A generation or two ago a problem in society and many churches was the abuse of alcohol, though often it was kept behind closed doors. To a large extent, that problem has come out of the closet and is being dealt with more openly in society at large and in the church as well. Not perfectly, but more openly. Alcohol abuse still exists today and sadly continues to cause strife in many homes and deep concern for many elders and pastors. Most of us have heard in the media about a newer problem in the world, smoking marijuana (and other drugs). It may surprise many (but not all) that this is also a fast-rising problem within the church. Society has begun to tackle it and now it is time for the church to open up the closet and deal with it too.
Out of the Closet
Smoking “weed” or “pot” came into vogue in certain segments of society already fifty years ago. Undoubtedly it has been present within the church for longer than many of us might think. My guess is that the world-wise among the “under fifty” crowd know all about this practice. If so, I call upon them to help bring this matter out of hiding. Those in the know need to be on the forefront of helping parents, elders, and young people deal with the present dangers of pot smoking that is or could soon be wreaking havoc in the lives of many.
And it is damaging many. It is most prominent among teenagers and young adults but is also known among the thirty and forty something’s. Where people fall into it, the effects can be devastating on relationships, families, and careers.
Let’s not make the mistake of thinking, “Surely not my son! Not my daughter!” Every heart by nature is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and smoking marijuana is not above anyone’s child. For the sake of God’s glory, the church’s edification, and the salvation of those ensnared by this sin, it’s time that we pay attention to this concerning issue and deal with it openly, biblically, and constructively.
Smoking Pot a Sin?
One of the most concerning things I’ve noticed is that many young people don’t see anything wrong with smoking pot. Marijuana is often thought to be the “softest” of drugs, rather safe and risk-free. A person gets “high,” feels relaxed, and the effects seem to quickly wear off. Many defend smoking pot by saying it harms no one and is no different than having a few drinks. If even parents can have a few drinks, what’s the harm in their son or daughter having a joint?
These arguments do not hold water. While drinking wine or beer is permissible in the Bible, getting drunk is strictly forbidden. Alcohol in small doses is acceptable, permissible, and can produce a “gladdening” effect upon the heart (Psalm 104:15). But consuming it to the point where a person loses control of his mind is condemned by God as sin (Proverbs 23:30-35; 1 Corinthians 6:10). Recreational use of marijuana produces the same basic effect as consuming too much alcohol: a person loses control of his mind.
Fighting the Holy Spirit
The reason people smoke pot is to let the mind be taken over by the drug in order to produce the “high” or the “relaxed” feeling. This is not only the mental equivalent of getting drunk but in giving up control of one’s mind (to the drug), one works directly against the Holy Spirit who is given us to produce self-control (Galatians 5:23). This loss of self-control, says Scripture, leads on to other sins and belongs to the darkness of the old, sinful nature:
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The greatest spiritual danger in using marijuana lies in the fact that it fights against the very Spirit of God (who lives in every Christian). This not only grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) but it puts a covenant child at great risk of falling away. Looking to this or other drugs to supply us with better feelings and experiences than we have had with the Holy Spirit is to sin against the first commandment (see LD 34, Q/A 94, 95). It is to put something ahead of God.
There are other reasons which give cause for great concern and may even add to the sin. Marijuana use can be addictive. Some people who start using cannot stop and so become enslaved to it. This potential for addiction is even greater today than years ago as street sellers are often lacing the marijuana with traces of stronger and more addictive drugs. (They do this to maintain and enlarge their customer base.) This enslavement to a substance is contrary to the command of the Bible to be slaves of God and of nothing else. The Bible warns against letting sin rule in our bodies so that we obey its evil desires, since we have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:12).
Marijuana is also often described as a “gateway” drug. Once the “high” obtained by pot smoking no longer satisfies the user, more powerful drugs are desired and sought. This can lead to a worse enslavement to drugs like methamphetamine (“crystal meth”) or cocaine (“crack”) or others. Willing enslavement to anyone or anything is also sin against the first commandment.
Further, marijuana usage can be harmful to the mind, even in mild usage. There is a growing body of evidence that pot smoking brings a higher risk of psychosis, including schizophrenia. Here is a quotation from a recent study which followed 2400 German marijuana-using youths (aged fourteen to twenty-four) for four years:
Four years later, about 17 percent of all participants had had at least one psychotic symptom. Psychotic symptoms include hallucinations, such as seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there, and delusions, which are false beliefs that do not go away with logical or accurate information. Other possible psychotic symptoms are incoherent speech, confused thinking, and strange behaviour. The most common psychotic disorder is schizophrenia.1
Putting one’s mind at such risk by way of recreational marijuana use violates God’s sixth commandment (see LD 40). It is the chemical version of playing Russian roulette, that is, putting a partly loaded gun to your head and pulling the trigger, gambling that you will fire a “blank” and not a real bullet.
Against the Law
Finally, it remains illegal in Canada to possess even small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. There may be a debate in our country right now as to whether this should change, but presently it remains against the law. Since we are called by God to honour and submit to all governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7), we may not ignore the law of our land but are obliged to uphold it. Saying that marijuana is legal in certain other countries does not make it legal or morally right to possess and use it recreationally here. Smoking pot is thus clearly a sin against the fifth commandment as well (see LD 39).
Personal and Mutual Discipline
Once we understand smoking pot to be a serious sin, we must stop excusing it and begin to address it from all aspects. As a sin, it needs to be addressed like other sins: according to the steps of discipline outlined by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18. All church members have a responsibility to curb this sin through self-discipline as well as mutual discipline. If there are people you know using this (or other drugs), you have a responsibility to address them on their sin in a spirit of humble love. I urge all parents to have a frank discussion with their teenagers or young adults (and even preteens) about this issue, whether to prevent their falling into sin or to help pull them out of it.
Openness and Vulnerability
Still, we must do more. Identifying this practice as a sin is the first necessary step but once someone confesses this sin, we need to surround them with support and meaningful assistance. This is equally true for the sin of alcohol addiction, something that is not our strong suit as Reformed churches. One of the huge hurdles for recovering addicts is finding acceptance, sympathy, and direction within the body of Christ.
We need to create a safe and welcoming environment for struggling sinners to open up and fight this sin within the church and supported by the church.
To do that, we need to allow others to be vulnerable with us about their great needs. The best way to encourage that is for ourselves to be vulnerable about our own struggles. Too often we put on appearances with each other, allowing others to think we are okay, that we’ve got it all together. The truth is, every one of us is a struggling sinner and many of us carry hurts and scars that are not that far below the surface. Do you know how encouraging it is to meet someone who has struggles like you? It can be a great relief to find that sort of companionship and support. It’s that concept of strugglers helping strugglers that we need to develop within the churches.
I readily admit that I do not have easy answers for how to do this but I would call upon each local church to brainstorm ways of helping the struggling brothers and sisters, whether it’s with these addictions or others. Could we not, for example, establish small local support groups which meet regularly to encourage and pray for the struggling? To also draw strength and comfort from the Word of God? Would that not already be a boost for those who often feel overwhelmed by temptation? Could we not remember those wrestling with these sins more often in congregational as well as family prayers? After all, no sin can be overcome without the power of Christ’s blood and Spirit.
Other Means of Help
So far I have concentrated on what the local church can do to help. I have done this deliberately because too often we (and I fully include myself in that) have looked to the “professionals” for help first and foremost. Too often (when we have made the effort to help addicts), we have quickly farmed out the work to de-toxin centres and addiction counsellors with a little pastoral support on the side.
I do not wish to disparage these professionals or seeking their services for help. I have done so myself and will likely do so again. I would only plead that we not leave it to the professionals nor even rely on their help as the mainstay of combating the sin.
What we need more than anything is the power of Christ’s blood and Spirit by which alone we can fight against and overcome sin and that power comes primarily through the ministry of the church. Professional help can supplement this but it can by no means replace it. Even the professionals will tell you that their help is far more successful when it is supported by a caring community. How much more so when that caring community is the body of Christ!