There is great debate about whether or not a Christian should get a tattoo. Our church has been at the forefront of this debate for the past week. Three Sundays ago, I told anybody if they wanted to get a tattoo of the logo of our church (see below) that the church would find money to pay for it.
Even though I said it sarcastically, several members took me serious and wanted to take me up on that offer. After praying about it, I decided it would be appropriate to move forward. To see a 4-minute video of the full back-story click here. Up to this point, 5 people have gotten a logo of theCross tattooed on themselves and we will have another 6 to 10 individuals in the next 10 days.
Media found out about the event and CBS Orlando covered the event at Tattoo Studio 441 in Eustis, FL. To see their news coverage, click here. The Daily Commercial, a local newspaper, also featured our church and this story on their front page here. For 5 days, this story was the #1 “Most Popular” story on clickorlando.com, CBS Orlando’s website. The story went viral as over 700 people shared the article on Facebook in just a couple of days. It was also picked up on websites like WDN here and also featured on a prominent blog from the “Friendly Atheist” website here. There have been a lot of comments, both positive and negative, and so I wanted to write a blog on the decision to move forward with paying for church logo tattoos. I wanted to do it in a forum where both sides can feel free to voice their opinions, unlike the Friendly Atheist blog, which is clearly a forum to simply bash on Christians. This, however, is a safe place for people to comment how you see fit and we would love to engage in helpful dialogue for anyone who truly has any questions, comments, or concerns. As long as the comments aren’t offensive in any way, we will not delete any of your comments.
I also wanted to take the opportunity to answer 5 questions that have come up from many of the message boards, comments, and blogs.
Question 1: Doesn’t Leviticus 19:28 forbid us to get tattoos?
The number one verse quoted against tattoos is Leviticus 19:28. Here is what it says:
“‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.”
It seems pretty obvious from that, right? Tattoos are not acceptable. Well, let’s take a closer look. In this chapter, God is giving His people, the Israelites, rules for how to live. He’s telling them what they ought to look like and how they are to be holy, or set apart, and different from the rest of the world.
Part of Verse 26 and Verse 27, the two verses directly in front of the verse on tattoos says this:
“‘Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.
27 “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.”
God is wanting the Israelites to look different from the rest of the world. And He had something specific in mind. His people, in that day, in order to look and be different would not eat red meat, they would grow out their beards and sideburns, and would never get tattoos or piercings. The Duck Dynasty guys would be conflicted living back then because they love the beards but hate the fact that they wouldn’t have been allowed to eat red meat!
God called Israel for the sake of the world. Exodus 19:4-6 tells us that the Israelites were to show the rest of the world who their God was. God’s plan was to take an itty-bitty nation that was enslaved and rise them up into prominence through victory in battle and by acquiring the best land possible. By rising this nation from the ground up, and by the people looking and being different from the rest of the world, the hope was that other nations and people would come to believe in the promise of Jesus Christ.
Today, most people don’t have a problem with eating red meat, with a man shaving his beard or a person cutting their sideburns. Most people don’t have a problem with men or women getting their ears pierced and wearing earrings, which verse 28 also forbids. So why are many so against the idea of Christians getting tattoos? It seems like they discard other verses in that chapter, so why do people care if Christians get tattoos or not? There seems to be a double-standard amongst Christians who quote this verse and are against tattoos but have no problem with piercings.
Lastly, regarding this verse, the reason that God didn’t want them to get tattoos and pierce their bodies is because back then tattoos and piercings were commonly associated with pagan rituals and practices. There is nothing wrong with the actual act of tattoos and piercings. The problem was, that in doing these things, they would be identified with other pagan gods and thus be a horrible witness of who God was calling them to be. If their call was to be holy, set apart, and different, then of course, getting a tattoo or a piercing would be wrong for them because then they would be just like everyone else.
Paul deals with a similar issue in 1 Corinthians 8 with the Corinth church on whether or not they could eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols or other gods. Paul’s main concern was not whether they could eat the meat, but rather, what kind of witness the people would be if they partook of this practice. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 8:8, he says, “Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” In essence, he says, the meat itself doesn’t matter. What matters is what kind of witness you will be if you eat the meat.
We could make the same case with tattoos and piercings today. Unless the tattoos and piercings today are commonly associated with pagan rituals and practices, people ought to feel free to exercise their Christian liberty and get a tattoo or a piercing if they want. I believe that even if something came out of pagan ritual and practice, our goal as Christians is to redeem what was once bad and turn it into good. I believe that is exactly what happens when someone gets some ink on their bodies in the shape of a cross. It points glory to Jesus. They are marking themselves permanently on the outside as a follower of Jesus. The tattoo is an expression of what is happening in their hearts.
Question #2: Why do we take some Old Testament laws literally and others not?
This is an excellent question!
Let me start by saying God’s Word is inspired. He gives us the Bible to learn and grow in our faith in Jesus Christ. The New Testament fulfills and completes the Old Testament. At first glance, it can appear that Christians take some verses literally and others not in order to promote whatever agenda we are wanting to promote. Whenever Christian leaders and pastors do this, it is tragic.
God gives us the story of the Israelites and the Old Testament so that we can learn from it. We learn both about the promise of Jesus Christ coming into the world to save us from our sins and we also gain wisdom and knowledge through the experience of our people in the Old Testament. The Bible’s message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the sake of the world is what the Bible is all about. We also learn what it looks like to follow after Jesus today in our world from the Bible.
In the Bible, there are certain things that are contextual. In other words, they are written for a certain time at a certain place for a certain people. We see this not just in the Old Testament with the Israelites as mentioned earlier from the Leviticus passages, but we also see this in some words in the New Testament as well, as referenced earlier with the passage from 1 Corinthians 8. Some issues are timeless and others are not. We deal with different stuff than the Israelites and the Corinthians did. It would have been weird for God to have written about automobiles and Internet for the Israelites or Corinthians because they didn’t have to deal with that. In America, we don’t have to deal with some of the issues that the Israelites and Corinthians had to deal with.
So how do we know whether something in the Old Testament is still applicable to us today?
The main thing I look at is what did Jesus say about it? What did the authors in the New Testament say about it? Nowhere in the New Testament does it mention anything about tattoos being wrong. God was silent on this issue. In fact, you could make the opposite case for tattoos based on Revelation 19:16. Mark Driscoll says, “Jesus Christ is going to have a tattoo—Revelation says on his second coming. It says that down his right leg will be written King of Kings and Lord of Lords, which will be really freakish for all for the fundamentalists to see Jesus all tattooed up. I can’t wait for that day…”
So far we have concluded that Leviticus was contextual for the Israelites. Some of the things mentioned in the great lists of rules that God gives to His Israelites are reaffirmed in the New Testament, and wherever that is the case, then we are still called to uphold those rules. But where God is silent, and where Scripture neither commands nor forbids us, we are free to exercise our Christian liberty.
Question #3: How do you understand 1 Corinthians 6:19 with regard to tattoos? This is the verse that talks about our body being a temple of the Holy Spirit. The temple is a sacred place where God has lived. God has always wanted to be with His people. In the Old Testament, God dwelt with His people on numerous occasions. He was with the Israelites in a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. They built an ark of the covenant which housed God’s presence, and then later, an actual temple for God to dwell with them. Then Jesus came in the flesh and dwelt among us, and now we, his followers, are called the temple of God. God lives inside of us!
Here is the whole verse: “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.” Some argue that since God lives inside of us, and our bodies are His dwelling place, that we ought not get tattoos. But even a cursory look at 1 Corinthians 6 shows us that Paul was not speaking against tattoos; he was speaking against sexual immorality. Paul is telling us to honor God with our bodies sexually. The previous verse, 1 Corinthians 6:18, says “that any other sin we commit is outside of our body, but when we sin sexually we sin against our own body.”
God, when He came in Jesus, dwelt many times with what society would tell us are the outcasts. He hung out with prostitutes and sinners. He was okay going into any sort of situation because He knew who He was and He never compromised His identity. I believe that as His followers we are also called to do the same. We are called to interact with and befriend those that some in society would shun. Being the temple of God doesn’t mean that we can’t hang out with those that are unlike us. It also doesn’t mean we have to all look the same. God dwells inside of each of His followers, and to reach the world, we need to look different and use whatever personality and hobbies God has given us to reach the lost. 1 Corinthians 6:19 is not a good text to prove that Christians shouldn’t get tattoos. To put it bluntly, it’s not relevant to the topic and speaks against sexual immorality.
Question #4: Why pay for this and not helping the community?
Our church, theCross, is very focused on helping the community. Before we even gathered as a community for worship, our church started Lake Cares Food Pantry, which served over 20,000 individuals just this past year! Now, we have another non-profit ministry that has started from theCross called Hand-in-Hand, which is a coaching/mentoring ministry to help those who are needy and less fortunate. Our goal in 2014 is to partner with Hand-in-Hand and obtain a transitional house in the Mount Dora/Eustis area. In only our second full year as a worshipping community, we gave $50,000 to community projects and charities last year!
For those wondering, the tattoos are not coming out of the budget for the church. A generous anonymous donor from the church is paying for all the tattoos so this will not hinder our ability to give back to the community.
Question #5: Lastly, why did we go through with this?
The funny thing in all of this is I am not a tattoo guy! I don’t have one or ever plan on getting one! My wife told me she didn’t want me to get one, so I’m not getting one! Whether or not a person gets a tattoo and whether or not you like tattoos is a matter of preference. Those that have tattoos see them as artwork and every tattoo comes with a story. All of the people who are getting the tattoos will have an opportunity to tell the story of the cross of Jesus Christ.
I believe that the church needs to be continually looking for new, relevant, and exciting ways to engage the culture. The church, for far too long now, has been losing. We cannot sit idly by and do the same old stuff and expect for the church, and ultimately, God’s Kingdom, to grow. We have to remain true to our theology and our principles, but how we implement that theology and principles in our world must change if we want to be faithful in introducing more people to Jesus. Depending on which stats you read, 30-40% of 18-40 year olds now have a tattoo. That is an extremely high percentage. To be against something that Scripture neither forbids nor commands puts you at odds with 30-40% of an age group that we desperately need to bring back into the church.
The church logo that the members are getting is the sign of a cross. The cross is the ultimate symbol of victory for us as Christians. These men and women will have an opportunity to tell the story of Jesus to people that I never would be able to. Two days after our story aired on CBS, a woman came to our church. This woman, by the way, has many tattoos. She hadn’t been to church in over 10 years. Her perception of the church was that it was judgmental, hypocritical, and unfriendly. Two members from the church had been asking her to come for over a year but nothing happened. After seeing the story of our church, she finally made her way through the doors of our church. After the worship gathering, she sent me a message about how welcoming the church was and how excited she was to walk with us in the future. That is what it is all about!
At theCross, we have people that have tattoos, while others are opposed to them. We have people who have struggled with drinking, smoking, and gambling. At the same time we have others who drink, smoke, and gamble now. And then others who have never done those things and never will. We have people who listen to music and movies that others think are offensive. We have meat-eaters. We have vegetarians. We have some that think home-school is the answer, others that would say private, and still others are sold on public. We have Democrats. We have Republicans. We have people with multiple piercings. We have others that think that’s disgusting. We are a mixed group of people, but what I love most is the fact that we can put our differences and our Christian liberties aside and focus on spreading the message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the world.
If you are tired of same ole’ church, tired of churches where everybody’s buttoned up and puts on a show, I think you’d like it here. And even more importantly, you’d love our God!