoke? We have people attending our church with far more serious problems than that!” The woman did not say why she asked that question, but I had a hunch that it was because she had driven by the church building on a day when we had church services and had seen people having a smoke on the property. Or she had seen some of our people around town somewhere having a smoke. I might be wrong, but I also have a hunch that her question was meant to tell me it was not a good thing to have cigarette-smoking church attenders, especially if they smoke on church property, and that something needed to be done about it.
It is not my intention to defend smoking cigarettes, or smoking anything else. But I have told this story to make an important point: a church is not for perfect people, but for imperfect people. That means, a church is for folks just like ourselves. Some church attenders have not yet become Christians, and their attitude and behavior often make that plain. But we want them to become Christians, and so we accept them as they are (within reason, of course) and pray they will accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. If they do believe in him, their attitudes and actions will begin to change for the better. Other church attenders are Christians, but even so they/we are in the process of becoming better Christians. We Christians are still “under construction,” so to speak. We won’t reach perfection until we go to be with the Lord in heaven. Until then, we might have some bad habits to wrestle with, one of which could be smoking cigarettes. And until then, we might, no, we will, struggle with bad attitudes about one thing or another now and then. Maybe even frequently. It is very easy to condemn someone who smokes while excusing our own bitterness toward someone who has hurt us. But when compared to bitterness, smoking is a very minor matter. Sinful behavior and attitudes must be dealt with in sermons and Bible studies. And sometimes a person must be directly spoken to about correcting these things. But we must make it clear to others that we do not see ourselves as better than they are, but as works in progress. When we do, it will help them understand that we are here to help one another deal with the moral and spiritual struggles we face on a daily basis. When they become convinced of that, they will become a church’s best advertisement that we exist to be a blessing to the community. The result will be that others will seek us out for help. Isn’t that what a Bible-believing church wants to see happen?