Church Growth: To TAT-or-not -TOO

Posted: December 2, 2011 in Church Praise and Worship
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Church Growth: To TAT-or-not -TOO

The subject of tattoos seems to be a captivating subject for a whole lot of people in the body of Christ these days. There are lots of opinions floating around, especially from those who are members of the Christian tattoo culture. What I’m hearing in that regard is that the New Testament does not speak out against tattoos and, “My tattoos are Christian tattoos and I use them to minister to the lost.” On the other side of the fence are those Christians, many with kids, who sternly object to this line of thinking.

Some contend that the whole subject is making a mountain out of a mole hill. Personally I think the subject of TAT-or-not-TOO and the issues surrounding it are very important. Likewise, bringing up challenging subjects is a good way to get us into our Bibles, and I loved to be challenged. Truth is important, and so it is incumbent on all of us to seek out truth.

Before delving into the subject I wanted to begin by sharing that our youngest son is currently involved at Crossroads in Corona,CA. It is an incredible and powerful ministry that focuses on reaching out to so-called “undesirables.” When we attend the church we are surrounded by kids who are covered with tats and adorned with weird hair. The churches in our area are pretty conservative, so there were some adjustments for me as my son introduced me to his friends with strange piercings and tats. However, these kids truly love the Lord, worship with passion and can’t wait to share their Savior to the lost. We love the church and if we lived in Corona would attend. Christians are called to love everyone and all too many times our personal prejudices get in the way of God’s work. How can we minister to people, when we are looking down at them? God uses everyone and it is not our place to turn up our noses when confronted with people who make us uncomfortable.

My Uncle, who was in the Navy, came back from WWII with a tattoo of an anchor on his arm. I liked it and no one thought much about this kind of stuff other than “he got drunk and woke up with a tattoo.” But these days, tattoos have become a movement or a fad if you will. And with it comes a lot of passion on both sides of the isle. Where does the Bible stand in that regard? What should Christians do and think about this new wave that has hit Western Culture?

I will demonstrate below that there is a solid foundation in the Bible that leads to the conclusion that we need to take care of or bodies and refrain from practices of self mutilation. However, I want to emphasize at this point that I don’t believe God thinks more or less of a person because he or she has tattoos. We should follow God’s example.

Therefore, as Joseph said to his brothers who had sold him into slavery: ”As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen 50:20) I’m not saying that Christians who wear religious tattoos are doing so for evil reasons. What I am saying is that God uses everything for good. Though we ought to follow God’s precepts, many times we don’t. Nonetheless, God uses everything for His glory. This does not mean that we can do what we want and that God condones the behavior. It means that God is sovereign. And so, for those of us who see Christian behavior that seems unacceptable our response should like Paul who declared: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice. . .” (Phil 1:18)

That being said, the thing that I have noticed with regard to the Christian tattoo culture is the apparent militancy that is involved in defending tats. I have been accused of judging and casting stones when actually, though theology is very important to me, I’m a pretty understanding guy when it comes to individual people. But as people become adults, it seems to me that we should graduate from milk to meat. (I Cor 3:2)

Whenever I hear anyone from the Christian tattoo culture discuss the subject, I am hearing that they can do what they like and the burden is on the rest of us to accept it. I’m not certain the Bible agrees with that stance. In a moment I’ll discuss the pagan roots of tattoos, what they mean in pagan religions and how the resurrection of paganism in the West has been paralleled with the rise of pagan worship practices among Christians. As far as biblical instruction regarding to Christians involving themselves in stuff that the pagans do in their worship the only text that I know about is the discussion of meat sacrificed to idols. (I Cor 10) In this instance Christians were going to a pagan temple to buy meat. This temple was a den of prostitution. But many Christians were saying, “What’s the harm in eating meat? I don’t worship those gods. Besides, idols don’t even exist! It’s all about the heart, the motivation behind the thing.” Paul’s answer was, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” and later “But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake.” (v 23; 28) Paul did not condemn the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, but he clearly states that the responsibility is not on the one who objects to the behavior, but rather the one who was eating the meat. When you think about it, Paul was actually saying “no” because all of us have a responsibility to the larger body of Christ in everything we do.

Preceding the reign of King David in Israel we find that the true and living God had not been worshipped by the nation for perhaps centuries. God dwelled among the Israelis in Ark of the Covenant. The Philistines had stolen the Ark of the Covenant and though they kept it for just seven months, according to my Ryrie Bible, it had been lost within the boundaries of Israel for 200 years. When the Philistines returned the Ark toI srael, they carried it to Beth Shemesh in a “new cart.” (I Sam 6:1-12) Eventually it ended out in the house of Abinadab. (V 21-22)

When King David got the Israelis together to return the Arkto Jerusalem, They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. . . When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God. (II Sam 6: 3-5, 6-7)

What had gone wrong here? Weren’t they doing a good thing by taking the Ark to Jerusalem? The problem was that Israelites had fashioned a “new “cart” to model the way the Philistines had moved the Ark. But God had specified in his law that the Ark was to be carried on the shoulders of the Levites only. The first lesson here is that we are not welcome to worship God anyway we please. God has specified in His word, both in the Old and New Testaments, how He is to be worshipped. But David did not know the Word, made an error of judgment and Uzzah, though well-intended was slain by God because of his irreverence.

So, the second lesson here is if we want to be true worshippers of God, we must know what He has to say in His Word! And when we delve into God’s word we see His precepts. Following God’s precepts is not legalism as many surmise. Legalism is adding works to salvation.

Yes, we have our principles and many times they are very good. In the case of the Ark, the principle was bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, which was a good thing. But there was a right and wrong way to get this one, and God had commanded the right way in His Word as a precept – the Levites must carry the Ark on their shoulders. And so, after no doubt consulting God’s Word, David learned to fulfill his principles in God’s way according to precept: When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. (v 13) And when the Ark finally came into Jerusalem there was a great celebration of worship. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. (v 14-15)

There will be great rejoicing among people who worship God His way! His precepts have not been given to restrict us, but to give us true freedom. In the ancient world walls were not built around cities to keep people in, but to keep the enemy out. Those who follow God’s ways are the ones who are shielded from the world, the flesh and the Devil. They are the ones who will live peaceful, happy and secure lives. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn 8:31-32)

And so, evangelism is the principle that the church seeks after. But in order to fulfill God’s desires in that regard, we must heed His precepts as divulged in His Holy Word. We can’t act out life like Philistines and consider ourselves true worshippers of God. We are called to worship God His way. And we are called to worship Him in everything we do while presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. (Rom 12:1)

When considering what we do with our bodies in our worship to Him, the scriptures lay out very clear guidelines. The text regarding the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit concludes: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (I Cor6:19-20) Our bodies are not our own and God clearly is saying here that we cannot do as we please with that which belongs to Him.

When I think about this scripture I am reminded that God gives us direction, not to restrict our pleasure, but to increase our joy. He wants us to live an abundant life and gives us admonishments to direct us in that path. Therefore, when considering the use of our bodies we might consider what does harm to God’s purposes, the body of Christ and ourselves. Does it do anyone harm when a woman pierces her ears with a tiny prick? I don’t see how. But when we over-eat we become overweight. Ultimately this leads to bad knees and heart disease. Smoking leads to emphysema, lung cancer and a whole lot of other stuff. Drug use is very destructive both to ourselves and to others. And none of this harmful behavior glorifies the Lord.

So what should we do with our bodies with regard to tattoos? Are there physical and spiritual issues involved?

As far as the physical risks, for all intensive purpose the alteration of the body is permanent. For those who cover their bodies with tattoos in their youth, they may feel differently about them when they are 80 and looking in the mirror as their bodies have faded into a blue mass. That would be a time to thank God that He gives out new bodies in the resurrection of the dead! Also, tattoos limit your career possibilities which, in this economy, could be a concern.  I don’t see how the lack of tattoos could ever limit a person’s ability to reach out to the lost. But visible tattoos will limit these ministry opportunities because of the fact that they are so offensive to so many people. Each of us is called to be all things to all men, not just a select group of people. We should be prepared to minister the gospel to everyone from the elderly lady to the biker. What best accomplishes that goal? I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (I Cor9:19-23) It might also be wise to also consider the celebrities who are out there donning tattoos and decide whether-or-not they should be emulated or identified with. Do they reflect your Christian values?

Regarding spiritual concerns, let’s take a moment to look into larger issues regarding the future of biblical Christianity in the West as it has to do with the resurrection of paganism in our culture. To do so, we must consider history and what the Word of God has to say.

The first thing that we need to wrap our arms around is the roots of paganism. Nimrod (Ninus) was the first Assyrian king around who the entire system of paganism was built. (Gen 10:8) He was “the first mighty warrior on the earth.” (I Chron 1:10) He was the first antichrist of many antichrists who created a false worship system which the bible designates as Babylon. (I Jn 2:18) Now you may notice that in the book of Revelation Babylon is represented as a “She.” This is because of the worship of the wife of Ninus who was named Semiramis. She is the mother goddess also referred to as Babylon in the Bible (see The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop).  In the book of revelation, God calls His people out of Babylon lest they receive His plagues.

One of the primary tenants of paganism, also known as the mystery religions, is dualism. Dualists believe that the supernatural world is inherently good, while the physical world is inherently evil. Therefore the body is despised and, like the priests of Baal at Mt Carmel (I Kings 18),pagan priests would lash their bodies in order to appease their gods. For the same reason that they would persecute their bodies, pagan priests would don tattoos.

Way back in history God called Abraham out of this religious “Babylon” (Chaldea) to father a race of true worshippers and ultimately the true Savior of the world. (Gen 12:1-10) In contrast to the dualism of Babylon, the God of the Bible sees that which He has created as “good.” (Gen 1:31) Likewise, the supernatural world is not inherently “good” because that is where the demons also reside. It’s a whole different mindset that results in entirely different behavior with regard to the world and our bodies. Hence, in the Jewish religious system that grew out of Abraham’s seed, Levitical priests were called to be different than pagan priests. Pagan priests were celibate, Levites were married. Pagan priests shaved their heads which was forbidden for Levitical priests. The Old Testament also forbid tattoos on His priests for the same reasons. Tattoos have always been the mark of pagan religions.

‘You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.” (Lev 19: 28) The context of this chapter in Leviticus concerns abstaining from idolatry. “‘Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 19: 4) We are still called to turn from the worship of idols. Likewise we are still called to refrain from many of the pagan practices mentioned in Leviticus 19 such as consulting mediums (v 31) as well as laying, cheating, (v11) hating (v 17), lying carnally with a woman (v 20), etc. But does that mean that tattoos are also out?

I think it would be a mistake to come to conclusions based solely on one obscure Old Testament scripture. But Jesus said: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17) Many times we will see precepts that are found in the law that carry over into the New Testament. The concept of separation from the world is one of them.  “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you.” (II Cor 6: 17)  It is interesting that this scripture is directly referring to Christians separating themselves from Babylon, for the preceding verses declare: Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (II Cor6:16) Notice here we again see mention of our bodies as being the temples of the living God directly related to abstaining from practices of idolatry. So, it would appear that the New Testament affirms that the people of God separate themselves from the practices of Babylon.

Now the church today looks right past this to assure us that it is more important to relate to the unsaved than to worry about such trivial details as pagan practices. The Roman Church of the Middle Ages thought the same thing and, while in the process of eradicating the religious system of paganism from the Western world, in the name of attracting pagans to the church, folks such as Pope Gregory adopted pagan practices in the church. The so-called salvation of Constantine didn’t help much either in that regard. The notion of adopting “harmless” pagan rites is where the worship of Mary, purgatory, celibate priests, confessionals, candle burning, the sign of the cross, monism, monks and nuns, sequestered self-denial, the slashing of flesh to appease God and a whole lot of other practices came from.

This list even includes the dates that we celebrate Christmas and Easter on. Does that mean that we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas and Easter on the appointed days?  These dates are rooted deep in Christian culture and bring Glory to the Lord. For many people, it’s the only time they think about Jesus, There’s nothing we can do about those dates now, and if we were going to change them, to what? We don’t know the real dates of Christ’s birth and resurrection anymore. Just because the ancient church made a mistake in setting those dates doesn’t mean that God can’t be honored now in the celebration and recognition of His works. The same thing is true regarding decorating Christmas trees. Though some claim the Bible condemns the practice, (Jer 10: 2-5) it is interesting that Jeremiah indicated regarding these trees: Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. (V 5) In reality, these trees that the prophet was referring to were a non entity – amoral – neither here nor there.  But the modern practice of decorating Christmas trees does not go back to this ancient pagan custom. It started among Christians Germans in Livonia and in Germany in the 16th century to celebrate the birth of Christ. Arguments have been made contending that the practice of honoring God with trees can be found in the celebration of the Passover. (Lev23:30) And Saint Nick comes from Christmas traditions. I fail to see the harm in celebrating generosity during the observance of a holiday that honors God’s gift of His Son to mankind.

So the celebration of these holidays and tattoos are apples and oranges. That is, unless you already have tattoos, which is generally an irreversible decision. If you have them, whether you agree with this article or not, it’s exactly like Christmas and Easter. So glorify the Lord in everything to do and He will rejoice in you as should every believer. On the other side of the coin, when speaking of the body of Christ as a whole, the fact that the church of the Middle Ages became involved in paganism does not provide excuses for us to do the same today. The church of the Middle Ages was the cause of darkness and ignorance.

When he was a monk, Martin Luther, who eventually broke from the Roman church, used to slash his body to appease God as he was sequestered in his tower. But when he found out that “the just shall live my faith” (Rom1: 17) all of that stopped and ultimately the Protestant Church was purged of idolatry. But with the coming of the Asian Invasion (change of immigration policies in America), the Counterculture Revolution and the Beatle’s admiration of Hinduism in the ‘60s, paganism, as a distinct religious system, has once again found a foothold in Western culture. It is no coincidence that the proliferation of tattoos has accompanied this trend. Also, we now see a lot of Eastern Mysticism entering the Church in the form of mantra worship, candles, mystical music and other dualistic practices forwarded by medieval monks regarding the presence of God.  The dualistic system of Gnosticism (that either denies that Jesus was God or that he was fully human) is also making a huge comeback.

So what are we to do as Christians in the midst of this? Are we to become as the Roman Church of the Middle Ages to once again adopt that which we once discarded. Or are we to be as the Early Church in Rome that was likewise surrounded by a pagan culture. According to Gibbons in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire one of the main reasons why early Christians shook the entire Roman Empire is that they refused to have anything to do with anything that had to do with paganism. In light of the fact that Christianity is failing in the West in spite of all of the Church Growth “relate to the world” concepts, Christians might want to consider returning to their roots.

“After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!'” (Revelation 18:1,2).

“And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities'” (Revelation 18:4,5).

This woman is called the Whore of Babylon because she causes God’s bride to commit adultery with her. (Revelation 17:5)  Though it is evident that the rise of the tattoo culture in our world today is one of the manifestations of the upsurge of paganism in our midst, this is not to say that believers who have “Christian tattoos” have become one with Babylon. But with insurgence of Babylon in the West as the Mystery Religions take hold of our society, it might be wise to understand what is going on around us and to keep as far away from the prostitute as possible. Nonetheless, you might consider tattoos a harmless way to answer the Devil with God’s truth. But if you are thinking of getting a tattoo, it seems to me that it is a good idea to understand the pitfalls that lay out there in order to avoid Satan’s trap that has been set for all of us. For there will be a day when a tattoo, the last of the pagan tattoos, will be offered that will spell eternal doom for its wearers.

In the days of the last Antichrist of the world, in the spirit of Nimrod, a number will be stamped on foreheads and right hand of a whole lot of people. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six. (Rev 13:16-18)

I used to wonder how people would accept an ugly mark on their foreheads. When I look around at people today with tattoos covering head to foot, I have no trouble believing that this dynamic would be entirely possible. It would be just another tat. A lot of Bible prophecy folk claim that this “mark” is going to be a computer chip planted in their heads to support a cashless society. But this cashless society would be entirely dependent upon the continuance of technology. In light of the disasters that occur in the book of Revelation, such as mountains being leveled, I think it would be a mistake to think that life as we know it will even exist in those latter days. If mountains are brought to their knees, how is it that the electric grid and Internet necessary to feed our technological prowess will even exist? It’s far more likely that God’s judgment will throw the world in chaos and the entire monetary system as we know it will collapse. Look at the current recession to notice that we are already being conditioned to look to government rather than God for solutions for crisis. That leads us back to the mark being a mark, just as the Bible says. What will that be? A tattoo? A Brand? A Sharpee? Burned with a Laser? Anyway you see it, that mark will spell eternal condemnation to the wearer, and we’re all being primed for its acceptance.

“But,” you say, “I won’t be going through any of that stuff, because I’m going to be taken up in the rapture.” Will you?

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. “Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” (Matt 24: 36-41)

The Bible indicates that there will be a general apostasy in the Last Days as the Church falls away from the truth even as the Antichrist is revealed. (II Thess 2:3) It also indicates that people will not be able to endure sound doctrine. (II Tim 4:3) If we err, my advise is to err on the side of caution. The consequences of blowing it are too great.

Some in the Christian tattoo culture claim that Christ, the rider of the White Horse, will be wearing a tattoo on His thigh. (Rev 19:16) However, seeing that it definitely will not be the result of Jesus going to a tattoo parlor, it is hard to know what it is. Written by the finger of God?

“. . .they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.” (Rev 22:4) Jesus one day will put His mark on our foreheads. It’s hard to say what this mark will be. . To me it is interesting that the only time the Bible talks about believers having marks is when Christ puts His mark on them. The danger is not the tattoos themselves. The antichrist’s tattoo will be very easily recognized by the informed. It will be 666. Never accept it! The danger is being sucked into the greater culture of Babylon and the apostate church. All things considered, if there’s any marking on my body to do, I’ll leave it to God.

Stay tuned for more!

The preceeding blog is an exerpt from Don Wigton’s book “Holy Wars.” Click here to purchase: http://www.authorhouse.com/BookStore/BookDetail.aspx?Book=267348

For free praise music, charts and study helps go to the Wigtune Praise and Worship Sitehttp//www.praisesong.net

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