Should a Christian Get a Tattoo?

We are currently living in the age of the tattoo. A Harris 2015 online survey poll of 2,225 American adults found that 29% have tattoos. That was up from 21% just four years earlier. And of those who have a tattoo, 69% have two or more. I guess once you take the plunge and get one, you have no qualms about getting another one.

According to the poll, the demographics of tattooed people break down as follows: (I’ll provide a definition for each age group, but please understand that there isn’t always total agreement on when an age group begins and ends.) 

  • Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000): 47% have at least one tattoo, and 37% have at least two.
  • Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1980): 36% have at least one tattoo, and 24% have at least two.
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964): 13% have at least one tattoo, and 6% have at least two.
  • Matures, famously known as “The Greatest Generation,” (born between 1927 and 1945): 10% have at least one tattoo, and 2% have at least two.

Tattoos are no longer reserved for military men, sailors, bikers, convicts, rock stars, scandalous women, and drug addicts, and people now get them for a variety of reasons. A tattoo can be a rite of passage. It can be a mark of freedom. It can be an expression of individuality. It can be a sign of rebellion. It can serve as a symbolic beginning. It can serve as a symbolic ending. Basically, whatever it is you want to say, there’s a tattoo that can say it for you.

One big change that has helped fuel the recent uptick in tattoos is the fact that more and more Christians are getting them. Here’s a list of the ten most requested “Christian” tattoos. (I got these from a website called tattoodo.com.):

  1. The Cross
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. Angels
  4. A Dove
  5. The Sacred heart
  6. The Virgin Mary
  7. The Rosary
  8. Praying Hands
  9. Adam & Eve
  10. The Devil

I was surprised to find that no Bible verse made that list. One that I’ve seen a lot is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (N.K.J.V.) Proverbs 31:25a is another one that seems to be popular among women: “She is clothed with strength and dignity” (N.I.V.) But these are just two examples of a sizable array of options. The fact is, the Bible is filled with verses that can be turned into tattoos.

One verse that nobody uses is Leviticus 19:28, where God instructs Moses to say to the people of Israel: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord” (N.K.J.V.). Obviously, that verse seems pretty definitive that God doesn’t like tattoos. It’s no wonder that for centuries it played a huge part in keeping Christians from getting tattoos. But does the verse really outlaw today’s tattoos? Well, let’s talk about that.

First, the verse begins with a prohibition against making cuttings in your flesh for the dead. Such cuttings, along with shaving the head and shaving the edges of one’s beard, are frequently mentioned in the Old Testament as being expressions of mourning among the heathen people (Leviticus 19:27; 21:1-5; Deuteronomy 14:1; 1 Kings 18:25-28; Jeremiah 16:6). God didn’t mind for the people of Israel to mourn their dead. Mourning was proper and right. What He minded was them mimicking how the heathen mourned. Any ritual that involved the disfiguring of the body was viewed as an affront to God, the Creator of the human body.

Second, still on the subject of heathen practices that defiled the human body, God lists tattooing as another one and, as such, forbids it. As for just how common tattooing was in ancient times, Charles R. Erdman has provided us with some help. He served as Professor of Practical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary for over 30 years. In his commentary on the book of Leviticus, he writes:

The custom of tattooing was forbidden, while among the nations of antiquity it was common; a slave carried the initials of his master, a soldier those of his general, the worshiper bore the image of his god.”

It should be noted, however, that the tattoos of the Old Testament weren’t the same kind that we know today. Since the word “tattoo” didn’t enter the English language until the late 1700s, the 1611 King James translation didn’t use it. The King James translation of Leviticus 19:28 reads:

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.

The Hebrew word that is translated as “print” (or “tattoo” in later translations) is natan. It’s a common verb that is used well over 1,000 times in the Old Testament. It’s primary meaning is “to deliver over” or “give over into the possession of another.”

The Hebrew word that is translated as “marks” is an uncommon one. Actually, this is the only time it is used in the entire Old Testament. It’s the word qaaqa, and it means “an incision” or “a gash.”

Putting both definitions together, we learn that the “tattooing” being described is one person delivering over an incision or a gash to another person. This seems to indicate that the Old Testament tattoos were engravings or inscriptions made directly into the skin as opposed to the ink-style tattoos of today. This interpretation is backed up by the fact that the first part of the verse speaks of making cuttings in the flesh.

So, now we know the background and interpretation of Leviticus 19:28. But the question we have before us goes like this: If we aren’t Jews living under the Old Testament law, and if our motives for getting tattoos having nothing to do with mourning for the dead, and if the text’s forbidden tattoos aren’t even the same kind we have today, does Leviticus 19:28 even apply to us at all? Good question.

Even if we assume that it does, the plain truth is that Christians have co-opted plenty of other heathen/pagan practices and “baptized” them into Christianity. Most of this “baptizing” can be attributed to the Roman emperor Constantine’s professed conversion to Christianity. When he went Christian and set a course to take his empire down the same path, he minimized the effect the change would have upon his pagan citizens by keeping pagan celebrations and rituals in place but putting a Christian spin on each one. This is how a pagan Winter Solstice celebration became our Christmas and how a pagan Spring celebration became our Easter. While it’s true that it took decades for these changes to gain a firm foothold, the job eventually got done.

Entire books have been written about how Constantine and his Bishops blended paganism and authentic Christianity to create the Catholic church and all its rituals, but I won’t cover all that territory here. All I’m trying to do right now is explain that if Christians do take the heathen practice of tattooing — any version of it — and “baptize” it for use in Christian service, it certainly won’t be the first time something like that has happened. (Did you know that even the wedding band has its roots in paganism rather than Christianity?) Still, though, none of this explicitly answers the question of the rightness or wrongness of Christians getting tattoos.

Christians who do not believe that a Christian should get a tattoo cite multiple passages to support their view. Here are five of the more commonly used ones: (all references from the N.K.J.V.):

  1. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
  2. 2 Corinthians 6:16-18: And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.”
  3. Ephesians 5:11: And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.
  4. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22: Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
  5. Romans 12:1-2: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Okay, that covers those passages, but there are other Christians who say, “Those passages don’t truly apply to the question because tattoos come under the heading of Christian liberty.” While I understand the attempt to use the Bible to justify a tattoo, let me be crystal clear about something: The subject of Christian liberty is very tricky. It’s not nearly as straightforward as it usually gets made out to be. Take Paul for example. He was the world’s leading authority on Christian liberty, and he taught that the Christian must be careful not to let Christian liberty become a stumbling block for others who are looking to that Christian as a role model.

In Paul’s day, the big debate among Christians was whether or not it was acceptable to eat meat that had been offered to idols. Paul’s take was that it wasn’t a sin as long as the Christian could do the eating with a clear conscience, understanding that a lifeless idol didn’t have the ability to spiritually corrupt meat. But Paul didn’t stop there. He then went on to say that each Christian should be careful in eating such meat because the act might cause a fellow Christian (one who wasn’t spiritually mature enough yet to eat the meat without feeling guilty) to eat in sin. Consider Paul’s explanation as it is given in 1 Corinthians 8:8-13 of The New Living Translation:

It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t miss out on anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. But you must be careful with this freedom of yours. Do not cause a brother or sister with a weaker conscience to stumble. You see, this is what can happen: Weak Christians who think it is wrong to eat this food will see you eating in the temple of the idol. You know there’s nothing wrong with it, but they will be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been dedicated to the idol. So because of your superior knowledge, a weak Christian, for whom Christ died, will be destroyed. And you are sinning against Christ when you sin against other Christians by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong. If what I eat is going to make another Christian sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live — for I don’t want to make another Christian stumble.

You see, Christian, even if we accept the idea that Leviticus 19:28 and those five other passages I listed don’t forbid you from getting a tattoo — and that is a SIZABLE acceptance  — we’re still left with the undeniable fact that most people in this world (including many Christians) feel that getting a tattoo is wrong. Think about it, if that Harris poll concluded that 29% of adults have tattoos, that means that 71% don’t. And a sizable percentage of that 71% don’t have one because they believe that getting one is a sin.

So, if you are still determined to get a tattoo, here’s where you stand:

A: You are going to apply a liberal take to Leviticus 19:28 and other verses just to reach a place where tattoos can come under Christian liberty.

B: You are going to mark your body in a way that won’t sit well with the majority of the population if they see the mark. Naturally, that will hurt your Christian testimony even if you don’t think it should. And how effective a witness can your tattoo of John 3:16 be if more than half the people who see it are immediately turned off by it?

C. You are going to open yourself up to the possibility of causing fellow Christians to get tattoos their consciences aren’t ready for yet. That, in turn, will create sin not only in their lives but in yours because they have gone against their consciences and you have caused them to stumble.

Now you tell me, does your individuality really mean that much to you? Does it compel you to express it by way of a tattoo? If you answer both these questions with a yes, then here’s another one for you: Is the attitude you’ll take into that tattoo parlor one that is pleasing to God? Remember that the Bible sings the praises of modesty over showiness, humility over bravado, and holiness over sex appeal.

By the way, here are a few other results from that Harris poll. These are more practical than scriptural, but they too are things you need to consider before getting a tattoo:

  • Of those polled who had tattoos, many indicated that they associated their tattoos with certain feelings. 33% said their tattoo made them feel more sexy (that’s an unworthy motivation for a Christian). 32% said it made them feel more attractive. 27% said it made them feel more rebellious (another unworthy motivation). 20% said it made them feel more spiritual. 13% said it made them feel more intelligent. Another 13% said it made them feel more respected (whatever happened to the greatest among you shall become a lowly servant?).
  • Interestingly, though, of those polled who didn’t have tattoos, 45% said they believe those with tattoos are more rebellious. 47% viewed them as being less attractive. 44% viewed them as being less sexy. 34% viewed them as being less respectable. 29% viewed them as being less intelligent. 25% viewed them as being less spiritual.
  • Finally, 23% of those who had a tattoo admitted regretting getting it. That was up from 14% in a similar poll from 2012. The regrets cited were: too young when the person got the tattoo; the person’s personality or lifestyle changed so that the tattoo no longer characterized them; the tattoo was the name of someone the person was no longer with; the tattoo was poorly done.

Now, as I begin to close, let me say that I have friends and family members who have tattoos. I’ve also had church members who’ve had them. And, trust me, not one of these people is going to die and go to hell for having a tattoo. Also, I’ve never broken fellowship with anyone over this issue or asked them to leave church. I’ve got enough problems in my life without me trying to be the tattoo police.

Furthermore, I realize that I won’t win any popularity contests with this post, especially with all the readers who already have tattoos. The truth is, though, that I genuinely felt burdened of the Lord to address this issue. So that’s what I’ve done. How God uses what I’ve written is up to Him. My prayer is that my words will be read in the spirit in which they’ve been written, and they will help us all reach a correct understanding of whether or not a Christian should get a tattoo. Needless to say, we’ll never get any further down the road of that understanding if we don’t put the issue under the microscope and talk about it.

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Posted in Christian Liberty, Current Events, Dress and Appearance, Evangelism, Individuality, Personal Holiness, Sanctification, Tattoos, The Old Testament Law, Witnessing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Becoming Childlike

A man was driving down a treacherous mountain road. Suddenly a deer bolted out in front of him, causing him to instinctively jerk the steering wheel to his left. The next thing he knew he was headed off a steep cliff. At the last possible second he bailed out of his truck and barrel rolled off the cliff. As he headed over the edge, he managed to grab hold of a root that was half sticking out of the side of the mountain. So, there he was, hanging for dear life by that root, watching his truck plunge to a fiery crash deep down below in the gorge.

As the man hung there, he cried out for help, hoping against hope that someone would hear him and come to his rescue. Suddenly he heard a voice saying, “I’m here. I’ll help you. This is God. What I want you to do is turn loose of that root. My hands are underneath you, and I’ll catch you. You just have to trust Me.” After thinking about that for a few seconds, the man finally replied, “Thanks Lord, but I was wondering, is anybody else up there?”

We do have trouble trusting God completely, don’t we? This is one of the reasons why Jesus says in Mark 10:15, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will be no means enter it.” Obviously, in the light of scores of other passages, Jesus didn’t mean that if you don’t get saved when you are a child you will miss your chance. (For the record, the New Testament is filled with examples of adults getting saved.) But what He did mean is that in order for you to experience the salvation offered in Him, you must become childlike.

Now, please note that I didn’t say you must become childish. There’s a big difference between being childlike and being childish. So what does it mean to become childlike? Here’s the answer:

  • A little child is trusting. Small children implicitly trust others to take care of them.
  • A little child is dependent. Small children have no qualms depending on others for help.
  • A little child is simplistic. Small children haven’t lived long enough to learn all the devious, conniving ways of the world.
  • A little child is quick to accept a gift. Adults sometimes have problems accepting gifts because of pride, ego, or whatever, but small children never do. This is important because Ephesians 2:8 describes salvation as a gift. All you can do with a gift is receive it or reject it. The second you try to do something to earn it, it becomes pay.

You see, all these characteristics come into play when it comes to being childlike. That’s why Jesus taught that it was a requirement for salvation. For that matter, even after you place saving belief in Him and become a Christian, you still need to remain childlike in regards to trusting Him and depending upon Him in simplicity to meet your needs. The problem we adults have is that, like that fellow hanging from the side of that mountain, we oftentimes have real trouble with the concept of “letting go and letting God.” And so I’ll just close this short post by asking you, “How are you doing right now when it comes to being childlike in regards to your relationship to Christ?”

Posted in Belief, Children, Doubt, Faith, Needs, Salvation, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Jesus: The Unkept Hippie

“The Jesus You Know” series (post #7, last one)

Johnny Paycheck was a country music star who had his biggest success in the 1970s. He was most famous for his hit Take This Job & Shove It, which went to #1 on the country charts in 1977. That song was such a commercial success that in 1981 it inspired a major Hollywood movie by the same name.

Paycheck will always be associated with that song, but he did have lesser hits, some of which were I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised), Me And the I.R.S., and D.O.A. (Drunk On Arrival). Can you spot a theme in all of these titles? Yes, Paycheck was a major player in the “outlaw country” movement of the 1970s. He was right up there with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. I remember all this because my dad and mom, uncle and aunt, and a whole lot of other people I knew listened to country music back then.

In 1979, Paycheck released the single The Outlaw’s Prayer. The first time I heard it was on a Country Music top 40 countdown when I was 12 or 13. The song told the story (perhaps autobiographical but more likely fiction) of a Sunday morning in Fort Worth, Texas, after Paycheck and his band had played a Saturday night show there. As the song’s story went, Paycheck had some time to kill that Sunday morning before catching a flight that afternoon. So he went for a walk around town and soon found himself standing right in front of a large downtown church. He could hear the singing and decided to step inside and enjoy the service. But he hardly got past the door before a young man walked over to him and said, “Excuse me, Sir, but I can’t let you in with that big black hat, those jeans, that beard, and that long hair.”

After leaving the church, Paycheck got down on his knees on the curb outside the church and prayed what the song calls “The Outlaw’s Prayer.” The “prayer” touches upon many of the common themes that “outlaw” types typically hold against churches: one stained glass window from the church could feed a poor wino’s family for years, some of the ladies in the choir had been drinking beer and dancing at Paycheck’s show the night before, John the Baptist wouldn’t be welcomed into such a church, people should be judged by what’s in their heart, etc. The closing words of the prayer/song are as follows:

Oh, by the way, Lord, right before they kicked me out, didn’t I see a picture of you with sandals and a beard? Believe you had long hair too. Well, this is Paycheck signing off. I’ll be seein’ you Lord, I hope.

Ah, there it is, Jesus the unkept hippie! He had long hair. He had a beard. He wore sandals. And since He didn’t worry about His own appearance, He didn’t care about anyone else’s either. All He was interested in was the heart.

Okay, let’s start with the sandals. Assuming that Jesus wore them, why did He do it? Well, surely it was simply because that was what EVERYBODY in that culture wore. I really don’t think that Jesus meant for sandals to be viewed as more spiritual than other shoes. If He had preached the Sermon on the Mount at an NBA basketball game, I figure He would worn sneakers.

And what about Jesus’ beard? Oh, there’s no doubt that He had one. The gospels don’t say anything about it, but Isaiah 50:6 is a Messianic verse that speaks of the Messiah (Jesus) having His beard plucked out. So, yes, Jesus had a beard. Most Jewish men of that day did. But that doesn’t mean that a beard is a mark of deeper spirituality.

Now let’s get to the hair. I have to assume that all those Renaissance artists who depicted Jesus in painting after painting had never read 1 Corinthians 11:14, where Paul asks the question, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?” Frankly, that verse can be spun only so many ways. I’ll concede that we might debate just exactly what length constitutes “long” hair. For example, long hair in the Marines Corps is different than long hair in other settings. But let’s get real. It isn’t all that hard to discern whether or not a male’s hair is long enough to bring dishonor to him. Furthermore, if a man really wants to get it right he should err on the side of shorter rather than longer. This is not a hard concept.

But what about this business of God looking upon a person’s heart as opposed to the person’s appearance? Well, there’s no doubting the scriptural validity of that principle. Remember that God said to the prophet Samuel as Samuel was looking for Israel’s next king, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). What I resent, though, is the implication that a right heart has such a difficult time producing acceptable attire, a neat beard, and a haircut worthy of a Christian. Does the old saying, “Come to Jesus and He’ll clean you up” apply only to thoughts, words, and deeds? Isn’t there some room in there for personal hygiene, appearance, and clothes?

Consider a couple of passages from the New Testament:

  • I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2, N.K.J.V.).   As I once heard Charles Stanley preach, presenting your body refers to what you do with your body, what you put in your body, and what you put on your body.
  • And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17, N.K.J.V.)   Surely those words “whatever” and “all” include the way you dress, the way you wear your hair, etc.

You see, before you start cultivating the “unkept hippie” look in honor of Jesus and tolerating everything in His name because your Jesus is so cool, laid back, and accepting, you’d do well to study the Bible. It just could be that those pictures you saw hanging on the walls of your local church were wrong. And even if they were right, you might still be reading far too much into Jesus’ appearance and clothing. What I mean is, just because He looked a certain way doesn’t mean that He thought a certain way. His looks could have been nothing more than the product of the culture in which He lived.

Johnny Paycheck’s career was seriously derailed in 1989 when, after several years of losing appeals, he was sentenced to a medium-security prison on the charge of aggravated assault. The charge stemmed from a 1985 bar fight in which Paycheck had shot a man, wounding the man’s ear. Paycheck ended up serving two years of a nine-year sentence before the rest of the sentence was commuted by Ohio governor Richard F. Celeste. Just prior to the beginning of his prison term, Paycheck became a born-again Christian and quit alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs.

If Paycheck’s salvation was genuine — and I have no reason to believe it wasn’t — his soul went straight to heaven at the moment of his death on February, 19, 2003, at the age of 64. Paycheck may have been a rebel in life, but there are no rebels in heaven. So, if he’s there, he’s not rebelling any more.

If he could speak to us today, I wonder how he would rate The Outlaw’s Prayer. Would he stand by it? Would he change it up some? Would he discard it altogether? I don’t know, but what I do know is that thinking of Jesus as an unkept hippie, complete with a hippie’s lax attitudes and iffy standards, does a real disservice to the infinitely holy King of King and Lord of Lords.

There’s no doubt that some Christians really are too uptight and persnickety in their efforts to please Jesus. Unfortunately, these types tend to become the gatekeepers of the local church. On the other hand, though, there’s also no doubt that other Christians are far too laid back and hip when it comes to serving Jesus. Somewhere in it all there is a balance that we should strike, a balance of which the Lord approves. And all I can say is, here’s hoping that each of us find it.

Posted in Church Attendance, Dress and Appearance, Personal Holiness, Rebellion, Salvation, Sanctification | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus: The Conservative Icon

“The Jesus You Know” series (post #6)

Ed Dobson was about as conservative as conservative gets. In 1979, when Rev. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority (a Religious Right conservative movement that helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency in a landslide), Dobson was one of Falwell’s top lieutenants. In the years prior to and after 1979, Dobson served in a wide variety of roles for Falwell. He was a teacher and administrator at Falwell’s Liberty University, an associate pastor at Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church, a founding member of the board of Moral Majority, the editor of Falwell’s Fundamentalist Journal, and one of the ghost-writers of Falwell’s book, The Fundamentalist Phenomenon. 

By the mid 1980s, however, Dobson had begun to grow disillusioned with the Religious Right’s brand of Christian conservatism, particularly the basic assumption that cultural problems could be fixed by means of politics. In 1987, he left politics altogether and became the senior pastor of the non-denominational Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There he led the church to reach out in Christian love to the area’s homosexual community and provide care for Aids patients. He still believed the Bible’s teaching that homosexuality was a sin, but he was burdened to offer homosexuals an experience with Christians that was based upon love and dialogue rather than hate and name-calling. Ironically, years later in 2013, his own son Daniel would come out as gay.

In 1999, Dobson co-authored a book, Blinded By Might, with Cal Thomas, another prominent former member of the Moral Majority. Even though the book was quite critical of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, Dobson eased up a bit after Falwell’s death in 2007, saying in an interview for Christianity Today magazine, “I was an outspoken critic of Jerry Falwell and others. Recently, I’ve changed my mind. I think he was doing what he felt God was leading him to do, and I was doing what I felt God was leading me to do. The ultimate judgment is up to God, not me or Jerry.”

In 2000, at age of 50, Dobson was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and told he had 2-5 years to live. Following the diagnosis, he sat down and made a list of everyone he had ever offended. Then he began working through the list and asking forgiveness from each person. He resigned as the pastor of Calvary Church in 2005, but continued to defy expectations for how long he had to live. In 2008, he accepted the unpaid, voluntary role of the vice-president for spiritual formation at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It was along about that same time that he devoted himself to a full year of trying to eat what Jesus ate, pray as Jesus prayed, observe the Jewish Sabbath and other Jewish holy days, and basically just live as Jesus had lived. From that experience came a book, The Year of Living Like Jesus. But Dobson’s time at Cornerstone wasn’t without controversy. In late December of 2008 and early January of 2009, he came under fire for admitting in multiple media outlets, including a television interview on Good Morning America, that he had voted for Barack Obama in the recent presidential election and had drunk alcohol during his year of living like Jesus. Those two admissions were downright shocking to conservative Christians.

In a written response to his critics, Dobson explained that his vote for Barack Obama was based upon his pro-life belief, not in spite of it. He wrote: “I am pro-life before birth and pro-life after birth…For me, being pro-life includes not only the protection of the unborn but also how we treat people who are already born.” He also noted, though: “…I have little faith in politicians of either party. The real work of reducing abortions and extending love and compassion to the poor and oppressed should be done by those who are devoted followers of Jesus.”

As for Dobson’s defense of his consumption of alcohol, he said, “Jesus himself was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. Obviously, he was neither! But he did eat food, and he did drink wine. He did frequent parties with tax collectors and sinners. So part of my journey was to try and emulate Jesus in this way.”

Ed Dobson died on December 26, 2015, just a few days shy of his 66th birthday. But the right-wing brand of Christian conservatism that he led and left in the 1980s is still very much alive and well. The problem is that now it’s so in bed with American nationalism, capitalism, consumerism, and the Republican political party that it’s oftentimes hard to draw lines of distinction at all.

Lest you think that I am a liberal infidel for making such a statement, you might want to read my blog posts on the social issues of our day. By doing this you’ll find that I’m pro-life, anti-abortion, and anti-homosexuality. I’m even a registered Republican who usually votes Republican, if you want to know the truth.

At my core, though, I’m a devout, discerning Christian, and that fact compels me to say that the Jesus that many conservatives are now presenting is a distorted savior. He’s disturbingly American, disturbingly white, disturbingly enamored with wealth, disturbingly unconcerned with the plight of the poor and the sick, disturbingly at ease with win-at-all-costs politics, disturbingly hypocritical when it comes to sexual sin, disturbingly paranoid about losing His place at the head of the table, disturbingly obsessed with guns and military might, and disturbingly unconcerned with the evangelization of the entire world.

Some recent news stories caught my eye as being perfect examples of today’s brand of Christian conservatism. Each of these involved Russell Moore. Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which is the denominational policy-arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. During America’s recent presidential election, Moore publicly criticized not only Donald Trump as a candidate but Christian leaders who were lining up to support Trump. Some of those leaders were nationally known pastors of Southern Baptist Convention churches.

In May of 2015, Moore, who was definitely not a Hillary Clinton supporter either, wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times in which he asked the question “Have evangelicals who support Trump lost their values?” In the piece, Moore provided his answer by pointing out Trump’s two divorces and “Bronze Age warlord” attitude toward women. Recalling the Christian outrage over Bill Clinton’s sexual sins, Moore rebuked the hypocrisy of Christians for giving Trump a free pass in the same general area. He also commented on Trump’s racial prejudices, his past support of abortion, his casinos, and the damage his declared bankruptcies had done to the local workers and the local economies.

Later on, in May of 2016, Moore weighed in on a meeting that a group of notable evangelicals (including some Southern Baptists) had held with Trump at Trump Tower. Moore tweeted: “dietary restriction: I’m allergic to Kool Aid.” The obvious implication was, the evangelical leaders were lining up to drink Trump’s poisonous Kool Aid, the way Jim Jones’ followers had once lined up to drink his. As you might guess, that incendiary tweet got Moore into even more hot water with his denomination. Of course, Trump himself had tweeted earlier that same month: “Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!” But I never heard about anyone rebuking Trump for that little blast.

Really, though, those who had been following Moore’s ministerial career could have seen his take on Trump coming. Previously, Moore had vigorously opposed public displays of the Confederate flag, worked toward racial reconciliation between blacks and whites, criticized evangelicals for getting so heavily involved in political affairs, called into question the past actions of the Religious Right, and praised the idea of a “prophetic minority” as opposed to a “moral majority.” In other words, he had been running counter to the Religious Right establishment for a while. That had made him very popular with the black pastors and the younger pastors of the S.B.C.

Unfortunately for him, though, he would find out what it means to cross a certain breed of Christian conservatives, especially during an election cycle in which 80% of white evangelicals would vote for Donald Trump. Following Trump’s election, over 100 S.B.C. churches threatened to cut off their donations to the Cooperative Program, the S.B.C.’s primary funding organ. The reason wasn’t hard to figure out: They had major problems with Moore’s views, views they believed stood in direct opposition to their’s.

Most prominent among those churches was Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Texas megachurch pastored by Jack Graham. Graham is a well respected former president of the S.B.C. who sat on Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory council during the campaign. In February of 2017, following Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, Graham met with Moore, after which Graham announced that his church would temporarily escrow over one million dollars in Cooperative Program funding as the church took some time to internally evaluate how best to delegate its money. The church made no mention of Moore in its announcement, but it wasn’t hard for cynics to interpret the monetary withholding as nothing short of a strong-arm tactic to either get Moore fired or at least censured.

Dwight McKissic — the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and the S.B.C.’s most outspoken black pastor — certainly saw it as such. On his blog, McKissic wrote: “If Russell Moore cannot give a candid evaluation of Donald Trump without being publicly humiliated and without white churches withholding and threatening to withhold funds…I pity the SBC officeholder who would dare whisper a word of disagreement on a Trump statement or action.”

And so how did all of this end? Well, Russell Moore and Jack Graham agreed to what amounted to a peace treaty. In March of 2017, Moore, along with the E.R.C.L. Executive Committee, released an extended statement that focused upon “seeking unity in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Shortly afterward, Graham tweeted: “This is a gracious and unifying statement from Dr. Moore.” Then, in April, 2017, after two months of withholding their Cooperative Program funding, Prestonwood Baptist Church resumed the funding.

Now, as I head toward the finish line of this post, let me say that I don’t know either Russell Moore or Jack Graham personally. I have read some of Moore’s writings, and I’ve listened to Graham’s television sermons on several occasions, but that’s the extent of my relationship to the men. I certainly don’t know enough about either one to defend him or lambaste him. I will say that I have no doubts that each man is a genuine Christian and that each has legitimately been called into the ministry. Even more than that, I’m sure that God has used both men greatly.

With that said, though, I take the recent dust-up between the two as an example of how closely aligned Christian conservatives and the Religious Right have become to the Republican party. It seems to me that we’ve now reached a point where to offer an honest criticism of a Republican candidate is to draw the ire and wrath of many a “good Christian,” especially many a “good Baptist.” And since I’m currently serving as the pastor of Oak Grove Baptist, which is an S.B.C. church, well, you can understand my interest in such matters.

For the record, I voted for Donald Trump. I did so simply because in the end it had to be either him or Hillary Clinton, and I considered him to be the lesser of two evils. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t able to hear and appreciate the truth in Russell Moore’s criticisms of him. Like Moore, I was shocked when I kept reading the reports of how so many big-name evangelicals were meeting with Trump, praying with him, advising him, etc. I remember watching a particular You Tube video that showed Trump being prayed over by some major players in the world of ministry. As I watched that video, I kept thinking, “Are you kidding me?” You see, all Russell Moore did was go public with thoughts similar to the ones that I was having myself.

And that brings me back to Ed Dobson. He’s in heaven now, but I’d love to pick his brain on Trump’s election, Moore getting his hand slapped by certain S.B.C. leaders, and America’s religious landscape in general. I don’t think Dobson would be surprised by any of it because he saw the handwriting on the wall over 30 years ago as to where the Moral Majority, the Religious Right, and conservative Christianity were headed. Unlike Jerry Falwell and others, he just couldn’t make that direction mesh with the Jesus he read about in the Bible. So he broke rank and charted a new course for himself, one that he felt would allow him to not only draw closer to his Savior but better serve Him.

Falwell is heaven too these days, and I smile at the thought of him and Dobson enjoying eternity together. Moore and Graham will be there too one day, as will every other Christian. I guess that’s when we will all at last have this “Jesus thing” down pat. Until then, though, I hope you will join me, Christian, in admitting that trying to live for Jesus in this fallen world can get tricky sometimes. And if you can at least admit that, there’s hope for you when it comes to walking the fine line between serving Jesus and settling for the Americanized, politicized, whitened, Republicanized, conservative, iconic version of Him.

Posted in Current Events, Discipleship, God's Work, Ministry, Personal, Politics, Preaching, Racism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus: The Cosmic Santa Claus

“The Jesus You Know” series (post #5)

I was licensed to preach in October of 1992 and formally ordained into the ministry in February of 1993. Upon my ordination, I began my first pastorate. This means that I’m in my 25th year as a pastor.

Over the course of those years, I have watched and listened as the so-called “prosperity preachers” and “health-and-wealth preachers” of the Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations have absolutely dominated religious programming. Seriously, it can be hard to find any other type of message on religious television, especially Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

That message has been described as “name it and claim it” or “gab it and grab it.” It also goes by the titles the “word of faith” and “positive confession.” Whatever you call it, what it does is turn Jesus Christ into a cosmic Santa Claus. Do you need healing? Jesus is your man. Do you want to be rich? Jesus can get you there.

You see, according to the proposed logic, it’s already God’s will for you to have these things, even before you ask for them. The only reason you don’t have them now is that Satan has stolen them from you, and you must reclaim what is rightfully yours. To do that, all you need to do is put your trust in Jesus, claim your request by speaking it to Him in faith, and then sit back and watch Jesus do for you.

Now, to be fair, these preachers do cite various passages of scripture in their attempts to justify their doctrine. It’s not like they don’t use the Bible in their preaching. The problem is, they can only find texts that can be twisted, distorted, or misapplied to back up their faulty system of theology. All other texts are pretty much deemed not worthy for discussion. Here is a list of ten of the classic passages these preachers use (each passage as it is translated in the New King James translation):

  1. John 10:10 (used to show that Satan has stolen our health and prosperity): “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
  2. Isaiah 53:5 (used to claim healing in Jesus’ name): But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
  3. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (used to claim that Jesus wants us all to be rich): For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
  4. 3 John 1:2 (used to claim that Jesus wants us all to be wealthy and healthy): Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
  5. John 14:13-14 (used to claim that all we have to do to receive our desires is to ask for them in Jesus’ name): “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”
  6. Mark 11:23-24 (used to claim that miracles simply have to be claimed, spoken into existence, and believed for): “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”
  7. Luke 18:29-30 (used to claim that sacrificing for Jesus produces material rewards on earth): So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
  8. Proverbs 18:21 (used to claim that a word spoken in faith has special powers): Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
  9. Luke 18:40-41 (used to claim that the question Jesus asked of the blind beggar is the same one He asks each of us): So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”
  10. James 4:2c (used to claim that all we have to do is ask Jesus in faith for what we want): …Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

While every prosperity/health-and-wealth preacher knows these passages (and some similar ones), there is a bit of diversity in how the core doctrine is presented. For example, Kenneth Copeland and others teach that each Christian is nothing less than a “little god” (Copeland’s term) whose words spoken in faith carry the creative power of the divine. On the other hand, there is Richard Roberts, who focuses on “sowing a seed” in faith to claim your miracle. By the way, sowing that seed typically involves sending a donation to the Roberts ministry. And then there is Joel Osteen, who focuses on the power of positive (or “possibility”) thinking. As Osteen has said, “When the negative thoughts come — and they will; they come to all of us — it’s not enough just to not dwell on it. You’ve got to replace it with a positive thought.”

Just between you and me, I don’t like speaking or writing against the prosperity/health-and-wealth gospel. I don’t like it because it makes me sound like I think Jesus wants every Christian to be poor and sick. I don’t believe that at all. But we simply cannot run off so wild with this line of preaching and its pet verses that we get out of the banks of the Bible. And, for the record, here are ten Bible facts that flatly contradict the prosperity/health-and-wealth gospel:

  1. Jesus was not wealthy during His earthly life. (Luke 9:57-58)
  2. Jesus warned against the dangers of wealth. (Matthew 6:19-20; 19:23-24)
  3. The apostles lived lives of poverty. (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)
  4. The early Christians were often poor. (Revelation 2:8-9)
  5. Paul warned against the dangers of wealth. (1 Timothy 6:3-10)
  6. James warned against the dangers of wealth. (James 5:1-6)
  7. Paul was not cured of his physical infirmities. (Galatians 4:13-15)
  8. Paul left Trophimus sick. (2 Timothy 4:20)
  9. Even Jesus didn’t heal everyone with whom He came into contact. (John 5:1-1-3)
  10. Satan isn’t the only cause of sickness and physical ailments. (Exodus 4:11)

In the end, as with most things about understanding the Bible rightly and serving Jesus correctly, what we need is balance. Like I said, I don’t believe the Lord wants every Christian to be poor and sick. Likewise, I’m sure that He wants us to keep a positive attitude about our walk with Him, make our requests to Him in faith, and look to Him to fix our problems, whether those problems be physical, monetary, or something else. But to turn Jesus into a cosmic Santa Claus that is required to grant our entire wish list as long as we bring it to Him in just the right way? No, that’s not scriptural. And how do we know it’s not scriptural? We know it because because the same Bible the prosperity/health-and-wealth preachers use to promote their doctrine can be used just as easily (even more so) to prove that the doctrine is false.

Posted in Balance, Belief, Bible Study, Covetousness, Desires, Doctrine, Faith, Giving, God's Will, God's Word, Money, Needs, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Preaching, Problems, Prosperity, Scripture, The Bible | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus: The Compassionate Liberal

“The Jesus You Know” series (post #4)

It is remarkable how Jesus can be so many different things to so many different people. Thus far in this series, we’ve seen Him as the white supremacist’s sanction for segregation and the black Christian’s historical deliverer. Now, with this post, we’ll see Him as the liberal’s perfect example of compassion. And, by the way, please let the record show that I use the term “liberal” not in a derogatory way but simply as an expression of the individual’s beliefs. Truth be told, I’d hate to live in a world that only consisted of conservatives. We need both groups — liberals and conservatives — to keep us balanced.

America is currently fraught with hot-button political issues that are centered around individuals who don’t typically fit into the template of the mainstream. I’m talking about issues ranging from welfare reform and illegal immigration to the rights of homosexuals and transgenders. And while there are scores of conservatives who quote the Bible to support their positions on these issues, there are also plenty of liberals who evoke the example of Jesus to support their positions.

As these liberals view Jesus, compassion is His singular characteristic and tolerance is His driving motivation. As such, Jesus the compassionate liberal would freely give money to every poor person regardless of the individual’s work ethic or current circumstances. He would never force an immigrant who had entered America illegally to return to his or her native country. He would never pass a law that limited the rights of the homosexual or the transgender person. He would never side against any individual who was in any way somehow in the minority. Basically, Jesus the compassionate liberal is the great defender of the underdog, champion of the persecuted, and fighter for the bullied.

As for scriptural quotes from Jesus concerning America’s social issues, liberals are certainly not lacking. Here is a list of some of their go-to passages (all quotes from the N.K.J.V. unless otherwise noted):

  • On the subject of war, Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”
  • On the subject of capital punishment, Matthew 5:21: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Liberals have to quote the classic King James translation on this one because all the modern translations use the more precise translation “murder” rather than “kill.”) 
  • On the subjects of homosexuality and transgenderism, Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
  • On the subject of illegal immigration, Matthew 7:12: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
  • On the subject of showing compassion to one and all, Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
  • On the subject of programs for the poor, Matthew 24:34-36: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
  • On the subject of excess wealth, Mark 10:25: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
  • On the subject of health care, Luke 14:13-14: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
  • On the subject of the separation of church and state, Luke 20:25: And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
  • On the subject of mercy shown to anyone caught in sin, John 8:7: So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her (the woman caught in the act of adultery) first.”

Obviously, each of these quotes has merit and should be a part of any discussions concerning these issues. No one is trying to water down Christ’s words. But what liberals willfully overlook is the fact that the same Jesus who uttered each of these quotes is the God who inspired the entire Bible (2 Timothy 3:16). That means that any quote from Jesus that is found in the four gospels must walk hand in hand with the totality of scripture. Putting it simply, it’s wrong to use Jesus’ own quotes against Him as if they are outliers that contradict the rest of the Bible.

And so, when we come at our list of quotes in this way, we are able to correctly interpret them, understand them, and apply them in a balanced, God-approved way. Let’s take them one at a time:

  • The Jesus who spoke Matthew 5:9 is not only the same God of Israel who sanctioned, even commanded, multiple wars fought by Israel in the Old Testament, He is the same Warrior King who will put to death all of the armies of the world at the Battle of Armageddon that ends the coming tribulation period (Revelation 19:11-21).
  • The Jesus who spoke Matthew 5:21 is not only the same God who deemed several sins to be “death penalty” offenses under the Old Testament law (Exodus 21:12-17; Exodus 22:18-20; Leviticus 20:1-27; etc.), He is the same God who inspired both Paul (Romans 13:1-7) and Peter (1 Peter 2:13-14) to teach the concept of capital punishment in their writings.
  • The Jesus who spoke Matthew 7:1 is the same God who: laid waste to Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:1-29), made homosexuality a capital punishment offense under the Old Testament law (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13), verified the spiritual legitimacy of the Old Testament law (Matthew 5:17-20), reaffirmed the male-female concept of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6), cited the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of people who are eternally judged by God (Matthew 10:15), and inspired Paul (Romans 1:26-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-11) and Jude (Jude 1:7) to write against homosexuality. As for transgenderism, the Old Testament law, which Jesus authored and confirmed, said: “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 22:5).
  • The Jesus who spoke Matthew 7:12 is the same God who: commanded Noah’s descendants to spread across the earth and replenish it after the flood (Genesis 9:1), judged the builders of the Tower of Babel because they were trying to settle down into one region and build a localized kingdom (Genesis 11:1-9), has historically determined the appointed times and boundaries of nations (Deuteronomy 32:8, Nehemiah 9:22, Daniel 2:21; Daniel 4:17,25; Acts 17:26), and ordains governments to enact and enforce laws for the protection of the peoples they represent (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14). Therefore, while the Lord commands us to treat immigrants with compassion (Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19), that doesn’t mean that breaking the law in regards to the national borders that He has set should go unchecked. Neither does it mean that the Lord expects a nation to extend all its rights and privileges to immigrants who haven’t entered the nation legally and followed proper procedures to obtain legal standing in it (Ruth 2:10).
  • The Jesus who spoke Matthew 22:37-40 is the same Jesus who didn’t hesitate to twice run the money changers out of the Temple (John 2:13-22; Matthew 21:12-17), referred to those who refused to receive spiritual truth as “dogs” and “swine” (Matthew 7:6), pronounced “woe” upon the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 10:13-16), called Herod Antipas a “fox” (Luke 13:32), pronounced “woe” upon the scribes and Pharisees and called them “blind guides,” “fools,” “serpents,” and a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:1-36), said that He had come to bring a sword to the earth and set family member against family member (Matthew 10:34-37), and preached that those who wouldn’t repent and believe in Him would perish (Luke 13:1-5; John 3:16-20). Obviously, Jesus’ idea of loving others was a bit different from the mush-and-gush definition that liberals usually attach to it.
  • The Jesus who spoke Matthew 24:34-36 is the same Jesus who said, “For you have the poor with you always” (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7). He’s also the same God who inspired Paul to teach that if someone will not (not cannot) work, that person should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). So, while it’s certainly true that the Lord commands us to care for the poor and the needy (Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; James 2:1-16), it’s also true that He expects us to show wisdom, spiritual discernment, and good stewardship in not only who we help but in how we help them.
  • The Jesus who spoke Mark 10:25 is the same God who gives individuals the power to get wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18; 1 Samuel 2:8). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, Solomon, and Joseph of Arimathea were all wealthy and used by God. For that matter, even many liberals are very wealthy.
  • The Jesus who spoke Luke 14:13-14 is the same God who inspired Paul and Peter to describe the role of government (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 1:13-16), and it’s noteworthy that neither of them mentions health care as being part of that role. Both teach that a government’s primary role is to protect its citizens, even if that means resorting to the extreme of capital punishment if the situation calls for it. Summing up the Bible’s teaching on the subject, God’s plan is that individuals (especially individual Christians) should voluntarily handle caring for the sick and needy. Of course, I’m not living in a fantasy world where people (and that includes Christians) always do what they are supposed to do in regards to caring for others. Still, though, using Jesus’ words as proof that God wants our government to be in charge of a national health care system that provides services to all is really taking things too far in terms of the context, interpretation, and application of those words.
  • The Jesus who spoke Luke 20:25 is the same God who had a blank slate with which to work in regards to ancient Israel. And what did He initially establish in ancient Israel? He established a theocracy. And what is a theocracy? It’s a system of government in which God Himself is recognized as the supreme ruler over the nation. That’s about as far from a separation of church and state as you can get. Furthermore, Jesus Himself taught His followers that they are the “salt” and “light” of the earth, and that their salt must not lose its flavor or their light be hidden (Matthew 5:13-16). Certainly that teaching extends to the political arena. Actually, if Christians completely abandoned the political arena, America’s moral decline would be much, much worse than it already is.
  • The same Jesus who spoke John 8:7 also told the woman to “go and sin no more” (John 8:12). Clearly, He did not wink at her sin or excuse it. He called it what it was: sin. Yes, in Christ there is forgiveness to be found, but that forgiveness comes with the expectancy that the forgiven will repent of the sin.
Posted in Balance, Capital Punishment, Current Events, Extending Forgiveness, Money, Politics, Scripture, Stewardship, The Bible, The Death Penalty, The Sermon On The Mount | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jesus: The Black Deliverer

“The Jesus You Know” series (post #3)

I was born October 3rd, 1966, which means that I am very much a product of the 1970s and ’80s. When I was young, one of my favorite t.v. shows was “Good Times,” a sitcom that ran on CBS from 1974 to 1979. For any young folks out there who don’t know, “Good Times” was about two black parents (James Evans and his wife Florida) who were raising their three kids (J.J., Thelma, and Michael) in a low-rent Chicago housing project. The show used humor to focus on the decidedly unfunny problems poor black families faced in the 1970s.

The character of J.J., the Evans’ teenage son, was played by comedian Jimmie Walker, who became the breakout star of the show. J.J.’s character was a gifted artist who dreamed of making a living selling his artwork despite the fact that his paintings typically featured images that clashed with the social norms of the day. In one of the show’s most memorable episodes, entitled Black Jesus, J.J. painted a painting that depicted Jesus as a black man. Keep in mind now that this was February of 1974, and this was just the second episode for “Good Times.” Talk about sending a shock wave through a seven-year-old white Southern Baptist sitting in his living room in western North Carolina!

My reaction to J.J.’s black Jesus was neither stunned disbelief nor outright anger. It was simply genuine amazement. I mean, the whole concept of a black Jesus was like something landing from Mars in my living room. I just sat there thinking, “Wow.” It was at that moment that it dawned on me for the first time in my short life that black people were expected to worship a white Savior. (At least, at the time, I thought He was white because of every picture I had ever seen of Him.) Of course, I was far too young back then to process all the differences between white American culture and black American culture, but one thing I did understand was that if Jesus really was black, some white people were in for a big surprise.

I do not for one second condone the institution of slavery. Let me be clear on that. However, God being God, He was able to bring good out of even the wickedness of slavery. And what was that good? It was the fact that thousands of slaves learned about Jesus and believed in Him as Savior by being exposed to the Bible for the first time in their lives. This exposure occurred when they heard their masters read Bible stories or quote passages. As I pointed out in my previous post, Southern Christians before and during the civil war were experts at citing their pet passages in support of slavery. That was the bad. The good was that they also talked about Jesus. As Dr. Lawrence H. Mamiya, Professor of Religion & African Studies at Vassar College, has said:

On the one hand, well, Whites wanted to use Christianity to make slaves docile and obedient. On the other hand, the Africans adapted Christianity for their survival and liberation. 

Even though many masters barred their slaves from attending church or assembling together for any type of worship service, some allowed their slaves to hold slave services. These services would oftentimes be led by a slave preacher as long as he did not preach anything smacking of rebellion, uprising, or racial equality. To say that slave preachers had to walk a fine line between offering their congregations something relevant while always staying within the prescribed boundaries is an understatement. And it didn’t help that most slave preachers, no matter how eloquent or dynamic they were in their speaking, were illiterate.

It was this problem of illiteracy that caused Christian slaves to develop a way of praising and worshiping Jesus that did not involve reading and writing. This was the beginning of the negro spirituals. These songs focused on Jesus as the great hero of oppressed people. He was the one who could help you when no one else could. He was the one who could make a way where there seemed to be no way. He was the one who could get you through what you were having to go through. He was the one who could help you leave this old world of pain and misery and make it to the perfect promised land of heaven. In this way, whereas white Christians typically thought of Jesus as a Savior, black Christians came to think of Him as a Deliverer.

Jesus the Deliverer is still preached long and hard in most of America’s black churches today. Jesus can deliver you from drugs. Jesus can deliver you from alcoholism. Jesus can deliver you from poverty. Jesus can deliver you from life in a gang. Jesus can deliver you from a life of crime. Jesus can deliver you from the mess in which you’ve worked yourself.

Do I believe Jesus is black? No, I do not. Do I believe He is white? No, I do not. I feel confident in saying that during His earthly life, He looked like a Jew, which means that He was to a large extent racially ambiguous, neither black nor white.

But what about now? What does He look like right now? Well, all I know is, the last person who personally saw the risen, glorified Jesus was the apostle John. That sighting occurred while John was in forced exile on the island of Patmos. And how did John describe Jesus? He said His head and hair were as white as snow, His eyes were like a flame of fire, and His feet were the color of fine brass (Revelation 1:14-15). That’s a description that shows us that Jesus, with all due respect to J.J.’s painting, is above and beyond all racial stereotyping.

John’s description also explains how Jesus can be a Savior that is every bit as important to a black person as He is to a white person. It’s been said that America’s most segregated hour is 11:00 a.m. Sunday morning, and, admittedly, that’s probably true. In eternity, though, there won’t be a service for white folks and a service for black folks. Instead, eternity’s worship services will incorporate all races (black, white, red, yellow, etc, etc., etc.) into one harmonious blend. This is the heaven the old negro spirituals looked forward to, and it’s the one that I’m looking forward to as well.

Posted in Church, Church Attendance, Heaven, Racism, Salvation | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments