Sticky Wickets #3

By Pastor Regier
 
Think Before You Ink
 
Tattoos are all the rage! And just like anything that is popular in our culture it’s not long before the latest rage arrives in a church near you. Even a few preachers are getting “inked up” to connect with the culture. In the back of my mind I can hear my mother’s sweet voice when I came to her with my desire to jump on passing bandwagons, she would say, “Just because everybody else is jumping off a cliff, doesn’t mean you have to!” She saved me a lot of embarrassment and pain, not to mention, heartaches. It is good to remember, not everyone is getting a tattoo.

I know you have seen the trend develop. Maybe you have even jumped on the band wagon yourself. Sometimes the body artwork is small and understated, at other times it is bold and nearly wraps the entire body in ink. Indelible ink. Tattoos like any form of art always say something. They speak about causes, and cares and they also say a lot about the person who wears them. The messages range from silly to scriptural and the art itself ranges from crude to creative. Like bumper stickers they convey a message but unlike bumper stickers or text messages these statements upon human flesh are stamped in a medium that will live as long as you do. They don’t get lost, erased or deleted until you do. As long as you live, they live, and in some cases, I am told, they live even longer.

The newest trend is to remove cherished tattoos after a loved one is deceased and turn the tattooed human skin into framed art, or even a decorative lampshade for the surviving family members to enjoy as a loving memorial. I kid you not! A whole new human hide-tanning specialty will emerge, I suppose, and this will be a great boon for out of work taxidermists who are underemployed due to the growing hatred over the use of guns. (My Dad used to “tan my hide” but usually the marks disappeared within a week or two). But I digress . . .

Skin markings we formerly considered “normal” on the forearms of returning military vets, are now becoming the norm for anyone over the age of “Why not, everybody else is!” Tattoos are everywhere. Body billboards are the newest thing. And the age old question from the emerging generation is echoed again in regards to this cultural phenomenon, “So what’s wrong with a tattoo? Many orthodox Jews believe entrance into heaven is not even possible to the tattooed. Others consider it just a matter of personal choice. The debate is often heated.

To ink or not to ink, that is the question. Just so you know, the Bible has something, in principle, to say about everything pertaining to life and godliness. While it is true that only one Old Testament text is specifically directed at this subject, there are many principles that do apply.

Perhaps you have heard the arguments by Christians for the use of tattoos:

  • It’s a great way to witness! You become a “walking testimony” when you have a scripture verse scrawled into your skin.
  • It’s cool and I like it. (Now, there’s a new one)
  • It gets people’s attention (By a man with a lizard tattoo coming out of his eye).
  • It connects to our culture and lets people know we are normal just like they are. (Remember, we said that about Christian rock and Christian wine and Christian dances, too)
  • It’s body art – pure and simple and that’s all it is, so get over it.
  • It goes where I go and doesn’t get wrinkled like a gospel tract (until you turn 60)
  • I use it for medical identification purposes
  • What about Tim Tebow? (Didn’t John 3:16 help him win a Heisman trophy?)
  • It’s cheaper than buying a wedding ring and I’ll never lose it. (By a man who had a wedding ring tattooed on his finger)

Currently one in five U.S. adults has at least one tattoo (21 percent) which is up from the 16 percent and 14 percent who reported having a tattoo in 2003 and 2008, respectively, by the Harris Poll. Controversial pastor Mark Driscoll, head of the Arizona-based Trinity Church, previously weighed in on the issue, explaining that while he does not have any tattoos, he’s not against them – and neither is the Bible.” … If you love Jesus, and you’re of age, and your conscience is clear and you want to do it as an artistic expression – or maybe even to share your faith with a verse – I would say then it’s between you and the Lord Jesus and I would give it to conscience, and I don’t think there’s anything in Scripture that expressly forbids it, just don’t use offensive messages” he said. Carl Lentz, who pastors the Hillsong New York City Church has numerous tattoos and called the one verse in the Bible that disallows the use of tattoos an “Old Testament prohibition that no longer has bearing on believers today”.

 

In one sense, they are both right. The one verse in the Bible that specifically condemns the practice is found in Lev 19:28, “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord”.  It was given at a specific time for a specific people – Jews living Canaan. The Hebrew phrase cuttings or incisions in your flesh, is sometimes rendered markings or tattoos. Whatever the translation, the truth is that there has from antiquity been a practice of marking the skin with permanent markings of some sort. The history behind this prohibition to the Jews in Canaan was clearly a call to separation from the nearby tribes and nations who practiced scarification as identification with false gods (I Kings 18:28). There is also some evidence that the Egyptians did practice an ancient form of tattooing but it was mainly limited to women and intended to invoke good luck in childbearing. Circumcision for the Jewish male was commanded by God and was indeed a private mark in the flesh and served to remind the men of their covenant to God for sexual purity and to remind the nation of God’s special promises to Abraham to bring the Messiah by his descendants. The sign of circumcision in the Old Testament was to the Jew and the prohibition to scarification like the Gentiles around them had a clear contextual and national sense to it. We do need to exercise caution in taking verses out of context. That’s true of all good Bible Study. To say that the Leviticus passage is the proof text for non-marking your skin means you need to let your beard go untrimmed as well. (see same passage – Lev 19:27)

 

Now then, let’s apply some Biblical sense to the question about injecting ink under your skin to form permanent pictures patterns or messages.

 

  1. He is Lord! Though many Old Testament prohibitions and guidelines have been set aside or fulfilled at the coming of Christ (sacrificial blood offerings, Sabbath worship, feast days etc.,) there are many enduring principles. At the end of verse 28 of Lev19, there is the wonderful statement, “I am the Lord”. Submission to his reign and sovereign right to everything is the thought here. Everything flows from God and returns to God. Israel was to be reminded that they were uniquely placed as a nation for the expression of God’s rule over all things. So is the church today. No identifying marks with false gods would be tolerated then, none should be now. Magnify God.
  2. You are the Lord’s (I Cor 6:19-20). This includes your heart, your skin, your words and your minutes, your everything. Purchased by the blood of Christ, you are not your own. Decisions about dress and music and what gets printed on your forearm is not yours to decide. It is to be directed by your new Master. And he is not some distant landlord. The Spirit of God has declared your body to be the temple of the Lord. He is resident in every believer and hence demands the body you possess to be the very living sanctuary of his own glory. Your heart is the throne but your skin is the “front door” to the house of God. It matters to God how you guard his holy temple. This would inform our body art.
  3. You were made in God’s image. Think back to the garden (Gen. 2). Naked and unashamed (before sin entered the Garden), Adam and Eve were two special creations of God’s image and designed to worship God, love God, fellowship, encourage, think right things, choose right things, do right things. The Garden would have been a great time for God to proscribe body art! That was not the case; they were fully equipped to project the proper reflection of God’s praise by means of personal communication with each other and with God. Such is the ideal and such is still the ideal. The idea that my skin is to be used as a medium for an even greater expression of my love for God and others is simply unfounded and unfound in scripture. Often we are told to write God’s word in our hearts and the Old Testament Jews were even to carry these truths as frontlets (boxes or bands with scriptures affixed to their foreheads and hands – Deut 6:8) but we are not ever enjoined to write them under our skin.
  4. The light of the body is the eye and by your words and deeds you are to be known. (Mt 6:22, Prov 31:31, I Cor 3:13, Matt 12:37). Most important in communication is our heart, our face, then our words and our deeds. God looks upon the heart and by your fruit you are known. While it is not wrong to advertise – especially with scripture – it is the product of the heart that really matters most, not what you write on your skin. God is always looking at the heart. Let your heart worship, your eyes show it, let your mouth proclaim it and let your deeds reveal to others how much you love God. James tells us faith without works is dead. We all need to work on the heart, the face, the tongue and our deeds.
  5. Tattoos usually come from tattoo parlors – Just saying. . . Be very careful about the predominant association of a place or practice. What comes to mind first when you think of a thing is usually the first thing for which it is known. Avoid the association with those most noted for not being associated with good things. I Thess 5:22

 

Think before you Ink! Body ink is permanent and I do not believe it is the wisest thing to do in the light of all the Bible says but I also do not believe it to be expressly sinful or evil in the context of our day and dispensation. To those who have decided to get a tattoo, we will love them anyway and let’s work on not being overly critical (Rom 15:7) “Receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. Many folks who got a tattoo did so before they were saved and now regret the decision made “before Christ”. Others not fully convinced that there is much of an issue with tattoos come to our churches and we must remember that ink on our skin isn’t what matters most, it’s the question, are you washed in the blood, the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?