Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Testimony Time . . . Or Not?

Addendum: I'm adding this preamble to the post below because I have performed some minor edits on it. Also, I think something needs to be said at the outset that I didn't say earlier today. I have tried to say it before, but I'll say it again because there will be many who are reading me on this stuff for the first time. 

The whole subject of tattoos in the church brings about an amazing amount of volcanic debate. There are those who hoist their flag completely in the arena of "Christian freedom," which does have a legitimate expression. There are those who hoist their flag in the arena of unabashed, ultra-fundie legalism, where having a tattoo is tantamount to having the Mark of the Beast. (Okay, that was for rhetorical effect, but you get the idea). My desire has always been to try and strike a balance, yet I probably fail in that effort. I want Christians—especially young ones—to think about what they're doing, especially things that will have lifetime ramifications. I want Christians to consider their testimony, and what message they are sending to the culture at large. A cavalier treatment or dismissal of Scripture does not advance the cause of Christ very well. 

One more thing. When I make posts such as this, they are not intended as personal attacks on the individual mentioned in the post. When something or someone is in the news, I comment on it and the issue in question. False teachers who ought to know better will get a sharper handling from me than those who are immature or untaught. I also do not expect non-Christians to act or think like Christians. However, we ought to expect Christians to act like Christians, and encourage one another to hold to high standards, not for our glory, but for our Savior. 

Now, here's the revised post . . .

Here we go again.

Fox News's website has yet another article discussing the purported Christian faith of young celebrities. As you'll see from the picture above, singer Justin Bieber made the news for his new Jesus tattoo, shown in the right-hand photo prominently on his leg.

You all know how I feel about tattoos, especially on the bodies of believers who are supposed to care about what God thinks. Just to repeat, I don't believe in a legalistic sense that having a tattoo will keep a Christian out of heaven. We aren't saved by works. We are saved by grace. But I think I can make a fairly strong biblical case that marking one's body displeases the Lord, who warned the children of Israel not to do it. They were to remain separate and distinct from the unbelieving nations around them, where the people often tattooed themselves as part of their idolatrous religious expression. God didn't say that one could tattoo as long as the tattoo was clearly representing Him i.e. YHWH, the God of the Bible. He just said don't do it.

Now, I can hear the challenges already. "Well, if you think it displeases God to have a tattoo, then you're accusing the tattooed person of sinning. You're a legalist." No, it would be more in the line of "all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable." (1 Corinthians 10:23) I would also counter that challenge by asking a question. If we do things that God has clearly commanded us not to do, is that sin?

Next will come the challenge of this being a situation where Christians aren't supposed to be under the Law of Moses. Several other Old Testament commands will get brought up, with the rapid fire questions to follow . . . "Are we allowed to do this? We're not supposed to do this either. Is this a sin today?" And so on.

And all of this misses the point that I am making, probably badly. I want people to THINK about what they are doing. I want people to THINK about WHY God makes certain prohibitions, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament. He had His reasons. And even if you could make the technical case that you could get by with doing such and such, is it really a good idea? Is it really a witness? Or is it more truthful to say that it's just something that you want to do, and you'll find any argument under the sun to justify whatever it is you want to do?

I think we all wrestle with this. But, back to the tattoo and the related news story.

Regardless of all of these questions, many Christians are joyfully inking themselves up with abandon, thinking they're making such a bold witness for the Lord, or maybe for less spiritual reasons. Maybe they just think it's cool self-expression. Whatever.

Having said (or reviewed) all that, Justin's new tattoo and the quotes from other young celebrities is not actually the thing that grabbed my attention and spurred this post. It was this quote from Justin that jumped out at me . . .

"A lot of people who are religious, I think they get lost. They go to church just to go to church. I'm not trying to disrespect them, but for me, I focus more on praying and talking to him," Bieber says. "I don't have to go to church."

To be fair to Justin, I would need to know more of what he means by that statement. I would agree with him that many people are "Sunday go to meetin" types whose relationship with God is only lip deep. It's tradition and appearance, not a real relationship with God.

But what did he mean by "I don't have to go to church?" What does Scripture say on that subject?

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).

I don't know about you, but I take that as a biblical command that we are not to forsake assembling together with other believers to worship God, fellowship with one another, and to learn the Word of God to be equipped for ministry. Jesus said if you love Him, you are to keep His commandments. It's really a no-brainer. But instead, we have Christianity by cafeteria plan these days. Keep what you like, skip the rest.

Again, to give Justin the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he meant that just going to church doesn't make one a Christian. If that was his meaning, I agree wholeheartedly. But if he meant that going to church wasn't necessary, I disagree emphatically. And so does God's Word.

In fact, I would say that biblical illiteracy is the scourge or cancer of this generation of believers, and when I say "generation," I don't mean just the young, like Justin. I am talking about this generation of believers currently alive.

A Bible verse that I love says, "I will hide Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." Nowadays, we use the Bible to look for loopholes, to reinterpret or misinterpret it, or to argue its meaning in postmodern fashion. We don't seem to want to read it, exposit it, memorize it, or worse yet, actually obey it.

Maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe I'm just an old curmudgeon. Then again, maybe I'm not too far off target.

A postscript to this post: I was reading how Justin is handling some of the attacks that come his way, and thus far, he's been pretty charitable and Christian in his response, because there have been many who have been outright ugly. So kudos to him on that, along with a friendly caution on a statement he made in the media about Michael Jackson's lyrics being always clean. Um, no. He's dropped the F-Bomb in a song or two, and several are clearly sexually suggestive, including his videos. So Michael wasn't the Patron Saint of Disney Bubblegum.

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