Q: This week a young Christian talked with me about the practice of smoking Hookah. They attend a church [which] is reaching out to the many Indian and Muslims in the surrounding areas. Their church also have several ministries that support missions in India and Arab countries. As they spoke with me they said that many of their Christian friends are smoking the Hookah. They said that they have been told that certain types of Hookah smoking involve no tobacco but are simply flavored water, other types of Hookah smoking do include tobacco but in a ‘more pure’ form than that of cigarettes that have additives.
The Christians that they know of who partake in smoking Hookah do not feel that there is anything sinful in this practice and believe that it is just a part of certain cultures as a way to relax and socialize. Apparently during certain celebrations some of these culture groups get together as a family and include smoking the Hookah together as part of the festivities. These Christians who participate feel that it is no different than a Christian who has a beer or a glass of wine socially.
The young person who was talking with me does not participate in smoking Hookah because they have a ‘gut feeling’ that it is not pleasing to God. The thing is they don’t really know scripturally if it is wrong or not and would like to be able to relate scripturally to this subject with their friends. So, my question is; Is smoking the Hookah an acceptable practice for Christians?
A: Great question! As I read through this, there are two distinct issues (at least!) that are presenting themselves: the first, how can and should a Christian make a biblically sound decision on matters that are not directly spoken of in the Bible?; and the second, how can and should a Christian respond to their 'gut feelings'?
As we explore these two facets, we will see that the answer to "Is smoking the Hookah an acceptable practice for Christians?" depends on who is asking the question!
Let's explore each of these separate issues in order. First, the matter of making sound biblical decisions on matters not explicitly discussed in the Scriptures. If we pick up our Bibles and simply read them, we can begin to see certain activities that are inherently sinful (that is, they are sinful in and of themselves, regardless of the context). Some examples of this are lying, stealing and murdering the innocent. The Bible is clear on these issues and many more ... just don't do it!
Other issues are more complicated and are situationally based because the actions themselves are not inherently sinful, but can become sin in certain contexts. An example of this is gluttony. Where is the line drawn? Certainly eating is not sinful in and of itself, but there comes a point where excess in our indulgence of food becomes sin. Is the line in the same place for everyone? This is not as clear, but the Scripture does give good indication on how to be sure we aren't crossing these boundaries into rebellion against God and His principles and commandments.
On other issues the Bible is simply silent. There is no passage that talks about smoking the Hookah! There is similarly no passage that talks about iPhones, travelling in airplanes, watching television or going to the beach. So how can a Christian make biblically sound decisions on matters that the Bible is silent on?
I'm indebted to Jerry Bridges and his book, The Pursuit of Holiness, for first outlining the following principle to me.
In this book, Bridges suggests a series of four questions (all based from Paul's instruction in 1 Corinthians) which can be asked of any situation and circumstance to discern whether this is good or not for us to engage in.
The four questions are as follows:
1) Is it beneficial--physically, spiritually and mentally? (1 Corinthians 6:12)
2) Does it bring me under its power? (1 Corinthians 6:12)
3) Does it harm others? (1 Corinthians 8:13)
4) Does it glorify God? (1 Corinthians 10:31)
As we understand our freedom in Christ, we understand that we have the ability to serve Him and glorify Him in all things. Therefore, each individual Christian who asks these four questions may come to a different conclusion ... and both be right!
As all Christians do, I have certain areas of temptation that are stronger for me than others. Similarly, there are certain things that do not tempt me that do tempt other genuine and mature believers. Since I smoked for 10 years and would struggle with smoking the hookah based on bad decisions in my past, I would have to pass because there remains in my flesh the possibility that participating in this activity would once again bring me under its power ... and since Christ has set me free, I will not submit myself again to bondage.
However, I understand that not everyone struggles in this area. Therefore, if someone can genuinely answer that this does not bring them under its power, then that is between them and their Lord.
In our particular case -- smoking Hookah -- it's probably difficult to make the case that it is physically beneficial. No matter how you look at it, smoking has detrimental health effects. Since this is being used as an outreach to different cultures, the question must be weighed in light of this. Therefore, the question becomes: is the spiritual benefit (building bridges and relationships amongst those we are trying to reach) more than the physical detriment? Again, the answer to this question likely depends on the individual.
I encourage you to read each passage and prayerfully work through these questions -- spending the most time on the fourth -- and allowing the Spirit to lead you as He sees fit (Romans 8:14).
The second issue is a bit more straightforward. How should we react when our 'gut feeling' tells us that something is wrong?
Two verses in Romans 14 are illuminating in this regard (although it is profitable to read through the whole chapter!) and also brings some insight into this situation as a whole.
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:4-5, NASB)
When making these types of decisions for ourselves (as individuals) we are instructed to be fully convinced in our own minds of the justification for our stance. For me, I am fully convinced that smoking the hookah would be a bad idea because of the potential it has to bring me under its power ... therefore, I would have to abstain from such activity to best glorify God in my life and actions. However, I should not stand in judgment over my brother (or sister) who does not struggle in this area and judge them in this. It's very possible that these young Christians whom the questioner is referring to should not participate in this activity. However, this does not mean that the attempt to reach out in this way is sin for those who do participate!
The most direct Scripture for this question comes at the end of Romans 14:
23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23, NASB, underline added for emphasis)
If our gut tells us that something is wrong, then we are not acting in faith if we do it anyway! In fact, this passage helps us to understand that we sin much more than we realize.
Do you believe that reading your Bible can be sin? It is if it's not from faith!
If you were praying, and the Lord impressed upon you that you should stand up and go talk to your neighbor about the good news of Jesus Christ, do you understand that if you continue to sit and pray (ignoring where your faith is leading you) that your prayer becomes sinful?
...whatever is not from faith is sin.
If smoking the Hookah is not from faith ... it's sin.
We should be careful, however, that since the Bible doesn't say, "Thou shalt not smoketh the hookah" that it is possible that someone else can participate in this behavior through faith to the glory of God and not sin, even if your freedom in Christ doesn't make this possible for you. Be careful not to judge your brothers and sisters on areas where the Bible is not explicit. Of course, this doesn't mean that we can't stand with Scripture in declaring that some things are inherently sinful! It's not "judgmental" for you to believe that adultery is a sin, because the Bible (in this case) is explicit. That's God's judgment, not mine or yours. When we agree with God, we are on a firm foundation!
One final note -- the Bible doesn't seem to indicate that the best means of reaching our culture is to fit into their context, but instead to stand out as different. If we understand that apart from Christ there is only death, and with Christ we have life and that more abundantly ... why are we trying to look like our culture (i.e. look like death) in order to bring them life in Christ? We are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but instead to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
While it may be acceptable for some to participate in this way, I find it hard to believe that God desires His ambassadors to look like the world in order to reach the world. While Jesus would certainly create opportunities to bridge the gaps between his culture and others (see John 4), I doubt we'd see Jesus smoking the Hookah in order to reach those whom He came to save from their sins. I must admit, the last part is merely my opinion ... but you asked me! :)