Tuesday, March 14, 2006

kicking butts, hair in a bun, tattoos

I don't know if I would answer these questions the same way I did maybe seven years ago when I first answered them; I have been through several wringers and wineskins since then ..But these three examples of questions I got on my "Dear Abby"...I mean, "Ask Dave Anything"... webcolumn, do speak to church and culture issues. And I love the fact that all three askers felt safe to ask "unsafe questions."

BTW, my favorite emailed question was "Boxers or Briefs?" My answer was easy: "Yes."(:

(Lots more archives here)

Question: This weekend I happened to stumble on a Bible verse that I had never heard anybody speak on: 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. Paul has just been telling the church of Corinth to have nothing to do with one of their church members who was married to his own mother (how sick is that!). Anyway, then he goes on to say that he doesn't want us judging those that don't know Christ, and he doesn't want us pulling away from them. He seems to sternly "rebuke" that thought. We are to have contact, and be friends with nonchristians. It's the Christians that are blatantly not walking with God that we should disassociate ourselves from. On the one hand, I'm happy about this. Yes, I get to hang out with non-Christians, sinners, whatever, and know that it is a biblical thing. But what about a friend who has been walking with Christ and is in major sin? Do I plain reject them, just when they need me most to kick their butt? I don't know. Thoughts are welcome!

Answer: Let me begin by answering the crucial question you pose at the end of your letter, and then I'll angle back into your question again by dealing with some of the great insights you raised earlier, and some of the very overlooked, even shockingly ignored Scriptures that relate and inform. No, you do NOT "just plain reject a friend who has been walking with Christ, but is in major sin, just when they need (you) most to kick their butt." I don't think one can make a scriptural case for "just plain rejecting" a Christian friend, even if we do, in love, "just plain reject" their sin and their rebelliousness. You wouldn't really love your friend if 1)you didn't continue to be friends 2)you didn't call him/her to deal with their sin.

When Paul asks that the Corinthians not "associate" with sexually immoral people, greedy, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards or swindlers, two grammatical question must be wrestled with. First of all, it would seem rare or (technically) impossible from Paul's perspective that a true Christian could actually BE, by nature, a sexually immoral person, an idolater, etc. I know we as true believers do fall into sins of sexual immorality, greed, and the others mentioned. sometimes severely so. But we do not consistently live there; we are not by nature a "pure" greedy person, for example...we are not consistently,100 percent, without any remorse, greedy 24 hours a day. If that were the case we would not be Christians by the Bible's own definition. A key passage for grasping this is found just a few verses ahead of the scripture you raised. I Corinthians 6:9-11: "Don't you know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God." Now he does NOT say that a Christian who has fallen into one or more of these sins, even in a major way, will not make it to heaven. He does not say that an act of adultery, for example, will keep a believer out of the Kingdom. And when one remember Jesus equating lust with adultery, none of us could make it into the Kingdom on such a basis! Anyway, after listing these sinful lifestyles, Paul goes on: "And that is what some of you WERE!." Note: they are NOT those persons or lifestyles anymore. Fundamental to Paul's theology, is that believers are no longer sinners, adulterers, homosexuals, etc BY NATURE, even if we fall into some of these sins. We are not fundamentally... by nature... sinners anymore: on the contrary we are, according to v. 11, "washed, sanctified and justified." We are now to be considered "saints." Now hang on a minute, I hear that objection coming. The problem is that we have greatly misunderstood what the Bible means by "saint." One does not have to be dead or Catholic, or perfect to be a saint. One only has to be a biblically-defined Christian. And that means that we have a new nature, given us by Christ! If you really wonder if you are a saint, consider that Paul even calls those far less than perfect Christians in First and Second Californians..um, excuse me. Corinthians ( 1 Cor 1:2; 2:1), saints!

And don't read me as soft on sin. I sincerely believe we saints sin in thought, word and deed. I am simply making the case that the Word treats us as " saints who sometimes sin,", not "sinners who are sometimes saints.". It's just that God nowhere calls us sinners by nature anymore; "sinner" is a word used exclusively for those intentionally outside Christ and the church. That doesn't make us perfect, but it does make us perfectly forgiven. That doesn't make "them" terrible; on the contrary, they are terribly in need of Christ. This is not simply semantics, and is no small matter. It is in fact, THE interpretive key to understanding who and Whose we are. The entire message of Paul, and in essence the entire New Testament, can be microcosmically summarized as "Become what you already are." That is, actualize, act on, and act out all that Christ and the new identity and power He has already imparted and implanted in you have given you. Check out two amazing and life-changing Scriptures: Philippians 3:14, " Let us live up to what we have already attained" and 2 Peter 1:3, "We have already been given everything we need for life and godliness." If we only had these two verses and no others, and we grappled and grasped all that they implied, we would be far less impotent spiritually as individuals and churches. On this topic, and as good practical and prophetic help on how to prayerfully apply these tremendous truths, I recommend many of the available books by Neil Anderson.
Back to the original Scripture and context. We must also ask what does "associate" mean (1 Cor, 5:, 9 and 11)? Does it imply no contact whatsoever? No. The Greek word used literally denotes something like "mix together." It may indeed mean temporary "banning" from the gathered church, but then only if the sin is serious, and seriously not dealt with by the "saint" so accused, and even then only as a last resort as a means of "handing him over to Satan" (study carefully the two Scriptures were this fascinating phrase is used and prescribed: 1 Cor 5:5 and 1 Tim 1:20) with the intent that tough love might be the "butt-kicking" that eventually kicks them back to Christ and the fullness of Christ's fellowship. Note that in 2 Thess. 3:14, "disassociating" from gossips, which I read in the context of Scripture and early church history as disassociating them from the gathered church, not from individual relationships, is only after a second chance and as a last resort, and with the intent of restoration.

However, I do not want to sound as if I am condoning intentional sin. As St. Paul would protest, "May it never be!" . But I deeply believe Jesus and Paul modeled for us a lifestyle of seeking restoration, and return of the prodigal. However, those who continue defiantly in what you call " major sin" leave us, (and God, by the way, to a limited extent) with no option but to move into a tough love position of even withdrawing from them, so as we are not corrupted or deceived (obviously, this is not possible for God), and so that they are pushed toward restoration through tasting the futility of being "handed over to Satan." And the tenor of Corinthians is clear: some who call themselves believers in all honesty not only flirt with, but live with flagrant sin. The challenge here, to adapt the cliché we usually use to a slightly different form in light of our earlier discussion, "love the SAINT, and not the sin."

As a kind of aside to you personally (the one who asked this fine question), because of the person you and I are both aware of, we both know the terrible and inappropriate "judgment" that has fallen on him. This is a tragic example of how NOT to judge fellow believers. The word "prejudice" literally means to pre-judge; that is judge before you have all the information. We are of course, in Corinthians and in Jesus (By the way, Why do we usually only hear the first half of Jesus' quote: "Do not judge..", when He finished the thought with.."...except in the same measure you are willing to be judged yourself.{Matt. 7:1}) called to "judge" fellow Christians, but only from a prayerful, careful and mercy-based motivation. "Mercy," James offers in 2:13 of the book by his name, "triumphs over judgment." This perfect and delicate balance of confronting believers in sin is caught by Jesus who says both "Neither do I condemn you" as well as "Go and sin no more."

So in conclusion, Paul would assume that your theoretical (?) "Christian who is blatantly not walking with God" would be a rarity, and in its purest form , impossible. But because many who have made sincere commitments to Jesus seem to somehow fall into not only the more "ordinary" and "expected" ditches of sin, but into willful and bold sin, we must, like Jesus, love them enough to pursue them, "kick their butt" and maybe even trust God, ourselves and them enough to let them go, ideally only for a season (because God says that's the duration of sin's pleasures anyway) of heartbreaking (for us, God and them) heart-searching which will call them back into the fullness of all Jesus has to offer.

I agree with you, though obviously much of the organized church seems to have a hard time believing and practicing it, that we are to naturally and intentionally "hang out" with "sinners." Who would argue that Jesus did not? And we are to refrain from judging them. That doesn't necessitate that we do all the things they do, or we don't express our concerns for the wholeness in this life, and security in the next. But we are to unconditionally love, just as the Unconditional Lover first loved us. How else will they come to know this Love who loves us enough to call and make us saints, and (to risk what some might term a sacrilegious phrase attributed to Jesus. sorry) love us enough to "kick our butts" as needed?

Question: Here is a tough question I have struggled with. Maybe no one else does. Some groups have their women wear their hair covered or in a bun. Why don't most denominations do that, since it is mentioned in the Bible?

Answer: Don't worry! Plenty of other thinking Christians have wrestled with this question, though obviously very few seem to believe that the apparently clear word of 1 Corinthians 11: 5 ("Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head') is to be applied to our contemporary situation. It raises the deeper question of how do we know which instructions to the churches (prohibitions against homosexuality, against women speaking in church, tongues must be interpreted, greet each other with a holy kiss, etc) are directly applicable today, and how do we navigate that discernment in a way that is not picking and choosing according to our preferences and idolatries? Clearly even most fundamentalists, who hold that the Bible is God's perfect Word and decidedly applicable today, do not live out some of the above teachings, or at least apply them literally in our modern culture. What to do?

I am a strong evangelical, believing that The Bible is God's infallible and inspired Word, and is meant to be obeyed in this day and age. But since I am a pastor in a tradition that does not require head coverings for women, I have obviously found another way to interpret the Scripture in question than the direct literal application to our church today. Yet it is precisely because I uphold the absolute authority, accuracy, and God-breathed nature of the Scripture that I must insist that if there are dramatic differences in our culture vs. Paul's, we must ask ourselves what is the modern equivalent of a certain prohibition. This is not at all to imply a softening of our view of Scriptural authority. On the contrary, it is to honor the authority and timelessness of God's Word. So in cases like this, we dig deeper than face value to the PRINCIPLE that was foundational to the teaching. I am aware this practice, when misdirected, is dangerous, and has been used to defend homosexual practice, for example. This case cannot be made, though, as biblical sexuality norms are based in CREATION (and are thus permanent and binding), not culture. The Scripture under discussion is a perfect example.

In that context, here is what I believe is the answer to your immediate question. And I answer it with the very helpful insights of my friend Brian Dodd, whose book The Problem of Paul is an outstanding guide to sorting out these issues:

"Why don't we apply this teaching in our culture? Paul's teaching relates to an issue of etiquette and propriety in Corinthian sensitivity about women's hair that we do not face in our culture. Praying with uncovered heads in Paul's day would have offended sensibilities, similar to a woman serving communion in a mini-skirt would today. When we travel across the bridge of culture, we realize that Paul lived in a world where a women's uncovered head was sexually suggestive, the closest parallel for us being skimpy clothing."

So back to our discussion about discerning the PRINCIPLE. "The claim I am making," Dodd continues, "is not 'Paul was wrong--women do not need to cover their hair,' but rather 'Paul was right on the principle of mutual consideration and sexual propriety. and he applied this correctly in his cultural setting.' " I believe that is exactly why we shouldn't let women (or men, for that matter) pray or prophesy in a public setting in an outfit clearly seen as radically provocative sexually.

I can honor and appreciate the traditions that apply this prohibition literally, because such practice usually comes out of a desire to be faithful to God. But I would call to mind that St.Paul, though he has been accused of being sexist, had a woman-honoring view of the place of females in prayer and prophesy. His agenda was not to be sexist; just the opposite. This is a case where Paul's argument and principle ( the unchanging and unalterable decrees of Scripture), are to be applied in a way appropriate to the day and church in which the Bible was written, and in the day and church of today. Because we desire to be that obedient, we must prayer-wrestle with these and other Scriptures, and ask how we are called to live them out; to make their words flesh. Two other books that are exceptionally helpful here are "Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women" by Willard Swartly, and "The First Epistle to the Corinthians" by Gordon Fee. Not to imply that one must own the three modern books I have mentioned to have the tools to discern how to interpret the Bible's specific and confusing principles. I believe the Holy Spirit, as He responds to our prayers that He would lead us into all truth; and the collective God-seeking of the Christian community (such as this webpage is designed to be), will enable and empower us to obey God's Word as He intended it to be obeyed, without compromise and without confusion. I am honored to be part of that task!.

Question: I was doing my devotions yesterday, and came across one that really caught me off guard because I had always been taught different. I wanted to get your take on it. The verse it used is Leviticus 19:28, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves." Well, I had firstly heard it translated as "do not tattoo graven images on your body", but even then, the verses surrounding this one are things like "Do not cut your beard...do not touch a pig skin...eat fruit off a tree for its first 3 years." So what I am wondering is why this one verse is taken as still holding true today, and then the rest of the verses aren't. Also, the devotional writer said that tattoos and body piercing were a form of personal mutilation. I personally disagree because I have a tattoo and a body piercing, and I would not say that I did either as a form of mutilation. What do you think? Have we just forgotten these verses cause we want to secularize God, or have these old testament laws changed, minus the 10 commandments of course. I'd like to know your take on:
1.Why do you think people get tattoos/body piercing?
2.Do you think that it's a form of mutilation?
3.Do you think that God looks down on this...why?
4.If yes to #3, what should people do who have already done this?
5. Do you think it's a generational thing...especially body piercing.

Answer: Probably the best translation of Leviticus 19:28 is the NIV as you have quoted. Most of the purpose of all these OT laws were to call Israel to a life of holiness that was not conformed to the pagan practices around them and pure. note the emphasis on not mixing clothes, etc,. as a symbol of that unity of purpose). One of these practices was cutting or disfiguring (a rough equivalent of tattooing) your body as a way of atoning for the dead (a clearly pagan and I might note modern Mormon principle) getting the attention of whatever god you were praying to. A classic example of this is the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18:28. If a modern person has cut or tattooed themselves as a means of manipulating a deity *(including the Christian God) then that would indeed be sin. Since you are clearly not doing that, I would place a body piercing (clearly to me not the same as self-mutilation) and/or a tattoo under the area of freedom gives to each New Covenant believer to choose if they desire to participate or not. For some it might be sin, but the sin would be in the motive (to invoke a deity or to intentionally offend or blaspheme), not necessarily in the piercing or tattoo itself. Clearly, St Paul asks us, also, to be sensitive to not offending a brother or sister who does not sense the same liberty you do. So in some cases and places, discretion, or at least a lack of flaunting, would be appropriate. A note on tattoos: another reason they were forbidden in OT law is because it would be assumed in may case if a picture of a deity were involved, it would not be the God of Israel. So by extension, a modern tattoo picturing or naming a counterfeit god would likewise be dangerous and open demonic inroads.

And of course as you have noted so well, when is the last time you have heard anyone. even the most conservative Christian. claim that some of the mandates from this same chapter are directly applicable today: the beard (cutting your beard a certain way was also a pagan ritual of the day) and fruit regulations, for example. You have picked up on the two streams of OT law, which scholars often call "ceremonial law" and "moral law." As you have suggested, the 10 Commandments fall clearly under basic an intrinsic moral law, while the more ceremonially, or culturally-conditioned items (such as piercing, tattoo, fruit, beard) are not law that were ever meant to be lived out by people of another day and culture. or better yet, of a new Covenant. Didn't Jesus summarize even the 10 Commandments into the 2 Commands to love God and neighbor?

Of course many would suggest that this leaves an open door to ignore OT laws against homosexuality, for example. One cannot biblically make this case, as sexuality is fundamentally moral, or better yet, based on creation, as opposed to culture or tradition,. And besides, this behavior is clearly spoken against in the NT (1 Cor 6:9). Tattoos, piercing, fruit and beards are not.

1.I can't make a blanket statement about why people get tattoos or piercing. Some may do it just because they like the way they look; some to attract attention, some to fly in the face of tradition, some because they desire to witness to Christ. Maybe a large percentage of younger kids who do it, do it as an attempt to rebel or react against their parents generation, but I could never make a blanket judgment.

2.I don't see piercing as necessarily a form of mutilation generally speaking, though for some it may indeed be an intentional or unintentional way of doing the equivalent. Some may do it as a manifestation of low self-esteem or a self-hatred, but certainly not all.

3.I think God has a lot more important things to worry about or look down upon.

4.If an individual has a tattoo that is directly satanic or their conscience will not leave them alone after becoming enlightened or becoming a Christian, they have and should take steps to remove them. However, as this is not always possible , I can't believe God is not all that hung up on it. In a previous church, no one less than my associate pastor had tattoos he was sorry he had received. He was embarrassed by them,. and knew they might offend some Christians, but as they were not satanic, he did not feel pressure to have them removed at all costs. And let me state again, I have no intrinsic problem with tattoos in and of themselves, especially on persons such as yourself, whom I know and trust to follow the Spirit's guidelines for you as an individual. I wouldn't see the need to remove them unless you were so clearly convicted,. In itself, I'm guessing the tattoo is neutral, the way I read the Bible.

5.For some it may well be a generational thing; even the contemporary equivalent of something someone who grew up in the forties did that is now completely inoffensive in our current century and culture. But as this trend crosses generations, it is also bigger than that.

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