On this day in 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which would ban smoking ads on TV and radio the following year. This was no April Fools’ joke. As early as 1939, some health studies connected smoking to lung cancer and health disease. By the end of the 1950s, all states had passed laws prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors. In 1964, the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission agreed that advertisers had a responsibility to warn the public of the dangers of smoking. In 1969, Congress passed the Cigarette Smoking Act, requiring cigarette manufacturers to place warning labels on their products that stated “Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.” President Nixon (himself a heavy pipe smoker), finally yielded to mounting public pressure, and agreed to sign into law the banning of cigarette advertising on television and radio.
The last cigarette commercial on national networks was a Virginia Slim ad that aired at 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 1970, during the “Tonight Show.”
Many people believe that Christianity is a never-ending list of “do’s and don’ts.” In my grandparents’ day, a good Christian man would say, “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, I don’t go out with girls who do.” My own grandmother, a staunch churchgoer, condemned liquor, the movies and smoking, though apparently she thought dipping snuff was okay.
In every generation, there is the danger of reducing Christianity to pharisaism — that is, superficial religion that follows strict rules instead of practicing mercy, humility and justice. Jesus faced such challenges in his own day. In the Gospels, we see the Pharisees constantly criticizing Him because He wouldn’t “follow the rules.” He allowed His hungry disciples to gather wheat on the Sabbath, a holy day that forbade work (Mark 2:23-28). He didn’t perform the legalistic ceremonial washing of hands and utensils before He dined (Mark 7:1-8). He hung out with notorious sinners, so much so that His enemies branded him a “glutton and drunkard” (Matthew 11:19).
Does this mean that there are no guidelines in Christianity? Not at all. What it means is that religious “rules and regs” aren’t our focus — following Jesus is. As we feed on His Word while listening for His small, still voice, we are filled with devotion for Him, and consequently for His commandments. And what are His commandments? They are quite simple:
Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
That’s it. Jesus said that upon these two commandments “hang all the Law and Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). In other words, the entire Bible can be summed up with this, the “Greatest Commandment.”
Rules have their proper place, of course. For those who claim to follow the Bible, they must be subjected to Jesus Christ. If not, we become the Pharisees that our Lord so roundly condemned.