Thursday, April 7, 2011

Christians and Body Art

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Christians and Body Art:

Q: Are Christians allowed to have tattoos? What about other body modification such as piercing? Are there any other Biblical laws regulating the appearance of Christians?

There is one verse in the Old Testament which specifically mentions tattooing. Leviticus 19:28 says, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves.” However, this does not forbid Christians from having a tattoo for two reasons: First, this command does not stand alone, but rather, it is part of a command against idolatry. It forbids the Israelites from having tattoos because of the relation of that practice to the worship of false gods. Second, because it is part of the Old Testament’s ceremonial law, which governed only the people of Israel and only in Old Testament times. Since this law is not related to any of God’s moral demands (summarized in the Ten Commandments) and is not endorsed by New Testament authors, it is not intended to bind the consciences of Christians in the New Testament era.

As Christians, we ought to certainly be careful that we not sin or cause sin in others by our appearance, and the Ten Commandments can serve as our guide in this. For example, Jesus tells us that the Sixth Commandment, which forbids adultery, is broken even when a person harbors lustful thoughts about someone to whom they are not married. In light of this, Christians ought to be careful about how their clothing both reflects on their reputation and whether it might unnecessarily promote lust in another person.

Throughout Christian history, movements have arisen from time to time which insist that there are particular regulations on the appearance of Christians which exceed those in the Ten Commandments. The passages typically cited by those promoting these movements are 1 Peter 3:3 and 1 Timothy 2:9, which they insist forbid such things as the wearing of make-up or jewelry and the braiding of hair.

These verses, however, do not forbid jewelry, elaborate hairstyles, or cosmetics in an absolute sense. In fact, they do not forbid them at all. What they forbid is for a person to rely only on those things for their beauty and reputation rather than on inner qualities such as faithfulness, respect, modesty, and self-control, or to use external beauty or adornment to disguise deficiencies in spiritual character.

Any time that Christian leaders attempt to burden the consciences of Christian people with laws that are unbiblical or that are taken out of the Bible’s proper context, they commit the same error as the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day, with the result that their new laws ultimately lead people away from Jesus rather than to Him. This sort of approach to Christian morality runs the danger of leading Christians either to despair when they fail to live up to the humanly-imposed demands or to pride when they are misled to believe they have pleased God by following human regulations.

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body.” The last words of this verse make everything clear. It is not the act of tattooing or piercing itself that glorifies or offends God. It is the message it gives to our neighbors about or Lord.

Ultimately, there is no Biblical law binding Christians on these matters, and each is free to judge based on their own conscience and context. A tattoo (depending on its content) or piercing may be just as God-glorifying as any other choice a Christian makes in dress or appearance. The Christian’s concern ought not to be in making a list of rules and regulations about what we may or may not pierce, tattoo, or wear, but instead, about how our appearance advances or detracts from the message of the Gospel.

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