Megachurch Pastor Perry Noble has been addressing hot-topic issues during his church's "You Asked for It" sermon series, and this past Sunday the series continued with his response to the question: "Can a Christian smoke, drink and watch a rated-R movie?"
Noble's church, NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., collected more than 3,500 questions about God, life and culture from its congregation this past summer. The church then invited people to vote on which questions they most wanted answered, and more than 26,000 people responded.
The question about smoking, drinking and movies was the second most voted upon question in the poll, said Noble. In addition to answering the three-part question, he also offered advice on how Christians can determine whether they should take part in other "questionable" activities.
Christians should be neither legalistic nor should they try to "see how close they can get to sin without actually sinning," he suggested. Instead they should focus on submitting to God in every area of their lives.
"Life as a Christian is not about getting permission to do what I want, but rather living in submission to all that God wants," he said.
When trying to decide whether he should participate in a "questionable" activity, Noble says he asks himself a few questions:
- "What does the Bible say about this?"
- "What do godlier, wiser people think about this decision?"
- "What is the wise thing to do?"
Noble starts with the Bible, he says, because he believes that "where the Bible has clearly spoken, God has clearly spoken." If the answer is unclear from his reading of the scriptures, he will speak with godly people who have more wisdom and experience than him. Sometimes, when those mentors give him conflicting answers, he asks himself an additional question to come to a wise decision.
"A friend of mine said it this way: In light of my past experiences, my current circumstances and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?" said Noble.
The Bible does not forbid a believer from smoking a cigarette, he said, and wise, God-loving people sometimes disagree on whether smoking is a permissible activity for Christians. He enjoys smoking a cigar every once in a while, he says, though smoking a pack or two of cigarettes per day would not be wise. Among other reasons, he says such a daily habit would be expensive and could cause a person to become dependent on cigarettes rather than God.
Noble says he used to preach that Christians shouldn't watch R-rated movies. When "The Passion of the Christ" came out and received a "restricted" rating, however, it forced him to re-examine his beliefs, and he eventually decided that he could watch some films he previously would not have watched.
"Here's the question I ask when I'm walking out of a movie: What does that make me think about? Because what you think about continually you will do eventually," he said.
The Bible addresses the topic of alcohol. Drunkenness is a sin, says Noble, though the scriptures do not forbid the consumption of alcohol. He enjoys a glass of wine from time to time, though he says those who have a proclivity toward alcoholism shouldn't drink.
Noble says beliefs about alcohol, smoking and R-rated movies are "nonessential" issues in the church, which means disagreements over them should not be cause for believers to fight with each other.
"Christian maturity is not, 'I'm going to hang out and love people that believe just like me.' Christian maturity is, 'You know what, in these non-essentials I'm going to sit down across from you and we can have a discussion, but at the end of that discussion the relationship is not severed because I can love you despite what you believe,'" said Noble.
NewSpring Church is attended by about 23,000 people across eight campuses, according to Outreach Magazine. The church is ranked fourth on the magazine's 2013 list of America's largest churches and second on its list of the nation's fastest-growing congregations.